The Bop Shop was a happening record store on a black main street run by a sandy-haired white man from New Jersey named Alvin E. Young. He’d moved to New Orleans in the 1940s and determined that he loved local black music, specifically the rhythm & blues that was just beginning in the Crescent City. He sold R&B records here for years, while for many the neighborhood’s jazz history receded into memory.
Al Young, as he became known, was actually instrumental in the birth of New Orleans R&B. He hung out in black nightclubs and became an amateur talent scout. In 1947 he convinced the Braun brothers of DeLuxe Records in New Jersey to come down and see New Orleans artists. They did, and it was a watershed moment. The Brauns soon recorded a series of artists at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio including Paul Gayten (“True”), Annie Laurie (“Since I Fell for You”), Roy Brown (“Good Rockin’ Tonight”), Chubby Newsome (“Hip Shakin’ Mama”), Dave Bartholomew (“Country Boy”), and Smiley Lewis (“Here Comes Smiley”).
Young became friends with the local disc jockey Henry “Duke” Thiele, the first popular “Poppa Stoppa” radio personality, who was on the air from 1948 to 1952. This connection impressed Lew Chudd of Imperial Records, whom Young went to work for. Young got the pianist Archibald signed to the label, which released his hit “Stack-A’ Lee” in 1950.
As author Rick Coleman notes in Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Young also took the fateful trip with Chudd and Dave Bartholomew to the Hideaway in the Lower Ninth Ward to scout Fats Domino. Chudd, who was white, gave Young more authority and money than Bartholomew, who was black, despite Bartholomew’s expertise as an A&R man, producer, arranger, and bandleader. The treatment would eventually compel Bartholomew to leave the label. Young produced some Imperial recordings in 1951, albeit crudely, including Guitar Slim’s first recording and Fats Domino’s first number one hit, “Goin’ Home,” for which he received a co-writing credit.
Young kept the Bop Shop going until the late 1950s, with another location opening on North Rampart near J&M Studio. He then disappeared from the record scene, but he’d made his mark. As the very first New Orleans R&B star, pianist Paul Gayten, said, “Al Young started the whole thing.”
About South Rampart Street
South Rampart Street was the main commercial corridor in “back o’ town,” originally a swampy area at the back end of the city where New Orleans’ racial order relegated black residents in the late 1800s. The strip filled with businesses—many run by Jewish, Italian, and Chinese merchants—catering to a black clientele. Among these were dance halls, juke joints, tailors who outfitted bands with uniforms, and pawn shops that bought and sold instruments.
Churches here tended to be Protestant, with emotive spirituals and hymns in their services that reverberated through the neighborhood. To the ministers’ chagrin this area included Black Storyville, the red light district for those barred from the whites-only bordellos and gambling houses just across Canal Street. This traffic fueled some social ills. It also helped attract audiences for working musicians. (Business continued after 1917, when the white vice district—Storyville—shut down).
In 1938, the WPA City Guide called South Rampart “The Harlem of New Orleans.” It was full of music, from barrelhouse piano players like Tuts Washington to big bands like Papa Celestin’s. The street itself was a venue, with benevolent societies and social clubs parading with brass bands, and, on Carnival, the Zulu parade, Baby Dolls, and chanting bands of Mardi Gras Indians.
The strip was referenced in popular songs, from the traditional jazz tune “South Rampart Street Parade” to Louis Jordan’s jump blues hit “Saturday Night Fish Fry” in 1949, about a house on Rampart “rockin’” till the break of dawn.
While the “New Orleans sound” of R&B played across the country in the 1950s, South Rampart Street went the way of other black inner city neighborhoods in the age of urban renewal. Whole blocks were demolished and redeveloped, paving the way for a new city hall and today’s Central Business District.
From the 2017 Ponderosa Stomp Music History Conference, Richard Campanella, Bruce Raeburn, and "Deacon" John Moore discuss music on South Rampart Street with Jordan Hirsch.