“The fat man from New Orleans”
Fats Domino was born 1928 in New Orleans and by choice, never left. With a deep love for the “Crescent City”, he came under the spell of piano-playing greats Professor Longhair, Amos Milburn, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. Although Antoine started playing piano and singing in front of audiences at an early age, it wasn’t until bandleader/producer Dave Bartholomew took him under his wing and walked him into Cosimo’s recording studio in 1949 that the magic began to happen..
His first recording was The Fat Man and it went straight to #1 on the race charts. Besides his rolling piano triplets, one admirable hallmark of Fats’ performances was he never segregated the races. He felt his music always brought people together in a happy manner. The segregation only occurred when police and arena managers demanded the races be separated by ropes or seat one race on the main floor and the other in the balcony. Even when parents were trying to ward off the rebellious evils of rock n roll, Domino’s shy smile, good humor, upbeat lyrics, infectious boogie rhythms and bright red cadillac won them over and made fans of young and old. “Like Fats said, “I write songs about what people say.”
This perfect-storm collaboration with Dave Bartholomew turned into pure magic. Record buyers could not get enough of this infectious good time music. Initially Fats’ music was confined to the race charts, re-christened the rhythm and blues charts in the early 50s. But white youngsters were also yearning for good-time danceable music with a heavy beat. Big band and pop, though great music, did not contain enough of the driving energetic sound that turned them on. Maybe Fats summed it up best. “If it sounds catchy, I put it on a record. But you got to keep a good beat.” In 1955 his classic Ain’t That A Shame was a cross-over hit and was so hot it was immediately recorded for white radio station airplay by budding teenage heartthrob Pat Boone. Boone’s vanilla version zoomed straight to the top of the pop charts and outsold Fats’ version due to the fact more radio stations played his recording. White kids who heard both versions all but scoffed at Pat Boone’s cover and over the years Fats’ original has endured and Boone’s has faded into trivia.
After Ain’t That A Shame, Fats became a hot figure on the Pop and R&B charts. Probably the zenith of Domino’s recording career was 1956 and 1957. His string of hits including his biggest hit Blueberry Hill, I’m In Love Again, My Blue Heaven, When My Dreamboat Comes Home, I’m Walkin, Blue Monday, Valley Of Tears, was unequalled by anybody in the recording business except the man himself, the “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley. Elvis was a huge Fats Domino fan and considered Fats to be the real original king of rock and roll. In later years the two became good friends when they both played Vegas. On those occasions Elvis would rent out a room where Fats was appearing so Fats could perform strictly for Elvis and his friends. To this day whenever Fats performs Blueberry Hill he dedicates it to the memory of Elvis Presley.
Fats continued cranking out hits til the mid 60s when pop and rock n roll music styles underwent cataclysmic change with the British music invasion and the ultra-serious message-music of the anti-war movement. But many fans still longed for the fun and exhilaration of the Domino sound. Instead of becoming a relic of the past, he spent much of his time performing in Las Vegas and touring oldies shows as a headliner. The first of these oldies rock and roll shows was presented by Richard Nader at Madison Square Garden.
As time passed Fats spent more and more time in his Big Easy and less time performing. Never one who liked to fly, he limited his travel and eventually stopped performing anywhere but around New Orleans. Because of this Fats soon became “out of sight, out of mind”. What hurled him back to prominence was having lost his home and the fear he had drowned during Hurricane Katrina. Grateful fans realized Fats was still kicking and his popularity has rebounded despite his lack of performing.
Fats’ popularity and enduring impact made him a charter member of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. When TV specials feature music and artists of the 50s, most of it revolves around the planets of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley. All were stars no doubt, but also volatile characters that make interesting headlines. Fats on the other hand is quiet and almost shy and not as comfortable in interview type situations. He once said, “I let my music do my talking for me.” Yet Chuck, Little Richard, Jerry Lee and Bo had fewer top 40 hits combined (30) than did Fats Domino (36), according to Joel Whitburn’s fine book on the history of music charts from 1955 to the present. Supposedly only Elvis Presley sold more records in the 1950s than Fats. Quite good company!
The Beach Music Hall of Fame proudly inducts and salutes the fat man from New Orleans The man who Jerry Lee Lewis called, “One of the great talents of the world.” Antoine Fats Domino.