Friday, November 3, 2017

The Late Great Fats Domino

Rock 'n' roll legend Fats Domino died on October 24 2017 at the age of 89.

Fats Domino was born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. on February 26 1928 in New Orleans. His interest in music began when his family inherited a piano when he was 10 years old. His brother-in-law, traditional jazz guitarist Harrison Verrett, taught him the basics of playing the instrument. Afterwards young Antoine Domino became absolutely fanatical about playing the piano. He was influenced by such boogie woogie performers as Meade Lux Lewis, Pinetop Smith, and Amos Milburn.

By the time he was 14 years old Antoine Domino was playing in clubs in New Orleans. It was in 1947 that he began playing with bassist Billy Diamond and his band the Solid Senders at the club the Hideaway. It was Billy Diamonds who nicknamed him "Fats", not only because of his size but because he reminded him of pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.

It was in 1949 that Lew Chudd, the owner of Imperial Records in Los Angeles, went to the Hideaway in New Orleans Mr. Chudd signed Fats Domino immediately. What is more, unlike many contracts of the time. Fats Domino's contract with Imperial Records specified that he be paid royalties based on continued sales rather than a flat fee for each song. It was in December 1949 that Mr. Domino's first single, "The Fat Man", was released. It proved to be a hit, going to number 2 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart. It also proved to be very influential, as it is often counted as one of the first rock 'n' roll records.

In 1950 and 1951 Mr. Domino would have more hits on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart, including "Every Night About This Time" and"Rockin' Chair". His first hit to cross over to the Billboard singles chart was "Goin' Home", which went to no. 1 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart and no. 30 on the singles chart. From 1952 to 1955 Mr. Domino would have several more hits. "Poor Poor Me", "How Long", "Please Don't Leave Me", "Rose Mary", "Something's Wrong", "You Done Me Wrong", "I Know", and "Don't You Know" all performed extremely well on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart. The song "Going to the River" also crossed over to the Billboard singles chart.

It was in 1955 that Fats Domino would have his first major crossover hit. "Ain't That a Shame" hit no. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. It peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard singles chart. It eventually sold one million copies. It would also be Fats Domino's first hit in the United Kingdom, reaching no.23 on the British singles chart. The song would be covered multiple times by such artists as Pat Boone, The Four Seasons, John Lennon, and, most notably, by Cheap Trick. It was the first song John Lennon, later of The Beatles, ever learned to play.

Following "Ain't That a Shame" Fats Domino regularly had hits on both the Billboard singles chart and the Billboard R&B chart. What is more, some of his songs would actually chart higher than "Ain't That a Shame" on the singles chart. "I'm in Love Again" peaked at no. 1 on the R&B chart and no. 3 on the singles chart. Its B-side, Mr. Domino's cover of "My Blue Heaven" also charted, going to no. 5 on the R&B chart and no. 19 on the singles chart. At least going by its chart position, "Blueberry Hill" would be the biggest hit of Fats Domino's career. It went to no. 1 on the R&B chart and no. 2 on the singles chart. Fats Domino's other major hits during the era were "Bo Weevil", "When My Dreamboat Comes Home", "Blue Monday", I'm Walkin'", "Valley of Tears", "When I See You", and "It's You I Love".

Beginning in late 1957 Fats Domino's career went into a slight decline, although he would still have several hits over the next several years. His single "Whole Lotta Loving" went to 6 on the singles chart and no. 2 on the R&B in 1958.  That same year "I Want to Walk You Home" went to no. 8 on the singles chart and no. 1 on the R&B chart. The following year "Be My Guest" peaked at no. 8 on the singles chart and no. 2 on the R&B chart  In 1960 he had hits with "Walking to New Orleans" and "My Girl Josephine".

Unfortunately by 1962 Fats Domino was no longer having the hits he once did. That having been said, he was still a very popular performer around the world. In 1962 he toured Europe and met an up-and-coming band called The Beatles. It was in 1963 that Imperial was sold and Fats Domino left the label. He signed with ABC-Paramount Records. Sadly, only one of Fats Domino's songs recorded with ABC-Paramount would prove to be a hit. "Red Sails in the Sunset" went to no. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 24 on the R&B chart.

While Fats Domino did not see the success that he once had, he continued to  record. He signed with Mercury Records in 1965, Broadmoor in 1967, and then Reprise in 1968. After "New Orleans Ain't the Same" he released only two more singles, "Sleeping on the Job" in 1978 and "Whiskey Heaven" in 1980.

Despite the fact that he would record no more singles, Mr. Domino recorded several more albums after 1970. In fact, he regularly released albums until 1981. His final album was released in 2006, Alive and Kickin'.

Fats Domino continued to perform even after he stopped recording. He made one last tour of Europe in 1995. After having fallen ill during the tour he retired from touring, although he continued to perform in the New Orleans area. He made yearly appearances the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, as well as other events in the New Orleans area. He and his family survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005, even though he lost everything.

It is not enough to say that Fats Domino was a rock 'n' roll legend. Quite simply, he was one of the inventors of the genre. He was recording rock 'n' roll records as far back as 1949, well before the genre would receive the name by which it would be best known. As might be expected as one of rock 'n' roll's earliest innovators, Fats Domino had an enormous amount of influence. At a 1969 press conference in Las Vegas, when a reporter called him "the king", Mr. Presley gestured to Fats Domino and said, "There’s the real king of rock ’n’ roll." The Beatles credited Mr. Domino as one of their influences. As mentioned earlier, "Ain't That a Shame"was the first song John Lennon learned to play. George Harrison said that "I'm in Love Again" was the first rock 'n' roll song he ever heard. Ultimately Fats Domino would be an influence on artists as diverse as Cheap Trick, The Voidoids, and Yellowman.

During his career Fats Domino sold 65 million singles. He had 23 gold records. He was the best selling African American recording artist in the Fifties. His style was buoyant and bouncy, a fusion of New Orleans boogie woogie and rhythm and blues. On a personal note, I think most people would find it difficult not to smile upon hearing a Fats Domino record. If he was so influential, it was because he was so very good at what he did and able to bring people joy while doing it.

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