Rick Coleman, author of Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ’n’ Roll, contributed these simple tributes for Fats Domino’s 70th birthday in 1998.
“The Fat Man” is the coolest debut record ever, defining both the singer and his rockin’ sound, and is perhaps even the fabled “first rock ’n’ roll record.”
“Going To The River” was the first “rhythm & blues” song that Bobby Charles, John Fred and Buddy Holly ever heard.
“I’m In Love Again” was the first “rock ’n’ roll” song that George Harrison heard.
“Ain’t That a Shame” was the first song that John Lennon learned.
Even after Domino virtually stopped recording in the 1970s, the raves continued. Robert Palmer of the New York Times wrote in 1977: “Mr. Domino ended his whirlwind set, a set that included some marvelous boogie piano as well as his usual inimitable vocals, with ‘When The Saints Go Marching In,’ and Mr. Bartholomew led the band’s horn players in a strutting march around the [Madison Square] Garden. The result was sheer exuberant bedlam…[Chuck Berry’s] performance was an anticlimax after Mr. Domino.”
Peter Watrous of the New York Times wrote in 1991: “For a decade or two Mr. Domino brought [New Orleans’] sense of joy, along with its rhythms and anarchic sensibility to the rest of the country… 42 years after his first record, he is still making music as fresh and vital as ever.”
He helped make “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday” into a true story. Baton Rouge Cajun Roy Hayes, who wrote it in anger at his boss at his packing job, later got royalties from Domino’s hit that enabled him to buy a cherry-colored 1960 Dodge Dart.
Fats regularly employed some of New Orleans’ greatest—often otherwise neglected—musicians in his bands: Herbert Hardesty (with Fats from 1949), Lee Allen, “Tenoo” Coleman, “Papoose” Nelson, Wendell Duconge, Clarence Ford, Ernest McLean, Roy Montrell, Nat Perrilliat, Walter Kimble, Fred Kemp, Clarence Brown, “Smokey” Johnson, Roger Lewis, Jimmy Moliere, Erving Charles, etc.
“Fats was a hell of a lot better musician than people give him credit for,” says Earl Palmer, the father of the rock ‘n’ roll backbeat. “He had a lot of original thoughts and they were all creative. A lot of music came out of him that everybody else was doin’, for example, those [piano] triplets.”
He actually had more hit songs (over 50) than Elvis Presley in the 1950s. He dominated the R&B charts for 13 crucial years, including an incredible stretch from 1956–1957 in which he held down the number one spot for five solid months.
The Beatles serenaded Fats in a trailer in back of City Park Stadium before their September 1964 concert in New Orleans. Says Fats: “They started singing one of my numbers, ‘I’m In Love Again,’ and of course I joined in!”
When Fats played Las Vegas, he was surrounded by stars who loved him. “Elvis used to come to all the late shows, so he wouldn’t be heavily noticed,” says Andy Chudd, who managed Domino for a short time in the 1970s, “which was tough to do, but he loved Fats, he thought he was a great entertainer. But so many name people I saw see him—you know, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. These were people that would be working the show rooms, and after they were done, they’d come out and watch him. Muhammad Ali meeting him in his prime… Louis Armstrong…”
Other than music, Fats loves nothing better than cooking and talking with his friends at home. As Fats’ longtime right-hand man Raymond Allen says, “They should name a street or something after him. He didn’t do like a lot of musicians, got big and left here and moved away.”