Herb Hardesty, one of the architects of the Fats Domino sound and a cornerstone of Domino’s fabulous band for nearly six decades, died December 3 at his Las Vegas home. He was 91. Hardesty provided the distinctive tenor sax solos on such Domino hits such as “I’m Walkin’,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Let The Four Winds Blow” and “Blue Monday,” among others. Under Dave Bartholomew’s supervision, he also backed Chubby Newsome, Smiley Lewis, Tommy Ridgley, Lloyd Price and Bobby Mitchell.
“Back in the 1940s I had worked with every big band in New Orleans,” recalled Hardesty in 1991. “In the late ’40s I met Dave Bartholomew who one day asked me if I wanted to record for ‘The Fat Man.’ I thought he meant The Fatman who had a mystery program on the radio. ‘The Fat Man’ turned out to be a blues singer and piano player who was working at the Hideaway Club. I agreed and went in the studio to record ‘The Fat Man’ with Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino.”
From then on, it seemed like everything Dave recorded with Fats was a hit. I spent many hours in the studio building up Fats’ repertoire. I consider myself very fortunate to be part of that regime.”
Hardesty was born March 3, 1925, and grew up in Central City. Trumpet lessons started at the age of six as Hardesty’s stepfather obtained one of Louis Armstrong’s instruments to get him started. Taught by the legendary music tutor Professor Valmore Victor, Hardesty was on the fast track to a musical education. By 1935 he was working with the local WPA band and taking gigs with Papa Celestin and Sidney Desvigne.
Hardesty’s music career was put on hold when he enlisted in 1941. Upon his discharge in 1945, he enrolled at Dillard University, bought a saxophone and began taking lessons. Hardesty, and later saxophonist Lee Allen, would be Bartholomew’s first call for studio work throughout the early 1950s. In 1955, Bartholomew asked Hardesty if he would join Domino’s touring band. After the first tour, in addition to anchoring the horn section, Hardesty became Domino’s de facto road manager [though Billy Diamond was Domino’s road manager for much of his career].
Along with his duties running Domino’s band, Hardesty made several solo/instrumental recordings on labels like Wing, Federal and Mutual, many that were reissued in 2012 on the Ace CD, The Domino Effect.
Hardesty continued to tour with Domino until 1971 when he moved to Las Vegas. In Nevada, he played with the likes of Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett and even Wilson Pickett.
In 1978, Hardesty and his old New Orleans studio buddy, drummer Earl Palmer, joined Tom Waits’ touring band to promote the Blue Valentine album. Hardesty toured the globe with Waits for the better part of a year, playing both tenor and trumpet. Hardesty rejoined Domino’s band in 1980, playing with him until his last appearance at Tipitina’s in 2006 and at the Best of the Beat Awards in 2007.
Hardesty is survived by a companion of 35 years, Marty de la Rosa, his sons Michael and Kirk Hardesty, daughters Shari Weber and Leslie Echols and step sons Tony and Mike de la Rosa.