Billy Diamond, who was instrumental in the launch of Fats Domino’s career, passed away in Los Angeles, October 20 from natural causes. He was 95.
Diamond was born in New Orleans on October 5, 1916, and grew up on Louisiana Avenue. “Louis Armstrong actually gave me a trumpet in 1930, but I never learned to play it,” recalled Diamond in 1999. “I used to make guitars out of screen wire and basses out of old inner tubes tied to washtubs. That’s how I learned to play bass. Later I got a Kay bass and learned from Tom Copelin and Marvin Kimble. They were Dixieland players.”
Diamond served in the military during World War II. When the war ended, he made music his profession.
“My first band was Billy Diamond and the Mellow Riff Trio,” he said. “We worked a lot around the Ninth Ward. I was pretty good about selling the band.”
Diamond’s first break occurred in 1947 when the band became part of the “Dawn Patrol,” a WWEZ radio program sponsored by Jax beer. That same year, he formed a new band that, beside himself, consisted of Frank Parker, Harrison Verret and an untested piano player, Antoine Domino.
“I knew Fats from hanging out at a grocery store. He reminded me of Fats Waller and Fats Pichon. Those guys were big names and Antoine—that’s what everybody called him then—had just got married and gained weight. I started calling him ‘Fats’ and it stuck.”
“Dave [Bartholomew] heard about us at the Hideaway, and one night he brought Lew Chudd [owner of Imperial Records] down there. Obviously, they liked what they heard because they signed Fats.”
Bartholomew used his own band on Domino’s recordings, but Diamond’s Solid Senders backed Fats in concert. Diamond also served as road manager, and when Domino’s career began to skyrocket in the mid-1950s, he put the bass down and became Domino’s full-time road manager.
Diamond worked with Domino until 1962, when he opted for a career change. When in Los Angeles, Domino played at the 5/4 Ballroom. Diamond befriended the owner and was hired to manage the club. He did so until 1969, and then got into the record promotion business. However, Diamond never forgot his New Orleans roots and visited often, rekindling old friendships.
Diamond is survived by a wife and two daughters.