What do you give The Fat Man who has everything? In celebration of his 70th birthday on February 28th, here are some simple tributes to remind everyone that Fats’ (who is still going strong) performances and his songs are forever young.
HE CUTS THROUGH THE CRAP
70. He is one of the main reasons we don’t have to listen to crap like Pat Boone anymore.
69. Fats got the last laugh on the (deservedly) much-maligned Pat Boone, whose lachrymose glucose overdose number one hit of “Ain’t That A Shame” has only been heard by Pat’s mother in the last 40 years. As Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler commented, “Fats Domino is still the thing. Who cares about what’s-his-name with the white buck shoes? A lovely person…a guy who did the best he can…Unhhh… What’s his name??”
68. He also got the last laugh on Steve Allen, who once ridiculed “Ain’t That A Shame” by reading the lyrics on his television show as though they were remedial poetry. As Dave Bartholomew notes of the song, (unlike Allen’s many tunes) “It’ll be here when the world comes to an end.”
67. Every time the music establishment tried to turn him into a ballad singer, Fats rocked all the harder. He followed “Blueberry Hill” with two pounding rockers — Dave Bartholomew’s gritty, working man’s blues, “Blue Monday,” and “I’m Walkin’.”
66. He was “ready, willing and aaaa-ble to rock ‘n’ roll all night!” through the late 1950s and early 1960s when other rock legends were packing it in and getting ready to fold the rock ‘n’ roll tent — producing classic rockers like “Whole Lotta Loving,” “Be My Guest,” “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday” “My Girl Josephine,” “Let The Four Winds Blow” and, the anthem, “I’m Ready.”
65. When asked, Fats told it like it was, whether journalists (who mostly first discovered rhythm & blues through Elvis Presley records) wanted to hear it or not: “What they call ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ now is rhythm & blues and I’ve been playing it for 15 years in New Orleans.”
THE DOMINO EFFECT
64. “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.”
63. His “New Orleans sound” influenced all rhythm & blues, which thereafter became known as “rock ‘n’ roll.”
62. Art Rupe of Specialty Records, who recorded Lloyd Price, Little Richard and others in New Orleans, states, “I went down to New Orleans to look for talent because I had admired Fats Domino and I liked that sound.”
61. Fats’ first number one hit, “Goin’ Home,” heavily influenced both Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used To Do” (with Ray Charles playing Domino-style piano triplets!) and Leiber & Stoller’s “Kansas City,” which became a classic by yet another Domino fan, Wilbert Harrison.
60. Fats inspired Little Richard, who recorded his hits in New Orleans with some of the same musicians. Later on, Domino helped Richard backslide — the first three secular songs he recorded in his escape from preaching were Fats’ “I’m In Love Again,” “Every Night About This Time” and “Valley Of Tears.”
59. “Going To The River” was the first “rhythm & blues” song that Bobby Charles, John Fred and Buddy Holly ever heard.
58. “I’m In Love Again” was the first “rock ‘n’ roll” song that George Harrison heard.
57. “Ain’t That A Shame” was the first song that John Lennon learned.
HE REDUCES MUSIC CRITICS TO BLUBBERING FANS
56. When the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, was finally able to bring Fats and his band over to England for the first time in 1967, Record Mirror raved that Fats “completely and utterly enraptured a thrilled audience with his warm, happy brand of New Orleans rock, blues or whatever you care to call it. His voice was superb, his piano playing exciting and his nine-piece band inspired.”
55. Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone, reviewed Domino’s “comeback” album in 1968: “Fats Is Back is unequivocally a fine record in all respects. The closing track on side one is ‘Lady Madonna,’ surely as good a cover of a Beatles’ song as ever has been done…”
54. 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.”
53. Todd Everett of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner wrote in 1986: “If Friday night’s Fats Domino/Jerry Lee Lewis concert at the Long Beach Terrace Theater wasn’t the musical event of the decade, it’s only because that honor remains with last year’s Domino/Rick Nelson show at the Universal Amphitheater.”
52. 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…Forty-two years after his first record, he is still making music as fresh and vital as ever.”
THREE WORDS: “WOO! WOO! WOO!”
51. Fats proudly pioneered nonsense, with cries of “wah wah wah” in “The Fat Man” and “Going To The River” and “woo woo woo” in “Please Don’t Leave Me.”
50. The doo wop groups Cleftones and The Four Lovers (with Frankie Valli), along with the wild rockabillies the Johnny Burnette Trio, regularly performed the frenzied “woo woo woo”s of “Please Don’t Leave Me;” even zydeco great Clifton Chenier put it into a medley with Domino’s “La La,” calling it “Who Who Who.”
49. At the peak of the nonsense, Bartholomew and Domino overheard a man in a Philadelphia restaurant complaining to a waiter about whoever started this “woo-woo-woo” business. Dave pointed to Fats and said, “That’s the man.”
48. Fats’ “I’m In Love Again” likewise popularized the lines — “Ooh-whee, baby! Oo-ooh-whee! Baby, don’t let your dog bite me!” — that soon helped give both Art Neville and Frank Ford their starts — Neville in his first (Domino-styled) solo record “Oooh-Whee Baby” and Ford as the hook in “Sea Cruise” (with “Ooo-Whee Baby” later titling a Ford CD and his personalized license plate).
HE’S FAT AND THAT’S THAT
47. He’s never done a Weight Watchers commercial.
46. Hey, he even bragged about weighing 200 pounds.
45. He’s inspired fat men everywhere, notably the 600-pound circus performer who sang “The Fat Man” proudly in the voice of Robbie Robertson in the movie Carny.
44. He even inspired others who wanted to be fat — like Pat Boone, who (of course!?) also did the song.
43. He is an unrepentant pig foot eater.
42. He’s a great cook, with two flavors designed to fit either taste: very spicy hot or yeoowwwwwwww!
41. He pioneered spicy chicken with his Fats Domino “New Orleans Style” Fried Chicken franchise in 1969, but was not bitter when Popeye’s cashed in on his concept, even doing commercials and a jingle (“Don’t Mess With My Popeye’s”): “One day I was walkin’,/I heard Josephine talkin’/She had my favorite chicken,/That’s when I fell in love!”
HE HELPS OTHERS
40. He played the awesome rolling piano solos and triplets on Lloyd Price’s classic “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”
39. He personally played his new song “Going To The River” for a just starting Chuck Willis, not knowing that Chuck’s version would fight his all the way up the charts!
38. He turned down Dave Bartholomew’s classic “I Hear You Knocking” so that his Imperial Records labelmate, Smiley Lewis, could have a hit — unfortunately, Gale “My Little Margie” Storm wasn’t so charitable.
37. He turned down Bobby Charles’ “See You Later, Alligator” — not only paving the way for Bobby’s own career, but also helping Fats’ main competition of the moment, Bill Haley & the Comets.
36. 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 1960 Dodge Dart.
35. Fats (almost) helped the Bee Gees, the Australian-based group who made their British debut as the opening act for Domino’s first London shows in 1967. Unfortunately, they whined “Puff, The Magic Dragon” and were egged by the teddy boy rockers impatient to see the Fat Man!
34. Fats regularly employed some of New Orleans’ greatest — often otherwise neglected — musicians in his bands: Herbert Hardesty (with Fats from 1949 to the present), 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.
33. He even helped out Paul McCartney by giving him a few songs to record recently: “Ain’t That A Shame” (twice), “I’m In Love Again” and “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday” (Can the Ninth Ward Oratorio and Standing Dominos be far behind?)
HE’S THE ONE AND ONLY
32. He gave Jimmy Beasley, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Joe Barry, Joe Jones, Big Al Downing, Jerry Jaye and Al Jackson a good role model.
31. He likewise “inspired” the names of Chubby Checker, Round Robin, Tubby Chess and Pudgy Parcheesi.
30. With his unique French Creole drawl, Fats created a language all of his own — “My bleu heh-vawn” and “Wimh mah dreamboat ca-u-wms home.”
29. “He could sing the National Anthem,” says Cosimo Matassa, in whose studios Domino found fame, “you’d still know by the time he said two words it was him, obviously and pleasurably him.”
HE DOESN’T TALK TOO MUCH
28. Fats turned down the hit “You Talk Too Much” (a song written by his brother-in-law, Reggie Hall, who subsequently gave it to the verbose Joe Jones), probably because he doesn’t — he rarely utters a spare word during his non-stop parade of hits at his shows.
27. Fats is a master of lyrical minimalism — “Ain’t That A Shame” has less than three dozen different words, “Whole Lotta Lovin'” less than two dozen; “Hey! La Bas Boogie” has only six French Creole words and no one is quite sure what they mean!
26. He’s never cared much for fame — the reason he has very rarely appeared on television or done interviews (unlike, say, the ubiquitous and loquacious Little Richard).
HE GAVE EVERYONE A THRILL
25. Not only did Domino pay tribute to Louis Armstrong by doing “Blueberry Hill,” Fats’ massive hit also drew Armstrong’s 1949 version into the top 30 of the pop charts in late 1956.
24. “Blueberry Hill” was possibly the only song actually sung by the famed “Million Dollar Quartet” of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, who left soon after a picture was taken of the group (with Elvis at the piano!). Unfortunately, Sam Phillips of Sun Records hadn’t turned on his tape recorder yet!
23. “Blueberry Hill” gave teenagers a sexual innuendo with the line “I found my thrill” and inspired the infamous kings of R&B sex songs, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — “There’s a thrill on the hill, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”
22. “Blueberry Hill” was a major makeout ballad for couples in the backseats of cars in the 1950s. If you were born in the late 1950s, there’s a good chance that not only did your parents find their thrill to “Blueberry Hill,” the song also inspired you.
THOSE MAGIC FINGERS
21. From his early teens to his scintillating, 90-minute set at the Boomtown Casino last July, Fats has always played intensely, often tiring out his own musicians.
20. From “The Fat Man” on, Fats created and played memorable piano parts. “Fats did a lot of good things on the piano,” says Herbert Hardesty, “like the way he started ‘Blueberry Hill,’ and the thing with ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ — the beginning with the piano solo. And I think this has helped — along with my saxophone solos!”
19. “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.”
THREE NOTES: “CLING! CLING! CLING!”
18. Domino’s second national hit, “Every Night About This Time,” popularized persistent, hammering piano triplets that put the rhythm in rhythm & blues ballads. By 1956 when people were again looking to get their hands on whoever started that ubiquitous sound, Billboard pointed the finger at Domino for starting “the whole business of triplets.”
17. Domino’s triplet style dominated both New Orleans rhythm & blues, swamp pop and even vocal group music, where groups like the Platters drove the sometimes maddeningly repetitive piano triplets into the ground, leading Stan Freberg to parody “The Great Pretender” with a be bop session pianist exclaiming, “My hand is falling off, man!”
16. Triplets diffused into all areas of pop — notably in Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In The Game” (a 1951 record that merely added triplets for a #1 hit in 1958), Percy Faith’s “(Theme From) A Summer Place,” Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody,” Sly & the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime,” the Beatles’ “Oh, Darling” and John Lennon’s appropriately titled “(Just Like) Starting Over.
HE CHANGED HISTORY FOR GOOD
15. 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 #1 spot for five solid months.
14. He led numerous rock ‘n’ roll caravans across America that broke down barriers, carrying integrated shows to all parts of North America — none more impressive than the fall 1957 edition of the “The Biggest Show Of Stars” (during the time of the Little Rock school integration riots), which — after Domino — included Chuck Berry, the Drifters, Paul Anka, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Eddie Cochran, LaVern Baker, Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter and the Everly Brothers!
13. Fats developed a huge following among all ethnic groups — an incredible accomplishment in those days of legal or de facto segregation. Billy Diamond, the bass player/road manager that gave Fats his nickname, states: “Fats made integration…The whites all through the country accepted Fats. Fats was the Martin Luther King of music, because he made integration. He brought more whites and blacks together, Indians, everything.”
YOU LOVE HIM, HE LOVES YOU
12. He was country before country was cool in black neighborhoods. Fats listened to Gene Autry as a child and had hits with two Hank Williams songs, “Jambalaya” and “You Win Again,” shortly before Ray Charles released his historic Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music.
11. Likewise, country people were listening to Fats a long time before that was cool — “Blueberry Hill” actually made the country charts in 1956. “In the white honky-tonks where I was playin’ they were punchin’ ‘Blueberry Hill’ and ‘I Want To Walk You Home,'” says Carl Perkins. “And white cats were dancin’ to Fats Domino.” Fats’ last national hit was “Whiskey Heaven” on the country charts in 1980.
10. 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!”
9. 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…”
8. As a Las Vegas musician put it, “Fats wants people to have a good time. Most of the people who have heard him over the years are thrilled just getting a chance to see him in person, but think how much more excited they are when they get a chance to say hello to him or shake hands with him. He treats people beautifully.”
7. He also has a great sense of humor.
NINTH WARD BORN AND BRED
6. Fats was born in a shotgun house in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans 70 years ago. Today, he lives in a (newly-remodeled, hump-backed, double) shotgun house in the Ninth Ward with the word “FATS” proudly blazing across the front.
5. “Walking To New Orleans” is as good a Crescent City anthem as any. “Right now when I go away, I still got home on my mind,” says Fats. “New Orleans is a good place for everything and anything.”
4. 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. He’s still here.”
3. Fats has come a long way from the boy in overalls on the dirt streets of the Ninth Ward in the days of total segregation to a becoming a legend whom even the President wants to jam with: “I’d love to [play saxophone with Fats on] ‘I’m Walkin’,'” said Bill Clinton at a New Orleans campaign stop in 1992.
2. Though Fats was (and is) as much a king as any other rocker, his philosophy was summed up in “Be My Guest” when he sang, “I’m the king, but you can wear my crown…”
1. And he’s modest. “Well, I wouldn’t want to say that I started it [rock ‘n’ roll], but I don’t remember anyone else before me playing that kind of stuff.”
Rick Coleman would love encouragement, comments or information in his works on Fats Domino and New Orleans R&B. Write him at 20096 Campground Rd., Covington, LA 70435