Antoine “Fats” Domino, the paramount musician whose music spans over half a century, passed away in the night of October 24. Launching his career as a member of the 1940s rock ‘n’ roll outfit the Solid Senders, Fats went on to ensure New Orleans’ place in music history for decades, selling tens of millions of records throughout his career as a solo artist. The man of French Creole descent sold one-million copies of 1949’s “The Fat Man,” a remarkable achievement for an artist of that era, though by no means his only milestone.
Fats earned OffBeat’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Music at the 2007 Best of the Beat awards ceremony. At the time, John Swenson wrote of his upbringing and career, beginning with his birthplace at 1937 Jourdan Avenue. As Swenson recalled, “He grew up in the New Orleans tradition, listening to music played by his older relatives and joining in after the family obtained an upright piano when he was ten years old. He worked various jobs, including a stint at the Fair Grounds Racetrack, where his father was a groundskeeper for many years, but Domino lived to play the piano at backyard parties and Ninth Ward barrooms. He became a local sensation as a teenager for his hot boogie woogie playing, especially his rendition of Albert Ammons’ ‘Swanee River Boogie.'”
At the ceremony that year, held at the House of Blues in New Orleans, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared the day “Fats Domino Day in New Orleans” and presented him with a signed declaration. OffBeat publisher Jan Ramsey and WWL-TV’s Eric Paulsen presented Domino with the Lifetime Achievement Award. An all-star musical tribute followed with an introduction by the legendary producer Cosimo Matassa. The Lil’ Band o’ Gold rhythm section, Warren Storm, Kenny Bill Stinson, David Egan and C. C. Adcock, anchored the band, and each contributed lead vocals, swamp pop legend Warren Storm leading off with “Let the Four Winds Blow” and “The Prisoner Song”, which he proudly introduced by saying, “Fats Domino recorded this in 1958 … and so did I.” The horn section included Lil’ Band o’ Gold’s Dickie Landry, the Iguanas’ Derek Huston, and long-time Domino horn men Roger Lewis, Elliot “Stackman” Callier and Herb Hardesty. They were joined by Jon Cleary (who also played guitar in the rhythm section), Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Irma Thomas, George Porter Jr. (who provided a funky arrangement for “You Keep on Knocking”), Art Neville, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, who wrote and debuted a song in tribute of Domino for the occasion. Though Domino did not perform, those near him recall him miming playing the piano and singing along to his own songs.
In the May 2015 cover story for OffBeat, David Kunian wrote said of legendary pianist and songwriter, “You can hear Fats Domino everywhere in New Orleans, even in places where there is silence…Either way and both ways, or any other way, Antoine still wants to walk you home after he’s got a new pair of shoes from walking to New Orleans as he lets the four winds blow while he’s going to be a wheel some day and, by the way, hello Josephine, how do you do, etcetera. You get the message. You already had that message and the music in you, and you are better off for it. And that ain’t a shame.”
As reported by CNN, “Domino passed away due to natural causes, according to Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish Medical Examiner’s office in Louisiana.”
OffBeat sends the Domino family and all those who loved him condolences. Farewell, brother.