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The most popular exponent of the classic New Orleans R&B sound, Fats Domino sold more records than any other black rock & roll star of the 1950s. His relaxed, lolling boogie-woogie piano style and easygoing, warm vocals anchored a long series of national hits from the mid-'50s to the early '60s. Through it all, his basic approach rarely changed. He may not have been one of early rock's most charismatic, innovative, or threatening figures, but he was certainly one of its most consistent.
Domino's first single, "The Fat Man" (1949), is one of the dozens of tracks that have been consistently singled out as a candidate for the first rock & roll record. As far as Fats was concerned, he was just playing what he'd already been doing in New Orleans for years, and would continue to play and sing in pretty much the same fashion even after his music was dubbed "rock & roll."
The record made number two on the R&B charts, and sold a million copies. Just as important, it established a vital partnership between Fats and Imperial A&R man Dave Bartholomew. Bartholomew, himself a trumpeter, would produce Domino's big hits, co-writing many of them with Fats. He would also usually employ New Orleans session greats like Alvin Tyler on sax and Earl Palmer on drums -- musicians who were vital in establishing New Orleans R&B as a distinct entity, playing on many other local recordings as well (including hits made in New Orleans by Georgia native Little Richard).
Domino didn't cross over into the pop charts in a big way until 1955, when "Ain't That a Shame" made the Top Ten. Pat Boone's cover of the song stole some of Fats' thunder, going all the way to number one (Boone was also bowdlerizing Little Richard's early singles for pop hits during this time). Domino's long-range prospects weren't damaged, however; between 1955 and 1963, he racked up an astonishing 35 Top 40 singles. "Blueberry Hill" (1956) was probably his best (and best-remembered) single; "Walking to New Orleans," "Whole Lotta Loving," "I'm Walking," "Blue Monday," and "I'm in Love Again" were also huge successes.
After Fats left Imperial for ABC-Paramount in 1963, he would only enter the Top 40 one more time. The surprise was not that Fats fell out of fashion, but that he'd maintained his popularity so long while the essentials of his style remained unchanged. This was during an era, remember, when most of rock's biggest stars had their careers derailed by death or scandal, or were made to soften up their sound for mainstream consumption. Although an active performer in the ensuing decades, his career as an important artist was essentially over in the mid-'60s. He did stir up a bit of attention in 1968 when he covered the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" single, which had been an obvious homage to Fats' style.
Antoine "Fats" Domino Jr. (born February 26, 1928) is an American rhythm and blues and rock and roll pianist and singer-songwriter. Domino released five gold (million-copy-selling) records before 1955. He also had 35 Top 40 American hits and has a music style based on traditional rhythm and blues ensembles of bass, piano, electric guitar, drums, and saxophone.Cite error: The named reference autogenerated2006 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
ContentsLife1.1 Early career (1947-1948)1.2 Imperial Records era (1949–1962)1.3 Post-Imperial recording career (1963–1970s)1.4 Later career (1980s–2005)1.5 Domino and Hurricane Katrina1.6 Post-Katrina activity
Domino was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Domino family were of French Creole background; Louisiana Creole French was his first language. Domino was delivered at home by his midwife grandmother. Like most families in the Lower Ninth Ward, Domino's family were new arrivals from Vacherie, Louisiana.
His father was a well-known violinist, and Domino was inspired to play himself. He eventually learned from his uncle, jazz guitarist Harrison Verrett.
Early career (1947-1948)
Billy Diamond, a New Orleans bandleader, discovered Domino when he accepted an invitation to hear a young pianist perform at a backyard barbecue in the summer of 1947. The pianist impressed Diamond enough that he asked Domino to play in his band, the Solid Senders, at the Hideaway Club in New Orleans. He nicknamed him "Fats" because Domino reminded him of renowned pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.
Imperial Records era (1949–1962)
Domino first attracted national attention with "The Fat Man" in 1950 on Imperial Records. This song is an early rock and roll record, featuring a rolling piano and Domino doing "wah-wah" vocalizing over a strong back beat. "The Fat Man" sold one million copies by 1953. Fats Domino released a series of hit songs with producer and co-writer Dave Bartholomew, saxophonists Herbert Hardesty and Alvin "Red" Tyler and drummers Earl Palmer and Smokey Johnson. Other notable and long-standing musicians in Domino's band were saxophonists Reggie Houston, Lee Allen, and Fred Kemp, Domino's trusted bandleader. Domino finally crossed into the pop mainstream with "Ain't That A Shame" (1955), which hit the Top Ten, though Pat Boone characteristically hit No. 1 with a milder cover of the song that received wider radio airplay in a racially-segregated era. Domino eventually had 37 Top 40 singles.
Domino's first album, Carry on Rockin', was released under the Imperial imprint, No. 9009, in November 1955 and subsequently reissued as Rock and Rollin' with Fats Domino in 1956. Combining a number of his hits along with some tracks that had not yet been released as singles, the album went on under its alternate title to reach No. 17 on the "Pop Albums" chart.
His 1956 version of the 1940 Vincent Rose, Al Lewis & Larry Stock song, "Blueberry Hill" reached No. 2 in the Top 40, was No. 1 on the R&B charts for 11 weeks, and was his biggest hit. "Blueberry Hill" sold more than 5 million copies worldwide in 1956–57. The song had earlier been recorded by Gene Autry, and Louis Armstrong among many others. He had further hit singles between 1956 and 1959, including "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" (Pop No. 14), "I'm Walkin'" (Pop No. 4), "Valley of Tears" (Pop No. 8), "It's You I Love" (Pop No. 6), "Whole Lotta Loving" (Pop No. 6), "I Want to Walk You Home" (Pop No. 8), and "Be My Guest" (Pop No. 8).
Domino appeared in two films released in 1956: Shake, Rattle & Rock! and The Girl Can't Help It. On December 18, 1957, his hit "The Big Beat" was featured on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
On November 2, 1956, a riot broke out at Fats Domino's show in Fayetteville, NC, with police resorting to tear gas to break up the unruly crowd. Domino jumped out of a window to avoid the melee; he and two other band members were slightly injured.
Domino continued to have a steady series of hits for Imperial through early 1962, including "Walkin' to New Orleans" (1960, Pop No. 6), co-written by Bobby Charles, and "My Girl Josephine" (Pop No. 14) from the same year. After Imperial Records was sold to outside interests in early 1963, Domino left the label: "I stuck with them until they sold out," he claimed in 1979. In all, Domino recorded over 60 singles for the label, placing 40 songs in the top 10 on the R&B charts, and scoring 11 top 10 singles on the pop charts. Twenty-two of Domino's Imperial singles were double-sided hits.
Post-Imperial recording career (1963–1970s)
Domino moved to ABC-Paramount Records in 1963. The label dictated that he record in Nashville rather than New Orleans. He was assigned a new producer (Felton Jarvis) and a new arranger (Bill Justis); Domino's long-term collaboration with producer/arranger/frequent co-writer Dave Bartholomew, who oversaw virtually all of his Imperial hits, was seemingly at an end.
Jarvis and Justis changed the Domino sound somewhat, notably by adding the backing of a countrypolitan-style vocal chorus to most of his new recordings. Perhaps as a result of this tinkering with an established formula, Domino's chart career was drastically curtailed. He released 11 singles for ABC-Paramount, but only had one top 40 entry with "Red Sails In The Sunset" (1963). By the end of 1964 the British Invasion had changed the tastes of the record-buying public, and Domino's chart run was over.
Despite the lack of chart success, Domino continued to record steadily until about 1970, leaving ABC-Paramount in mid-1965 and recording for a variety of other labels: Mercury, Dave Bartholomew's small Broadmoor label (reuniting with Bartholomew along the way), and Reprise. His final Top 100 chart single was on Reprise, a cover of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna", which peaked at No. 100 in 1968. Domino appeared in the Monkees' 1969 TV special 33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee. He also continued as a popular live act for several decades. He made a cameo appearance in the movie Any Which Way You Can, filmed in 1979 and released in 1980, which resulted in a Country Chart hit, "Whiskey Heaven".
Later career (1980s–2005)
In the 1980s, Domino decided he would no longer leave New Orleans, having a comfortable income from royalties and a dislike for touring, and claiming he could not get any food that he liked any place else. His induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an invitation to perform at the White House failed to persuade Domino to make an exception to this policy.
Domino lived in a mansion in a predominantly working-class Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, where he was a familiar sight in his bright pink Cadillac automobile. He makes yearly appearances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and other local events. Domino was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. Domino's last tour was a three-week European Tour in 1995. In 1998, President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him No. 25 on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".
By the end of his career, Domino was credited with more charted rock hits than any other classic rock artist except for Elvis Presley.
Domino and Hurricane Katrina
When Hurricane Katrina was approaching New Orleans in August 2005 Domino chose to stay at home with his family, partly because of his wife Rosemary's poor health. His house was in an area that was heavily flooded.
Someone thought Domino was dead, and spray-painted a message on his home, "RIP Fats. You will be missed", which was shown in news photos. On September 1, talent agent Al Embry announced that he had not heard from the musician since before the hurricane had struck.
Later that day, CNN reported that Domino was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. Prior to this, even family members had not heard from Domino since before the storm. Embry confirmed that Domino and his family had been rescued. The Domino family was then taken to a Baton Rouge shelter, after which they were picked up by JaMarcus Russell, the starting quarterback of the Louisiana State University football team, and Fats' granddaughter's boyfriend. He let the Dominos stay in his apartment. The Washington Post reported that on September 2, they had left Russell's apartment after sleeping three nights on the couch. "We've lost everything," Domino said, according to the Post.
By January 2006, work to gut and repair Domino's home and office had begun (see Reconstruction of New Orleans). In the meantime, the Domino family resided in Harvey, Louisiana.
President George W. Bush made a personal visit and replaced the National Medal of Arts that President Bill Clinton had previously awarded Fats. The gold records were replaced by the RIAA and Imperial Records catalog owner Capitol Records.
Domino was the first artist to be announced as scheduled to perform at the 2006 Jazz & Heritage Festival. However, he was too ill to perform when scheduled and was only able to offer the audience an on-stage greeting. He released an album, Alive and Kickin', in early 2006 to benefit Tipitina's Foundation, which supports indigent local musicians. The cuts were from unreleased sessions from the 1990s.
On January 12, 2007, Domino was honored with OffBeat magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Best of the Beat Awards held at House of Blues in New Orleans. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared the day "Fats Domino Day in New Orleans" and presented Fats with a signed declaration. OffBeat publisher Jan Ramsey and WWL-TV's Eric Paulsen presented Fats 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, not only anchored the band, but 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, naturally, came up with 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 playing air piano and singing along to his own songs.
Domino returned to stage on May 19, 2007, at Tipitina's at New Orleans, performing to a full house. A foundation has been formed and a show is being planned for Domino and the restoration of his home, where he intends to return someday. "I like it down there," he said in a February 2006 CBS News interview.
In September 2007, Domino was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. He has also been inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday.
In May 2009, Domino made an unexpected appearance in the audience for the Domino Effect, a namesake concert featuring Little Richard and other artists, aimed at raising funds to help rebuild schools and playgrounds damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
In October 2012, Domino was featured in season 3 of the television series Treme, playing himself.Sublette, Ned. The Year Before The Flood. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2009. 56-60. Print. Friedlander, Paul. Rock And Roll: A Social History. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2006. 28-32. Print. Coleman, Rick. Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock n Roll. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006. 26-28. Print. Friedlander, Paul. Rock And Roll: A Social History. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2006. 28. Print. Show 6 – Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll: The rock revolution gets underway. [Part 2] : UNT Digital Library Strong, Martin C. (2004). The Great Rock Discography: Complete Discographies Listing Every Track Recorded by More Than 1,200 Artists. Canongate U.S. p. 434. ISBN 1-84195-615-5. Rock and Rollin' with Fats Domino Billboard Albums at AllMusic "Shake, Rattle & Rock!". IMDB. Retrieved 2006-11-01. "The Girl Can't Help It". IMDB. Retrieved 2006-11-01. "Oldies Music". About.com. Retrieved 2010-04-26. Spera, Keith. Groove Interrupted. New York: St Martin's Press, 2011. 88-107. Print. Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts "The Immortals: The First Fifty". Rolling Stone (Rolling Stone). Issue 946. "Fats Domino Found Alive". New York Amsterdam News 96.37 (2005): 21. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. Saslow, Eli (September 2, 2005). "Music Legend 'Fats' Domino Coping With Katrina". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2006-11-01. Ap Photo. "Fats Domino holds his gold records once again | NOLA.com". Blog.nola.com. Retrieved 2012-05-10. "Fats Domino 'Alive And Kicking'". cbsnews.com. February 25, 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
He was an important influence on the music of the 1960s and 1970s and acknowledged as such by some of the top artists of that era. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney recorded Fats Domino songs. McCartney reportedly wrote the Beatles song "Lady Madonna" in emulation of Domino's style, combining it with a nod to Humphrey Lyttelton's 1956 hit "Bad Penny Blues". Domino did manage to return to the "Hot 100" charts one final time in 1968—with his own recording of "Lady Madonna." That recording, as well as covers of two other songs by the Beatles, appeared on his Reprise LP Fats Is Back, produced by Richard Perry and recorded by a band that included New Orleans piano player James Booker; Domino played piano only on one track, "I'm Ready."
John Lennon covered Domino's composition "Ain't That A Shame" on his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll, his tribute to the musicians who had influenced him.
Jamaican reggae artist Yellowman covered many songs by Fats Domino such as "Be My Guest" and "Blueberry Hill" and more.
He was the influence behind the naming of Jamaican ska band Justin Hinds and the Dominoes in the 1960s, Justin's favorite singer being Fats Domino. In 2007, various artists came together for a tribute to Domino, recording a live session containing only his songs. Guests on the album, Going Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, include Paul McCartney, Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and Elton John.
Domino's rhythm, accentuating the offbeat as in the song "Be My Guest", was an influence on ska music.Kehe, John. "Goin' Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino"—Various Artists (Vanguard). The Christian Science Monitor 05 Oct. 2007: 13. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. Coleman, Rick (2006). Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the lost dawn of rock 'n' roll. Da Capo Press. p. 210. ISBN 0-306-81491-9.
Nationally charted hits shown in bold.