(born 26th February 1928 in New Orleans)
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 approach to his music, along with his boogie-woogie piano style and easygoing, warm vocals delivered a long series of national hits from the mid-'50s to the early '60s. It has to be said, his basic approach rarely changed but we don't really care, because the approach he cultivated was so wonderful. He based it all on pure musical charm.
Born into a large family, Domino learned piano from local musician
Harrison Verrett who was also his brother-in-law. A
factory worker after leaving school, Domino played in local clubs such as the
Hideaway. It was there in 1949 that bandleader Dave Bartholomew and Lew Chudd of Imperial Records
heard him. His first recording, 'The Fat Man', became a Top 10 R&B hit the
next year and launched his unique partnership with Bartholomew who co-wrote and
arranged dozens of Domino tracks over the next two decades. (Incidentally, this
single is yet another often cited as the first rock and 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 link with
Bartholomew was vital and the producer / arranger 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's playing was derived from the rich mixture of musical styles to be found in
During the early 50s, Domino gradually became one of the most successful
R&B artists in
By 1955, rock 'n' roll had arrived and young white audiences were ready
for Domino's music. His first pop success came with 'Ain't
That A Shame' in 1955, (forever tarnished through the Pat Boone cover). 'Bo
Weevil' was also covered, by Teresa Brewer, but the catchy 'I'm In Love Again',
with its incisive saxophone phrases from Allen, took Domino into the pop Top
10. The flip side was an up-tempo treatment of the 20s standard, 'My Blue
Heaven' and this side also became one of the staples of Domino's live act
throughout his career.
Domino's next big success also came with a pre-rock 'n' roll song, 'Blueberry Hill'. Inspired by the Louis Armstrong 1949 version, Domino used his creole drawl to perfection. Altogether, Fats Domino had nearly 20 US Top 20 singles between 1955 and 1960. Among the last of them was the majestic 'Walking To New Orleans', an early Bobby Charles composition that became a string-laden tribute to the sources of his musical inspiration. His track record in the Billboard R&B lists, however, is impressive, with 63 records reaching the charts. He continued to record prolifically for Imperial until 1963, maintaining a consistently high level of performance. There were original compositions such as the jumping 'My Girl Josephine' and 'Let the Four Winds Blow' and cover versions of country songs ( Hank Williams' 'Jambalaya') as well as standard ballads such as 'Red Sails In The Sunset', his final hit single in 1963. The complex off-beat of 'Be My Guest' was a clear precursor of the ska rhythms of
By now (1963), Lew Chudd
had sold the Imperial company and Domino switched labels to ABC Paramount. There
he recorded several albums with producers Felton Jarvis and Bill Justis, but his continuing importance lay in his tours of
North America and
Official recognition of Domino's contribution to popular music came in
the late 80s. In 1986 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and
won Hall Of Fame and Lifetime Achievement awards at the 1987 Grammy's. "People
don't know what they've done for me", he reflected. "They
always tell me, 'Oh Fats, thanks for so many years of good music'. And I'll be thankin' them before they're finished thankin'
He is undoubtedly a giant figure of R&B, both musically and physically. 63 chart singles, 65million record sales - now that's not bad is it?