Fats Domino
(born 26th February 1928 in New Orleans)
spacer
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 New Orleans. These included traditional jazz, Latin rhythms, boogie-woogie, Cajun and blues. On occasion his relaxed approach was at odds with the urgency of other R&B and rock artists and the Imperial engineers would frequently speed up the tapes before Domino's singles were released - but this is the very style which ended up making Domino's records some of the more enduring from the era.

During the early 50s, Domino gradually became one of the most successful R&B artists in America. Songs such as 'Goin' Home' and 'Going To The River', 'Please Don't Leave Me' and 'Don't You Know' were best sellers and he also toured throughout the country. The touring group included the nucleus of the band assembled by Dave Bartholomew for recordings at Cosimo Matassa's studio. Among the musicians were Lee Allen (saxophone), Frank Field (bass) and Walter 'Papoose' Nelson (guitar).

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 Jamaica, where Domino was popular and toured in 1961.

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 Europe, which recreated the sound of the 50s for new generations of listeners. The quality of Domino's touring band was well captured on a 1965 live album for Mercury from Las Vegas with Roy Montrell (guitar), Cornelius Coleman (drums) and the saxophones of Herb Hardesty and Lee Allen. He was an active performer in the ensuing decades, but his career as an important artist was essentially over in the mid-'60s, although he did make further albums for Reprise (1968) and Sonet (1979), the Reprise sides being the results of a reunion session with Dave Bartholomew.

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' me!"
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?