Fats Domino (1928-2017)

He sold 65 million records. Today 10,000 in sales is considered amazing. He had 23 gold records. Many musicians today can only dream of that honor. Most of all, he was the one cat, after Louis Armstrong, from notoriously provincial New Orleans, who left town, toured the world and made it big.

Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., a lifelong native of New Orleans famed Ninth Ward has passed and the music world's connection to early rock 'n' roll has dwindled to the man who always said he'd outlive everyone else: Jerry Lee Lewis.

Fats, who acquired the nickname in the mid-1940s, was a self-taught pianist who is most famous for playing triplets on the keys. His most lasting accomplishment on the keyboards may be his invention, reputedly on the spot at Cosimo Matassa's legendary NOLA recording studio, of the opening bars of "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." While most fans thought of him first as a piano player, Domino's laconic singing was his secret weapon, being accessible and likable in the extreme. The friendly, open tone to his voice in tunes like "Ain't That a Shame" is really what made it such a hit. I'm not sure anyone has ever sung a rock 'n' roll ballad better as well as Fats Domino.

Not to take anything away from Domino, but there are several points which add perspective to his career and that I have not seen in any other post-mortem. First, like nearly all of the greatest New Orleans musicians from the 1950s and '60s, Domino was a protégé of the songwriter, arranger, bandleader, and music Svengali Dave Bartholomew, who remains alive today in NOLA at the age of 98. It's sometimes hard to parse the lines between the talents of Domino and Bartholomew.

For another perspective on many of Domino's hits, check out the work of Smiley Lewis. My father always swore that Smiley who died in 1966 at age 53, was real New Orleans and better at both the piano and singing than Domino.

And finally, it's accepted wisdom these days that Domino's career immediately went downhill after he left Lew Chudd's Imperial Records in 1963. But I encourage anyone interested in his recordings to check out Fats on Fire, which was released on ABC/Paramount Records in 1964. In tunes like "Valley of Tears," "The Fat Man," and the title cut he still has the old fire.

dalethorn's picture

I have many fond (or not) memories. Like my original Blueberry Hill 45 that featured a huge wow in the tape transfer. Or recalling the absolutely distinct voice that was Fats' and Fats' alone, until I heard another 45 - I'm a Fool To Care by Joe Barry. Still, Domino was one of the original rockers along with Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Hank Ballard, and Bo Diddley to name a few, who brought us from R&B into Rock-n-Roll. Those early years, the "Oldies" years that the Cleveland DJ's would say topped out around 1962, were full of musical melody and many unique artists and ideas.