Long time rock legend, Fats Domino has passed away. A native of New Orleans, officials say Domino died at a private residence early Tuesday morning.
With his boogie-woogie piano playing and drawling, Creole-inflected vocals, Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. help put his native New Orleans on the map during the early rock and roll era. He was, in fact, a key figure in the transition from rhythm & blues to rock and roll—a transition so subtle, especially in his case, that the line between these two nominally different forms of music blurred to insignificance.
Born in the Big Easy in 1928, pianist, singer and songwriter Fats Domino ultimately sold more records (65 million) than any Fifties-era rocker except Elvis Presley. Between 1950 and 1963, he made Billboard’s pop chart 63 times and its R&B chart 59 times. Incredible as it may seem, Fats Domino scored more hit records than Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly put together. His best-known songs include “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walkin’.”
Fats Domino was born into a large and musical family. He received encouragement and tutoring from his brother-in-law, a trumpet player named Harrison Verret, who introduced Domino to the New Orleans music scene. Following in the footsteps of piano greats as Professor Longhair, Domino began performing for small change in local honky-tonks while working odd jobs (like hauling ice) to make ends meet. Domino’s musical likes and influences included pianists Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Amos Milburn and Charles Brown; vocalists Roy Milton and Joe Turner; and bandleaders Louis Jordan and Count Basie.
In 1946, he began playing piano in Billy Diamond’s band at the Hideaway Club. It was Diamond who gave him the nickname “Fats.” (Domino weighed 220 pounds while standing only five feet, five inches tall.) By 1949, Domino had become a fixture at the Hideaway in his own right, and he was drawing crowds and solid notices for his musical abilities, which were notable even by New Orleans standards. That same year, he met Dave Bartholomew, who became his producer, bandleader and collaborator, and Lew Chudd, who signed Domino to his Imperial Records label. Scouting for talent, Bartholomew and Chudd checked out Domino’s act at the Hideaway Club, and the rest is history. The run of records Domino made with Bartholomew at Imperial, beginning in 1949 and ending only when Chudd sold the label in 1963, is one of rock and roll’s greatest.
Domino’s nickname became the basis of his first single, “The Fat Man,” a huge R&B hit—it went to Number Two nationally—and reported million-seller. Some music historians consider “The Fat Man” to be the first rock and roll record.
A string of R&B hits followed “The Fat Man,” including such powerfully bluesy sides as “Goin’ Home” (Number One), “Going to the River” (Number Two) and “Please Don’t Leave Me (Number Three). Still, Domino’s success remained confined to the R&B charts—that is, until 1952, when “Goin’ Home” got to Number 30. The following year, “Goin’ To The River” reached Number 24, but his major crossover hit came in 1955 with “Ain’t It A Shame.” The song was retitled “Ain’t That a Shame” by Pat Boone, whose cover version actually did better on the pop charts (it was Number One for two weeks) than Domino’s original (which reached Number Ten). The Four Seasons would also have a hit with “Ain’t That a Shame” in 1963, when their remake went to Number 22.
Revered as a rock and roll pioneer, Domino was in the original class inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, joining such fellow icons as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Ray Charles and the Everly Brothers. During his induction speech on Domino’s behalf, Billy Joel credited Fats Domino for proving “the piano was a rock and roll instrument.” Joel, Elton John and Paul McCartney are only a handful of musicians who have derived influence and inspiration from Domino.