Jamaica Gleaner / The world of entertainment recently lost another stalwart in Fats Domino, on October 24, this year.
If ever there was a man of whom it could truly be said pioneered Rock ‘n’ Roll music, it must be Domino.
Most musicologists and music aficionados of early popular music agree that Domino’s first recording, The Fat Man , done in 1949, was the first Rock ‘n’ Roll record. The song, which Domino wrote about himself, referred to his corpulent frame, and from all indications, he was justly proud of it, as he sang in the first stanza:
“They call, they call me the fat man
‘Cause I weigh two hundred pounds
All the girls, they love me
‘Cause I know my way around.”
It became the first Rock ‘n’ Roll record to sell a million copies, peaking at number two on the US R&B charts.
And there is hardly any wonder that Domino had this enormous impact on Rock ‘n’ Roll, considering that he was born in New Orleans – the cradle of Rhythm and Blues, which was indeed the mother of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Of mixed African and European descent, Antoine Domino saw the light of day on February 26, 1928. While growing up in New Orleans, he found himself irresistibly drawn to the city’s vibrant music scene, being influenced by earlier stars like Louis Jordan and boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons.
And indeed, the piano was Domino’s main weapon. Almost invariably, he placed it at the forefront of his recordings. He began to learn the instrument at age seven, and by age 10, the talented youngster was performing professionally as a singer-pianist at several joints across the city. Four years later, he dropped out of high school to pursue his dream of becoming a Rock ‘n’ Roll star.
Domino’s unique piano-playing style, which saw his thrilling right hand playing off against the rolling anchor of his left, became one of the features of his performances.
Following The Fat Man , Domino drifted into a slower, melancholy state with bluesy top 10 numbers such as So Long (1951), Going Home (1952), and Going To The River (1953).
The real turning point in Domino’s life, however, came when he met Dave Bartholomew – Imperial Recording Company’s A&R talent scout – who became his sidekick. Bartholomew introduced Domino to the company and performed for him the roles of manager, songwriter, music arranger, and bandleader.
Ain’t That A Shame (1955), co-written by Domino, was the first in a series of crossover Rock ‘n’ Roll hits that brought him into the mainstream of popular music. Ironically, Domino’s most popular cut was one that neither he nor Bartholomew had a hand in writing – Blueberry Hill (1956). It became a favourite in Kingston’s dancehalls in the late 1950s and early 1960s as the lyrics rang out:
“I’ve found my thrill on Blueberry Hill
The moon stood still on Blueberry Hill
It lingered until my dream came true.”
Domino’s immense popularity with Jamaican audiences resulted in him visiting the island in 1961. On that occasion, a record-breaking crowd at Kings Lawn, 19 North Street, Kingston, saw Domino being crowned ‘King of Rhythm and Blues’ by his fans.
A UNIQUE PERFORMER
But even outside of Jamaica, Domino was widely regarded in that light, having covered various brands of blues that incorporated slow rhythms, rock and pop, making him a unique performer.
The inclusion of violins in Rock ‘n’ Roll music was perhaps unheard of until Domino did so with The Valley Of Tears , Three Nights A Week , Walking to New Orleans , Natural Born Lover, and What A Price – a new brand that pundits classified as Rock Ballads.
In effect, he bridged the gap between Rock ‘n’ Roll and the pop fields. Domino also bridged the gap between the young and the old. The liner notes from his album Fats Domino Swings , emphatically states: “Fats is that rare artiste who attracts both adults and teenagers to his brand of music. Club audiences are mostly adults, concert audiences are mostly teenagers, and record-buyers are mostly both.”
Space restraints would not allow us to mention all of Domino’s achievements and experiences. But 65 million-selling records between 1949 and 1960 is worth mentioning; Also, he managed to break down colour barriers as both blacks and whites bought his records in abundance. All this in the face of much segregation (on occasions, Domino was denied lodging while on tours and had to utilise segregated facilities).
Domino’s rhythms like Be My Guest , which accentuate the off-beat, was a prime influence on the creation of Jamaica’s ska music. A succession of rock stars, including Elvis Presley and The Beatles, have credited Domino for their success; His many awards included The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, The Grammy Hall Of Fame Award and the R&B Foundation Pioneer Award.
Other big hits by The Fat Man included I Want To Walk You Home , My Girl Josephine , Blue Monday, It Keeps Raining, I’ve Been Around, I’m In Love Again, Going To The River, Troubles Of My Own, You Done Me Wrong, and The Fat Man’s Hop – all written or co-written by Domino.