Friday, April 13, 2007

a ROCKIN' appreciation to everyone in New Orleans who's helped Fats Domino rebuild















Fats Domino, one of New Orleans' most-beloved musicians, narrowly escaped the horrors of Katrina. Now his home and nearby production office in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, is being rebuilt by many friends (see the three photos atop the blog here).
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Born Antoine Dominique Domino, Jr. on February 26, 1928 in New Orleans, (in a home where French was the main language spoken) he brought a blend of sounds to the rhythm and blues scene in the early 1950s that appealed to a wide audience--wider than what had previously existed for pure jazz, or elemental piano boogie-woogie, or jump blues. His rendition of "The Fat Man," recorded in December, 1949, is considered by many historians as one of the songs which could have been the first rock & roll so-called hit, were it not for the iimprobability of cross-over at that juncture in time. The same situation applied to Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner's "Rocket 88," which, recorded in 1951, had many elements of rock & roll as well. I discuss that at length in ROCKIN's chapter one.
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Domino dominated the R & B charts from 1952 to 1959 as the best-selling African-American singer of that period. In 1954, he impressed a historically mixed audience at the "Moondog Jubilee of Stars Under the Stars," promoted by famed disk jockey Alan Freed at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, NY. Then, Domino took the newly crowned rock scene by storm in 1955 when he released "Ain't That a Shame," a song which had been previously popularized by cowboy movie star, Gene Autry. His success was somewhat overshadowed by Pat Boone's "cover" version; Domino's version hit number on on the R & B chart, but made it only to number ten on the pop charts. However, this was Domino's cross-over breakthrough.
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1957 was a critical year for the musician. He received top billing in the three-month "Biggest Show of Stars for '57," a tour that also featured Chuck Berry, Clyde McPhatter, and many other black musicians whose music was increasingly appealing to whites. He then appeared in the films "Shake, Rattle, and Rock," and "The Girl Can't Help it," the latter considered by many one of the best-ever early rock movies made. He also appeared in the films "Jamboree" and "The Big Beat."
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Part of Domino's fame is that he sold more records--some 65 million--than any other Fifties-era rocker except Elvis Presley. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the hall's inaugural year.
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In late August, 2005, Fats Domino--like hundreds of thousands of other New Orleans residents--was tuned into the radio, hearing that hurricane Katrina was headed their way. He chose to stay at home with his family, due to his wife Rosemary's poor health. They huddled in his impressive home with many of their eight children and grandchildren, stoically waiting out the storm. But when the levee protecting the Lower Ninth Ward failed and with the waters inexorably rising, the family was forced to the porches and roof, and were picked up by a rescue boat or a helicopter (the accounts are unclear), and possibly first brought to the Superdome. News reports in Katrina's immediate aftermatch indicated that Domino was dead. Indeed, someone spray-painted this message on his devastated home: "R.I.P., Fats. You will be missed."
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Shortly thereafter, the Domino clan was taken to a Baton Rouge shelter, and there one of the many post-Katrina miracles took place. JaMarcus Russell, the starting quarterback of the Louisiana State University football team, who happens to be Domino's granddaughter's boyfriend (and likely the #1 pick in the upcoming pro football draft), found the family and took all 15 home, letting them stay in his bachelor apartment where they pitched up on couches and the floor.
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After the devastation, many news reports noted that Fats Domino not only lived in the 9th Ward but also kept his business there--long after his success would have allowed him to move elsewhere. His compound is on a corner across from what was a Dollar Store, and takes up about three lots. According to www.trans-americas.com/journal/article009.html, it is/was "angular, and vaguely modern, trimmed with festive stripes in Miami Beach pastels."
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Domino's '59 Cadillac sofa (pictured above) was a well-remembered fixture in his family room.
It was created by his friend Bob Millian, possibly as early as 1961. As of this writing, it's unclear if it was fully restored. Domino owned a pink '59 Cadillac himself (shown above) and was often seen driving (one of several, possibly) pink Cadillacs in the streets of New Orleans for many years.
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The 2006 New Orleans Jazz Festival poster shown above was painted by James Michaelpoulos. He added a remarque original drawing of Fat's Cadillac on the bottom of the print for those who purchased an Artist's Proof.
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Domino's many top R&B charting hits were "The Fat Man" (#2, 1950); "Goin' Home" (#1, 1952); "Going to the River" (#2, 1953); "Aint That a Shame" (#1, 1955); "All By Myself" (#1, 1955); "Poor Me" (#1, 1955); "I'm In Love Again" (#1, 1956); "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" (#2, 1956); "Blueberry Hill" (#1, 1956); "Blue Monday" (#2, 1956); "I'm Walkin'" (#1, 1957); "Whole Lotta Loving" (#2, 1958); "I Want to Walk You Home" (#1, 1959); "Be My Guest" (#2, 1959); "Walking to New Orleans" (#2, 1960); and "Let the Four Winds Blow" (#2, 1961). In the period 1949 - 1960, he had 23 records each selling a million copies or more.
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"Blueberry Hill" reached #2 on the Billboard Pop Chart in 1956, his highest posting on that key "rock & roll" hitmaker. In 1968, Domino recorded his version of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna," which reached #100. Between 1950 and 1963, he cracked the pop Top Forty chart 37 times and the R & B singles chart 59 times.
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There's also an interesting story at www.toursbyisabelle.com/fatsarticle.html on which it's stated, "One must-see landmark on Isabelle Cossart's "disaster tour" is the sprawling, ruined white-brick home of Fats Domino."
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Also not to be missed is the review of the book Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll authored by Rick Coleman. In it (www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?isbn=0306814919)
reviewer Abby McGanney Nolan notes, "The 'lost dawn' of Coleman's subtitle refers to the way in which the strong African-American presence in early rock & roll recordings and tours gradually diminished and was recast in the public imagination. Rock & roll became Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly, with Domino, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry often put back in the rhythm-and-blues box. To counter that impression, Coleman nicely summons the glorious heyday of New Orleans as a focal point of African-American hitmaking. The reader is brought into Cosimo Matassa's tiny French Quarter recording studio, where Domino's classics [for the Imperial label] were preserved on the same primitive equipment as Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti."" She also notes in the review, that through the decades of touring, "Domino lost many bandmates to cancer, drugs, and car accidents. So many, in fact, that one musician joked that 'Fats has killed two or three bands.""
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Fats Domino in fact personifies New Orleans. You go, Fats!
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The photo of Fats in the yellow blazer was taken by Philip Gould for Corbis in 1999.
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Final anecdote, found at www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1833, the song "I'm Walking" was "inspired by a comment by a fan to Fats after Domino's car broke down: "Hey, look at Fats Domino, he's walking!" Domino then thought to himself, "Yeah, I'm walking," and wrote the song as he walked."
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