RIP Fats Domino

Wednesday, October 25, 2017
RIP Fats Domino

Rock and roll will never die, but one of the individuals directly responsible for helping it evolve in the first place has joined the choir invisible…or, more likely, he’s playing piano for them, which means there’s a lot more boogie-woogie just beyond the pearly gates all of a sudden.

Antoine Domino, Jr. – better known by his sobriquet, Fats – was born in New Orleans and never ventured very far from there unless he was on tour, at which point he tried to bring a little bit of New Orleans to the crowds that came to see him. He started his career in 1947, when bandleader Billy Diamond invited him to join his band, The Solid Senders, and in addition to providing him with his first big gig, Diamond gave him something almost as crucial to his career longevity: his nickname.

In 1949, Fats released his first solo recording, “The Fat Man,” which is definitely one of the early rock and roll records and is often argued to be the very first. Whether you’re in that camp or not, though, there’s still no arguing that Fats subsequently delivered some of the greatest singles of the 1950s and early 1960s, including “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I’m in Love Again,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Blue Monday,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Valley of Tears,” “It’s You I Love,” “Whole Lotta Loving,” “I Want to Walk You Home,” “Be My Guest,” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans,” all of which were top-10 hits.

As the 1960s progressed, however, Fats’ chart successes became fewer and farther between, with his last top-40 hit, “Red Sails in the Sunset,” arriving in 1963. Yes, there’s arguably a correlation between the dwindling of Fats’ career and the arrival of the British Invasion, but it’s an ironic one when one considers just how much The Beatles regularly sung Fats’ praises as one of their musical idols.

Speaking of The Beatles, we now come to the chapter of Fats’ career which answers the question, “Why is Rhino writing an obituary for Fats?” It’s because of “Lady Madonna,” a song which was written by The Beatles as an unabashed homage to Fats and which in turn led to him being signed to Reprise Records by Mo Ostin. His two albums for the label, FATS IS BACK (1968) and FATS (1971), found him doing a mixture of material, but the songs that got the most attention were – you guessed it – his Beatles covers: “Lady Madonna,” “Lovely Rita,” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey).” Mind you, there were plenty of other great songs in the mix, too, including Paul Zompa’s “Honest Papas Love Their Mamas Better,” James Booker’s “So Swell When You’re Well,” Barbara George’s “I Know,” and covers of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles with You).”

Regrettably, Fats’ time on Reprise didn’t particularly change his chart fortunes, but the albums were well-received by critics as well as his existing fans, and when Rhino was in the midst of doing its Handmade reissue series, you may recall that we combined those two albums, added several bonus tracks (including a cover of Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby?”), and released the package as SWEET PATOOTIE: THE COMPLETE REPRISE RECORDINGS. If you’ve never heard it, then you should fix that situation…and, as you can see, we’ve provided you with that opportunity.

RIP, Fats, and thanks for helping us find our thrill through the power of piano-pounding rock ‘n’ roll.

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