As you know by now, Antoine “Fats” Domino has passed away due to natural causes at age 89. I won’t repeat all biography and statistical facts you have seen on TV and other websites. Let me just say he was one of the greatest early rock and rollers, and I grew up with his music. I bought his 45s and danced to his songs at parties and sock hops at school. I have 53 Fats Domino songs on my playlist and will listen to them while I write this blog post. I’m going to hear every one of those songs today and appreciate again just how great he was.
Now, about Fats Domino and Elvis Presley.
You probably know they were both Charter members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, inducted together in the first class in 1986. We lost Chuck Berry in March this year, and now Fats Domino. Hang in there Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. I really don’t look forward to writing one of these posts about either of you, but let’s face it, it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.
Elvis was a big fan of Fats Domino and had great respect for him. On more than one occasion, Elvis called Fats the real king of rock and roll.
It appears that their friendship flourished because they got together when they both were working at the same times in Las Vegas. The picture above was taken around 12.30am on August 1, 1969 at a press conference for Elvis’ return to live performing at the International Hotel.
In a June 2004 interview, Fats Domino had this to say about Elvis’ return to Las Vegas:
“[I] first met Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. When I was playing at the Flamingo Hotel. I went to his room and played for him. He used to call me ‘Mr. Blueberry Hill.’ I remember him telling me, ‘You know, Fats, I’m opening up tomorrow, but when I first came here I flopped.’
“But after he got back there, it was all gold… and every night it was sold out. Boy, he could sing. He could sing spirituals, country and western, everything he sang I liked.
“Elvis Presley did a lot before he passed. He made movies, he was traveling, everything. I don’t see how he did it; you’d have to stay up day and night.”
When a reporter at this press conference referred to Elvis as the ‘King of Rock ’n’ Roll’, he rejected the title, as he always did, calling attention to the presence in the room of his friend Fats Domino, calling him “one of my influences from way back. No one could sing those songs like he did.”
[My wife just yelled at me to turn it down. When “I’m Ready” came on, I cranked it up. I just love that song.]
Fats Domino had a long-time collaboration with Dave Bartholomew, a song writer/bandleader/producer who is also in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the same category as Sam Phillips. His son Don Bartholomew once said:
“The way Fats sang was all original… It’s hard to copy, but if you listen to some of Elvis’ records, where words are kind of shortened — that’s from Fats, I think. Elvis often commented that Fats and Dave were making Rock n’ Roll music before the term was ever coined.”
Elvis was famous for clowning around on stage, especially during his introductions of the band members. On February 23, 1970, he introduced his guitar player James Burton as Chuck Berry, piano player Glenn D. Harding as Steve Allen, and his band conductor Joe Cuercio as Leonard Bernstein. Then, Elvis said, “I used to be known as Fats Domino… until I lost weight.”
[My wife is yelling at me again. “The Fat Man” is another song I like loud.]
Speaking of “The Fat Man,” it was Fats Domino’s first record release in 1949. Many rock historians consider it to be the first rock and roll record. Nearly seventy years later, it sure holds up well.
Now I would like to tell a personal story about the time I got up close and personal with Fats Domino. The company I worked for held a huge convention in one of the big New Orleans hotels in the late 80s. The last night of the convention, we threw a big party in the ballroom, and to everybody’s delight, our entertainment for the night was Fats Domino and his band.
This photo looks very much like the set-up that night. The stage was only about twenty inches high. There were no seats in front of it, just dance floor. So all us big Fats Domino fans could stand in front of the velvet ropes barely four feet away from him. He played for about two hours and did dozens of his hits.
It was an awesome night, and there are some things that still live in my memory all these years later.
The band had four, yes four, sax players. Their contribution to the music was much greater in concert than on the records. They really wailed.
The drummer was either on drugs or drunk, or both, because he fell off his stool right in the middle of a song. He was out cold, so a bald white guy sat in for the rest of the show. I think he was Fats’ road manager or something, and he did a passable job.
The unannounced opening act was another New Orleans resident and performer named Clarence “Frogman” Henry. If you are old enough you will remember his hits “Ain’t Got No Home,” and “Troubles, Troubles.”
A middle-aged black groupie somehow worked her way through the crowd and up to the stage. She had her eye on Fats big time. She had orange-colored hair piled on her head, heavy eye make-up, bright red lipstick, tons of jewelry, and lots of cleavage showing. It was pretty obvious she wasn’t associated with our convention, and pretty soon, the security guys assisted her out of the ballroom.
Fats was impeccably dressed that night. His suit looked like it was made out of sharkskin. It absolutely shimmered. Very classy.
He wore several huge rings on the fingers of both hands.
Fats Domino was in the news when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans’ Ninth Ward where he lived. Somehow, a rumor came out that he had died. Look what somebody painted on his home.
That message was premature back then, but unfortunately, now it is true.
Good bye Fats Domino. You certainly will be missed. Say hi to Elvis for us.
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