The Times-Picayune is marking the tricentennial of New Orleans with its ongoing 300 for 300 project, running through 2018 and highlighting 300 people who have made New Orleans New Orleans, featuring original artwork commissioned by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune with Where Y’Art gallery. Today: Fats Domino.
The icon: Fats Domino.
The legacy: Born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., in 1928, the portly piano prodigy from the Lower 9th Ward would be among the first nominees inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as the legendary Fats Domino. A contemporary of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, he recorded a string of 11 top-10 hits between 1955 and 1960 with a rolling-river piano style that sounded like nothing that came before.
The artist: Jeremy Paten, WhereYart.net.
The quote: “What they call rock and roll is rhythm and blues, and I’ve been playing it for 15 years in New Orleans.” — Fats Domino, 1956
Explore more of Jeremy Paten’s work online at WhereYart.net and in person at the Where Y’Art gallery, 1901 Royal Street in the Marigny.
- Band leader Billy Diamond is credited with giving Fats his famous nickname in 1948 because he felt the young piano player had the stuff to become as accomplished as two other noted pianists with that moniker: Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.
- The cross-cultural appeal of Domino’s music led to a sort of de facto integration at his concerts, which during the segregated Jim Crow era drew both black and white fans.
- Domino began playing the piano when his family bought an old upright when he was 10 years old. His brother-in-law wrote the notes on the keys, and Domino was off, teaching himself the rest. He practiced so much, his parents are said to have moved the piano to the garage.
- Painfully shy, he left school in the fourth grade, mostly to avoid standing in front of his class. He took up odd jobs to earn money, and kept on practicing that piano, teaching himself songs he heard on the radio.
- Upon hearing him play around town, Diamond invited Domino to join his band, the Solid Seekers, at the Hideaway Club.
- It was there that trumpeter Dave Bartholomew, then also a talent scout for Imperial Records, pointed Domino out to the label’s owner, Lew Chudd. After hearing the kid play “Junker’s Blues,” Chudd signed him. Domino was 21 years old.
- On Dec. 10, 1949, Fats Domino recorded his debut single, titled “The Fat Man.” Two months later, it was a bona fide hit — and gave America what some music historians argue was the first rock ‘n’ roll song.
- The title of “first rock ‘n’ roll song” is open to debate. Along with “The Fat Man,” other contenders include Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” Jimmy Preston’s “Rock the Joint” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day.” Most agree, however, that if “The Fat Man” wasn’t the first, it was certainly one of the first.
- “The Fat Man” was recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M Studio on Rampart Street, with Bartholomew producing.
- When The Beatles played a concert in New Orleans in September 1964, one of their priorities was to meet Domino, whom they counted among their major musical influences — which they did, in a “backstage” trailer at City Park Stadium.
- Domino died on Oct. 24, 2017, at his home. He was 89 years old.
- A second-line parade celebrated his life, marching from Vaughn’s in the Bywater to Domino’s longtime 9th Ward home on Caffin Avenue, which he maintained throughout his career.