When I heard of Fats Domino’s passing last week, I dug out an old boxed set, put its three discs into the CD player and spent the next few hours listening to “The Fat Man,” who was, arguably the first rock ‘n’ roll artist.
Domino was playing his boogie-style piano in easy, swinging New Orleans R&B songs years before rock ‘n’ roll was called rock ‘n’ roll. And he changed nothing about his music and approach when the “new” music came along, becoming a star with hits like “I”m Walkin’,” “Ain’t It a Shame,” “Blue Monday,” “Walking to New Orleans” and his biggest song, “Blueberry Hill.”
The short (he was 5-foot-5), rotund Domino was an unlikely star and he faded from visibility after the ‘70s, rarely playing or even venturing outside of New Orleans — save, most notably, for a trip to New York for his induction in 1986 as one of the members of the first class to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But, as my afternoon and evening with the boxed set (I listened to it a couple times) demonstrated to me, Domino’s music never lost its appeal — and effectiveness.
That’s what Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner, the heir to the rock ‘n’ roll piano tradition, hit on in his Billboard magazine remembrance of Fats:
“His records jump out of the speakers and demand that you feel good for the next three minutes,” wrote Weiner, who will be at Duffy’s Tavern with his band Sunday. “His piano was a party making machine. Out of the harder-edged barrelhouse blues style, Fats developed a boogie piano approach whose main objective was to get toes tapping and asses shaking. His feel was infectious — it rocked and rolled. Elvis transmitted sex. Little Richard, outrageousness and liberation. Chuck Berry, freedom and electricity. Jerry Lee was downright terrifying.
I only saw Domino once — in a New Orleans club (I don’t remember the name or the year) and it couldn’t have been more uplifting and enjoyable as his upbeat personality and joyful music filled the room for an over-in-an-instant hour.
I recall leaving the show and saying that I’d be back in the Big Easy to see Fats again. That didn’t happen. But I did get to see him by chance while driving past his house, post Hurricane Katrina, giving him a wave and thanking him for his music. Whether he heard me I can’t say, but I’m glad I got to say it — for he was one of my favorites and his music will forever be on my playlists.
Domino, who was 89 when he died Oct. 24, was a few years older than the rest of the early rock icons — Elvis, for example, would be 82 today.
And he outlived most of his ’50s/early ’60s contemporaries, including Presley, Berry, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, James Brown, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Phil Everly, Bo Diddley, Bill Haley and Eddie Cochran.
Now, save for Don Everly, the last men standing are the other two rock ‘n’ roll piano men — Little Richard, who’s 84, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who’s 82. The Killer’s still playing occasional shows and I’m hoping to see him again.
Rock ‘n’ roll will never die. But with Domino’s passing, the originals who made the music continue to fade away.