Dr. John, Pat Boone and Toni Tennille share their memories of Fats Domino and his special blend of music as we remember the groundbreaking and inspiring New Orleans singer, songwriter and pianist, who passed away on October 24, age 89.
By Warren Kurtz
In January of 1950, Fats Domino had his first hit single with “The Fat Man,” which he co-wrote with Dave Bartholomew. This began a long run of singles on the Imperial label with this co-writing team. He had such an impact that pianists playing in clubs would often receive requests to play Fats Domino songs, which was especially true in his hometown of New Orleans. When pianist Dr. John was a teenager in New Orleans, years before his Top 10 single “Right Place, Wrong Time,” he paid his musical dues while Fats Domino was achieving his peak success on the charts. Dr. John shared with Goldmine, “Coming up, I can't tell you how many times I played sessions and was asked to do Fats Domino songs. Fats was old school to the maximum and loved to work the house, and people responded to that, from New Orleans to the rest of the world."
In July of 1955, both Fats Domino and Pat Boone entered the charts with the same Fats Domino song, “Ain’t It a Shame,” with Pat Boone’s record retitled as “Ain’t That a Shame.” With stronger radio support for the Pat Boone version at the time, his single reached number one while the Fats Domino original recording peaked at number ten. Sales were strong enough for both singles to go gold, and both versions are now known as “Ain’t That a Shame.” Pat Boone said, “My friend Fats is a legend, an original, and we both knew we were very instrumental in each other's success. He wore a piano shaped diamond ring and told his audience early on, 'Pat Boone bought me this ring with this song’ and then played and sang 'Ain't That a Shame.' I always credit him every time I do it, as well. Our records were best sellers and Fats made money on all of them as writer. He loved my record and I loved him."
In the fall of 1956, Fats Domino achieved his highest charting hit with “Blueberry Hill.” It reached the number two position and stayed there for three weeks. He had originally heard this song performed by fellow New Orleans native Louis Armstrong. By December, Louis Armstrong’s version of the record was also in the Top 40.
Through 1960, Fats Domino appeared in the Top 10 several more times with hits including “Blue Monday,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Whole Lotta Lovin’,” “I Want to Take You Home,” and “Walking to New Orleans.” The latter was a departure from his club combo sound with an orchestral arrangement being prominent and pizzicato violin strings emulating raindrops throughout his journey.
1961 began with the single “What a Price,” a slow blues number on the A side and the up-tempo song “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” on its flip side. Both sides charted in the Top 40. In 2005, decades after their work together in the Guess Who, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings reunited for the Canadian album of covers called “Jukebox.” One song that Burton Cummings selected was Fats Domino’s flip side “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman,” allowing him to showcase his piano playing skills. Many years prior, in 1977, he was playing a Fats Domino song and reconstructed it to the point that his drummer suggested he add words to this new piano pounding performance, which he did, and that became “My Own Way to Rock,” a single and the title of his second solo album.
In the summer of 1961, Fats Domino had his highest charting single for that year with the up-tempo number “Let the Four Winds Blow.” In addition to his piano playing, a saxophone solo was a featured musical element. Its flip side was “Good Hearted Man,” a slower, steady number with a tempo in line with “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Blueberry Hill.” Fats Domino criticized, “You should be ashamed to hurt a goodhearted man,” and claimed, “A good hearted man is hard to find.” His initial rolling piano notes led to a pounding chord backdrop anchored by a bass on every third note.
Flip side: Good Hearted Man
A side: Let the Four Winds Blow
Top 100 debut: July 24, 1961
Peak position: 15
In 1963, Fats Domino changed labels from Imperial to ABC and entered the Top 40 for a final time with his version of “Red Sails in the Sunset.” By this time, Chubby Checker had been in the Top 10 eight times with dance oriented records, most notably “The Twist.” His stage name was suggested by Barbara Clark, Dick Clark’s wife, inspired by Fats Domino’s name. Both Fats Domino and Chubby Checker appeared in the 1973 rock and roll revival film “Let the Good Times Roll” and were featured with multiple songs on its soundtrack. Fats Domino was interviewed in the movie, asking if rock and roll was a controversial problem. He didn’t agree with that assessment and said, “Music can make people happy. It makes me happy.”
In the mid-‘70s Fats Domino released a few live albums. In 1978, he was on a variety television special, performing “Walking to New Orleans” and more, with the Captain & Tennille as hosts.
Toni Tennille told Goldmine, “When Daryl and I did our ‘Captain & Tennille in New Orleans’ special for ABC, Daryl’s dream was to have Fats Domino as his special guest on the show. Ever since I have known Daryl, he talked about Fats constantly and about what a great musician and boogie piano player he was. Our producer, Dick Clark, made that dream come true for Daryl! I have known Daryl since 1971, and was married to him for 40 years. He was never an outwardly emotional man, and I never ever heard him belly laugh or saw him cry. He just never seemed to feel any real joy in his life or in the music he played. But when he sat at that grand piano in that club on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and played a boogie duet with Fats, who was playing the nested grand across from Daryl, he came as close to expressing true ecstatic joy as I have ever seen in him. He truly worshipped Fats. It did my heart good to see these two men play together and to see Daryl so happy. RIP dear Antoine. Thank you for the wonderful music you gave us.”
Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”