I NEVER THOUGHT of Antoine “Fats” Domino as a rock & roll artist. I thought he was a rhythm & blues-based artist, maybe a boogie-woogie artist, definitely a New Orleans artist. For some reason, white teenagers in the ’50s glommed onto him and the rest is rock & roll history.
I mean, yeah, when I was a kid inheriting my Aunt Judy’s 45 collection, I thought everything in it was rock & roll, from great stuff like Fats and the Platters to Fabian and silly jive like Who put the bomp in the bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp, who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong?
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that Fats probably shouldn’t be lumped in with the other rock & rollers he shared the Top 40 airwaves with in the late ’50s and early ’60s. By the time he found his way onto Top 40 radio, he was a pro who had sold a few million records.
After the publication of the first edition of my book Goldmine’s Rock’n Roll 45RPM Record Price Guide in 1990, I received a fan letter from Fats himself! It was a brief note thanking me for the kind words that I had written about him and included an autographed photo of the man. Needless to say, I was stunned. 1
While he is part of that first rock & roll era, he never jumped onboard the rock & roll bandwagon—he was sort of swept aboard by eager admirers.
He never complained. Top 40 radio and getting a couple of calls from Hollywood changed nothing, it let him make a lot more money and, hopefully, have a lot more fun.
Had the kids never found him, he could as easily been adopted by the jazz scene, recognized as a fellow traveler.
Of course, then he would have sold a lot fewer records and made a lot less money.
His music didn’t change, as witness the video clip here from 1988.
Nonetheless, he was rightfully inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
It’s now more than sixty years since they started calling Fats a rock & roll singer and I still don’t think of him as making rock & roll music.
I think of him as making Fats Domino music …
1 My discography for Fats in that first edition took up almost two pages, one of the longer entries in the book. About him I wrote:
“Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino was already a fixture on the New Orleans rhythm ‘n blues scene when rock ‘n roll reared its hip-shaking head. After two-dozen singles and without altering his style, Fats found his formerly segregated music on the white radio stations.
In the pre-Beatles era (1955-1962), he placed sixty-one sides on the pop charts, second only to Elvis’ sixty-six charting songs during the same period. With his move to ABC-Paramount, he found his days as a pop idol winding down.
Still, his piano technique and relaxed, good-natured (and often intentionally garbled) approach to singing has affected r&b and r&r vocalists and pianists since.”