Thursday 18 January 2018

Godfather of rock 'n' roll who changed the world of music

Fats Domino 1928 – 2017

American pianist and singer-songwriter Fats Domino. Photo by Clive Limpkin/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
American pianist and singer-songwriter Fats Domino. Photo by Clive Limpkin/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Janet McConaughey and Kevin McGill

Fats Domino, the amiable rock 'n' roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music, has died. He was 89.

Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office in Louisiana, said Domino died of natural causes on Tuesday.

In appearance, he was no matinée idol. He stood 5ft 5in and weighed more than 14 stone, with a wide, boyish smile and a haircut as flat as an album cover. But Domino sold more than 110 million records, with hits including 'Blueberry Hill', 'Ain't That a Shame' and other standards of rock 'n' roll.

He was one of the first 10 honorees named in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The 'Rolling Stone Record Guide' likened him to one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, and said he was the beloved old man of a revolutionary movement.

"We've lowered the flag and we're playing his music all day," said Greg Harris, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Fats is the godfather of rock and roll."

Fats Domino (centre) with Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Photo: G. Paul Burnett/AP Photo
Fats Domino (centre) with Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Photo: G. Paul Burnett/AP Photo

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said: "On behalf of the people of New Orleans, I am eternally grateful for his life and legacy.

"Fats Domino added to New Orleans' standing in the world, and what people know and appreciate about New Orleans."

Quint Davis, producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and a friend of Domino, added: "I can't wrap my arms around him being gone. There are only two people from New Orleans that have changed the music of the world, and that's Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino. Louis brought jazz in his own personal way from New Orleans to a world that really didn't know it, and Fats was right there with Elvis and the birth of rock 'n' roll and brought that to the world."

Domino's dynamic performance style and warm vocals drew crowds for five decades. One of his show-stopping stunts was playing the piano while standing, throwing his body against it with the beat of the music and bumping the grand piano across the stage.

Fats Domino performs at the 30th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival April 25, 1999. Photo: Lee Celano/Reuters
Fats Domino performs at the 30th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival April 25, 1999. Photo: Lee Celano/Reuters

His 1956 version of 'Blueberry Hill' was selected for the US Library of Congress' National Recording Registry of historic sound recordings worthy of preservation.

Domino became a global star but stayed true to his hometown, where his fate was initially unknown after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. It turned out that he and his family were rescued by boat from his home, where he lost three pianos and dozens of gold and platinum records.

Many wondered if he would ever return to the stage. But in May 2007, he was back, performing at Tipitina's music club in New Orleans. Fans cheered as Domino played 'I'm Walkin', 'Ain't It a Shame', 'Blueberry Hill' and a host of other hits.

That performance was a highlight during several rough years. After losing their home and almost all their belongings to the floods, his wife of more than 50 years, Rosemary, died in April 2008.

Domino moved to the New Orleans suburb of Harvey after the storm but often visited his publishing house, an extension of his old home in the Lower 9th Ward, inspiring many with his deter-mination to stay in the city he loved.

"Fats embodies everything good about New Orleans," his friend David Lind said in a 2008 interview. "He's warm, fun-loving, spiritual, creative and humble. You don't get more New Orleans than that."

The son of a violin player, Antoine Domino Jr was born on February 26, 1928. One of nine children, he taught himself popular piano styles - ragtime, blues and boogie-woogie.

He quit school at 14, and worked days in a factory while playing and singing in local juke joints at night. In 1949, Domino was playing at the Hideaway Club for $3 a week when he was signed by Imperial Records. He recorded his first song 'The Fat Man' in the back of a tiny French Quarter recording studio. "They call me the Fat Man, because I weigh 200 pounds," he sang. "All the girls, they love me, 'cause I know my way around."

In 1955, he broke into the white pop charts with 'Ain't it a Shame'. Domino enjoyed a parade of successes through the early 1960s, including 'Be My Guest' and 'I'm Ready'.

Like many of his peers, Domino's popularity tapered off in the 1960s as British and psychedelic rock held sway.

"I refused to change," he told 'Ebony' magazine. "I had to stick to my own style that I've always used or it just wouldn't be me."

In 1988, all of New Orleans seemed to be talking about him after he reportedly paid cash for two Cadillacs and a $130,000 Rolls-Royce. When the salesman asked if he wanted to call his bank about financing, Domino smiled and said, "I am the bank."

In 1998, he became the first purely rock 'n' roll musician to be awarded the National Medal for the Arts. But he didn't make the trip to the White House to get the medal from President Clinton.

That was typical. Aside from rare appearances in New Orleans, he dodged the spotlight in his later years, refusing to appear in public or even to give interviews.

Irish Independent

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