Fats Domino, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, dead at 89

Fats Domino, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, dead at 89

Fats Domino was one of the first 10 honorees named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Fats Domino, the amiable rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music while honouring the traditions of the Crescent City, has died. He was 89.

Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, coroner’s office, said Domino died of natural causes early Tuesday.

In appearance, he was no matinee idol. He stood 5-feet-5 and weighed more than 200 pounds, 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” — originally titled “Ain’t It A Shame”— and other standards of rock ‘n’ roll.

He was one of the first 10 honorees named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Rolling Stone Record Guide likened him to Benjamin Franklin, the beloved old man of a revolutionary movement.

His 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.

Domino’s 1956 version of “Blueberry Hill” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry of historic sound recordings worthy of preservation. The preservation board noted that Domino insisted on performing the song despite his producer’s doubts, adding that Domino’s “New Orleans roots are evident in the Creole inflected cadences that add richness and depth to the performance.”

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, along with other memorabilia.

Many wondered if he would ever return to the stage. Scheduled to perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2006, he simply tipped his hat to thousands of cheering fans.

But in May 2007, he was back, performing at Tipitina’s music club in New Orleans. Fans cheered — and some cried — as Domino played “I’m Walkin’,” ”Ain’t It a Shame,” ”Shake, Rattle and Roll,” ”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 would often visit his publishing house, an extension of his old home in the Lower 9th Ward, inspiring many with his determination 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 Feb. 26, 1928, to a family that grew to include nine children. As a youth, he taught himself popular piano styles — ragtime, blues and boogie-woogie — after his cousin left an old upright in the house. Fats Waller and Albert Ammons were early influences.

He quit school at age 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 record company.

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,” covered blandly by Pat Boone as “Ain’t That a Shame” and rocked out decades later under that title by Cheap Trick and others. Domino enjoyed a parade of successes through the early 1960s, including “Be My Guest” and “I’m Ready.” Another hit, “I’m Walkin,’” became the debut single for Ricky Nelson.

Domino appeared in the rock ‘n’ roll film “The Girl Can’t Help It” and was among the first black performers to be featured in popular music shows, starring with Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He also helped bridge rock ‘n’ roll and other styles — even country/western, recording Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” and Bobby Charles’ “Walkin’ to New Orleans.”

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

Domino told Ebony magazine that he stopped recording because companies wanted him to update his style.

“I refused to change,” he said. “I had to stick to my own style that I’ve always used or it just wouldn’t be me.”

Antoine and Rosemary Domino raised eight children in the same ramshackle neighbourhood where he grew up, but they did it in style — in a white mansion, trimmed in pink, yellow and lavender. The front double doors opened into an atrium with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and ivory dominos set in a white marble floor.

In 1988, all of New Orleans seemed to be talking about him after he reportedly paid in 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 cited his age and 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.

___

Associated Press writer Hillel Italie in New York City contributed to this story.

Janet McConnaughey And Kevin McGill, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Marine biologist Rick Harbo pulls a lid from the Ladysmith harbour, which he uses to monitor the presence of native and non-native species in the Ladysmith harbour. (Cole Schisler photo)
Unidentified sponge may be the latest marine species invading Ladysmith Harbour

Marine biologist finding dozens of alien species in warm-water harbour, none of them threatening

More and more graffiti has appeared in Ladysmith’s downtown core during the pandemic. (Cole Schisler photo)
Council creates rebate program to encourage graffiti clean up

Property owners can receive up to $50 to help fund graffiti removal

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Saltair man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

(File photo)
Poverty reduction survey identifies 10 poverty themes

Poverty reduction plan will be finalized in July 2021

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Two ambulances and a medevac helicopter are on scene at Taylor River Flats rest area on Highway 4 due to a serious motor vehicle incident. (PHOTO COURTESY MAGGIE BROWN)
Highway 4 reopens between Port Alberni and Tofino

Multi-vehicle accident temporarily closed highway in both directions

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

Most Read