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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Smithers woman awarded $55K in RCMP excessive force suit

Irene Joseph alleged false arrest and assault and battery related to a 2014 incident in Smithers

Flooding highly unlikely this year throughout Skeena watershed

Region’s snowpack among lowest in the province

Why I will relay

Wings of fight

The outside COVID-19 wave

Workers wave hello to being outside

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Snowbirds to remain at Kamloops Airport indefinitely after fatal crash

small contingent of the Snowbirds team is staying in Kamloops, acting as stewards of the jets

Most Read