Fats Domino: The Man Who Sang Rock Before Haley

HIS first million-seller was named after himself. Until last year he had more million-sellers than Elvis, who finally caught up with him after a hard struggle.

He had more Gold discs before his biggest hit – in 1956 – than after. That hit was 'Blueberry Hill', the first disc was 'The Fat Man' and the man himself is Antoine "Fats" Domino.

When Fats first came on the scene back in 1948 the big trend in pop music was jazz, and watery pops. There was no "vital" music for the kids except some obscure Blues that wasn't commercial enough anyway.

Fats made 'The Fat Man' – he is 16 stone – for Imperial records and it sold a million. Basically it isn't too different to the latest Domino release, but there are differences in the backing, and a slightly different beat.

LAWN CUTTER

Fats had started his working life as a dollar and a half a day lawn cutter in his native New Orleans. He was one of nine children and had practised his music on an old upright piano. Fats longed to become a musician as the times went by but he was forced to take a factory job to support his family.

At work Fats caught his hand in a machine and gashed it pretty badly. Doctors advised an amputation but Fats wouldn't listen to them. It was imperative to him that he had all his fingers for his piano playing which he loved.

So he embarked on a course of exercises and he recovered – but he still carries a scar.

By this time Fats was married to Rosemary, his childhood sweetheart, and she persuaded him to accept several dates at a local road house as a pianist. Fats played there for a time until news of his near-sensational act reached Lew Chudd, president of Imperial records.

After that everything happened. Fats met Dave Bartholemew at Imperial and they became friends. Dave helped Fats pen many of his numbers and they arranged the discs together. They churned out million-seller after million-seller. 'Goin' Home', 'You Said You Loved Me', 'Please Don't Leave Me', 'Goin' To The River' (all 1953), plus many others before 'Blueberry Hill', like 'Thinking Of You', 'I Lived My Life', 'Whole Lotta Lovin' ', 'Love Me', 'All By Myself", 'I Can't Go On', etc.

Then came Bill Haley, and a form of the music that Fats had been singing successfully for so many years completely took over the wishy-washy pop music that had until then been supreme. And still Fats churned out the million-sellers. This time though, they were hits in Britain too, as well as the States.

There was 'Ain't That A Shame', (also a hit for Pat Boone), 'I'm In Love Again', 'Blue Monday', and 'Blueberry Hill'. This was Fats' biggest hit in Britain to date, and it has since been copied many times by other artists.

Then came a lull in Britain at least for Fats. His hits 'Bo Weevil', 'It's You I Love', and 'Please Don't Leave Me', all missed in Britain though hitting in the States.

His 'I'm Walkin' ' hit was already in the U.S. top ten, already having sold a million, was covered after a long time by a young up-and-coming singer called Rick Nelson. He was on the same label as Fats and out of interest they issued the Nelson disc. It shot into the charts and pushed the Domino version out of the charts. And gave Rick another hit to follow 'Teenagers Romance' and 'Stood Up'.

SLIPPING

Then Fats started to slip in the States. His discs didn't sell a million, some didn't even make the charts. The same applied to Britain until 'I'm Ready' made it in the States, and 'Margie' in Britain. After that he scored with 'I Want To Walk You Home', 'Country Boy' (his biggest hit ever in Britain) and 'Be My Guest'. There were no more British hits in Britain for Fats after that although his fortunes continued in the States. He racked up hits like 'It Keeps Rainin' ', 'Walkin' To New Orleans', 'Don't Come Knockin' ', 'Let The Four Winds Blow', 'Three Nights A Week', 'Jambalaya' and many others.

Fats still continues to sell well in the States, but not with the impact he used to have. His discs all get into the top hundred, but they don't sell a million anymore.

But considering Fats has already sold 55 million discs I shouldn't think he cares…

© Norman Jopling, 1963

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