It was legendary R&B bandleader Dave Bartholomew who walked into a New Orleans club in the early 1940s and spotted the young roly poly pianist. His name was Antoine Domino, born in 1929 in the Crescent City, but because of a band mate named Billy Diamond everyone called him Fats. Fats was one of nine children, his father played the Violin and his Uncle Harry played the horn. He was playing the piano as early as 1935 and played his first honkytonk at the age of ten.
With hits like The Fat Man, Ain’t That A Shame, Blueberry Hill, I’m Walkin’ and Blue Monday, to name a scant few Fats Domino would take his place among the early titans of rock n roll alongside Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. These four artists were melting pots of styles and influences from pop crooners like Al Jolson to jump blues singers like Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, jazz artists like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and country singers like Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. The music trumped race, politics and steady employment and aren’t we the lucky ones.
From the earliest commercial days of the record industry music has been broken out into genres and sub-genres. That’s given us the nifty ability to us and them things in one of the few things there isn’t an us and them.
Your Cheating Heart, Fats Domino
Bartholomew once said of Fats “we all thought of him as a country-western singer. Not real downhearted, but he always had that flavor.”
Fats Domino is one of the few artists who can supplant Sam Cooke on the turntable for the boy. “What do you want to listen to,” I’ll ask him. “Fats, Fats,” he says back. Where Cooke puts him in a sweet, sublime kinda place, Fats riles him up and he grins and shakes like only a two year old listening to pure boogie-woogie piano can. It’s glorious.
Fats Domino has recorded a number of country songs over the years. He’s had a penchant for Hank Williams songs really:
You Win Again, Fats Domino
My favorite country song of his though comes from the 1981 soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s Any Which Way You Can. Written by Clifton Crawford, John Durrill and Snuff Garrett, the guys who wrote songs like Misery & Gin, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me, Old Rivers and Texas State of Mind, Whiskey Heaven is a beautiful rollicking piano boogie number with some fine pedal steel washing over it like booze. The first verse kills me every time:
Every afternoon when I wake up
I say a little prayer and I drink up
And thank the Lord for driving me home
Once more There’s an open Bible on the table
And an empty bottle on the floor
Last night I thought I’d died
And went to Whiskey Heaven You know the sun never shines in Whiskey Heaven
It rains Jack Daniels all the time
There’s a price you have to pay hangovers every day
Flying high with honkey tonk Angels in Whiskey Heaven
Whiskey Heaven, Fats Domino