The Day Fats Domino Growled

June 18, 2015

in REFLECTIONS AND RANTS

(Originally published on February 28, 2011)

A salute to one of the great American artists of the 20th century, Antoine “Fats” Domino, reviews of a couple of interesting books,  a really bad joke and some killer video links.  What more do you want for free?

AN AMERICAN GIANT: FATS DOMINO

Well, he’ll probably never perform again; he’s 82 years old, and his life was irreparably damaged by Hurricane Katrina. He is Fats Domino, and — with the exception of Louis Armstrong — the greatest musician to emerge from New Orleans, the cradle of American jazz and rhythm and blues.

Amazingly, he had 78 charted records on Billboard’s pop charts, and 61 on the r&b charts, not to mention 25 hits in the UK. And you know most of those songs: “Ain’t It a Shame,” “My Blue Heaven,” “Blueberry Hill,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Walking to New Orleans,” “Let the Four Winds Blow,” ”I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Some Day” and dozens more.

He always carried a crack band, usually featuring his co-writer Dave Bartholomew on trumpet and Herb Hardesty and Lee Allen on tenor sax — Allen can also be heard on all the classic Little Richard records that were recorded in New Orleans.

Domino’s beloved city, however, was cut to the bone by Katrina, and by the indifference of the Bush government. His home in the Lower Ninth was destroyed, he and his family were rescued at the last minute; he lost all his memorabilia, his silver grand piano, and the drive that had kept him on the road.

Domino’s live show was without frills. He came on stage, grinned at the audience, and then played 25 hit songs in a row, with no introductions, no chatter. That deep and powerful New Orleans beat — he usually played with two drummers — was at the base of everything he played.

At the end of the set, he stood up, and belly-bumped the piano — which was on wheels, of course — off the stage; that was it..  He had his idiocyncracies, however; he demanded there be no air conditioning, however warm the venue. He walked off stage at one show I saw because, after two songs, he felt a breeze — the band vamped on until the promoter found a maintenance man to turn off the a/c.

In Toronto, Fats and his band played upstairs at the El Mocambo (before it turned into the meager venue that it now is), on the revolving stage at Ontario Place, and most memorably for this writer, two shows at what was then called the O’Keefe Centre in 1984.

Like many bandleaders, Domino traveled separately from his players; the band were all backstage in a couple of dressing rooms, playing cards and nipping at a bottle of Jack. The star dressing room — then called the Vice-Presidential Suite, with a door into the halfway, and another door that led directly into the wings and onto the stage — was waiting for its occupant.

At the stage door, as the publicist on the gig (which was promoted by my friend Rob Bennett), I waited for his arrival. Suddenly his limo drew up, and out he rolled. To my surprise, he was not a big man, but the coonskin fur coat he was wearing hinted at a degree of rotundity.

He nodded briefly as I greeted him, and walked him to the Vice Presidential Suite. As I held open the door, he looked at me for the first time.

“Where’s the PRESIDENTIAL Suite?” he growled. I nudged him into the room and gently closed the door.

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TWO MORE BOOKS YOU HAVE TO CHECK OUT

1) Music from Far and Wide: Celebrating 40 Years of the Juno Awards  — Karen Bliss, Nick Krewen, Larry LeBlanc, Jason Schneider — Key Porter Books

Who knew that the Junos, thought up as a promotional stunt for a music industry trade rag cobbled together by an ex-Mountie and the head of of a miniscule independent record label, would grow into the force that they have become. Despite all the bickering and bitching, endless discussions about its relevance, and occasional lamentable lapses of both judgment and good taste, the Junos remain the single most important and valuable promotional tool for Canadian music.

Divided into decades, old pal Larry LeBlanc writes about the 70s, Nick Krewen sums up the 80s, Jason Schneider covers the 90s, while Karen Bliss whizzes through the decade that’s just ending. I know all these writers, and I don’t think any of them will disagree if I say these pieces are cut-and-paste trawls through back issues of Canadian trade magazines, Billboard and newspaper morgues. Literature this ain’t, folks.  But the photos are exercises in nostalgia and  amusement (and embarrassment), and a reminder of the brief and transitory nature of Canadian pop music.

A celebratory book for the reception areas of any company in Canadian music, and a coffee table book for everyone whose picture is included.

2) Owning Up: The Trilogy — George Melly — Penguin Books

You’ve probably never heard of George Melly, and that’s alright. He was, however, Britain’s leading trad(itional) jazz singer in the days before the Beatles, a raconteur, an actor, a television personality, and he even wrote the script of a well-loved strip cartoon in the Daily Mail for more than 15 years.

This trilogy includes Scouse Mouse, about growing up middle class in Liverpool in the 30s;Rum Bum and Concertina, about the author’s brief life in the Merchant Marine, and the title book, so to speak, Owning Up.

It’s hard, unless you’re an ex-Brit, and over 60, to understand how popular trad jazz was in the 50s, and what a wealth of bizarre people inhabited that world. Melly was in this thick of it, and that’s what this part of the trilogy’s about. Full of outrageous stories, road tales to savour, true jokes, and a great deal of sex, drink and jazz. For my money, having lived through the tail end of that era, it’s one of the funniest books about music ever written.

NOTE: I was going to write about ridiculously expensive British rock magazines, but that’ll have to wait. I have to save up some more money.

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THE BEST MUSIC BUSINESS JOKE OF ALL TIME?

Life’s hard for double bass players. Not only do they have to drag around a very large instrument, but they’ve been largely superceded by electric bass players. Imagine the surprise of our hero when he saw an ad in the Vancouver Province:

Standup bass player required for cruise work. Report to parking lot, Sylvia Hotel, English Bay.

And so he did. Alas, nobody seemed to be there, as he stood with his double bass. Suddenly, without warming, he was struck hard from behind, and he fell, unconscious, to the ground.

He woke up, not  sure how much later, duct-taped to his bass, and floating in English Bay. Shaking his head, he was surprised to see, just 50 feet away, another bass player, also duct taped to his bass and floating in the water. Behind him, closer to shore, were two more floating bassists, and three more on the horizon.

He paddled over the nearest one, and said: “Do you know if we get fed on this gig?”

The reply: “Well, we didn’t last year.”

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VIDEOS OF THE WEEK:

As part of YouTube’s effort to pay for itself, you have to watch a dumb commercial before you get to this wonderfully laid back version of one of Fat’s Domino’s biggest hits, “Blueberry Hill,” recorded live in Rome.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mix3gmzPa0

 

Recorded on Austin City Limits, this is a smiling, high-spirited version of Domino’s signature tune, “Blue Monday.” Did the man smile all the time? Well, yes, he did…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qz94yveXgQ