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Fats Domino Remembered

News of the death of New Orleans great Fats Domino at the age of 89 has left all at Ace who grew up with his great Imperial 45s and albums truly saddened. Even with the inevitable realisation that nobody lives forever, it’s never easy to say goodbye to someone whose music has always been part of your life, and whose records did so much to influence your future record buying habits.

What Fats did to earn his place as one of the founding fathers of Rock’n’Roll was not revolutionary. White audiences simply caught on to the big beat of the great New Orleans Rhythm & Blues that had already made Fats a star in the black communities. He and his long time collaborator Dave Bartholomew (happily still with us at the age of 98) may have tweaked the recipe slightly as they went along in order to change things up a bit, but there’s no big stylistic leap between an early Fats R&B hit like ‘Goin’ Home’ and a later Hot 100 smash like ‘Blue Monday’. Fats was always Fats, firmly adhering to an ‘If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It’ policy and, in so doing, shifting units in the kind of quantities that would have made him the envy of his New Orleans peers.

Fats came into my own life – for the first time, and forever after – when I was very young. My parents and grandfather liked him, and both factions bought Fats’ various London 45s and 78s as they hit the UK record shops in the 50s. I personally liked ‘I’m In Love Again’ and ‘I Can’t Go On’ in particular, but it was my father’s purchase of the “Rock And Rollin’” album – or “Carry On Rockin’” as it was titled in the UK – in the 50s that really helped me determine just how incredible Fats was. I wasn’t much more than 5 when I heard that classic intro to ‘The Fat Man’ for the first time, but I was instantly aware I was hearing something really great and really different, even to the Fats 45s and 78s now there was a decent stack around the house. I used to play ‘The Fat Man’ over and over, beguiled by its hissy sound and pounding groove and particularly enchanted by Fats’ vocal impersonation of a trumpet before he steamed back in with a reprise of that fantastic barrelhouse intro. Within its two and a bit minute duration, Fats made more of a permanent impression on me than he could possibly have realised.

Tracks like ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ and ‘Goin To The River’ – and, now I had finally heard it, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ which for some reason had been overlooked (for purchase) by my father in favour of Pat Boone’s version – cemented my future relationship with Mr. Domino’s catalogue. As soon as I was old enough to have pocket money to spend as I wished, I started buying Fats 45s of my own. One of the first I acquired was a second hand ex-juke box 45 of ‘When My Dreamboat Comes Home’ and ‘So Long’ – two of my favourites ever since, and a 45 that had also somehow escaped parental purchase as a new release. It wasn’t even close to being my last.

Fats and Bartholomew somehow hit on a magic formula for making great 45s. They were seldom longer than a couple of minutes, always simple and catchy without being simplistic and almost always with space for a couple of great Herb Hardesty sax solos to break up Fats’ portion of the programme. They sounded great at home and equally great coming out of juke boxes, where they would frequently get a sixpenn’orth from me whenever I found one in a café. The key to their success lies in the fact they always sounded as much fun to make as they were to listen to.

Fats’ hit run stopped around the same time as that of his avowed fans the Beatles started. He still made great records, but it was the consistent excellence of his live shows which kept him popular all over the world. I was not privileged to see Fats and his incredible band at their debut UK shows in London and Manchester in 1967, but from the early 1970s onwards a Domino tour guaranteed a ticket purchase from me. Never once in all the times I saw him was there any hint of disappointment on my part or, I suspect, that of anyone else who was in the ‘full house’ audiences.

Ill health plagued Fats in his retirement years, but he was a survivor, even when he lost virtually the entire contents of his home in the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Time eventually caught up with him, as it will with all of us eventually, but the musical legacy he leaves behind will forever be timeless. A great chunk of the best of Fats can be heard on Ace’s four CDs featuring the complete A and B-sides (with the occasional bonus track) of his entire Imperial singles from ‘The Fat Man’ onwards. It’s music that just gets better with time and can only continue to do so.  Fats may no longer be around to pound out those triplets like no other, but his recorded legacy will forever guarantee his place among popular music’s immortals.

Tony Rounce