Fats Domino, First-Generation Rocker, Dead at 89

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Fats Domino

One of the last of the early rock ’n’ roll pioneers, Fats Domino, has died, according to multiple news sources. The singer-songwriter-pianist passed away yesterday (Oct. 24) at his home in Harvey, La., at age 89, following a long, unspecified illness.

Domino was best known for his hits “Ain’t That a Shame” (sometimes titled “Ain’t It a Shame”), “Blueberry Hill,” “Blue Monday,” “I’m in Love Again,” “My Blue Heaven” and “I’m Walkin’,” among many others. He first appeared on the Billboard R&B chart in 1950 with the #2 hit “The Fat Man,” recorded for Imperial Records, as were all of his 1950s releases.

He was a member of the first class of artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was a major influence on generations of rockers and R&B artists. The Beatles fashioned their song “Lady Madonna” in Domino’s style. (Domino later covered it; it became his last charting single.) Elvis Presley, the only early rocker to sell more records than Domino, was also a fan.

He is considered one of the most important artists ever to emerge from New Orleans—some say his influence was second only to that of Louis Armstrong.

Related: Which first-generation rockers are still with us?

Domino had retired from performing after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. During the hurricane, Domino chose to stay home to care for his ailing wife, and was assumed at first to have died during the floods. He was rescued after some time and taken to a shelter, but said that he had lost all of his possessions in the storm.

Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. was born Feb. 26, 1928, in New Orleans to parents of French Creole heritage. He learned to play the piano from a brother-in-law and was performing professionally by his teens. He joined a local band, the Solid Senders, in 1947 and two years later was signed to Imperial. “The Fat Man” sold over a million copies but it wasn’t until 1955 that he crossed over to the pop charts, sending “Ain’t That a Shame” to #10.

That song, like most of Domino’s most prominent hits, was co-written with producer Dave Bartholomew, currently 98 years old. In addition to most of the songs cited above, the pair co-wrote “Walking to New Orleans,” “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday,” “Let the Four Winds Blow” and many other songs.

Watch this great video of Fats Domino performing “I’m Ready” along with the Byrds

Domino recorded with many of the top session musicians in New Orleans and rose to quick fame as the rock ’n’ roll boom took off in the mid-’50s. With his flattop haircut, trademark paunch and omnipresent smile, and his good-time sound, he became a favorite of teens and promoters. He appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show and in three rock films, Shake, Rattle & Rock!, The Big Beat and The Girl Can’t Help It.

After the hits dried up in the early ’60s and Imperial Records was sold, Domino left the label. He signed with ABC-Paramount but was unable to repeat his initial flush of success. He later signed with Mercury Records and Reprise but most of his popularity from that period onward came from personal appearances. By the 1980s he had decided to stay permanently in New Orleans, leaving the city only on rare occasions. He appeared annually at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival but no longer toured.

In 2012 he made three appearances on the New Orleans-centric TV drama Treme.

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Watch Fats Domino perform “Blueberry Hill” on The Ed Sullivan Show

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been a prolific music journalist for more than four decades. He is formerly the editor of Goldmine, CMJ andRelix magazines, has written for dozens of other publications and has authored liner notes for more than 80 CDs. Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. His first book was 'Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.' He is also the co-author of 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.,' with Howard Kaylan.
Jeff Tamarkin
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