Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fats Wednesday

(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

By all rights, I shouldn’t have gotten any records by Fats Domino or Little Richard from my Uncle Tom. These were two huge artists, commercially successful icons whose 45s fell outside the purview of my source, the Big Top department store. Despite the quality of their music, I have a quality-control rejection to thank for their presence in my 1963 record collection.

As you can see if you look at this label scan, my copy of “Blue Monday” would be considered defective. Some label-attaching machine went haywire, and an eagle-eyed worker at Imperial Records tossed my copy into a cutout bin. What happened to my Specialty 45s from Little Richard was a bit different. A couple of the labels had purple smears on the yellow-and-white color scheme, one label was blurred, and I believe yet another was printed as a mirror image. All of my defective Specialty 45s finished their lives in the Great Meltdown, so I can’t show you what a mess those labels were.

Thanks to this label defect, I got my first taste of the guy that three-year-old caithiseach simply called Fats. Until the day in late 1963 when I declared that a hit song (one I’ll profile in April) was my favorite song, Fats Domino stood above all the other artists I knew as my favorite performer.

I have chosen to include Fats in my blog of mostly obscure recordings because February 26, 2008 will be his 80th birthday. This post also marks roughly 45 years of my admiration of his work.

Fats is a New Orleans native, given the birth name of Antoine Dominique Domino. His tendency to portliness was the obvious source of his nickname, one that served as the inspiration for the nickname of Ernest Evans: Chubby Checker. Fats charted his first hit in 1950, “The Fat Man.” That song was the intended B side of “Detroit City Blues”; from the beginning of his career, the B sides of Fats Domino records charted well.

Fats logged 37 Top 40 hits, including 11 Top Ten hits. He never hit #1, though “Blueberry Hill” sat at #2 for three weeks.

His chief collaborator was Dave Bartholomew, producer and co-writer of numerous Fats hits, including “Ain’t It (That) a Shame” and “Blue Monday.” Bartholomew is still performing at age 87. Both are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Extensive biographies of the man exist elsewhere. So does information about his close call with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but I want to reflect on that terrible time for a moment.

New Orleans is where my ancestors landed when they immigrated from Ireland. My grandfather’s grandparents are buried there. Concern for their graves crossed my mind when Katrina struck, and the second thing that occurred to me was that Fats lived there.

I had wanted for years to write him a fan letter. It’s such an easy thing to do; often, if not always, appreciated, and yet a task that tends to sit on the back burner. Fats wouldn’t notice if I didn’t write him a thank-you note for all the music, but I would. According to early reports, it was too late. Fats had stayed in New Orleans to tend to his ill wife, and chances were good that he had perished in the hurricane.

We lost Barry Cowsill, and who knows how many other talented people, to Katrina, but in a near-miraculous turn of events, Fats and his wife were evacuated and taken to the Superdome. Their house was a mess, and Fats lost many prized career-related items. One of his first post-Katrina efforts was to release a new album, Alive and Kickin’, the proceeds of which go to Tipitina's Foundation, to benefit New Orleans musicians displaced by Katrina. The foundation serves also to encourage the reestablishment of the New Orleans local music scene. You can help the foundation and celebrate Fats’s 80th birthday by buying his album here:

Buy Fats Domino's new CD

Fats is in good voice on the title cut, which he recorded in 2006. Amazing. He returned to live performing on May 19th, 2007, my birthday. What a birthday present. Thanks, Fats, for everything. If you're in New Orleans on Saturday, you can catch his latest appearance.

Now, give “Blue Monday” (Imperial 5417) a spin. It made the Top 40 on January 12, 1957 and reached #5. Fats wrote the song with Dave Bartholomew for the film The Girl Can't Help It. If you don’t own any Fats, get some. More Fats to come on Saturday, so I’ll see you on the flip side!

Fats Domino, Blue Monday

Blue Monday label scan

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