Saturday, February 23, 2008

Where Is New Orleans?

(Versión en español:

I don’t know for sure how “Blue Monday” by Fats Domino was still sitting around the store when my uncle started buying 45s for me. The record was six years old then, and it had been collecting dust the whole time, perhaps, because of a defective label. My mom bought “Blueberry Hill” when it was a hit, and I still have that 45. At one point, when Fats is singing “those vows you made,” the master tape or the cutting lathe wobbled, so my 45 came from a bad master disc. My copy of “Walking to New Orleans” wasn’t defective, though.

In contrast to the not-so-exciting red Imperial labels, “Walking to New Orleans” sported a black label with colorful pinstripe-width rays shooting from the virtual center of the 45. (I can’t show you the label, because that 45 died in the Great Meltdown. My “Blueberry Hill” has a hint of a warp at one spot on the edge as well.)

Once I discovered “Walking to New Orleans” among my 45s, I was hooked. I did have to ask my mom where New Orleans was, though, since it sounded pretty far away. Fats probably contributed to hastening my awareness that the world was bigger than Gary and Shoals and the four-hour drive (or train ride via the Monon Line) between them. I would soon become aware that there were such states as Illinois, Michigan, Denmark and Australia.

I know. Leave me alone. I figured it out by the time I turned five, and boy, was I disappointed. I so wanted Denmark and Australia to be states.

What intrigues me now is that three-year-old caithiseach was not much of a fan of slow songs with strings in the background. Fats showed me that a solid performer sounds good regardless of the backing. In this case, the somber strings were the idea of producer Dave Bartholomew and came via the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. No Fats Domino recording had included a string section prior to this one, and Fats had the wisdom to embrace the innovation. It was also the first string-laden song that appealed to me, and perhaps the first song with a 6/8 beat that I played repeatedly.

The writer of the tune, Bobby Charles (born Robert Charles Guidry in 1938), also wrote “See You Later, Alligator” and “But I Do.” He appeared with The Band at their farewell concert, but his featured song didn’t make the final cut. He did appear during “I Shall Be Released” at the end of the concert.

Charles met Fats after the latter recorded his tune “Before I Grow Too Old.” Fats invited him to his house in New Orleans, and Charles said he would have to walk to get to New Orleans. He wrote “Walking to New Orleans” expressly for Fats and sang it for him at Fats’s house when he finally got there.

And so, these three talents combined to create a slow, stringy song I enjoyed. It was a revelation to me somewhere around 1963, and I hope you enjoy it if you’ve never heard it before.

The song (Imperial 5675) hit the Top 40 on July 4, 1960, peaking at #6 and spending 11 weeks in the Top 40. Its flip side, “Don’t Come Knockin’,” entered the chart two weeks later and climbed to 21.

Tonight, Fats is making an appearance at a special concert for his 80th birthday. Be sure to wish Fats a happy birthday on Tuesday, and buy his new album in support of musician victims of Hurricane Katrina:

Buy Fats Domino's new CD

And enjoy the mournful tones of today’s song. Wednesday I’ll be talking about another idol of mine, and the song will be one you probably haven’t heard. See you then!

Fats Domino, Walking to New Orleans


stackja1945 said...

Again showing my age. Liked this when it was released.

caithiseach said...

All my 45s are right up your alley, stackja. Go right ahead and show your age. And keep the comments coming.


stackja1945 said...

"45s are right up your alley" reminds of Alley Cat Bent Fabric.