Personalities | Fats Domino | Fifties | Jazz & Blues

Antoine Domino Jr. was born on 26 February 1928 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the youngest of eight children. His father played violin and worked at the Fair Grounds Race Track in New Orleans. Young Antoine studied piano and credits Harrison Varrett, a former member of Papa Celestin’s band, with giving him the advice and encouragement to keep going.

He practiced assiduously in his teens and was attracted to the music of boogie-woogie giants Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis and Albert Ammons, which he heard on jukeboxes, as well as the work of pianist/vocalists such as Charles Brown and Amos Milburn.

Domino Signs With Imperial

He began playing parties and social functions at the age of 16 and the following year joined the combo of Billy Diamond, who christened him ‘Fats’. In 1949, he began a regular gig at the Hideaway Club and started to draw crowds and get noticed. New Orleans bandleader Dave Bartholomew, who was serving as a talent scout for Imperial Records, brought the label’s owner Lew Chudd to hear Fats at the Hideaway. Domino was signed; Bartholomew worked as producer and the two co-wrote songs together. In the first session, cut on 10 December 1949, Fats and Bartholomew’s band recorded ‘The Fat Man’ – basically Champion Jack Dupree’s ‘Junker’s Blues’, dressed up with a new lyric from Bartholomew. It became a smash hit and climbed as high as number two on the Billboard magazine Race Records chart.

A Signature Sound

Fats then formed a band modelled on Bartholomew’s, which even included some of the same personnel. Much of Fats Domino’s sound is based on his vocals and piano, plus tenor saxophone solos; the arrangements on his early records do not differ greatly from those of other blues bands, but the piano’s distinctive sound and use of triplets became a Domino trademark after first appearing on ‘Every Night About This Time’ in 1950.

‘Goin’ Home’ hit number one in 1952 and Fats continued his streak of bestselling singles. He was still working around New Orleans for the most part and recording with the same nucleus of players. He took time out to play piano on ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ by Lloyd Price, another number-one hit (and yet another lyric grafted on to the ‘Junker’s Blues’ melody). The R&B coming out of New Orleans was beginning to sweep the country and Fats Domino was leading the way. The year 1953 found more hits with ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ and ‘Goin’ To The River’, which infiltrated the pop chart. Herb Hardesty took most of the tenor sax solos with Fats and began to tour with him, although later on Hardesty tended to split the solos with Lee Allen.


Rock’n’roll really arrived in 1955 and Fats was at the head of the pack. He had three consecutive number-one hits with ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, ‘All By Myself’ and ‘Poor Me’. In 1956 he delivered three more: ‘I’m In Love Again’, ‘Blueberry Hill’ and ‘Blue...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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