Rest in peace, Fats Domino: “Lady Madonna” (1968)


Word circulated yesterday that Antoine “Fats” Domino, regarded by many as one of the godfathers of rock and roll, passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

Fats was a survivor in the literal sense of the word.  When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, Domino remained in his 9th ward home, riding the storm out. Domino embodied the spirit of New Orleans for many, and that spirit came through in his music.

Domino’s career pre-dated what is widely regarded as the rock and roll era.  His first release on Imperial Records, “Detroit City Blues” (with “The Fat Man” on the B-side), was recorded at the end of 1949 and made it to #2 on the Rhythm and Blues chart in early 1950. He first saw crossover success in 1952 with “Reeling and Rocking” (different from the song Chuck Berry made popular), which despite being a pure Blues number made it to #30. But the breakthrough record for Fats was 1955’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” which began a string of #1 R&B hits, made it to #10 on the pop chart, and survived a cover version by Pat Boone. Hits like “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walkin‘” (one of the first records I was able to locate when I began collecting rock and roll 78s) helped to define Domino’s career but by no means tell the whole story.  All told Domino sold 110 million records in his career and was one of the inaugural inductees when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in 1986.

Domino was so important a figure that when Ernest Evans broke onto the scene in 1960, Dick Clark’s wife, so the story goes, suggested that he choose a stage name based on Fats Domino’s persona. Fats became Chubby, Domino became Checker, and the rest is rock and roll folklore.

British performers held Fats Domino in high regard. I’d suggest that Paul McCartney is paying homage to his influence on “Lady Madonna” in terms of singing style and piano parts.  That’s why I chose this particular piece – Domino’s cover version of “Lady Madonna,” which just might be better than the original.  (Domino’s version charted, but just, hitting #100 in 1968.) Fats didn’t stop his Beatles kick there, also covering “Lovely Rita” and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except For Me and My Monkey)” which, if you have not heard, should be remedied immediately.

Fats Domino was, without question, one of the architects of what we know as rock and roll. His loss underscores a crossroads in our popular culture: the performers that we know to have created the soundtrack of a generation (or two or three) are reaching ages that are consistent with the end of a full life.  We owe it to ourselves to enjoy their work – and share it with younger generations – sooner rather than later.

See just who influenced whom.  You can hear Fats Domino’s version of “Lady Madonna” by clicking here.


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