Fresh on the heels of losing Tom Petty, we now lose Fats Domino. I doubt there will be a tenth of the tributes given to Fats Domino as there were to Tom Petty. But his impact on popular music was just as broad, just as deep and just as worthy. I bet a good argument can be made that his music career both opened and closed an era of music.
The boozy piano bar blues that New Orleans is so famous for? That's Fats Domino. Sure there were a few before him, but he took the sound nationwide and turned it into the forerunner of R&B.
While he wasn't on of those early rock & roll icons in the Sun Records stable, but he was known to them. Elvis Presley was close friends with Fats Domino and cited him as a key influence. Music biographers love to argue over which song was the first rock & roll song. But Domino's "Fat Man," released in 1949, can make as a good a claim as any to being the first. It's definitely true that both his vocal "wah wah" style and traveling acoustic piano sound became staples of early rock & roll. It was also the first "rock & roll" song to sell a million copies.
The first song that comes to people's minds when they think of Fats Domino is "Blueberry Hill." I think it's got just the right tempo, great for a shuffling on the dance floor and lyrics that anyone can sing to.
But there are so many other songs to thank him for. "Ain't That A Shame" I remember hearing old folks in west Texas signing that song when I was a kid, so I know it's one of his songs that broke out of New Orleans and had nationwide appeal among both blacks and whites during the worst days of segregation.
And who could forget "I'm Walkin'," a fun, upbeat, hand clapper that great acoustic piano vibes (of course) but a fun sax bridge too.
But for me, the perfect Fats Domino song is "Walkin' To New Orleans." as performed live. The original single had some goofy clip-clops in it and background strings which makes no sense for a New Orleans song. But if you hear a live recording of this song, just him singing with his piano I think you'll hear the actual man. No flash. No gimmicks. Just pure soul, with a perfect balance of sadness and hope.
RIP Fats Domino, I hope you make it back home.