Antoine “Fats” Domino died Tuesday, Oct. 24 of natural causes. The piano-playing pioneer was 89. Domino was one of the first performers to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was known for a piano style that incorporated a Dixieland approach. Domino’s piano playing coupled with his Creole-flecked singing voice, gave the performer a signature style. When a Fats Domino record played, people knew.
Domino’s most famous tracks include: “Blueberry Hill,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Walking to New Orleans” and “Ain’t That a Shame.” His first recording in 1949, “That Fat Man,” is regarded by many as one of the first rock songs.
Listening to Domino, the first thing a person notices are the piano rolls. Domino could play them with both hands. The effect was like a rhythmic shudder that ran through his songs. That piano signature, coupled with a deep bass groove and accented by a saxophone motif, marked Domino’s music. Most of his well-known hits were slower than typical rock ‘n’ roll songs, but they were perfect for couples’ dancing.
According to biographical accounts, Domino had been performing since he was 14 years old. He even left school and did odd jobs to support his music.
Chuck Berry famously reported that in the 1950s, Domino was making $10,000 a week.
For his part, Domino considered his music rhythm and blues. According to the Times-Picayune, in 1956, Domino was quoted as saying, “What they call rock and roll is rhythm and I’ve been playing it for 15 years in New Orleans.”
Onstage and offstage persona
One of the things that struck me when I listened to Domino as a child with my parents, and later, when I would see clips of him performing on television, was Domino’s easygoing personality. There always seemed to be a smile or a hint of one on his face.
Unlike so many rock stars who have faced addiction, scandals and other issues, Domino’s life was relatively quiet. It was reported that the closest Domino came to having a dark side was a bit of gambling, a love of “fancy” cars, and jewelry. Not dark at all.
According to The Independent, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Domino, his wife, Rosemary, had to be rescued. The elderly singer’s refusal to leave prompted rumors of his demise. Someone even spray painted an RIP message on Domino’s house, the UK-based newspaper reports.
But Domino did survive and released an album in 2006, “Alive and Kickin’.” A portion of the sales went to help musicians in New Orleans.
How to measure Domino’s loss
The one-of-a-kind piano playing, and the genial spirit, those are the first things that fans can measure. But even in general terms, Domino’s original approach to music should inspire contemporary musicians to embrace the sound of where they live, and incorporate that regional spirit into each song.
Domino’s music lives on–those two-handed piano rolls are a thrill to listen to, and we can be thankful for his recording history that allows audiences to experience his unmistakable sound.