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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

March 23, 2022: Rock and Roll Groundbreakers: Fats Domino

[On March 21st, 1952, Cleveland Arena hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball, an event widely considered the first major rock and roll concert. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that concert and other groundbreaking rock and roll figures and stories, leading up to a special weekend post on 21st century rockers carrying the legacies forward!]

On a few iconic moments in the career of a pioneering, legendary rock ‘n roller.

1)      “The Fat Man”: Domino’s first hit under his debut recording contract with Lew Chudd’s Imperial Records, co-written with his frequent producer and collaborator (and an influential artist in his own right) Dave Bartholomew and recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studios on Rampart Street, wasn’t just the first rock record to sell a million copies (although it did hit that groundbreaking number by 1951). It also embodies rock’s profoundly cross-cultural origins, on so many levels: from Domino’s own French Creole heritage (his first language was Louisiana Creole) to Matassa’s multi-generational Italian American New Orleans legacy, from Chudd’s childhood in Toronto and Harlem as the son of Russian Jewish immigrants to African American artist Bartholomew’s time in the US Army Ground Forces Band (an integrated band despite the army’s segregation in the era) during WWII. It took all those individuals and all those legacies to make “Fat Man” and get American rock music rolling.

2)      “The King”: Over the next couple decades Domino would record many more hit records and albums, with “Ain’t That a Shame” (1955) and “Blueberry Hill” (1956) the two biggest smashes. A February 1957 Ebony magazine feature dubbed him (on the cover no less) the “King of Rock ‘n Roll.” But it was an offhand line from another “King,” more than a decade later, that most potently reflects Domino’s status and influence. On July 31, 1969, Domino attended Elvis Presley’s first concert at the Las Vegas International Hotel; during a post-concert press conference, a reporter referred to Presley as “The King,” and he responded by pointing at Domino and noting, “No, that’s the real king of rock and roll.” At the same event Elvis took an iconic picture with Domino, calling him “one of my influences from way back.” I’ll have a bit more to say about Elvis and his influence in a couple days; but regardless of any other factors, this recognition for Domino from one of the most famous American rockers in history illustrates just how iconic Fats was within (and beyond) the industry.

3)      Katrina: Domino was known to be one of the most humble and grounded rock stars, and he and his wife Rosemary continued to live in their home in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward throughout the late 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st. Because of Rosemary’s ailing health they did not evacuate in the days before Hurricane Katrina hit the city, and in the storm’s chaotic aftermath their home was flooded and Domino and Rosemary were feared dead for a couple long days. But it turned out they had been rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter, and in 2006 and 2007 Domino made triumphant returns to the city and the music world: first with his 2006 album Alive and Kickin’, the proceeds from which benefitted Tipitina’s Foundation; and then with his last public performance (and first in many years), a legendary May 19, 2007 concert at Tipitina’s. If there had been any doubt that Domino represented New Orleans just as much and as well as he does rock ‘n roll, these culminating iconic moments laid them forever to rest.

Next rock and roll remembrance tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other rock and roll pioneers you’d highlight?

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