100 Greatest Artists

25

Fats Domino

Illustration bya Dan Adel

After John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Fats Domino and his partner, Dave Bartholomew, were probably the greatest team of songwriters ever. They always had a simple melody, a hip set of chord changes and a cool groove. And their songs all had simple lyrics; that's the key. There are no deep plots in Fats Domino songs: "Yes, it's me, and I'm in love again/Had no lovin' since you know when/You know I love you, yes I do/And I'm savin' all my lovin' just for you." It don't get no simpler than that.

Even when Fats Domino did songs by somebody else, it was still Fats. He could really lock in with his band and play those hard-driving boogie shuffles — it was pre-funk stuff, and it was New Orleans, and he did it all his way. One thing that most people miss, which he did on some of his biggest records, like "Blueberry Hill": He could do piano rolls with both hands. A couple of guys, like Allen Toussaint, could do Fats to a T, but with Fats, there was brothsome little different thing. He was like Thelonious Monk that way. You can always tell when it's Monk and when it's somebody trying to play like Monk.

I give a lot of credit to Dave Bartholomew, Fats' producer and songwriting partner. They were a team. Dave produced records perfect for Fats. He had the sense to go with the best-feeling take when they were recording. People would have missed something great about Fats if they had just heard the more "correct" takes — the ones without that extra off-the-wall thing that Fats would bring.

You can't hardly hear the bass on some of Fats' early records. Later, they started doubling the bass line with the guitar, and it made for a very distinctive sound. That became standard with Phil Spector. I don't know if Phil picked it up from Fats or from somebody who picked it up from Fats, but it started with Fats. You can hear a lot of Fats in Jerry Lee Lewis. Anytime anybody plays a slow blues, the piano player will eventually get to something like Fats. I can't tell you the number of times I played sessions and was asked specifically to do Fats. Eighty kajillion little bands all through the South — we all had to play Fats Domino songs. Everybody, everywhere.

Fats is old school to the max — he loved to work the house, do looooong shows and push the piano across the stage with his belly. That innocence is there in his music. He's a good man, and people respond to that goodness. I don't think it was about anything other than the tradition of working the house and what felt good to Fats.

When all the payola scandals were happening and it looked bad for rock & roll, Fats did an interview in some magazine. He said, "I don't know what all the trouble is about us being a bad influence on teenagers. I'm just playing the same music I played all my life." That's what Fats was about. He didn't look on what he did as special or different. He just did what Fats did.

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