Despite sixty-plus years in the business, New Orleans R&B icon Fats Domino is an exceptionally reluctant, nervous performer. His anxiety prior to closing the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was such that he canceled his performance mere hours before the set, causing friends and fans to wonder whether he would ever perform again.
But this past Saturday, the 79-year-old Domino returned to the stage for the first time since his rescue from Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. The hiatus diminished neither his sweet-tempered voice nor his robust piano chops. Taking the stage at fabled New Orleans venue Tipitina’s, the still-hearty legend squeezed eleven songs and a sprinkling of medleys into a scant thirty minutes. (The concert was chronicled for a 2008 TV special, Fats Domino: Walkin’ Back to New Orleans.)
Done up in his trademark natty attire, Domino opened with the loping “I’m Walkin’,” backed by a five-piece horn section that featured longtime tenor saxophonist Herb Hardesty. The band followed him through “Blueberry Hill,” “My Girl Josephine” and “I’m In Love Again” in quick succession.
With that, Domino stood up and attempted to exit stage right, only to be intercepted by friend and local news anchor Eric Paulsen, who gently suggested that perhaps a few more songs might be in order. How about “Blue Monday”?
So Domino returned to the piano, rolling his ample shoulders and grinning broadly as he pumped out trills and other flourishes. The sold-out crowd of 500 roared its approval for each familiar melody: “I’m Ready.” “Ain’t That A Shame.” “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” “Valley of Tears.” After a brief detour into “Natural Born Lover,” he circled back to “So Long,” his farewell. He barely paused long enough for Louisiana State Senator Diana E. Bajoie to proclaim May 19th Fats Domino Day before hustling off-stage and disappearing into the New Orleans night.