Real name, Antoine Domino; born February 26, 1928, in New Orleans, La.; married, wife's name, Rosemary; children: Antoinette, Antoine III, Andrea, Andre, Anatole, Anola, Adonica, Antonio. Religion: Roman Catholic. Addresses: Residence --New Orleans, LA. Office --c/o Steve Cooper Willard Alexander Agency, 9229 Sunset Blvd., 4th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

After hearing rock pioneer Fats Domino in a 1985 concert in his native Louisiana, Ben Sandmel declared in down beat that "a classic rock originator can still be heard in peak form." Sandmel praised Domino for his "indifference to current trends," and related that "Domino sticks to his own vintage sound and repertoire. The instrumentation and arrangements are totally unchanged--no young, disco rhythm sections, for instance." In short, Domino successfully pleases audiences with the same rhythm-and-blues-based music he helped bring to the public's attention with his 1950 hit, "The Fat Man." Credited with playing rock and roll years before the phrase was invented, Domino's non-threatening performance style--called "childlike" and "almost asexual" by Sandmel--helped popularize the new music with mainstream audiences of both blacks and whites. Writing most of his own material, Domino consistently held high positions in either the rhythm and blues or the popular charts for twelve years, keeping his audience singing and dancing with hits like "Blueberry Hill," "Ain't That a Shame," and "Whole Lotta Lovin'."

Born Antoine Domino in 1928, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a family that would eventually include nine children, he became interested in playing the piano in his youth. He taught himself most of the popular piano styles of his time, including ragtime, blues, and boogie-woogie. Later, during his public career, Domino became known for blending these styles to arrive at some of the basic rock rhythms still used by contemporary performers in the field. But Domino almost missed his chance to effect such influence. Working in a bedspring factory as a young man, one of his hands was injured by a heavy spring, requiring several stitches and making it doubtful that he would be able to use it again. As Gene Busnar reported in his It's Rock'n' Roll, however, "through exercise and determination, [Domino] reacquired almost full use of the hand and was able to continue with his piano playing."

In 1949, Domino was playing piano at New Orleans' Hideaway Club for three dollars a week. Lew Chudd, head of the independent Imperial record company in Los Angeles, was seeking new talent to get his label on the charts when he saw Domino play. Chudd signed the young artist, and with Imperial's Dave Bartholomew, Domino penned the song that became his first rhythm and blues hit and established him as "Fats" from then on--"The Fat Man." Noting the appropriateness of the lyrics to Domino's 5-foot-5-inch, 224-pound frame, Ed Ward remarked in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll: "What better song to introduce the young singer than the one he opened with, the one that said, 'They call, they call me the Fat Man/Because I weigh two hundred pounds.'" As Ward reported, "'Fat Man' took off, winning Imperial some prominence in the rhythm-and-blues world and, more important, on its charts."

Domino continued to provide Chudd and Imperial with cajun-accented rhythm and blues hits through the next five years, such as "Rockin' Chair," "Goin' Home," and "You Done Me Wrong," but he did not cross over into the popular charts until he released his 1955 "Ain't That a Shame." With his 1956 string of successes, comprised of "I'm in Love Again," a unique version of "My Blue Heaven," "Blue Monday," and his rendition of an old Louis Armstrong recording, "Blueberry Hill," Domino became a standard attraction in traveling rock and roll shows. As Busnar explained, "Most of Fats' songs were less raw and sexually explicit than most other blues-based singers. He was, therefore, more acceptable to the pop audience. Domino was the only successful rhythm and blues singer to have consistent popularity in the pop charts without greatly changing his style." But if his singing and stage personality is mild, "his keyboard work is right there, " as Sandmel put it. Domino was also one of the first black performers to be featured in popular music shows, starring with other rock and roll greats like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.

Domino was hot on the rhythm and blues and pop charts through the early sixties, scoring with hits like "Whole Lotta Lovin'," "I'm Ready," "Be My Guest," "Walking to New Orleans," and "Let the Four Winds Blow." But, like that of many other American rock pioneers of the 1950s, Domino's popularity declined with the introduction of British and psychedelic rock in the 1960s. He left Imperial for ABC in 1963, and had a moderate hit with "Red Sails in the Sunset," but did not reach the charts again except for a modest success with his version of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" in 1968. He finally stopped recording, he told Hans J. Massaquoi in Ebony, because companies wanted him to update his style. "I refused to change," Domino explained. "I had to stick to my own style that I've always used or it just wouldn't be ME."

Meanwhile, in the 1960s Domino began to concentrate his performance efforts in Las Vegas. Playing under contract at the Flamingo Casino there, however, he began to pass the time between shows in the gambling room, starting with the slot machines and soon advancing to the crap tables. As Massaquoi reported, during a ten year period Domino lost approximately two million dollars gambling, losing as much as one hundred and thirty thousand dollars in one night. He began to realize he had a problem, and through will power was able to taper off until, he told Massaquoi, he was cured of the expensive habit in 1972.

With the nostalgia craze for the 1950s that swept the United States in the late 1970s, Domino experienced a resurgence in popularity. Though he spends more time near his New Orleans home with his wife, Rosemary, and their eight children, he still performs in rock revival shows throughout the country. As Sandmel concluded, "As pure entertainment, Domino's deceptively simple gems [are] beyond improvement."

by Elizabeth Thomas

Fats Domino's Career

Worked on an ice truck and in a bedspring factory to support himself early in music career; played with various musicians at numerous venues, including the Hideaway Club in New Orleans, 1949; signed recording contract with Imperial Records, 1950; concert performer, 1950--.

Fats Domino's Awards

More than 20 gold records; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; recipient of Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

August 2005: Domino, reported missing after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, was rescued by boat after weathering the storm with his wife and daughter in their New Orleans home. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-09-01-domino-missing_x.htm, September 2, 2005.

February 2006: Domino began work on Alive and Kickin', his first album since 1993. This project will benefit Tipitina's Foundation, which offers hurricane relief for New Orleans musicians. Source: New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2006/02/28/arts/28fats.html, February 27, 2006.

May 7, 2006: Domino made a rare appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Source: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, http://www.nojazzfest.com/, May 7, 2006.

July 25, 2006: Domino's album, Live from Austin, Texas, was released, nearly 20 years after it was recorded. Source: All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com, July 27, 2006.

Further Reading

Books

Periodicals

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 4 years ago

we still love you fats domino. a old fan from the fiftys and sixtys, and forever will be. all my love, your number one fan. charlene boone.