My introduction to Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. was in the movie Any Which Way You Can, the Clint Eastwood sequel about bare knuckle brawler Philo Beddoe. Well that was the first time I saw him, I heard Blueberry Hill courtesy of Richie Cunningham since it was his song of choice when he was on the prowl on Happy Days. I had no idea at the time that Fats was a pioneering artist who had a decade of hits, a lot of those predating the birth of rock and roll. But if most people were to name influential piano-playing rock and roll musicians, Fats would probably be mentioned behind Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Fats Domino’s last single Whiskey Heaven appeared in 1980 and failed to chart but he regularly produced hit singles from 1949 to 1964 with an incredible peak period in the mid 50’s. I discovered his music through Cheap Trick’s cover of Ain’t That A Shame when I was old enough to purchase albums and bought a single disc version of his greatest hits which proved to be a treasure trove of songs I had heard at one time or another mostly in movies or TV shows. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a 8 disc box set produced by a German company that I realized the scope and depth of his musical talent (but couldn’t read the liner notes in German).
Fats stayed within his New Orleans boogie woogie sound for most of his prime years but he and his collaborator Dave Bartholomew came up with a seemingly endless amount of arrangements and lyrics that sounded simplistic but connected with a wide audience because of the genuine heart discovered within each and every single. The shuffling beat and easy going style was comforting and addictive, it’s like enjoying a home cooked meal or taking in a beautiful sunset. The directness of the lyrics is also part of the appeal, Fats was out to get the girl and he wasn’t going to be a wallflower. Win or lose the characters in his songs were going to take their best shot and even when he was down he always sounded like he would be ready when the next opportunity appeared around the corner. Just a list of a few song titles causes automatic earworms: Blueberry Hill, Walking To New Orleans, My Blue Heaven and Ain’t That A Shame. That last tune has a interesting history all its own since the original recording Ain’t It A Shame was Domino’s hit in 1955. Pat Boone had a hit with Ain’t That A Shame and apparently wanted to call it Isn’t That A Shame which would make the singles history even more convoluted.
No matter how it was titled or produced the song has stood the test of time as an addictive single but it only scratches the surface of the appeal of one of New Orleans finest musicians. I discovered his music in a very roundabout way and I noticed in a Google search of the aforementioned single that the Cheap Trick version comes up before the original tune which proves that Fat’s music still needs an introduction before most people discover his brilliance. That’s kind of a shame.