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Fats Domino

Rhythm and blues pianist and singer from New Orleans

Armando Bellmas
Armando Bellmas
Fats Domino

Today on Ecléctico you're listening to Fats Domino, the legendary rhythm and blues piano player, singer, and rock and roll pioneer from New Orleans. You'll go deeper with an excerpt from an article by Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker, written shortly after Domino passed away in 2017. Highly recommended listen and read.

"The Fat Man" by Fats Domino
1949 | Rhythm and blues pianist and singer from New Orleans

Go deeper.
In 1949, while working in a mattress factory, [Fats] Domino cut his first 78-r.p.m. record, at J&M, a studio on Rampart Street [in New Orleans]. “The Fat Man” was released by Imperial Records that December. It’s widely considered one of the first rock-and-roll records ever made. (It predates Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” by six years and Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” by two years, though it came after Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup’s “That’s All Right,” from 1946, and Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” from 1948.)

“The Fat Man” sold like crazy—a million copies by 1951. It’s based on “Junker’s Blues,” a song recorded by [Champion Jack] Dupree, in 1940, for Okeh Records. (“Junker’s Blues” was likely written in the nineteen-twenties by a barrelhouse pianist named Willie Hall, who was better known by his nickname, Drive ’Em Down; it also later became the foundation of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina.”)

Domino does something startling with Hall’s melody. Now that rock and roll has become such a familiar and comfortable idiom in America, it’s hard to quantify “The Fat Man”’s singularity, or its wildness—to truly lock eyes with its newness would require unhearing all the various ways in which Domino’s work has since been synthesized and perverted and mimicked and reborn. (Such is the plight of the true innovator.) But I’d still challenge anyone to make it through the bit after the second verse—in which Domino begins to scat in falsetto, approximating the wah-wah-wah sound of a muted Dixieland trumpet—and not be left at least slightly agog. It’s a nonverbal, nonsensical chorus that’s not exactly a chorus, yet is somehow a flawless chorus—effervescent, unexpected, profuse.

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