The most consistent rock star of the 1950’s as well as the defining artist of New Orleans and one of a handful of true immortals in rock history, the legacy of Fats Domino takes a back seat to no one from any era.

Antoine Domino was born in February 1928 in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the eighth and last child of a family headed up by his father who worked at the Fairgrounds as did most of the male children, including Antoine at one point.

At ten years old the family acquired a secondhand piano and his brother-in-law, Harrison Verret, twenty years his senior and a professional musician himself, taught him the keys by writing the letters on them and then taught him chords so he could play actual songs. By his late teens Domino had joined Billy Diamond’s band – it was Diamond who first called him “Fats” – and the newly married pianist began to earn a living playing music around New Orleans.

Domino got his big break when Imperial Records Lew Chudd came to town after finalizing a deal with local legend Dave Bartholomew to head up his new venture into rock ‘n’ roll. Needing artists for the label they came to The Hideaway Club where Diamond’s group was ensconced. Bartholomew, who had once kicked Domino off stage when he climbed up and played a song during an intermission at drummer Earl Palmer’s insistence, asked Fats to sing something rather than just play and upon hearing him tear through “The Junker’s Blues” Chudd offered him a contract on the spot.

With Verrett acting as an adviser and insisting that Fats get royalties rather than sell his songs to the label outright, the deal was struck and within a week they were in the studio recording the re-worked song he’d impressed them with, now entitled “The Fat Man”, which announced him to the world in stunning fashion when it hit #2 on the national charts in early 1950.

For the next thirteen years Domino was the cornerstone of Imperial Records stable, the biggest star in any field of music to emerge from New Orleans since Louis Armstrong, and the de facto ambassador of rock ‘n’ roll as it went from being exclusively a music that reached the black community to one which infiltrated white America by mid-decade and soon went worldwide.

During the 1950’s only Elvis Presley had more hits and sold more records than Domino and yet for all of the furor Presley’s stage show created it was Domino who arguably had the bigger impact as a live performer as well by playing to broadly integrated audiences, many of which were the first times those communities had seen their racial restrictions challenged and ultimately torn down as a result of rock ‘n’ roll.

But Domino’s shy self-effacing manner and his affable stage presence when he’d appear on network TV (sometimes with his band hidden behind curtains to keep the home audience from seeing too many black faces on their screen) undercut his reputation as a revolutionary figure compared to many of his contemporaries. Though Time magazine singled him out in 1957 when comparing his popularity to Presley, future rock historians often ignorantly confined him to also-ran status among the legends of that era, using demeaning stereotypes such as “cuddly” and a “harmless minstrel” to further marginalize his impact. Yet he had more Pop Chart entries in the 1950’s than Chuck Berry and Little Richard combined and was the headliner on all of the multi-star shows he played during that era, no matter who else was on the bill. As for his supposedly “safe” material, many of his songs contained sly undercurrents of sex which flew over the head of most reviewers. Fats’s records were also being consumed by future reggae stars who idolized him like no other American star, adapting his beats for their own emerging brand of rock ‘n’ roll.

In the early 1960’s when many of those with whom he vied for headlines in the mid to late Fifties were out of the spotlight, either blacklisted (Jerry Lee Lewis), in jail (Berry), retired (Little Richard) or deceased (Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Willis), Domino was still churning out hits, more than doubling his career total on the Pop Charts by the end of 1964.

Yet when Chudd sold Imperial Records in 1963 Domino signed with ABC-Paramount Records who moved his recording sessions out of New Orleans to Nashville, replacing Bartholomew as producer and providing studio musicians ill-equipped to play his style of rock as they saddled his records with strings. Already a rich man thanks to the 110 million records he would go on to sell during his lifetime Domino’s interest in recording diminished and he concentrated on touring which took up the final twenty-five years of his career. He would record only sporadically during that time but he remained a steady draw in concert around the world until he quietly retired from the road in the 1990’s and largely kept to himself at home in New Orleans, unwilling to even go to Washington D.C. to receive the National Medal Of The Arts from the President.

In 2004 he was back in the news when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and it was initially feared that Domino, who steadfastly remained at home, had perished when his house was flooded. But he and his family were rescued from the second floor in boats and in the weeks following that disaster it was his music which was sung by a litany of stars in the many fundraisers for the city.

Domino passed away in 2018 at the age of 87, the same year the more celebrated Chuck Berry died and got more headlines than the always underrated Fats. But no artist of his era reached quite as many divergent pockets of rock fans as Domino, one of the few acts who was equally popular before and after the music’s audience was integrated, and who left behind a catalog of enduring hits that defined the music better than anyone as it reached previously undreamed of heights.
FATS DOMINO DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Imperial 5058; January, 1950)
Arguably the greatest debut single in the history of rock, a galvanizing record hitting on all cylinders from start to finish, the band churning relentlessly, Domino’s piano laying down a deep groove and his infectious vocals announcing his arrival to the world. ★ 10 ★

(Imperial 5058; January, 1950)
Generic, though fairly well played, this suffers from the fact that the positive lyrics don’t mesh with the maudlin sound on top of which it’s lacking any convincing personal touches to give the topic itself more authenticity. (4)

(Imperial 5065; March, 1950)
As a performance it’s somewhat pleasant and charming but it’s far too unambitious as it tries to recreate much of the sound and structure of his smash debut yet nothing about it improves, or even comes close to matching, the far more joyous initial effort. (5)

(Imperial 5065; March, 1950)
Some good descriptive lines offered here amidst a serviceable but fairly generic boogie performance… the band is tight but there’s nothing much designed to stand out here and it’s mostly Fats’ vocal charm that’s memorable. (5)

(Imperial 5077; May, 1950)
Essentially a loose-knit jam with a few rudimentary lyrics thrown in for color and identity, but Fats and the band turn this into a powerful call to arms, playing with focused intensity that’s both rhythmically insistent and melodically captivating. (7)

(Imperial 5077; May, 1950)
A modestly endearing, if largely unfocused, record that makes the mistake of not taking advantage of the real life setting to inject some authentic local color into the rather generic story resulting in a song that’s modestly pleasant but mostly inessential. (5)

(Imperial 5085; July, 1950)
An utterly infectious performance that contains few lyrics – and those in Haitian Creole – and barely any vocals, but which churns at a furious pace with the band locked in tightly showing off their skills, none more impressively than Fats himself on keys. (7)

(Imperial 5085; July, 1950)
A sparse ballad that suffers from Domino’s uncertainty, Bartholomew’s indecision with an arrangement that never fully meshes and the musicians having their parts isolated rather than bolstered with other parts, there’s a hint of charm buried here but it rarely peeks out. (4)

(Imperial 5099; September, 1950)
Domino’s first downbeat hit benefits greatly from its no-frills sparse arrangement allowing his plaintive vocals and the well-rounded lyrics to take center stage while the band only adds subtle shadings to bring the story to life. (7)

(Imperial 5099; September, 1950)
The worst record of Domino’s career finds him singing somebody else’s putrid lyrics while Dave Bartholomew tried using countless snatches of “music” as if played by an Army bugler, an awful idea that is somehow still better than how it turned out. (1)

(Imperial 5114; February, 1951)
A good B-side that instead serves as a slightly underwhelming A-side, as Fats’s downhearted persona dominates on an atypical guitar led track that doesn’t have many of his distinctive traits which he still needed to establish as he wasn’t yet a consistent star. (5)

(Imperial 5114; February, 1951)
An even more downbeat and dire song than the top side – and with an uncharacteristic nasty twist in it besides – this doesn’t play to Domino’s strengths and while he handles it well enough it’s hardly the best idea to pair it with something so similar. (4)

(Imperial 5123; May, 1951)
The Tampa Red classic is redefined by Domino’s textured reading of the conflicted lyrics and is fueled by his contagious rolling piano even though the rest of the arrangement is lacking complexity due to the loss of Dave Bartholomew’s production. (7)

(Imperial 5123; May, 1951)
A simple arrangement leaning heavily on Fats’ piano leaves plenty of room to speculate on the autobiographical – and allegorical – nature of the lyrics as they relate to Domino’s professional split with Dave Bartholomew on this workmanlike effort. (5)

(Imperial 5138; July, 1951)
Everything is a bit off here, the story and character are more annoying than compelling, the arrangement is underwhelming and even Domino’s voice is not close to his usual standards, but there’s enough latent charm to make it at least listenable. (4)

(Imperial 5138; July, 1951)
The frantic energy throughout this song overwhelms its slight deficiencies which includes underpowered horns and a rather rudimentary plot, but Fats and drummer Tenoo Coleman are relentless and everyone barrels along with demented glee making this a lot of fun. (7)

(Imperial 5145; September, 1951)
A return to the national charts for the first time since losing Dave Bartholomew as his producer and while the record is enjoyable it’s not nearly as memorable or intricately constructed as his past – and future – hits. It’s still good, just not great. (6)

(Imperial 5145; September, 1951)
A Dixieland standard essentially played as a duet between Fats and Dave Bartholomew’s trumpet, both of which are excellent, but the record’s brevity prevents Domino from expressing much with the lyrics that get crammed in between the two solos. (6)

(Imperial 5167; January, 1952)
The basic components of a great song are all here from the catchy piano intro to Domino’s endearing vocals, a heartfelt story and a great Papoose Nelson guitar solo, but the song still needed some tightening up around the margins to truly stand out. (6)

(Imperial 5167; January, 1952)
A really inventive attempt to forge something a little different thanks to the use of a Greek Chorus as a dramatic device and while it works effectively, the nature of the song as well as a few clunky transitions makes this more admirable than strictly enjoyable. (6)

(Imperial 5180; March, 1952)
Despite the atrocious production by Al Young and an out of key sax solo, Fats has rarely been so winning, as his vocals impart the heartbreak with precision while the underlying optimism is evident in the title line and the surging horns resulting in his biggest hit at the time. (8)

(Imperial 5180; March, 1952)
With a recycled feel from past mediocre sides and using a lyrical reference to his last hit, there’s not much originality here and the arrangement is so basic that it puts the entire onus on Fats’ personality to divert attention away from what is just a throwaway effort. (4)

(Imperial 5197; July, 1952)
Despite a few nice touches here and there – an unexpected guitar lick to open it, a good alto solo by Wendell Duconge – this minor hit isn’t the strongest of compositions, is taken at the wrong pace and features a vocal that sounds as if Fats’ just rose from his sick bed. (5)

(Imperial 5197; July, 1952)
A storming rocker with Domino and his band going full tilt from start to finish as Fats lays into the vocals with furious intensity making this one of the lost gems of his incredibly deep catalog, it may get a little unhinged but never lacks for excitement. (8)

(Imperial 5209; October, 1952)
The song itself, as well as Fats’ performance, are very good on this minor (#9 for one week) hit, but lack of a more complex arrangement makes the record almost seem like an unfinished demo at times and shows how much he needed Dave Bartholomew to polish things up. (7)

(Imperial 5209; October, 1952)
An unexpected and atypical, but quite lovely instrumental that’s defined more by Dave Bartholomew’s vision than Domino’s playing, as he takes a supporting role on piano while the horns and throbbing beat make this an ideal slow dance song. (6)