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IMPERIAL 5065; MARCH 1950

 
 

 

From the very start there was a steadfast rule for those who were rock ‘n’ roll pianists: When in doubt play boogie woogie.

That aggressive rollicking style, rudimentary as it might be, never failed to at least get your heart pumping and your feet moving and since those were key components of rock ‘n’ roll no matter the instrumentation, it was all but given that any aspiring piano playing rocker was going to want to strut their stuff by out-boogying their competition.

Though he’d go on to be more successful than any of them in the long run, his records covering a far broader stylistic palette than most over the ensuing decade and a half of churning out hits, it’s no surprise that when starting out Fats Domino adhered to this basic edict just like anyone else who found themselves sitting behind a keyboard hoping to stir some interest.

If it’s boogie woogie you want, it’s boogie woogie you’ll get… but even here he shows he’s got a little more up his sleeve than just those ten active fingers.
 

 
Boogie All The Time
Virtually all of the piano playing hot-shots we’ve covered so far in early rock have released at least one boogie-based instrumental… Little Willie Littlefield issued a number of them early on before really being allowed to show that he was every bit as good of a singer as he was a barrelhouse stomper.

Whether it was big time stars like Amos Milburn giving their vocal chords a brief rest to show off their chops, or session musicians like T.J. Fowler or Lonnie Lyons being thrust into the spotlight for a record of their own featuring their keyboard dexterity, it was a reliable way to draw attention in these halcyon days of musical moderation everywhere else you looked.

But boogie instrumentals – while offering a way to impress people with your keyboard work – were still rather limited in their potential, explosive maybe but lacking a way to stamp it with your own personality as you could do with vocals. So the two approaches were fused together in the hopes that the musical punch would be assisted by a lyrical identity giving you the best of both worlds.

As a matter of fact this wasn’t even the first record called Boogie Woogie Baby to come along in rock, as the first one by Charlie Davis was issued on the exact same label no less at a time when Imperial Records was still struggling with grasping just how vital rock ‘n’ roll would be back in 1948. The next year Big Joe Turner cut a song also called Boogie Woogie Baby, showing that when it came to originality music was as guilty of redundancy as any other enterprise.

Now here we are in 1950 with Fats Domino exploring the same theme – albeit in a different way – with a Boogie Woogie Baby of his own. Be sure to stay tuned for the next go-round with this idea when we get to 1951!

But like those other tunes by Davis and Turner here we don’t just get a generic piano boogie but rather a story goes with it, one which focuses on a shapely girl who is the one causing the type of surging hormonal responses that – with perhaps no sexual release immediately available – are only able to find a societal approved outlet in these storming boogies.
 


 
 

I Know She’s Mine
Truthfully the much anticipated intro to this song, which has Fats laying down the expected churning riff, is really kind of subdued… nondescript… a let-down even.

It’s not that’s he’s trying his hardest to get us moving and failing at it though, it’s just that he’s playing something which by design is not really accentuating the very thing boogie woogies thrive on – a rock solid left hand matched by a hyperactive right.

Instead it’s just sort of establishing the simple structure the song will ride before letting Fats’ voice have the spotlight which is where the real stab at creativity emerges.

Boogie Woogie Baby is a pretty straightforward testament to a nameless woman, one which highlights her physical attributes as well as her love for our protagonist behind the mic, but it’s the way in which Domino describes her, the story-like examples he offers, which helps to set this apart from your standard run of the mill exercise in lust.

His voice exudes a calm, measured confidence even as his excitement in describing her features is palpable. He’s very particular in the details he offers up too, almost as if he’s got a sketch artist sitting next to him and wants to make sure the drawing that gets produced from his description does her justice.

Because of this she manages to come alive in a way that we can appreciate even without seeing her for ourselves. The combination of his enthusiasm and those small touches of realism he injects such as telling us where her hemline sits on her frame, makes this far more memorable than had he simply used broader strokes to paint her image in our minds.

So much of the appeal of Domino through the years is found in his vocal delivery, one that always seems without pretension. There’s never any sense that he’s putting on an act for us, adopting a specific persona for whatever song he’s performing. He always comes across as completely open and honest in a way that few other big name stars could manage. There’s an authenticity embedded into Domino’s delivery that made you immediately trust what he was telling you, even at this stage of the game when nobody listening to him outside of New Orleans had any idea who he was, and so when he raves about this particular girl we simply accept that she exists exactly as described.

If HE’S so enraptured by her charms then who are we to be skeptical or assume he might be exaggerating?

All of that makes this song much more potent than it’d be in other hands. Within the confines of structured verses and their melodic constraints he’s merely exhibiting the same attributes any guy would when telling us about their newfound love in glowing terms and giving off that same radiant look of pleasure in the bargain.
 

My Love Comes Tumbling Down
While the small lyrical touches might make this record somewhat different conceptually from many boogies, the overall impact of Boogie Woogie Baby is still going to be determined by the band however and it’s here that Dave Bartholomew’s arranging abilities are put to good use.

Being a boogie means there’s going to be no real surprises in its construction, otherwise it would no longer qualify under the term, so Dave’s got a somewhat limited amount of material with which to fashion a new suit but does so rather stylishly all the same, letting the horns gradually work their way into the background as Fats sings with his piano – and Ernest McLean’s guitar – still leading the charge.

The first instrumental break brings them into view a little better, though they’re still taking a backseat to the piano – which is good in its choppy delivery – but then Fats eases off and the tenor sax takes over giving us a solid interlude. Herb Hardesty keeps things within the basic parameters they set for the tune so there’s no real chance for him to go wild, but his power, precision and melodic inventiveness keeps it from being strictly a by-the-numbers solo.

These are the kind of things you’d come to expect from Bartholomew, a tight band that remained focused on the bottom line, which was to deliver energetic performances in which the total production was the star more so than any individual component.

To put it another way, Bartholomew was a coach who always had the best team on the field even if the individual players were never fully regarded as stars because of the view that “it’s the system, not the players” which made them successful.

While it’s certainly debatable that just anyone could pull off the musicianship required to make that a sound theory, the fact is there was a lot of turnover through the years and the music never suffered. Here though, when they were all just starting out, we can see the genius of the approach – take a well-conceived arrangement and then let their individual talents breathe life into it on record.
 


 

Fit Tight To The Waist
Songs like this weren’t going to establish Fats Domino as a star of course, even if they are a step above the generic filler, boogie-based or not, that many artists early on in their careers resorted to out of a need to stick with something reliable and familiar.

The fact that Domino and Bartholomew showed enough inventiveness within that limited scope however let the world know – that is if the world bothered to pay attention – that they were not content to merely phone things in, even if they’d be given a free pass for doing so by the record company and public since Boogie Woogie Baby was never going to be anything but a quickly forgotten B-side.
 


 

Not every record is going to set the world on fire, but as long as the ones that fall short of greatness don’t throw ice water on the still burning embers of their earlier success then you can accept a few average releases that at least give you a better sense of the artist in question while waiting for something hotter to reignite your passions.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Fats Domino for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)