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IMPERIAL 5077; MAY 1950



Though the magic of his first record – and its subsequent massive commercial success – would seem to suggest that Fats Domino was destined to be a star, there was still work to be done to ensure such an outcome. The building blocks were certainly there… a distinctive voice, solid musical intuition and great accompanists… but he was still more of a raw talent than a polished gem and so what you were looking for with his ensuing releases was a sign of “artistic affirmation” of his ability.

It didn’t necessarily have to be something that matched the brilliance he showed that first time around, nor did it necessarily have to be a legitimate hit, but it needed to confirm your initial impressions of him were based as much on the attributes of the artist himself rather than merely the specific components found on the record which first captured your fancy.

In other words, was this somebody you’d look forward to hearing again? With this record the answer proved to be yes, you certainly would.


Knows Just What To Do
What was so remarkable about Antoine “Fats” Domino as he stepped into a professional studio for the first time as a shy twenty-one year old kid, was just how relaxed and confident he seemed as soon as the tapes started to roll.

If there was any nervousness in him then he hid it completely, for there was no uncertainty in his delivery, no lack of cohesion in his playing, no tentative concepts to be arduously worked out over time. He was, for all intent and purposes, fully formed, at least when it came to having a firm grasp on his musical direction and the utter confidence in his ability to transfer that to wax.

But initially the material he and producer Dave Bartholomew came up with was still somewhat crude – fragments of ideas pulled together on the floor as opposed to compositions that had been carefully crafted in advance. Yet in spite of the off-the-cuff nature of the first session Domino’s genial charm and the power of his piano adding to the rhythmic juggernaut of Bartholomew’s band came through on virtually everything they cut and ensured that even lesser songs had the ability to win you over with the conviction of their playing and Fats’ ebullient singing.

Maybe the pinnacle of this early approach of relying on simple concepts and structures on which to build his musical foundation was She’s My Baby, a song that really is more of a full band instrumental cut than it is a vocal showcase for Domino but which Fats is able to imprint his personality on all the same.


When I’m Feeling Blue
The most important thing to note heading into this somewhat makeshift recording is that Domino is by no means a mere appendage on his own record. He may have only a few repetitive lines to sing but he’s unquestionably the dominant figure throughout the song thanks to the role his piano takes in the arrangement.

The moment the needle hits the groove with his stuttering piano riff you’re hooked. It’s such an infectious sound, throwing the doors open to a party already in full swing, that you can’t help but want to go inside. When you enter you find there’s a lot more here than just that initial captivating inducement as he’s quickly joined by horns that are playing a climbing pattern which switches to a siren-like droning as Fats repeats that piano intro with a little more emphasis before they finally all pull out of formation to let him start singing.

Based on a somewhat similar extended intro that adorned The Fat Man you half expect this to follow suit and provide a more complex narrative once the vocals start, but you’re quickly dissuaded of that hunch when Fats keeps repeating the same line over and over. Yet for once the lack of inventiveness and lyrical depth of a song is hardly a deterrent because of the way they’re using those vocals as merely another musical device, almost as if his voice were just a horn or a bass or an extension of the keyboard.

This is where Dave Bartholomew’s genius becomes a little more apparent, for while nothing about this is particularly complex or revolutionary, it IS inspired because of the dual purposes it serves. The first is to mask their lack of more formal compositions which was brought about by the quick turnaround and their still nascent songwriting partnership which would work itself out in time as they became accustomed to working together.

The second purpose She’s My Baby served was to still give Fats a way to sell his engaging personality on record with casual effort, thereby helping to reinforce the image he was in the process of creating on more traditional material.

Had this been a pure instrumental instead – and it’d have been plenty appealing if had been – it wouldn’t have done much to sell Fats Domino as a potential leading man. He’d have just been another face in the ensemble that way… even if his piano was the lone soloing instrument on the record there’s still not a lot of standalone moments for him to shine. But by including a brief vocal it not only gives the song an easily remembered title, thus helping to attract sales and jukebox spins, but it breaks up the instrumental onslaught and injects a more distinct human element into the song, as even in the short refrain we can tell that Fats is smitten with this girl he’s singing about and his bright eager vocals are far more compelling than the repetitive words he’s dishing out would ever suggest on paper.

Fats sounds like a meteor shooting across the heavens, dazzling but unharnessed, still uncertain of its landing spot but unconcerned about the flight, which is a perfect distillation of his career at this point. Maybe it – and he – would burn out before long you could be thinking, but you knew you’d definitely remember the sight of him.

My Baby, My Baby
Of course working with arguably the tightest studio band around, or one on the verge of claiming that crown anyway, certainly doesn’t hurt and by keying in on the relentless surging thrust of the rhythm in the arrangement they’re able to ride it until it all but takes over your senses.

Everything here is working in perfect tandem, the horns pulsing steadily while the drums and bass are constantly pumping more blood into the system. It’s incredibly precise in its execution, nobody is stepping outside their lane to draw attention to themselves yet each one is fulfilling their role with focused intensity until the sound becomes a swirling fount of energy, like a tornado in a bottle – controlled, but immensely powerful.

When the singing stops and the horns keep hitting that same high-pitched riff it’s still Fats who commands your attention as he hammers away on the ivories, his left hand keeping the rhythm unrelenting while his right hand slips, slides and prances all over the treble keys without ever losing sight of the melody. There’s not a false note to be found and even his timing in delivering the necessary feints and pauses between bars is as locked in as it gets. He’s become so renown for his singing over the years that you tend to forget he was a really good barrelhouse pianist too but She’s My Baby establishes that aspect of his persona perfectly. No matter how redundant the basic structure of the song is Fats keeps it from ever being tedious.

Though hardly even expansive enough to be rightly called a proper “composition”, as a record that conveys the unbridled excitement of rock ‘n’ roll at its most feral, this packs an undeniable wallop.


Put Another Nickel In
While this didn’t match the commercial success of his first two singles (although the top side, Hide Away Blues, was pulling decent coin in The Crescent City as you’d expect), it stands as the performance that seemed to confirm his initial promise because it was so captivating despite its structural limitations.

Maybe more important to their success in the long run was how She’s My Baby showed the innate compatibility between Domino and Bartholomew in coming up with material which balanced musical energy with calm efficiency, and highlighted the character of its star without actually revealing much of anything via the tactics with which they accomplished this. Arguably no legendary rock artist was as economical with the majority of his output as Fats Domino and this was proof he had that quality in him from the very start.

Feel free to call it little more than a mostly improvised jam created under the gun, but keep in mind that the ability to do so without showing any strain – and still come away with something that is endlessly listenable no matter how basic its components may be – suggests that the participants from the top on down were drawing from a deep well of natural talent that was bound to pay off even bigger down the line.


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