No tags :(

Share it

IMPERIAL 5123; MAY 1951



In a catalog as vast as Fats Domino had there are bound to be sides that are known to only true fans of the artist and even then there’s no assurance they’re going to be treasured by that constituency.

This is one that isn’t beloved, yet it’s also not widely panned either. It’s just one of many somewhat indistinct efforts where the enjoyment one gets out of it stems largely from the admiration of the man singing it and the familiarity of his voice and playing style.

If you’re a Domino fan it’s certainly good enough to let run all the way through if it pops up and you won’t find much of anything to criticize. But then again you probably won’t find much that is truly deserving of praise either.


Why My Baby Put Me Down
Nineteen Fifty One was a year of reckoning for Fats Domino.

A year earlier he’d rocketed to stardom with his debut release, The Fat Man, and followed that up with a number of local hits along with one more on the national charts. The shy homebody toured the country, made good money and basked in his stardom and so it’s hardly surprising that he was also feeling his oats.

This is normal for a kid his age. Look around your college dorm to see the same behavior in those out from under their parents thumb for the first time, thinking they already know everything there is to know and are determined to prove it.

For Fats this attitude manifested itself in a way that tested the limits of his own abilities and popularity as he began to bristle at the idea that he wasn’t solely responsible for his success.

Dave Bartholomew was his producer, frequent co-writer and an established and widely respected musician in his own right with a national hit to his credit as a performer (Country Boy) just a year earlier. He was also somewhat aloof… certainly extremely confident… and a task-master in the studio and on the road, plus there was the fact that years earlier he’d reportedly kicked Domino off the stage when young Fats had tried to sit in with his band.

In many ways that initial clash never was fully settled. Domino resented Bartholomew even as he came to need him. It was like that college kid with his parents, wanting to show he could make it on his own while at the same time relying on the security blanket they provided for them.

When Imperial Records failed to recognize Bartholomew’s massive contributions for his role in their success – producing ALL of their New Orleans acts, co-writing much of the material and putting the band together, then touring with them to promote those records – and instead gave a bonus to Al Young, a white record store owner who horned in on the sessions and convinced Lew Chudd that HE was the real brains behind the scenes, Bartholomew quit Imperial and went Decca instead.

But it only got this far because Domino told Chudd (who apparently was trying to mend fences) that he didn’t need Dave… that he could do just as well without him.

Could he though? Well you be the judge because in 1951 Fats Domino spent just one lone week on the charts for the entire year. Though that record wasn’t Sometimes I Wonder, it’s indicative of the dilemma that Domino was facing.

It’s an acceptable record with a few flashes of what made Fats so good, but it’s also lacking in most of what made him truly great.


The Best I Can
Looking at the ads for this record it’s rather surprising to find that it was THIS one Imperial had pegged as the one to really push.

Certainly it has some appeal with a strong piano opening that builds anticipation nicely with the way it unfolds, sort of a hitch in its step each time through, and Fats employs some interesting vocal techniques in it to make it slightly more memorable, but the record doesn’t have anything particularly catchy about it.

The formula itself might be fairly standard for Domino tracks with its reliance on piano triplets and a churning horn line underneath, but with Bartholomew there were deep arrangements where it wasn’t just what was in the spotlight that carried the song, but also the complex patterns he had in the background… instruments doubling up on rhythms to fatten the sound while others ran counter to the main lines, all of I weaving in and out to create a mosaic of sound.

On Sometimes I Wonder there’s none of that. Domino’s road band is playing a very simple straightforward arrangement with absolutely no surprises. The changes come from the lead instruments alone and as a result there’s nothing else to grab your attention.

What’s being played is perfectly good. Fats was a hell of a pianist and the band stays locked in the groove while the horns are actually more in sync with Domino’s vocal tone here than they were on Don’t You Lie To Me, but it’s a very predictable performance.

On stage they’d be free to improvise on a song like this, to extend the breaks, each taking a turn in the spotlight, maybe changing the tempo as it goes before slowing back down, just about anything to show off their abilities with Fats joining in that freewheeling spirit. But on a recording date you can’t do that and so without Bartholomew there to write in those parts, or to find creative ways to exhibit their – or in truth his own band’s – technical virtuosity, you’re left with very little that stands out.

Cut Out For Me
Not surprisingly Young copped himself a co-write on this even though it’s doubtful he wrote anything other than his signature when it came to endorsing the check that he cashed for it.

As with a lot of Domino solo credits it’s got a decent story which emphasizes a specific mood rather than a complex plot. But if you want to pull out the shrink’s couch you could very easily read into Sometimes I Wonder his feelings behind his split with Bartholomew, the confidence and uncertainty over his own future that were wrestling with each other in his mind from one moment to the next.

Though he frames it as a dispute with a girl it’s not difficult to substitute the she with a “Dave” and come to some pretty fascinating conclusions. To wit: He’s asking why his baby cut out on them, telling us he’s going to put her down when he sees her and most pointedly telling us he’ll find himself “another gal who will love to go to town”.

Was he actually using this to work through his feelings about their professional break up? Yeah, I think so, maybe not in the sense he actually sat down to put his thoughts on the matter on paper, but it clearly was the biggest event in his life when he wrote this and there had to be doubt and insecurity about whether his success would continue. Since you tend to write about what you know I think he WAS talking about Dave throughout this, particularly since the final line states unequivocally “I’m gonna do the best I can, but I’m glad she’s not around”.

It sure SOUNDS like someone who feels he’s been burned by Dave’s decision to walk away, even though when Chudd was inclined to apologize and make every effort to bring him back it was Fats who insisted he could do just fine without him.

Without that backstory the song still works well enough… certainly the situation is applicable in a romantic relationship just as much as a professional one, and the intermittent “woooo!” that he throws in gives it a little more character if nothing else… but there’s no mistaking it for a hit record.


Not Around
When looked at from afar life is a constant series of What Ifs…

What if Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino never worked together again after that first year? Would either one be widely remembered today?

It’s more doubtful than you think. Artists with a hit here or there may never be completely forgotten but it’s the consistent hit-makers that are immortalized and without Bartholomew steering him in the right directions Fats Domino might’ve been someone whose star burned out rather quickly.

Sometimes I Wonder is probably perfectly indicative of what he’d have been churning out on his own. A record that is modestly enjoyable without being memorable.

In any event we’ll have a year and a half of Bartholomew-free records from Fats to test this theory. Of course we know now what they did not know then, which is they’ll get back together eventually and things will turn out just fine. But if you were Domino, or Lew Chudd for that matter, and it was mid-1951 you surely had to be wondering if the meteoric ride you were on was about to come to a premature end.


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