The Guardian Music Blog has reviewed a book (Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock’n'Roll by Rick Coleman) which claims The Fat Man recorded by Fats Domino in December 1949 was the first rock’n'roll record. I would dispute that and give the honour to That’s All Right, Mama, recorded by Elvis Presley in July 1954. The way Elvis bends and teases the notes in his inimitable voice, dripping with honey and slurring the words in a bad-boy drawl, is pure rock’n'roll. Rock Around The Clock was recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets even earlier, in April 1954. But, as far as I am concerned, Elvis is king. Actually, there can be no definitive last word on what should be considered the earliest rock’n'roll single because music historians have found so many worthy contenders. So let’s just enjoy the music .
I love Fats Domino. The Fat Man is rather forgettable in the recording I have. But God knows how many times I have listened to Blueberry Hill. A wave of tenderness washes over me every time I hear Fats Domino caressing the notes of that wistful love song. I married my sweetheart, we are still in love, so why do I go all misty and sentimental over Blueberry Hill? Maybe because we are no longer young. And certainly my wife and I are far apart — she in Calcutta (Kolkata), I in Singapore — like those former lovers in Blueberry Hill.
I love other Fats Domino songs as well. I Want to Walk You Home is a particular favourite. (It also makes me think of my wife and our university romance.) And let’s not forget Ain’t That a Shame, Jambalaya, My Girl Josephine, Be My Guest, I’m Ready, I’m Walking, Whole Lotta Loving, Let the Four Winds Blow, All by Myself, Blue Monday, Red Sails in the Sunset. Did I leave out anything? Plenty. I just named the songs I listened to after reading the Guardian Music Blog last night. Reviewing the book by Coleman, it says:
Fats Domino gigs apparently provoked the most riots of any early rock’n'roller — despite the singer-pianist’s friendly, grinning countenance, and apolitical songs (unless you count the line "got to work like a slave all day" on Blue Monday).
Coleman… does consider if it’s for racial reasons that Elvis still gets all the props as the rock’n'roll pioneer — Fats garnered his first column inches in decades only when he was thought missing after Hurricane Katrina, as his neighbourhood was one of the worst-hit.
But a more likely reason is that he just isn’t as newsworthy. His cuddly, homely persona (he couldn’t even be bothered to leave New Orleans to get a medal from President Clinton) pale into insignificance compared to the compellingly tragic tale of the pelvis-wriggling pop puppet (Elvis Presley) with an Oedipus complex or the pansticked hollerer Little Richard.
Even if Fats didn’t actually invent rock’n'roll, he was certainly responsible for accidentally inventing ska, and thus reggae. Just check out the offbeats in Be My Guest. Along with putting a Crescent City bounce to an old cowboy song, Blueberry Hill, and the groundbreaking Fat Man, Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino was definitely a great innovator, and richly deserves a much fatter entry in the history books.
Yes, Fats Domino deserves greater recognition. He may be an entertainer first and foremost, but he is unique. His piano playing and his sweet voice lazily dragging out the vowels and smothering the consonants in an indulgent Southern drawl make his music as distinctive as anything by Presley or Bob Dylan. (Bob Dylan would hate being named in the same breath as Presley: he has such a low opinion of him, heh, heh.)
Here’s Fats Domino singing Blueberry Hill