Fats Domino, by Peter Stone Brown, November 9, 1978, Palumbo’s Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA.
It was impossible to escape Fats Domino’s music growing up. “Blueberry Hill,” “I’m Walkin’,” and “Walking To New Orleans” were staples of Top 40 radio. But Fats didn’t seem to come up North to play too often. This show took place in a long-gone Italian Restaurant in West Philly that later turned into one of the major music clubs in Philly in the ’80s. It was one of those places where they served a full dinner and then you watched the show. The interview took place in Fat’s dressing room in the basement of the restaurant. He had quite an entourage of guys in suits and bowties, and of course his famous diamond rings glistened throughout. However he was more than happy to talk, though at the time he hadn’t released a new album in quite a while.
The show was something else though the audience was pretty much a supper club crowd. The only people I knew in the audience were George Thorogood and The Destroyers. Fats had a big band with several horn players, and of course the show was just one hit after another. The end of the show was something I’d heard about, but one of those things you have to see to really appreciate. Closing with a rocking, totally New Orleans styled, “When The Saints Go Marching In,” Fats would bump the grand piano with his belly from one side of the stage till the other while the horn players paraded into the crowd.
PSB: You started playing piano when you were six is that about right?
Fats Domino: No. I think maybe 12, I started fooling around with it and my brother-in-law who used to play music in New Orleans taught me how to play. I started playing clubs in New Orleans when I was about 17, and I made my first record in 1949.
Where there musicians in your family?
Well, my daddy used to play a little violin.
Could you tell me about New Orleans when you were growing up? There must have been lots of music going on.
Oh yeah. A lot of Dixieland music down there. I would play different numbers from the jukebox. That’s how I got started in New Orleans.
You could be considered I guess the father of one of my favorite forms of music which is New Orleans rock and roll. Yet you kind of started out your career as a blues singer. How did you change your style or evolve your style into what became rock and roll?
I didn’t really change my style. The records I recorded I did in my style. I’ve done things different in my piano style that makes it different I guess. People say I play different than anyone else.
Were you into Cajun music at all?
No, but I like it. As a matter of fact I recorded three or four country western like “Jambalaya,” “You Win Again.” I love Hank Williams. I love his music. He was a good writer. And I like the country-western music a lot.
How did you feel when you recorded in L.A. instead of recording in New Orleans? Did you prefer New Orleans?
It didn’t make no difference because I had a good engineer and the fellow who did the work with me out of New Orleans, he was always with me. So it didn’t make no difference. All we wanted was a good studio.
You played on “Lawdy Miss Claudie,” by Lloyd Price?
I played on his first record.
Did you play any other sessions like that?
I played a couple of things with Big Joe Turner. I played “Lawdie Miss Claudie,” and the flipside was “Mailman Blues.” As a matter of fact Lloyd’s wife stopped in to say hello to me from here.
You’ve sold 65 million records….
I think it’s more than that.
Is there anything else you’d like to achieve?
No, I’d just like to have a hit record out. Let the people know I still can write good songs. I gotta lot of good fans and I appreciate what they did for me in the past and I want to still let ’em know that I’ll be thinking about ’em.
What did you think about the Fats Is Back album on Warner Bros?
It was all right, but I didn’t really like it myself. But this one I’ve done, the one that’s coming out it’s the first one I‘ve recorded my own self. I didn’t like it, the way they done it, but I just went along with ’em. I don’t think it was what I wanted to do myself. I wanted to get more of my style in there. On this one, I think I’ve got what the people want.
You did “Lady Madonna.”
I didn’t wanna do that one, but the record company had told me The Beatles were really thinking about me when they wrote it, and they wrote the record company, “Do you think Fats will do this number?” Even though I won’t do it behind The Beatles, but being they asked me to do it. I met ’em in New Orleans and they sent word asking would I’d do it and I done it because I like the tune anyway. When I first heard it, I knew the number fit me but I did not… they played the record… I was riding in my car, I said darn, I could do that record. And later on, two weeks later, I didn’t know who had done it, they just played the record and didn’t announce who done it, and then I find out later it was The Beatles. But I liked the number when I first heard it.
As one of the originators of rock and roll, how do you feel about the way it’s turned out?
It’s all right. The music is all right now. The people is the one who makes the music. I like to record a thing that people can understand, a thing they can dance by, good lyrics, something they can hum and remember for a long time. I think that’s why my music lasts for so many years, that’s why I’m still around. People still like it the way I recorded it. Something they can remember for a long time, that type of tune. I hope I’m right.