The first musician to become a rock ‘n’ roll icon solely on the strength of his music and not as an image or novelty, Fats Domino was also part of many of the early touring rock ‘n’ roll package shows that barnstormed the country and popularized the new music.
Domino often found lyrical inspiration in the experiences of everyday folks. “Something that happened to someone, that’s how I write all my songs,” he said. “I used to listen to people talk every day, things would happen in real life. I used to go around different places, hear people talk. Sometimes I wasn’t expecting to hear nothin’, and my mind was very much on my music. Next thing I’d hear, I would either write it down or remember it good.”
Even as rock ‘n’ roll’s popularity waned as Little Richard retreated into the ministry, Elvis donned Army fatigues, and a battalion of well-scrubbed teen idols invaded from Philly, the Fat Man kept on rocking with “Whole Lotta Loving,” “I’m Ready,” and “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday.” “Be My Guest” wafted down to Jamaica and ended up a cornerstone of ska’s birth.
No other veteran R&B artist of his era would come close to equaling his long-term impact on rock ‘n’ roll, as evidenced by the wide variety of artists covering his songs, from Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Ricky Nelson and Ike & Tina Turner to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, T-Rex, Los Lobos, and Cheap Trick.
“On and off the stage, he’s a true man who belongs to the public,” said the late Roy Montrell, his longtime guitarist. “Everything he does, he does it with his public in mind.”
He’s still a man of the people, judging from the way the world waited on pins and needles when word filtered out that he was missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, Antoine Domino, Jr.’s home from the day of his birth on February 26, 1928, was one of the epicenters of Katrina’s wrath. When photos of Domino’s rescue from his flooded home finally hit media outlets, the planet breathed a collective sigh of relief.
That’s how beloved a figure Fats Domino remains, not only in his native Crescent City, where he’s a virtual deity, but everywhere. As one of the irreplaceable rock ‘n’ roll pioneers of the 1950s, he deserves no less.