ALBUM TITLE: This is Fats
ARTIST NAME: Fats Domino
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
Holly: Blueberry Hill
Kelly: Blueberry Hill
“This is Fats” is Fats Domino’s third “full length” album. Full length is in quotations here, because at a slim 25 minutes long, calling it full length seems a bit of a stretch. This is often said to be Domino’s strongest demonstration of his talents, and includes Blueberry Hill, the singer and pianist’s biggest hit of his career. In 1940, Glen Miller recorded Blueberry Hill and when Fats set out to record his rendition, nothing went right. Nobody could find the sheet music in the recording studio that day, and Fats kept messing up the words. They never made a full track that was considered good, so the version we know, and that shows up in this album is a cannibalization of a few different tracks. This song went on to number 2 on the Billboard charts.
Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. was born in 1928 in New Orleans, the youngest of eight children. The Domino family was of French Creole background, and Louisiana Creole was Fats’ first language. He learned to play piano from about the age of ten from his brother-in-law. Domino attended Howard University, but left before finishing a degree to start work as a helper to an ice delivery man. Domino married Rosemary Hall in 1947 and they were together until her death in 2008. They also had eight children, all with “A” names: Antoine III, Anatole, Andre, Antonio, Antoinette, Andrea, Anola, and Adonica. Domino lived in the same neighbourhood he grew up in all the way until Hurricane Katrina displaced him to a suburb.
By age 14, Domino was performing in New Orleans bars. At age 19, he was asked to join Billy Diamond’s band, the Solid Senders, where he earned $3 a week playing piano. Diamond was the one who nicknamed him “Fats”, because of his large appetite, and because he reminded Diamond of Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.
In 1949, Domino was signed to Imperial Records, where he was paid royalties based on sales instead of a fee for each song. He and his producer Dave Bartholomew wrote “The Fat Man”, a calmed down version of a song about drug addicts, and the record had sold a million copies by 1951. “The Fat Man” is widely considered to be the first rock and roll record to achieve that level of sales.
Domino recorded several hits over the next few years, and then crossed over into pop mainstream with “Ain’t That a Shame”, which was his first record to appear on a Billboard pop singles chart. Unfortunately, it only reached number 14, while a milder (whiter) version recorded by Pat Boone got to number 1. Blueberry Hill, which features on this album, was Domino’s biggest hit, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Juke Box chart.
Domino continued recording until the early 1970s, though his recordings weren’t as popular after he left Imperial in 1964 and the British Invasion took over the charts.
In 1986, Domino was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1987, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He lived in a mansion in the middle of his childhood working class neighbourhood of New Orleans and was a familiar sight locally, driving around in his bright pink Cadillac.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Domino’s neighbourhood was severely flooded. He refused to leave his house, partially because his wife Rosemary was in poor health. A rumor spread that he had died, and family members believed it as well, since he hadn’t been heard from since before the storm. It later came out that he and his family was rescued by the Coast Guard.
His last public performance was in 2007 at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. The concert was recorded for a 2008 TV presentation called Fats Domino: Walkin’ Back to New Orleans. This was accompanied by a record featuring several artists performing Domino’s songs: Elton John, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Lenny Kravitz, and Lucinda Williams. Domino died in October of 2017, at his home in Harvey, Louisiana at the age of 89.
When Paul McCartney wrote “Lady Madonna” he did so with the intention of emulating Fats Domino’s sound, which is cool because then Fats recorded “Lady Madonna”:
I was really excited for this album too, but it turns out that there’s a reason I only knew two Fats Domino songs before listening to this album. This was another album of songs that sounded very similar from one to the next. All the triplet chords in the piano, and the lazy walking bass line, blues chord changes, and triplet hi-hats make each of these songs sound too similar.
That’s fine, though, compared to this album’s major offence: TUNING. I just couldn’t take the terrible tuning, especially from the tenor sax, but also the alto, and sometimes the guitar too. There were times where I was definitely cringing while listening to the saxophones “harmonize”.
Having said all this, the album was a fun listen. Domino is a good singer, though I don’t think that’s always on display on this album, and an inventive pianist. I wish there were some songs that weren’t blues changes on here, but hey, the man knew his own style.
My favourite song on the album has to be Blueberry Hill; partially because the saxophones are in the waaaay background, and partially because I really like Fats’ voice on this one. A few other songs have him sounding a bit strident, and forced, but this one sounds right in his range, and everyone in the band seems to have hit a similar groove.
I’m glad I know more Fats Domino now, but I’ll probably leave this one off of my “to buy” list.
I was really excited for this album, because when I think of 50s boogie woogie and early rock & roll, Fats Domino is one of the people I think of. I have to agree with my sister though – a whole album of triplet-driven piano, with bass, drums and sometimes horns is a LOT. As I’ve previously mentioned I like to listen to these albums while baking or doing housework, and I found myself unable to stay engaged with this record, often realizing I wasn’t paying attention and having to go back a few songs because I didn’t actually listen to them.
Anyway, when I was a teenager I really liked the song Blueberry Hill and after having listened to the whole album, this one is definitely a stand out and worthy of being the hit song. It has a much more varied melody (let’s be honest, the piano and most of the chord progressions are the SAME) but I’m trying to decide if putting it at track 1 is a help or hindrance. After my few listens of the album I’m inclined to be like “well, you only really need to listen to that first song and you get the picture.” I also really liked Trust In Me (despite those saxophones) because it was more boogie-woogie and less triplet shuffle hell.
I don’t know how much I like the actual sound on the album and found some of the saxophone quite grating (sorry Holly). The guitar is definitely one of those early hollow body big ol’ Gretsch or Gibson and I like the way it sounds, definitely a hallmark of the times! Sometimes I find Fats’ voice is competing with the horns, like the horns are trying to take over.
There’s nothing on this album that is awful or offensive or cringe. Quite the opposite – I felt nothing with this album. A bit boring, the same thing over and over for 12 tracks. Sorry Fats, I’ll buy the single but not the whole album.
Average grade out of 10:
Link to the album on Spotify: