Fats Domino was one of the all-time great performers, with his heyday being the 1960s and 1950s. The singer-songwriter was also a trailblazer when it came to rock n’ roll, with his 1949 song “The Fat Man” considered one of the first rock n’ roll records—or arguably the first.
Although that pioneering and million-selling debut was seminal, the pianist is perhaps best known for his songs “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That a Shame”. The rhythm and blues musician, whose real name was Antoine Domino Jr., was one of the first to gain a massive following from a white audience. He had 11 hits in the US top ten with a sound that merged R&B with piano, saxophone, electric guitar, bass and drums.
Domino was born in New Orleans on 26th February 1928, his father a violinist with both parents coming from a Creole background. Domino got into music at a young age, and around 10 years old he learned to play the piano thanks to his brother-in-law, jazz musician Harrison Verrett. By 14 he was playing in the New Orleans bars and from there was hired by band leader Billy Diamond to play in his band the Solid Senders. He got the nickname “Fats” from Diamond, after he reminded Diamond of the playing style of pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon—and because of his big appetite. A few years later, in the middle of the 1940s, Domino met trumpeter Dave Bartholomew and joined his band. Then, when Domino was 17 years old, they wrote the aforementioned “The Fat Man” together which helped make the New Orleans sound hugely popular across the US.
Domino’s music was also a huge inspiration to the many artists who came after him, not least Elvis Presley who said he was “the real king of rock’n’roll” and Paul McCartney who wrote “Lady Madonna” as a nod to Domino’s style. His sound influenced many New Orleans musicians too, and even further afield, with his unconventional playing methods inspiring the beginnings of ska in Jamaica. In 1986 Fats Domino was one of the first to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, at the time he no longer left his hometown in Louisiana, so didn’t accept the award. He died aged 89 on 24th October 2017.