MCALESTER — Some recording artists I’ve heard for so long, for so much of my life, that I can’t recall where I first heard them.
Newer artists from the least few years, of course, are easy to place.
I can also easily remember the first time I heard artists such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan. With others, such as Hank Williams or Crosby, Still and Nash, I can at least recall the year I first heard their voices, either on records or over the airwaves.
But some, such as Fats Domino, seem to emerge from the mists of time. I’ll put it this way: I can’t recall a time when I didn’t listen to Fats Domino — and that goes back to at least when I was 4 years old.
I’m not saying I saved my pennies and my dimes to buy the latest Fats Domino releases at that age. But he and a number of other artists were ubiquitous at one time. Climb into the car for a spin to the drive-in and there he was on the car radio, rocking out to “Let the Four Winds Blow” or “Walkin’ to New Orleans.”
Stop at a cafe — nobody in Southeastern Oklahoma called them restaurants in those days — and there he was again, his voice booming through the jukebox. Somebody would drop in a dime and there Fats would be once more, singing “Ain’t That a Shame” — although the label listed the song’s title as “Ain’t It a Shame.”
I would also hear Fats Domino records played by my rock ‘n’ roll loving aunts — all of whom were in their teens or early 20s. I honestly don’t remember if I heard Elvis Presley’s or Fats Domino’s version of “Blueberry Hill” first — but I soon learned that Domino had the biggest hit. Years later, I would learn that “Blueberry Hill” was not a rock ‘n’ roll song at all, but had been a No. 1 big band hit for the Glenn Miller Orchestra and had been previously recorded by artists ranging from the singing cowboy Gene Autry to jazz-great Louis Armstrong!
Domino’s song “I’m in Love Again” fascinated me as a pre-elementary school fan. What kid could resist a song with lyrics such as “Eenie meenie and miney mo; Told me you don’t want me around no more: Woo-ee baby, woo-oo-ee; Baby don’t let your dog bite me.” Those lyrics brought up all sorts of musical mysteries. Why was her dog trying to bite him? What kind of dog was it? And of course, the overriding question: Did she let her dog take a bite out of Fats? It’s a great example of a song that lets the listener fill in the blanks.
Fittingly, both Elvis Presley and The Beatles cited Domino as a major influence on their music. John Lennon included “Ain’t That a Shame” on his 1975 album “Rock ‘n’ Roll” — a throwback to the songs of the 1950s and the music Lennon said influenced him as a musician.
Ironically, the so-called British Music Invasion of 1964 — in which artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark 5 and many others came to rule the American recording charts — signaled the end of hit recordings for many American artists of the 1950s who had inspired the Brits in the first place. There were a few exceptions, though, with Paul McCartney helping Fats Domino place one more hit in the top 40.
McCartney has recalled in interviews how he created the song “Lady Madonna” when he sat down at the piano in 1968 to write a “bluesy, boogie-woogie thing,” and the piano riff he came up with reminded him of Fats Domino — prompting him to start singing in an imitation Fats Domino voice. (He would revert back to his own voice when recording the song).
Back in New Orleans, Domino must have thought the same things as McCartney, because he recorded the song as well. The Beatles’ version climbed to No. 4 on the American record charts, while Domino’s version topped out at No. 28. It proved enough to place Fats Domino well inside the Top 40 one last time — something he’d already accomplished with 34 previous recordings.
Mark Twain has been famously quoted as once saying “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated” after erroneous reports of his demise were prematurely printed. Fats Domino might well have said the same thing.
When Hurricane Katrina neared New Orleans in 2005, Domino declined to evacuate his home — which was in a part of the city that came to be heavily flooded. I remember seeing television news reports saying he and his wife were not found at their home when the water started to recede and they were feared to have died in the devastating flooding that swept through the area. Someone had even spray-painted “RIP Fats” on the front of his home, as a tribute to the man and his music.
The reports of Domino’s possible death persisted for several days in the chaos and confusion Hurricane Katrina wrought — and I, along with thousands, and perhaps millions, of music fans felt sorrow at the reports of the loss of the legendary Fats. Even family members had not heard from him, which gave credence to the reports.
But wait ... finally a new report came in that Domino had been rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter during the flooding and flown away to safety. Yes! Here’s a little bit of sunshine in the wake of the Katrina devastation. Domino went to on play more musical performances in the following years, with audience members no doubt aware of how lucky they were to be seeing and hearing him.
Although he lost many of his belongings in the flood, record companies replaced his Gold records. Then-President George W. Bush personally delivered a new National Medal of the Arts to Domino replace the previous one Domino had been awarded by another president, Bill Clinton.
Unfortunately, the reports of Domino’s death on Oct. 24, 2017, added his name to the list of illustrious musical artists who were lost during the year.
Domino left behind more than a musical legacy. He helped inspire the name change of one Ernest Evans, much better know to music fans by his stage name of Chubby Checker — the singer who led the 1960s dance craze known as “The Twist.” It’s credited with finally getting adults out on the floor to do teenage dances.
If you’re going to name yourself after a board game, Chubby Checker is as good as any. Chubby Chess, or Chubby Monopoly just didn’t have the same ring. Domino, of course, was the real last name of Fats Domino.
Like his parents before him, Domino and his wife, Rosemary, had eight children — both boys and girls. Continuing a tradition, Antoine “Fats” Domino gave all eight kids a first name beginning with the letter A, which required a little creativity.
His children had first names such as Adonica, Anola, Andrea, Atoinette, Andre, Anatole and Antoine III.
My favorite, though, is the moniker given to the child he named — drumroll please — Antonio Domino.
Wow! Now there’s a name.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org