Fats Domino RIP 1928 – 2017

There are some sentences you know you will have to write one day.

Still you hope it wont be this year or next.

So, reluctantly and with regret, I write the following sentence.

Fats Domino, Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefather has died in his 90th year.

Thinking of all the immense pleasure his music has given me and millions of others I could not let such an event pass without a full salute from The Immortal Jukebox.

I also want to pay homage to the magnificent saxophonist Herb Hardesty who died just before Christmas last year.

That’s Herb you can hear soloing on, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ and, ‘I’m Walking’ and that’s him too playing one of the most perfect parts in all Rock ‘n’ Roll on, ‘Blue Monday’.

I am also adding what may be my all time favourite Fats track – ‘Be My Guest’.

A record which beautifully illustrated the sheer joy woven into every bar of a Fats Domino record.

A record which demonstrated the glorious camaraderie of the Fats Domino Band.

A record which, especially in the wildly addictive horn breaks, virtually provides the corner stone sound for Ska to develop in Jamaica in the 1960s.

God bless you Fats!

 

Had I been born in Louisiana in the 1920s I know what I would have done with my life if I had survived World War Two intact and by fair means or foul accumulated a decently thick bankroll.

I would have bought a roadhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Let’s call it, ‘The Blue Parrott’. And, all the dollars I spent and all the hands I hired would have had but one aim – to make the Parrott the jumpinist, jivinist, most joyful Joint for hundreds of miles around.

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On the door and looking out for trouble before it becomes TROUBLE is an ex Marine called Tiny who stands six foot six and weighs in at 250 pounds. Tiny stormed the beach at Guadalcanal and came home with a limp and a chest full of medals.

Tiny never gets mad but he does get mean. No matter how drunk the drunks get and no matter how tough they think they are when they’re drunk no one, no one, thinks they can take Tiny down. Tiny maintains good order.

Behind the bar is Pops. Pops has looked sixty years old since I was six. He always will. Pops has heard and nodded sympathetically at every hard luck story ever told as he pours another shot of alcoholic redemption. Everyone know Pops understands. Everybody loves Pops. Pops has never touched a drop.

Out of sight in the Kitchen is Ferdy our chef. Ferdy don’t talk much. In fact he rarely says a word. Nobody cares about that because Ferdy can cook. Really cook.

So people who don’t come for the booze or the company or the music come anyway because they can’t resist Ferdy’s food. He will have you licking your lips just inhaling the aromas from his Gumbo, Jambalaya, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole.

In the corner there’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox primed to pump out Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Harry Choates until the wee small hours.

I must, of course, have live music. A Roadhouse needs a House Band. So, I want a Band that’s has rural roots and city smarts.

I want a Band that folks will want to dance to, to listen to, to cry into their drinks to, to fall in love to, to remember the good and bad times in their lives to, to stare out the door and dream of another life to.

A Band people come to see the first night they get home from the Service or the Slammer so they can believe they really are home.

I want a Band that can whip up a storm one minute and lull a baby to sleep the next. I want a Band that you can stand to listen to three nights a week for year after year.

I want the Band to have a front man who makes people feel good just looking at him.

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I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

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I want saxophone players who can play pretty or down and dirty as the song demands.

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I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo.

I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

I want a piano player who has the left hand of a deity and the right hand of a angel on a spree. I want the piano player to sing with such relaxation that it seems like he is making up every song on the spot.

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I want the Band to have a secret weapon in a songwriter and arranger who knows all the music of the past and has worked out a way to make the music of the future from it.

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I want Fats Domino, Earl Palmer, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Ernest McLean, Frank Fields and Dave Bartholomew.

I want, and will have, the best damn Band that ever came out of New Orleans – The Fats Domino Band!

Well, well, well …. Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah.

Baby that is Rhythm and Blues and Baby though you didn’t realise it at the time – Baby that is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By my reckoning Fats Domino’s, ‘The Fat Man’ recorded in December 1949 in New Orleans and co-written with Dave Bartholomew and blues history is the first great record of the 1950s.

Some things are immediately apparent. Fats Domino sings with overflowing charm while his piano combines surging boogie-woogie with irresistible triplet flourishes. Right about here the great Earl Palmer invents Rock ‘n’ Roll drumming with his driving backbeat which lifts the Band and our spirits until his final fill decisively says, ‘That’s All Folks’ and you rush to cue it up again.

For the musically sophisticated there’s an excellent analysis of the crucial role of Fats Domino’s Band in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ned Sublette’s book, ‘The Year Before The Flood: A Story of New Orleans’.

For the rest of us all we need to understand is that Earl Palmer’s bass and snare drum attack owed a lot to the style of New Orleans Parade Bands and that the way the whole Band locked into its rhythmic parts drew on Cuban, ‘Latin’ traditions to create something new under the sun in the Crescent City.

Listening here it’s abundantly clear that this is a Band that really does know its way around and that we should sign up now for a glorious cruise into the future. Of course, New Orleans picked up on Fats first with some 10,000 citizens putting their money down to buy, ‘The Fat Man’ in the first fortnight after its issue. A million or so sales followed as the entire United States fell under Fats’ spell.

We scroll forward half a decade now to a record which still sounds dew fresh 60 years after it was recorded in 1955. ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ was an instant classic and the passage of time has only added to its charms.

Fats grew up speaking Creole French and that must be a factor in his immensely winning vocal style. The Lower Ninth Ward where Fat’s family settled after moving Vacherie still retained a country feel despite its proximity to the city. So there always remained something of the relaxed rural about Fats nature.

Maybe that explains why I can’t think of anyone in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll who exudes such bonhomie as Fats. As soon as he starts to sing the clouds part and the sun lights up clear blue skies. It’s an amazing gift he shares with his great New Orleans forebear Louis Armstrong. His piano adds further shimmer and dazzle.

Herb Hardesty has a lovely sax part here which always has me sets me gleefully swaying along with him and the Band. It seems the recording was compressed and speeded up to ensure favour with the mainstream (white) audience. Well, that sure worked!

‘Ain’t That A Shame’ is regularly used in movies to evoke the1950s most notably in George Lucas’ best film, ‘American Graffiti’.

Not too long after it was issued at 251 Menlove Avenue Liverpool the first song full time teenage rebel and would be rocker John Lennon learned to play was none other than, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. John would formally tip his hat to Fats in his essential covers record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Following the major success of ‘Shame’ both through Fats version and Pat Boone’s cover the doors to the pop world swing widely open and Fats, always guided by Dave Bartholomew, took full advantage with a series of huge hits that had global impact.

Blue Monday tells a tale we all know all too well. Oh, I’ve had many, many, of those Sunday mornings when my head was bad yet I still grinned at the apparition in the mirror and concluded as the Seltzer fizzed that it was all worth it for the time that I had.

Naturally while reflecting that the awful ordeal of Monday would have to be faced I consoled myself that Fats knew and understand my feelings and somewhere in the grooves of his song lay the promise of the next, sure to be even better, weekend to come. This is one of the great vamping grooves that engages you from the get go to the thumping valedictory chord.

Blueberry Hill had been recorded many times before Fats took permanent ownership of the song in 1956. Fats and the Band invoke a bitter sweet recollection of the trajectory of love; part rural reverie, part lazy post love making langour. Their collective vocal and instrumental sound glides you through the song like an expertly piloted pirogue.

One last song. From the pen of superb singer and songwriter Bobby Charles the hypnotic marvel that is, ‘Walking to New Orleans’. String arrangement courtesy of Milton Bush. The relaxation maintained throughout with the sure groove could only be Fats Domino. This is one of those songs that the entire family sings along to when we are on long car journeys!

Fats Domino was and remains the King of New Orleans. The unique rhythmic signature of the city resounds joyfully through every bar of every Fats Domino recording.

They ought to put a statue up in the Lower Ninth and name a Square and a Bridge or two after him. He deserves nothing less.

Some personal memories to conclude.

In the late 1970s I went to see Fats Domino in concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. I only decided to go at the last minute and despite my silver tongue couldn’t persuade any of my hipper than hip friends to accompany me.

I was marooned up in Row YY at the very back of the Upper Circle. Friendless and far from the Bar. None of that mattered once Fats opened up with, ‘I’m Ready’. For the next hour or so as Fats played standard after standard with wit, playful power and affectionate authority I transcended to a state of near nirvanic bliss.

It was a rain soaked night but I waited for an hour after the show outside the Stage Door just to call out, ‘Thanks and God Bless You Fats!’ as he got into his bus.

That night remains one of my benchmark nights for musical excellence and personal happiness. Thanks and God Bless you Fats.

Now that there is more than a distinguished tinge of grey in my beard I lean more and more on the sovereign, reliable pleasures of life.

A good night’s sleep next to the woman I love; a mug of fresh brewed coffee in the morning, a walk on the common, the poetry of Herbert, Heaney and Hopkins. A glass of Malt Whiskey as the sun sets. The films of John Ford and Buster Keaton and the good humoured, life affirming, music of Antoine Fats Domino.

And, echoing Fats I’m ready, willing and able to follow this regime until someone puts out the big light.

 

The Monkey Speaks His Mind!


An Immortal Jukebox Production Starring:

Guy The Gorilla!

King Kong!

J. Fred Muggs!

Ham The Astronaut!

And a special appearance by Washoe!

Music by:

Dave Bartholomew

Dr John

The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Denzil Thorpe

Now we all know One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.

Even if it’s Mickey’s Monkey.

And, of course, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey.

Trust me. I’m a Monkey Man. A Monkey Man.

Time for The Monkey To Speak His Mind!

The great Guy The Gorilla, Lord of London Zoo, for more than three decades, kept this thoughts to himself.

Yet, none could doubt that Guy cast a quizzical eye on the rubbernecking crowds who passed by his domain.

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Let’s get this Coconut Tree swinging with the man who translated The Monkey’s thoughts – New Orleans and American Music Master, Dave Bartholomew.

Yeah The Monkey Speaks His Mind .. discussing things as they are said to be

Now, when it comes to making great records there was no chink in the armoury of Dave Bartholomew. He could write a street smart lyric and invent winning melodies.

He could hand pick musicians and lead them from the bandstand or the Producer’s desk. He could craft arrangements to add colour and tone to his original conception.

Dave Bartholomew was the whole package. The Real Deal.

He is unquestionably a Roots Music All Star and season after season an obvious MVP pick.

This is the organising mind behind a string of classic records for Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price.

Yet, every time I thinks of Dave my musical memory lights first upon, ‘The Monkey Speaks His Mind’ for its wit, its wisdom and its one chord drive which lodges the song deep in the cortex.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

There’s a certain rumour that just can’t be true. That Man descended from our noble race. Why, the very idea is a big disgrace!’

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Perhaps such thoughts tormented the mind of King Kong as he swayed atop The Empire State Building preparing for his doom.

King Kong is one of the great tragic heroes of Popular Culture and you can be sure his dignity and nobility will always win him a revered place in the affections of humans with functioning hearts.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

No Monkey ever deserted his wife, starved her baby and ruined her life.’

Let’s now call upon a man loaded with N’Awlins Mojo – Dr John.

In this live version his steam heat band soak us in jungle humidity and push up the ambient temperature of the Club.

Good job there were cooling libations to hand!

The guitarist and drummer exercise Zen mastery while the trombone solo sails acrobatically through the room.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind:

‘And you’ve never known a mother Monk to leave her babies with others to bunk and passed them from one to another ‘Til they scarcely knew who was their mother.’

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Such thoughts must surely have crossed the mind of J Fred Muggs as he surveyed the passing parade of human folly.

To emphasise the point I call upon one of the finest bands ever to emerge from Texas – The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

One thing you can rely on in this unpredicatable world. If you go to a Fabulous Thunderbirds show you are gonna get good and sweaty and have the time of your life.

I speak as as someone who has seen them in all the incarnations that have toured the U.K.

The blacktop blast of Kim Wilson’s harmonica and the perfect economy of Jimmie Vaughan’s Guitar with Keith Ferguson and Fran Christian anchoring the sound makes for an over proof combination that’s guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping and the heart rejoicing.

Adrenaline would surely have been coursing through Ham The Chimpanzee when he blasted into space on 31 January 1961.

The success of Ham’s mission gave the green light for manned space flights to follow.

As he climbed to unimagined heights viewing the world below from a new perspective perhaps Ham reflected that:

‘You will never see a Monkey build a fence around a Coconut Tree and let all the coconuts go to waste forbidding other monkeys to come and taste’.

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind!

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To conclude our meditations on the theme here’s a lovely lurching version from Jamaica, where the rhythms of New Orleans were readily appreciated and appropriated.

At the controls was Coxsone Dodd, founder of the legendary Studio 1 recording Mecca and label.

The vocal is by Denzil Thorpe having his brief moment of glory (Any information on Denzil’s subsequent career much welcomed here!)

Washoe learned to communicate fluently in sign language. In quiet moments I wonder if she signed to herself:

‘Here’s another thing a Monkey won’t do – go out on a night and get all in a stew. Or use a gun or club or knife to take another Monkey’s life!’

Yeah, The Monkey Speaks His Mind!

And, when The Monkey Speaks His Mind we would would do well to listen!

This Post dedicated to the great Dave Bartholomew. A Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll still going strong at 98! Wishing him health and happiness and looking forward to celebrating his Centenary.

Notes:

Guy The Gorilla (Gorilla,gorilla,gorilla) was one of the most distinguished residents of London between 1947 and 1978. He is properly commemorated in a statue at London Zoo and in portrait paintings.

I saw him often when I was a child and clearly remember being affected by his immense physicality and his somber aura.

King Kong – there were many profoundly important events in 1933. Not least Kong’s appearance in the 1933 film bearing his name. Film technology is now immensely sophisticated yet it is the original King Kong who haunts the dreams.

J. Fred Muggs was one of the premier stars of American TV in the 1950s. As ‘Co-Host’ of the NBC Today Show he became a household name and reassuring presence.

Ham passed out top of his group of would be Space Monkeys and happily survived his voyage into space. He spent his remaining years in Washington D.C and North Carolina.

He was buried with appropriate honours, including a eulogy by Col John Stapp, in the Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.

Washoe (1965 – 2007) developed a signing vocabulary of over 300 words and was able to see a Swan and sign ‘Water Bird’

Her example led to the institution of The Great Ape Project which aims to extend moral and legal protections currently only afforded to humans to the Great Apes.

John Lennon, Van Morrison, Ricky Nelson & Dr John follow Fats!

‘I said oh – ooh- oh Domino!

‘I said oh – ooh- oh Domino!’ (Van Morrison – Domino)

A true message always gets through. And, there was a powerful, danceable, message about common humanity and the joy of being alive in the music of Antoine Fats Domino.

Of course, it don’t hurt none if the message gets a push. And in 1950s America the best vehicle for spreading the message to the wider, white, public was national TV and the cinema.

So 19 November 1956 was a great day for spreading the good word from New Orleans. For, on that day, Fats Domino sang his glorious version of, ‘Blueberry Hill’ on show 9, Season 9 of the fabled Ed Sullivan Show.

The Sullivan Show broadcasting on Sunday Nights since 1948 had become an institution of American popular culture. Millions of Moms and Pops must have seen and heard Fats for the first time and concluded that this fellow with the broad beaming smile and the undeniable melodic gift wasn’t really one of those awful Rock ‘n’ Rollers like that hips swivellin’, lip curling, clear threat to civilisation Elvis Presley.

Their sons and daughters moving beyond their command weren’t interested in Fats’ position on the threat to civilisation spectrum (the Elvis Index!). No, they just felt in their guts that Fats with his sly N’Awlins tones and piano was talking directly to them and inviting them to come on over for one fine, fine time.

As 1956 closed the message was more than redoubled when the movie, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ opened. No one cared about the slight, hackneyed story and Jayne Mansfield’s impressive blonde pneumatic charms were only a mild diversion in an age of impressive pneumatic Blondes.

What really turned heads, upturned seats, launched careers and set the world ablaze was the Rock ‘n’ Roll! Little Richard did what only Little Richard can do with his crazed, don’t try to follow me buddy, assault on the movie’s title track. His later takes on, ‘Ready Teddy’ and, ‘She’s Got It’ proved beyond peradventure that the Quaser most definitely had got it!

Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps added a southern surreal touch simultaneously seductive and menacing as they cruised through, ‘Be Bop A Lula’. Eddie Cochran took no prisoners with his rythmic attack on ‘Twenty Flight Rock’.

And Fats? Fats just leaned into the piano, grinned mightily and permanently lodged, ‘Blue Monday’ into the memory of everyone fortunate enough to hear it. The Sullivan show was massive in America but movies travelled the globe!

So when in the summer of 1957, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ arrived in Liverpool it was a very big deal for Merseyside would be Rock ‘n’ Rollers – a chance to see and hear at high volume the real people behind the names inscribed on their treasured 45s.

Of course, one of these proto rockers was none other than the 16 year old John Lennon. Seeing his idols projected on the screen was an overwhelming experience crystalising his desire to join their company. Rock ‘n’ Roll for John Lennon was an anchor in his troubled life and a rope ladder of escape. Obsessively Listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll and daring to dream about about a future as a bona fide rocker who would write his own songs helped to forge his identity as he tested out a series of performance personas.

And, in a troubled time in the early 70s he went back to the persona of the slicked back rocker when he recorded his tribute record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’. John’s memories of, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ were obviously deep and true because he set down versions of, ‘Ready Teddy’ and, ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ as well as honouring Fats with his version of, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’.

Now it would not be an overstatement to call the sessions which produced , ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll shambolic. Too many musicians, too many drugs, too much alcohol, too many egos in overdrive – not to mention Phil Spector firing his gun off in the studio to impose order!

Nevertheless! On, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ I hear, poignantly, the shade of the unknown sixteen year in love with rebellion and Rock ‘n’ Roll music who was desperate to forge a new world sharing the microphone with the world weary superstar who had conquered every known world.

Maybe, all that held the two John’s together was his core deep love for the music of Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and Fats Domino. All I am sure of is that John Lennon lived and died as an unregenerate Rock ‘n’ Roller. Rock on John! Rock On!

Meanwhile on 10 April 1957; back in the good old USA not long after Fats appearances on Ed Sullivan and, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ a very handsome young man with perfect hair and a beguiling smile sang Fats’, ‘I’m Walkin’ on his parents TV show. The show was the wildly successful, ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ and the young man was their son Ricky Nelson.

This was the first time that Ricky had sung on the show. It soon became obvious that the legions of young women who were already enamoured due to the show would have no hesitation in rushing to their local record store to buy any record that bore Ricky’s name.

While the above history might suggest that Ricky would turn out to be an ersatz rocker the glorious truth was that instead he turned out to not only to have perfect hair but also a seductive and surprisingly supple vocal style that beautifully blended country crooning with harder edged Rock ‘n’ Roll. He also surrounded himself with brilliant musicians like guitarist James Burton whose solos were pored over endlessly by six string scholars the world over.

I’m going to write much more extensively about Ricky here on The Jukebox later in the year. For now all I will say is that Ricky Nelson was a much more considerable figure than generally allowed and that at every stage of his career he made wonderful, heart-piercing records that continue to cast a spell decades after they were issued.

Now, if there’s one musician who is unimpressed by reputation and definitively knows, when it comes to music, the difference between the ersatz and the authentic that musician is George Ivan Morrison. So, when he records a tribute track to a master musician like Fats Domino you know he means it.

Of course, Van being Van, his tribute is not a recreation of Fats’ sound but rather a superbly played (listen to John Platania’s magical guitar and Jack Schorer’s scorching sax work) and sung celebration of the redemptive joy that music can make present in our hearts.

Oh, ooh, oh Domino! Oh, ooh, oh Domino. Dig it!

Bringing it all back home to the Crescent City my last example of the deep mark Fats has left on the musicians who followed him is a funkier than funky version of, ‘Walking to New Orleans’ by a true native son Mac Rebennack AKA Dr John.

You might well wear out two pair of shoes getting down to that one!

A true message always gets through.

Oh, ooh, oh Domino! Oh, ooh, oh Domino!

Fats Domino – Pharaoh of The 1950s! King of New Orleans!

Had I been born in Louisiana in the 1920s I know what I would have done with my life if I had survived World War Two intact and by fair means or foul accumulated a decently thick bankroll.

I would have bought a roadhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Let’s call it, ‘The Blue Parrott’. And, all the dollars I spent and all the hands I hired would have had but one aim – to make the Parrott the jumpinist, jivinist, most joyful Joint for hundreds of miles around.

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On the door and looking out for trouble before it becomes TROUBLE is an ex Marine called Tiny who stands six foot six and weighs in at 250 pounds. Tiny stormed the beach at Guadalcanal and came home with a limp and a chest full of medals.

Tiny never gets mad but he does get mean. No matter how drunk the drunks get and no matter how tough they think they are when they’re drunk no one, no one, thinks they can take Tiny down. Tiny maintains good order.

Behind the bar is Pops. Pops has looked sixty years old since I was six. He always will. Pops has heard and nodded sympathetically at every hard luck story ever told as he pours another shot of alcoholic redemption. Everyone know Pops understands. Everybody loves Pops. Pops has never touched a drop.

Out of sight in the Kitchen is Ferdy our chef. Ferdy don’t talk much. In fact he rarely says a word. Nobody cares about that because Ferdy can cook. Really cook.

So people who don’t come for the booze or the company or the music come anyway because they can’t resist Ferdy’s food. He will have you licking your lips just inhaling the aromas from his Gumbo, Jambalaya, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole.

In the corner there’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox primed to pump out Hank Williams, Joe Turner, Louis Jordan and Harry Choates until the wee small hours.

I must, of course, have live music. A Roadhouse needs a House Band. So, I want a Band that’s has rural roots and city smarts.

I want a Band that folks will want to dance to, to listen to, to cry into their drinks to, to fall in love to, to remember the good and bad times in their lives to, to stare out the door and dream of another life to.

A Band people come to see the first night they get home from the Service or the Slammer so they can believe they really are home.

I want a Band that can whip up a storm one minute and lull a baby to sleep the next. I want a Band that you can stand to listen to three nights a week for year after year.

I want the Band to have a front man who makes people feel good just looking at him.

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I want a drummer who lives in and for rhythm.

Earl Palmer

I want saxophone players who can play pretty or down and dirty as the song demands.

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I want a guitar player who never shows off but is so good he makes other guitar players despair and consider taking up the banjo. I want a Bass player who everybody feels but nobody notices.

I want a piano player who has the left hand of a deity and the right hand of a angel on a spree. I want the piano player to sing with such relaxation that it seems like he is making up every song on the spot.

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I want the Band to have a secret weapon in a songwriter and arranger who knows all the music of the past and has worked out a way to make the music of the future from it.

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I want Fats Domino, Earl Palmer, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Lee Allen, Ernest McLean, Frank Fields and Dave Bartholomew.

I want, and will have, the best damn Band that ever came out of New Orleans – The Fats Domino Band!

Well, well, well …. Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah.

Baby that is Rhythm and Blues and Baby though you didn’t realise it at the time – Baby that is Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By my reckoning Fats Domino’s, ‘The Fat Man’ recorded in December 1949 in New Orleans and co-written with Dave Bartholomew and blues history is the first great record of the 1950s.

Some things are immediately apparent. Fats Domino sings with overflowing charm while his piano combines surging boogie-woogie with irresistible triplet flourishes. Right about here the great Earl Palmer invents Rock ‘n’ Roll drumming with his driving backbeat which lifts the Band and our spirits until his final fill decisively says, ‘That’s All Folks’ and you rush to cue it up again.

For the musically sophisticated there’s an excellent analysis of the crucial role of Fats Domino’s Band in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ned Sublette’s book, ‘The Year Before The Flood: A Story of New Orleans’.

For the rest of us all we need to understand is that Earl Palmer’s bass and snare drum attack owed a lot to the style of New Orleans Parade Bands and that the way the whole Band locked into its rhythmic parts drew on Cuban, ‘Latin’ traditions to create something new under the sun in the Crescent City.

Listening here it’s abundantly clear that this is a Band that really does know its way around and that we should sign up now for a glorious cruise into the future. Of course, New Orleans picked up on Fats first with some 10,000 citizens putting their money down to buy, ‘The Fat Man’ in the first fortnight after its issue. A million or so sales followed as the entire United States fell under Fats’ spell.

We scroll forward half a decade now to a record which still sounds dew fresh 60 years after it was recorded in 1955. ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ was an instant classic and the passage of time has only added to its charms.

Fats grew up speaking Creole French and that must be a factor in his immensely winning vocal style. The Lower Ninth Ward where Fat’s family settled after moving Vacherie still retained a country feel despite its proximity to the city. So there always remained something of the relaxed rural about Fats nature.

Maybe that explains why I can’t think of anyone in the entire history of Rock ‘n’ Roll who exudes such bonhomie as Fats. As soon as he starts to sing the clouds part and the sun lights up clear blue skies. It’s an amazing gift he shares with his great New Orleans forebear Louis Armstrong. His piano adds further shimmer and dazzle.

Herb Hardesty has a lovely sax part here which always has me sets me gleefully swaying along with him and the Band. It seems the recording was compressed and speeded up to ensure favour with the mainstream (white) audience. Well, that sure worked!

‘Ain’t That A Shame’ is regularly used in movies to evoke the1950s most notably in George Lucas’ best film, ‘American Graffiti’.

Not too long after it was issued at 251 Menlove Avenue Liverpool the first song full time teenage rebel and would be rocker John Lennon learned to play was none other than, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. John would formally tip his hat to Fats in his essential covers record, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Following the major success of ‘Shame’ both through Fats version and Pat Boone’s cover the doors to the pop world swing widely open and Fats, always guided by Dave Bartholomew, took full advantage with a series of huge hits that had global impact.

Blue Monday tells a tale we all know all too well. Oh, I’ve had many, many, of those Sunday mornings when my head was bad yet I still grinned at the apparition in the mirror and concluded as the Seltzer fizzed that it was all worth it for the time that I had.

Naturally while reflecting that the awful ordeal of Monday would have to be faced I consoled myself that Fats knew and understand my feelings and somewhere in the grooves of his song lay the promise of the next, sure to be even better, weekend to come. This is one of the great vamping grooves that engages you from the get go to the thumping valedictory chord.

Blueberry Hill had been recorded many times before Fats took permanent ownership of the song in 1956. Fats and the Band invoke a bitter sweet recollection of the trajectory of love; part rural reverie, part lazy post love making langour. Their collective vocal and instrumental sound glides you through the song like an expertly piloted pirogue.

One last song. From the pen of superb singer and songwriter Bobby Charles the hypnotic marvel that is, ‘Walking to New Orleans’. String arrangement courtesy of Milton Bush. The relaxation maintained throughout with the sure groove could only be Fats Domino. This is one of those songs that the entire family sings along to when we are on long car journeys!

Fats Domino was and remains the King of New Orleans. The unique rhythmic signature of the city resounds joyfully through every bar of every Fats Domino recording.

They ought to put a statue up in the Lower Ninth and name a Square and a Bridge or two after him. He deserves nothing less.

Some personal memories to conclude.

In the late 1970s I went to see Fats Domino in concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. I only decided to go at the last minute and despite my silver tongue couldn’t persuade any of my hipper than hip friends to accompany me.

I was marooned up in Row YY at the very back of the Upper Circle. Friendless and far from the Bar. None of that mattered once Fats opened up with, ‘I’m Ready’. For the next hour or so as Fats played standard after standard with wit, playful power and affectionate authority I transcended to a state of near nirvanic bliss.

It was a rain soaked night but I waited for an hour after the show outside the Stage Door just to call out, ‘Thanks and God Bless You Fats!’ as he got into his bus.

That night remains one of my benchmark nights for musical excellence and personal happiness. Thanks and God Bless you Fats.

Now that there is more than a distinguished tinge of grey in my beard I lean more and more on the sovereign, reliable pleasures of life.

A good night’s sleep next to the woman I love; a mug of fresh brewed coffee in the morning, a walk on the common, the poetry of Herbert, Heaney and Hopkins. A glass of Malt Whiskey as the sun sets. The films of John Ford and Buster Keaton and the good humoured, life affirming, music of Antoine Fats Domino.

And, echoing Fats I’m ready, willing and able to follow this regime until someone puts out the big light.

If you have enjoyed this post please share it widely and tell your friends! Remember:

The doctor told me, Thom you don’t need no pills.
The doctor told me, Thom, you don’t need no pills.

Just a handful of nickels -Jukebox will cure your ills!

Good Gumbo from New Orleans! Frankie Ford, Huey Piano Smith & Bobby Marchan

The Mississippi River is a wonder of nature. From its source in Lake Itasca Minnesota it flows 2320 miles all the way to Plaquemines (love the sound of that name!) Parish Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.

On its epic journey it courses through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The citizens of Minneapolis, St Paul, St Cloud, La Crosse, Dubuque, St Louis, Cape Girardeau, Memphis, Baton Rouge and New Orleans can gaze in awe as it majestically passes them by.

Songs and stories, tall tales and twisted tunes have always been an essential part of the freight and traffic carried by the mighty Mississippi.

No city (with all respect to Memphis) has contributed as much to the creative ecology of the river than New Orleans. Especially when it comes to players of the 88 keys of the piano.

With a roll call of keyboard saints and sinners including Jelly Roll Morton, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr John, the lately departed Alan Toussaint and the piano man I’m featuring today, Huey Piano Smith, it’s obvious that New Orleans wears the laurel wreath when it comes to piano stylists. I feel a ‘New Orleans Piano Masters’ series coming on!

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Now, each of the great musicians above has their own personal touch and tone: their own rhythmic fingerprint to charm our senses. What they share from their New Orleans heritage is profound immersion in the traditions of gospel, blues and jazz (not forgetting the concert music of the salon).

Sitting down at the keyboard a New Orleans Master can slide and shimmy through an encyclopaedia of piano styles calling up the distinctive rhythms of ragtime, stride and boogie-woogie as required.

The left hand lays down earthing bass lines while the right adds the melodic decoration. Listen closely and you will hear the interplay of rhythms from West Africa and Cuba giving what Jelly Roll Morton called a, ‘Spanish Tinge’ to the music.

And, all this is done with unhurried authority. New Orleans piano has marinated flavour. Tunes, at all tempos, swing. Each player their own River Boat Captain announcing their arrival in Town with proper swagger.

With all that dutiful history and exposition in mind let’s just glory in the absolute delight of Huey Smith’s ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu’ from 1957.

No system can resist this musical virus!

Johnny Vincent is credited with the novelty lyric (I have to admit that whenever anyone asks me do I have a cold I always answer, ‘No, but I do have the Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu!).

The record sold over a million copies and became a Jukebox favourite in any self respecting Honky-tonk.

The irresistible vocal is by Bobby Marchan. Commanding the keys Huey plays with gorgeous fluidity adding flashing filigree flourishes to the rock solid bass line. His years spent listening to Albert Ammons, Professor Longhair and Fats Domino all summoned up into 135 seconds of piano paradise.

Huey is a New Orleans native whose musical apprenticeship included several years as a teenager working with the superb showman Guitar Slim (see earlier Jukebox post). Specialty Records recognised his piano prowess and he was soon playing sessions for Earl King, Little Richard, Lloyd Price and Smiley Lewis.

It was 1957 when Huey formed, ‘Huey Piano Smith and His Clowns’ and signed a record deal with Johnny Vincent at Ace Records. Bobby Marchan, a flamboyant female impersonator with show-stopping vocal chops took the centre stage role.

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Together in 1958 they made one of the most infectious records of all time with a lyric which defies certain transcription (I’ve had numerous arguments, on licensed premises, as to how the lyric should be reproduced phonetically!).

However you spell out the lyric you won’t be able to resist singing along to, ‘Don’t You Just Know It’.

Now that I think about it the song may well be founded and draw its immense energy from memories of childhood skipping games and adult excluding nonsense rhymes. Sometimes, nothing makes more sense or is more satisfying than to chant with all your heart:

… Ah, ha, ha, ha, hey, eh, ho, Dooba, Dooba, Dooba! Dooba, Dooba, Dooba!

There’s a tangled tale behind the next great record made by Huey. ‘Sea Cruise’ from 1959, the most famous song he was ever involved with, was written by Huey and recorded by him and The Clowns with Bobby Marchan (or by some accounts) Geri Hall on vocals.

There’s a fantastic paddle steamer surging tidal rhythm throughout the song that just sweeps you along before depositing you breathless and elated on the shore after three minutes of unalloyed joy.

Johnny Vincent smelled a hit. But, he thought (correctly) that the hit would be bigger and the dollars flow more freely if the track was speeded up, given some added sound effects and fronted up by a charismatic white singer.

After all Huey was a somewhat reticent figure and while Bobby Marchan’s transvestism raised few disapproving eyebrows in anything goes New Orleans it was hard to imagine them appearing on American Bandstand with Dick Clark!

Enter from stage left, Frankie Ford!

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While the ethics of Johnny Vincent’s decision to superimpose Frankie on the original track are problematic to say the least it’s also undeniably true that Frankie Ford, given his shot at Major League status, hit the ball right out of the park for a huge home run!

Ooh – Wee Baby! You got nothing to lose . . Won’t you let me take you on a Sea Cruise!

Frankie was from Gretna across the river from the Crescent City. He was a campy show bizz kid who jumped at joining high school bands and entering talent competitions showcasing his piano and vocal skills.

Listening to DJs like, ‘Poppa Stoppa’ and hanging around music clubs gave him a liking and feel for rhythm and blues. One of New Orleans connected music fixers Joe Carrona took a liking to Frankie and introduced him to Johnny Vincent and thus was history made!

The final record featured here today, another fine Huey Smith composition originally titled, ‘Loberta’ was transmuted into, ‘Roberta’ when Frankie took up the mike to sing.

Notwithstanding Frankie’s heroic vocal it’s already a hit for me before he opens up because of Huey’s bravura piano intro and the immediate foot to the floor entry of the band. Beautiful New Orleans ensemble musicianship.

Huey Smith was never one to demand the spotlight.

Maybe he knew that there would always be those who would recognise and delight in a truly fine piano player and note that ‘H. Smith’ was the writing credit on some of the most cheering and enduring records of the 1950s.

Notes:

Huey Smith – there are numerous collections of his 50s classics. The one on my shelves which is full of treats is, ‘Don’t You Just Know It – The Very Best of 1956-1962, Singles As and Bs’ issued by Jasmine Records. Cue up, ‘High Blood Pressure’ straight away!

Frankie Ford died in 2015 aged 76. There is a compilation on Fuel 2000, ‘Sea Cruise’ which is a fitting memorial to a real trouper.

Bobby Marchan died in 1999. In addition to his wondrous performances on ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia’ and, ‘Don’t You Just Know It’ there are a number of fine records in his later career. Chief among these is his epic take on Big Jay McNeely’s, ‘There Is Something On Your Mind’