When I saw in our newspaper that Fats Domino turned 85, I did a Google search on him. Eighty-five is an unusually old age for someone who was always known as “Fats.”
The latest photo of him I could find was from 2008, and he was no longer noticeably fat, no different than many of the guys I see every day at my Senior Center. He does have a wide face, which is deceiving, but he has lost that stuffed-sausage look of his younger days that gave him his nickname.
I was always a great fan of his early record Shake, Rattle, and Roll, one of the few records that I owned in high school. Yes, in high school I was a geeky white kid who imagined ordering his woman to “get in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots ‘n pans.”
I was stunned to find he did not record it. Shake, Rattle, and Roll was recorded by Big Joe Turner, who was no slouch in the weight department, either. (Forehead slap.) Of course! Like many other misconceptions of the past, I recognized the truth as soon as I heard it. You can hear Joe Turner’s recording on YouTube, but you won’t understand all of the strange lyrics. Neither did I, then or now.
And I was surprised to find most of Fats Domino’s popular songs were recorded after we graduated, which also makes sense because my wife, four years younger than me, is familiar with them. Ain’t That a Shame was recorded in 1955, Blueberry Hill in 1956, I’m Walkin’ in 1957, and Walking to New Orleans in 1960. (He walked a lot for a fat guy, at least in his songs.)
Besides his loss of weight, I attribute much of his longevity to his laid-back, happy personality. The British Invasion of popular music in the early 1960s and the trend to folk music damaged his career, but he was content (perhaps even relieved) to return to the New Orleans he loved and live off of his royalties. He never liked being away from New Orleans on tours anyway, and he even turned down a Presidential invitation to perform at the White House just to stay at home.
He was thought to have died in Hurricane Katrina when he went missing in the chaos that followed, but he was safe and sound, even though he lost everything and had to be rescued from the Ninth Ward by a Coast Guard helicopter. When it was all over, he recorded a CD. One song, written before the hurricane, prophetically had the words:
All over the country, people wanna know
What ever happened to Fats Domino?
And I’m alive and kickin’
I’m alive and kickin’
I’m alive and kickin’
And I’m where I wanna be.
Another appropriate song, even for all of us, would be the old Shaker song, Simple Gifts, with the lines:
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
I would love to hear him record that one as a final gift to his fans.