Richard Nisley

Sometimes Nice Guys Finish First
Pop Culture Released - Nov 03, 2013

Fats Domino doesn’t leave New Orleans anymore but you can still catch his act at one of the local nightclubs. He’s the gent with the warm smile seated at the piano. At age 85, Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino is among the last surviving members of rocks’ first generation of stars. He’s credited with having charted more Rock ‘n’ Roll hits than any classic rock artist except Elvis Presley--37 in the Top 40, and eleven in the Top ten.

At a time when being sullen, thin, and white were the prime ingredients of rock stardom, Fats Domino was an exception. He was not sullen, or thin (as his name implies), or white. Fats Domino is living proof that sometimes nice guys finish first.

Domino still lives in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, where he was born and raised. In the late 1980s, he gave up touring, claiming he could not get a decent meal outside The Big Easy. Even an invitation to perform at the White House and induction into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland could not lure him away from his beloved New Orleans.

Domino came to national prominence in 1950 with his first big R&B hit record, “The Fat Man.” In 1955, he crossed into the pop mainstream with “Ain’t That a Shame” which went Top 10. (In this racially segregated era, white teen heartthrob Pat Boone did a cover which went Number One.) Domino’s biggest hit came one year later with “Blueberry Hill” which reached number two on Top 40 Radio. He had more Top 10 hits between 1956 and 1959, including “I’m in Love Again” (Pop #3), “Valley of Tears” (Pop #4), “It’s You I love” (Pop #6), “Whole Lotta Loving” (Pop #6), “I Want to Walk You Home” (Pop #8), and “Be My Guest” (Pop #8).

Domino’s last Top 10 hit was “Walkin’ to New Orleans” (Pop #6) in 1960. His last Top 40 hit was “You Win Again” (Pop #22) in 1962. He changed record labels in 1963 and that coupled with the British Invasion in 1964 put an end to his string of Top 40 hits. Despite a lack of chart success, Domino continued to record until 1970. His last record to reach the Top 100 was a cover of The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” a song Paul McCartney wrote as an homage to Domino’s style.

Domino continued to tour and fill medium-sized auditoriums right up to his retirement from touring. We caught him during his final go-round in 1986, in Cleveland, on the same bill with Roy Orbison.


Domino chose to stay home when Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, due to his wife’s poor health. Unfortunately his house was in an area that was heavily flooded. After the storm passed and nothing was heard from him rumors spread that he was dead. On September 1, CNN reported that Domino and his wife had in fact been rescued by helicopter.

“We’ve lost everything,” Domino reported later. While work to gut and repair his home was undertaken, the Domino family resided nearby in Harvey, Louisiana. One year after the storm, President George W. Bush met with Domino and replaced the National Medal of Arts, bestowed upon him by President Bill Clinton, lost in the flood. Also lost were his gold records, which were replaced by RIAA. Royalties from his records are such that Domino could live anywhere he wanted. His choice is to continuing living in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. “I like it down there,” he told CBS news in 2006.

Besides being a member of the first class inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, in 2007 Domino was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Delta Music Hall of Fame. In 2009, he made an unexpected appearance in the audience for “The Domino Effect” a namesake concert featuring Little Richard and other artists, aimed at raising funds to help rebuild schools and playgrounds damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Genial and down-to-earth, Fats Domino was the least affected superstar in Rock ‘n‘ Roll. The secret behind his success? “Rhythm,” says Domino. “You got to keep a good beat. The rhythm we play is from Dixieland--New Orleans.” He elaborated on that point in the liner notes for his 1991 box set, “They Call Me the Fat Man: The Legendary Imperial Recordings.” “Everybody started calling my music rock and roll,” he noted, “but it wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues I’d been playing down in New Orleans.” The definitive statement on the matter, perhaps, was Domino’s song “The Big Beat,” whose lyrics included the lines, “The big beat keep you rockin‘ in your seat / The big beat keep you rockin‘ in your sleep / Clap your hands, stomp your feet / You got to move when you hear the beat.”

The Fat Man’s still at it. The big beat goes on.

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