The late 19th century and early 20th was the era of sheet music. In 1908, music history was made when the first published blues song with “blues” in the title was published right here in New Orleans. The song follows the tried and true blues formula of the 12-Bar chord progression, also known as “blues changes.” This chord progression is featured prominently in both blues and jazz history as well as popular music up to the present.
Fats Domino, New Orleans R&B pianist and vocalist updating his classics in a funkier vein with live performances of “I’m Walkin'” “Blue Monday” “I’m in Love Again” “I’m Ready” and “I Want to Walk You Home” in 1980. He powered hits such as “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t it a Shame,” and “Walking to New Orleans.” Also known by the nickname “The Fat Man,” the best-selling African-American musician in the 1950’s had an influence on Elvis Presley, the Beatles and many ska musicians who took note of his rhythms.
Domino was born in the Crescent City in 1928. He grew up speaking French Creole before English and had learned to play piano by the age of 7. Among his stylistic influences were blues pianists Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Little Willie Littlefield. Fats Domino’s music career took off in 1947 when Billy Diamond, a local bandleader and bassist heard him playing at a barbecue.
Domino signed onto Imperial Records and met Dave Bartholomew, who became his arranger and co-writer, in 1949. That year he and Bartholomew released the rhythm and blues cut “The Fat Man” which sold millions of copies and went gold in ’53. By the mid-50s Fats had become hugely popular with both black and white audiences. Despite his success with white listeners, Domino was still occasionally refused lodging on the basis of his race while on tour. His music releases were the most successful during his years with Imperial Records and Dave Bartholomew. After leaving New Orleans for Nashville in 1963 to transfer to ABC-Paramount, his records sales dropped off, in part due to changes in popular taste. Two years later he returned to New Orleans and reinvigorated his collaborative relationship with Bartholomew. In 1986, Fats was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but did not attend his induction ceremony. He continued to tour up until 1991, when he became concerned about his health and decided to remain in New Orleans. He even remained at his Gentilly home during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and had to be rescued from his attic as the flood waters rose in Orleans Parish. And the legend lives on!
Two Louisiana rock legends for the price of one in this 1957 gem. Dale Hawkins (Gold Mine, LA) and James Burton (Dubberly, LA) on lead guitar. Suzie-Q was covered by The Rolling Stones with a 1:49 version in 1964 and and most famously by Creedence Clearwater Revival with an 8 minute version four years later. Dale’s cousin Ronnie Hawkins led the Hawks (later The Band), while Burton went on to tasty fretwork behind Ricky Nelson and Elvis turning ears on both sides of the Atlantic and making the Rock Hall of Fame in 2001.
In answer to Sir Mick’s 1964 question below…a good reason to listen to a cover of Slim Harpo is The Rolling Stones’ knack for interpreting blues tracks.
“Shake Your Hips” by Lobdell, Louisiana’s Slim Harpo (né James Moore) for Excello Records in 1966 was covered by The Rolling Stones on Exile on Main Street as “Hip Shake.” The groove later resurfaced on ZZ Top’s hit “La Grange.” Said Mick Jagger of the Stones when they were covering Slim in 1964: “What’s the point in listening to us doing ‘I’m a King Bee’ when you can hear Slim Harpo do it ?”
To commemorate a new DVD release of Dr. John and the late great Johnny Winter, Live in Sweden 1987, here is an earlier clip of their combo, grooving Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time”
“Down in New Orleans, Where the Blues Was Born…” a high school aged Art Neville singing Mardi Gras Mambo in 1954 with the Hawketts.