He was born Antoine Domino in New Orleans in February 1928, and since his first professional appearance at the age of 14 at the celebrated Hideaway Club in New Orleans in 1942, the work of Fats Domino has been characterised and dominated by his pounding piano style and his unique vocal technique, derived from the Dixieland jazz for which New Orleans was famed.
By the age of 22, Fats had capitalised on his unique style to make his vinyl debut – and first million-seller – with The Fat Man, although according to informed sources, difficulties in recording that single led to its unusual style; it was never actually intended that his piano and voice should be so dominant in the ensemble sound.
Nevertheless, the single sold 800,000 copies in 1950 alone and has often been cited – along with Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 – as the first rock ‘n’ roll song.
With the success of the single, Fats and his group (The Fats Domino Band) toured extensively through America and gained outstanding acclaim.
His next recording session yielded Every Night About This Time, introducing the piano triplets that immediately became his unmistakable trademark. His first #1 R&B hit, 1952’s Goin’ Home, cemented the relentless percussive style into the hearts of music fans.
Throughout the 1950s he turned out a stream of classic rock & roll hits including Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame, Poor Me, Please Leave Me and All By Myself, which between 1954 and 1959 all sold between three and five million copies.
Domino exemplified the postwar R&B of his home city: an insistent rolling or staccato piano, infectious beat, good solid horn section, and an appealing – usually jovial – vocal part.
All of his records had the same magic. Some were more catchy than others, and as he became more popular the beat became a little heavier. Later a string section started appearing on his records, too. But basically, his whole recording career was one long Mardi Gras Mambo.
The 1960s saw Fats reduce his recording workload and go into semi-retirement, although he was still an extremely popular nightclub act.
In 1963 he had a massive British and American hit with Red Sails In The Sunset. It wasn’t until 1967, though, that he first visited Britain, when Brian Epstein brought him over for some concerts in London.
Despite criticisms that he had lost some of his originality, by 1970 his work had once again come to the fore, amid restated interest in the origins of rock & roll. In 1972 he appeared in the movie Let The Good Times Roll.
In the 1980s, Domino decided he would no longer leave New Orleans, having a comfortable income from royalties and a dislike for touring, and claiming he could not get any food that he liked anywhere else.
Neither his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nor an invitation to perform at the White House could persuade him to make an exception to this policy.
Fats’ New Orleans home was devastated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but both he and his family survived. He released a new album, Alive and Kickin’, in early 2006.
The piano legend died on 25 October 2017 of natural causes, aged 89.