Music

Fats Domino: Blues Kingpins

Brian James

Fats Domino

Blues Kingpins

Label: The Right Stuff
US Release Date: 2003-08-05
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

When rock and roll burst onto America's cultural landscape in the 1950s, it probably looked to most Northerners like it had simply appeared out of nowhere. Anyone spending much time below the Mason-Dixon Line knew that this supposedly radical new invention was just the synthesis of several strains of music, each of which had ample time to sink into Southern consciousness before it became a part of rock and roll. Though some musicians, like Carl Perkins, had been laboring away at devising a fusion of styles that would have massive appeal, its actual inception was more of an accident than anything. Elvis started singing "That's All Right" to kill time between takes in Sun Studios when Sam Phillips recognized it as exactly what he (and America) had been looking for. Chuck Berry recorded "Maybellene" as a novelty B-side, considering his blues A-side much more representative of his musical personality. And Antoine "Fats" Domino hadn't changed much at all since his arrival in 1949, but in 1955, he was suddenly thrust into the middle of the rock and roll explosion.

Those who like to debate about things like the first rock record frequently point to Domino's "The Fat Man" from 1949 as a strong candidate, so it could simply be that he invented the genre on the wrong side of the color barrier and was forced to stay there until a white Prometheus stole his fire and incidentally broke down the segregating wall. Looking back on his body of work, though, it's easy to see how Domino could get relegated to the lower tiers of first-generation rockers. Buddy Holly still sounds bold. Chuck Berry still sounds fun. Fats simply sounds tame. His easygoing appeal has not aged especially well in a genre that consistently favors aggression and sexuality, neither of which was Fats's forte. His songs may be great, but they sound cemented in the proto-rock era and hence are strictly the purview of obsessive collectors and archivists, a situation to which Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" can be fittingly applied.

Since Fats-backers have spent so much time touting Domino's rock credentials, it's odd to see him appear in The Right Stuff's Blues Kingpins series along with such names as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Elmore James. Hidden among four no-brainer selections (and Ike Turner, who's a slightly controversial choice) is an act of brazen historical revisionism. If one were to oust Domino from the world of rock, it would make the most sense to lump him in with Professor Longhair in the New Orleans R&B camp. But the blues? Fats Domino? Perhaps his use of the twelve-bar structure gets him close, but if that were the criterion for inclusion in the blues, the category would expand past the breaking point.

For anyone nodding their head in agreement with the above paragraph, Domino's Blues Kingpins will be a revelation. The eighteen tracks included contain few if any well-known songs and thankfully avoids asserting the bluesiness of songs that can't withstand the effort. Instead, it finds ample ammunition for the cause in numbers that were R&B hits at the time but which have sunk into obscurity since. Starting out with the blurry-acetate "Hide Away Blues", the album doesn't stop surprising from beginning to end. Domino's voice, supposedly known in full by anyone who's heard "Blueberry Hill" and "My Blue Heaven", is transformed into something completely unexpected if not entirely unimaginable. He replaces his smooth, rolling delivery with nuances and microtonal shadings that, it seems, had no place on his pop recordings. The standard line that Domino hadn't changed much during his career is revealed as the half-truth that it is. Just because he hadn't changed doesn't mean that he was one-dimensional, and Blues Kingpins makes a very fine case for at least one side of Domino we've been regrettably content to ignore.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image