In the 1950’s there were two types of rock and roll; Chuck Berry rock and Fats Domino rock. Chuck Berry was chunky, fast, aggressive, bluesey, and mean. Fats Domino rock was relaxed, lazy, swinging, jazzy and smooth. Driven by a simple bass line in his left hand and steady triplet chords in his right, Fats Domino is one of very few piano based rockers to develop a sound distinctly their own. Every piano player has a style but, like guitarists, Domino created a tone and feel that is uniquely his. It is so associated with him that piano music will often be written with the direction “A La Fats Domino” and every piano player worth their weight in salt knows exactly what that means, even 60 years later.
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Being New Orleans royalty, Fats is obviously influenced by the sounds of this home town. His playing is not distinctly blues, jazz, second line or gospel, making it a style onto itself and a sound that is so instantly recognizable that few have ever attempted to make it their own. There are very few musicians, to my knowledge, that can sound so lazy (in regards to timing) and so aggressive simultaneously that it’s like he’s dragging and rushing at the same time.
Whatever it is that he’s doing, I love it. To me, he’s the king of piano rock and without him there would be no Elton John, Ben Folds, Billy Joel or Freddie Mercury. He wrote the vocabulary and some will say that all of his songs sound alike but I hear different grooves, chord changes, and feels and love everything he did. There’s a great box set available (pretty cheap on iTunes) that collects 100 of his tracks and I would suggest it to anyone who wants to broaden their library with the original rock and rollers as it really covers all the things that you’d want on a Domino compilation.
Below is a video from Austin City Limits that features Fats Domino playing Blue Monday, one of my favorite and his lesser known tracks from yesteryear. Enjoy!