Domino released five gold (million-copy-selling) records before 1955.
The Domino family was of French Creole background; Louisiana Creole French was his first language.
Domino was delivered at home by his midwife grandmother. Like most families in the Lower Ninth Ward, Domino’s family was new arrivals from Vacherie, Louisiana.
Domino first attracted national attention with “The Fat Man” in 1950 on Imperial Records.
This song is an early rock and roll record, featuring a rolling piano and Domino doing ”
wah-wah” vocalizing over a strong back beat. “The Fat Man” sold one million copies by 1953.
Domino released a series of hit songs with producer and co-writer Dave Bartholomew, saxophonists Herbert Hardesty and Alvin “Red” Tyler and drummers Earl Palmer and Smokey Johnson.
Other notable and long-standing musicians in Domino’s band were saxophonists Reggie Houston, Lee Allen, and Fred Kemp, Domino’s trusted bandleader.
Domino finally crossed into the pop mainstream with “Ain’t That A Shame” (1955), which hit the Top Ten, though Pat Boone characteristically hit No. 1 with a milder cover of the song that received wider radio airplay in a racially-segregated era.
Domino’s first recording, “The Fat Man” (1950), became the first of a series of rhythm-and-blues hits that sold 500,000 to 1,000,000 copies.
His piano playing consisted of simple rhythmic figures, often only triad chords over a boogie pattern, forcefully played and joined by simple saxophone riffs and drum after beats (accents in a measure of music that follow the downbeat).
These accompanied the smooth, gently swinging vocals he delivered in a small, middle baritone range, with even dynamics and a slight New Orleans accent, all of which made Domino one of the most distinctive rock-and-roll stylists.
When Hurricane Katrina was approaching New Orleans in August 2005 Domino chose to stay at home with his family, partly because of his wife Rosemary’s poor health.
His house was in an area that was heavily flooded.
Someone thought Domino was dead, and spray-painted a message on his home, “RIP Fats, you will be missed”, which was shown in news photos.
On September 1, talent agent Al Embry announced that he had not heard from the musician since before the hurricane had struck.
Later that day, CNN reported that Domino was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.
Prior to this, even family members had not heard from Domino since before the storm.
Embry confirmed that Domino and his family had been rescued.
The Domino family was then taken to a Baton Rouge shelter, after which they were picked up by JaMarcus Russell, the starting quarterback of the Louisiana State University football team, and Fats’ granddaughter’s boyfriend.
A man of his word, Domino was not enticed to travel even to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, a National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton or induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Domino remained a neighborhood fixture in the Ninth Ward, however, living in his colorful double-shotgun mansion and making occasional forays out to local clubs in his enormous, bright-pink Cadillac.