Fats Domino

The legendary Fats Domino is remembered best for upbeat, piano-heavy songs such as "I'm Walkin' " and "Ain't That a Shame," which were covered by myriad artists after he made the tunes famous in the '50s. One of the most recognizable and influential musicians to emerge from New Orleans, Domino has sold more than 65 million records, garnering 23 gold records in the process.

He was born Antoine Domino, on Feb. 26, 1928, in New Orleans. Domino was one of nine siblings and was taught to play boogie-woogie piano in his early teens by his brother-in-law, New Orleans musician Harrison Verrett. When he was 14, Domino severely injured his fingers while working in a bed-making factory, but he soon regained their use and continued playing the piano. Two of his early influences were Albert Ammons and Fats Waller.

After marrying his childhood sweetheart, Rose Marie, in 1948, the smoky-voiced Domino began playing piano in New Orleans honky-tonks for $3 a week. He was discovered in the mid-'40s in the Hideaway club, by bandleader/producer Dave Bartholomew (with whom he went on to compose many songs), who got him signed with Imperial Records.

In 1949, Domino recorded the traditional "Hey La Bas," a tune about a voodoo god who had a meeting with St. Peter. But Domino's first release was a song about drugs, "The Fat Man," which made the R&B chart in 1950. The song title also became another nickname for Fats. Another Domino R&B hit, "Every Night About This Time," marked his first use of a piano triple, which would become part of his signature sound. In 1952 he had another R&B hit with "Goin' Home."

But "Ain't That a Shame" (RealAudio excerpt) was the song that assured Domino's place in rock 'n' roll history. In 1955, Pat Boone took the song to #1 on the pop chart, and Domino's version made it to #10. Both artists became stars because of the tune, but Domino continued doing session work for others.

In 1956, Domino had five top-40 hits, including his #2 recording of "Blueberry Hill" (RealAudio excerpt), his highest-charting hit on the Billboard Hot 100. (The song had been a #1 smash for Glenn Miller in 1940.) That same year, Domino released his first album, Fats Domino: Rock and Rollin'.

In 1956 and '57, Domino plied his trade in films such as "Shake Rattle and Rock," "Jamboree," "Rock, Rock, Rock" and "The Girl Can't Help It," in which he sang his hit "Blue Monday." But 1957 was also good for rocker Ricky Nelson, who became a star with a cover of Domino's "I'm Walkin'." During the remainder of the '50s, Domino scored with "Whole Lotta Loving" and "Be My Guest."

Domino made the top 10 for the final time in 1960, with "Walking to New Orleans." He soon turned to covering other artists' material more often, as with Hank Williams' "You Win Again" (1962) and a 1968 take on the Beatles' "Lady Madonna." Domino's last top-40 hit was the standard "Red Sails in the Sunset," in 1963. His final album to chart in the U.S. was Fats Is Back (1968), produced by Richard Perry.

In the latter part of his career, Domino played Las Vegas a great deal. In the '80s, he did a stint at London's Royal Festival Hall. Domino had to cut short a tour of Great Britain in the '90s, due to heart problems, for which he underwent open-heart surgery.

In 1991, EMI Records issued a four-CD box-set retrospective, They Call Me the Fat Man. Three years later, Domino performed "Jailhouse Rock," with Michael Bolton (also born today, in 1953) on vocals, at "Elvis Aaron Presley: The Tribute," an all-star music event in Memphis that was broadcast live in the U.S. on pay-per-view TV.

Domino received Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. NARAS called Domino "one of the most important links between rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll, a most influential performer, whose style of piano playing and 'down-home' singing have led the way for generations of other performers."

In 1995 he received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Ray Charles Lifetime Achievement Award. Domino was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

This week, Double Platinum Records issued the two-CD set 50 Greatest Hits; next month, Madacy Records will release Fats Domino Live! Collector's Edition.

Domino lives in New Orleans with wife, Rose Marie, mother of his eight children.

Other birthdays on Saturday: Johnny Cash, 68; Paul Cotton (Poco), 57; Mitch Ryder, 55; Jonathan Cain (Journey, the Babys), 50; Michael Bolton, 47; Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke), 40; John Jon (Bronski Beat), 39; Erykah Badu, 29; Rico Wade (Society of Soul), 28; Bob "the Bear" Hite (Canned Heat), 1945–1981.