A Reprise For Fats
I’ve never gotten around to doing a full post on Fats Domino before. He’s had such a long career and released so much material, it’s a daunting task to tackle the Fatman. So, for now, I’ll just take on this side, recently pulled out of storage, from a time when circumstances had him recording far from home.
"Have You Seen My Baby" (Randy Newman)
Fats Domino, Reprise 0891, 1970
In the early 1960’s, Domino’s record sales were finally starting to slide; and his longtime label, Imperial, where he had an incredible run of hits for over a decade (60+ million records sold in just his final six years with the company), sold out to Liberty. His switch to ABC-Paramount did not help his cause, though; and he and the label parted ways after a few years. Fats then did some recording again with his long-time Imperial producer and friend, Dave Bartholomew, on his short-lived Broadmoor label and continued to tour, playing Las Vegas a number of times in the mid to late 1960’s. That was where Mo Ostin, head of Warner Brothers Records, and producer Richard Perry went to meet Fats, hoping to sign him and revive his recording career. He agreed to the comeback plans they laid out for him; and, in 1968, Perry set up sessions, mainly held in New York, which resulted in the Fats Is Back album. The producer and label wanted this to be the rotund legend’s splashy return to prominence: major label, hotshot young producer, nice budget for A-list players, etc; but it didn’t work out that way. For starters, Fats refused to play piano on the record! Instead, he recruited James Booker, who had the facility to easily cop his style, to cover his keyboard parts on most of the tracks. Still, the album was a strong showing for Domino. But, although his cover of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” (inspired by Fats in the fist place) made some noise as a single, neither the LP nor the three other singles pulled from it generated great sales. Since the reviews had been encouraging, Perry, a pretty good producer, but no Dave Bartholomew, kept the faith for two more singles, “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey” (a new Beatles cover – there had been two on the LP) b/w “So Swell When You’re Well” (from the LP - James Booker’s classic, which Fats nailed!) in 1969, followed by “Have You Seen My Baby” b/w “Make Me Belong To You” in 1970. Everything Fats did for Reprise, including the earlier Broadmoor material that they reissued in Europe on the Fats album, can be found on the Rhino/Handmade limited edition CD, Sweet Patootie: The Complete Reprise Recordings.
Composed by Randy Newman, who did most of the horn arrangements and played some piano on Fats Is Back, “Have You Seen My Baby” is a good fit for Fats. He gives Newman’s sly lyrics their due; and the track is well-arranged and played. Newman probably did charts for the horn section again; and Booker was likely back on that electric piano that gets more rambunctious as the tune progresses. Perry used a plethora of players on the sessions for the album and singles, and they are not listed individually by track on the CD notes. But some of the more recognizable names on the impressive list are drummers Earl Palmer (another HOTG connection) and Hal Blaine, bassist Chuck Rainey, guitarist Eric Gale, and King Curtis on sax. Also in 1970, Fats recorded his final Reprise 45, “Sweet Patootie” b/w “New Orleans Ain’t The Same” with producer Fred Smith in Los Angeles, who, for reasons hard to fathom, put a kazoo prominently in the mix on the A-side. And thus, to that ignoble tooting, the comeback, an attempt to merge Fats’ classic New Orleans style with some conceptualized hipness of the day (covering Beatles and Newman tunes, not kazoo soloing), finally came completely undone.
Domino and Perry compare notes
Fats kept it together on the touring circuit after that for another 30 years; but the past year has not been good for this cultural icon and member of the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon, or his city. The images of Fats being pulled from his flooded Ninth Ward home last year made front pages and web pages around the world. He and his family had to relocate to the less damaged Westbank, across the river from New Orleans – surely a trauma for a nearly 80 year old man rooted in his homebody ways. And he cancelled his long anticipated 2006 Jazzfest set at the last minute. But, on a very positive note, Rick Coleman’s impressive biography, Blue Monday: Fats Domino And The Lost Dawn Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, was issued. It effectively details Domino’s career and gives a good feel for the social and cultural conditions of the times. I recommend it.
PS - Also, anyone hanging out here at HOTG needs to hear more of Fats’ copious earlier material cut in New Orleans. It's available on various comps. but the Bear Family box set is awesome and definitive. Rick Coleman wrote the notes for it, too. And finally, as one of my good commenters pointed out, I neglected to mention Fat's latest CD, a compilation of tracks he's done over the past decade or so, Alive and Kickin', the procedes of which benefit the Tipitina's Foundation (non-profit) and their continuing work with New Orleans recovering music communtiy. Buy dat.