... this page is part of the Web Site of George North ...

I Found My Thrill ...

by George North

HIST 4991-356, Summer 1994
Dr. Douglas Brinkley
July 19, 1994

"In New Orleans music is more common than sunshine, cause even when it rains we make song out of the water walking cross the window pane. Here is a city of musicians, a place where children play piano and even dogs dance in the street ... our music is no accident."
Kalamu ya Salaam

In October 1956, I asked Paula Daigle to meet me by the gate, and I would pay the 25 cents for her admission to the skating party. It was my first date; I was ten years old. What I remember about that night is a song, "Blueberry Hill." It remains to this day, my favorite song. "Blueberry Hill" is quintessentially Fats Domino.

"'Blueberry Hill,' was the biggest hit," said Dave Bartholomew , "it had been done a million times before and I wasn't too interested in Fats doing it. But he insisted he wanted to do 'Blueberry Hill.' We were in Los Angeles at the time and we set out to get the music but we couldn't find it. Fats' brother-in-law, Harrison Verrett, told us most of the words so we got it together bit by bit. So what happened, Fats forgot the words in the middle of the song and this guy in the studio was very good and he said do the bits you know and he put all the pieces together. That was unheard of then." So "Blueberry Hill" ... was made by pasting together a couple of verses on tape.

Antoine "Fats" Domino, Jr. is a rhythm and blues singer and piano player whose music just happened to be the roots of Rock 'n' Roll. There has never been an artist out of New Orleans who has created a sound that has consistently been more recognizable, more influential and more profitable. Domino made his way onto the charts, and into the hearts of America, almost matter-of-fattly. He wasn't outrageous or threatening. He was a harbinger of a new sound. Domino established himself by simply continuing to play and develop the same New Orleans music he had always played (EMI 9).

New Orleans distinctive culture flowed from the Mississippi as the city grew block by block along its banks. Its ethnic melting pot produced a cultural gumbo that spawned the New Orleans Sound, a sound brought to its apex by Fats Domino. The piano was especially important in New Orleans at small clubs, brothels, parties, and Saturday night fish fries. And in New Orleans, every day was Saturday. The pianists' repertoire was expected to be broad and wide to cater for every request. Fats was taught piano by Harrison Verrett, a talented musician who had played guitar and banjo with Papa Celestin, Kid Ore and many other Dixieland musicians. Verrett had married Domino's sister when Fats was 4 years old and Fats would follow him around town on music jobs. By the time Fats was ten, he was already performing in public.

In the late 1940's, rhythm and blues was becoming the music of black America. Dave Bartholomew who had been a big band leader, explains, "It got too costly to keep up a big band." Scaling down so that we could keep playing and making money had a lot to do with the evolution of the sound (Hannusch 98).

Domino says, "I listened to Roy Milton, Camile Howard, Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, Joe Turner and especially Louis Jordan . It seemed like Louis Jordan used to put a new record out every two weeks." His favorite boogie-woogie masters were Albert Ammons, Pet Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis. And he had plenty of influence from New Orleans piano legends Champion Jack Dupree, Isidore "Tuts" Washington, Professor Longhair and Count Basie (EMI 13).

At age 20, Fats married his childhood sweetheart, Rose Mary, and took his first job as a pianist with Billy Diamond's combo at The Hidaway Club. In less than a year, Fats had his first recording contract (for royalties, unusual for that time) with Dave Bartholomew and Lew Chudd's Imperial Records (Broven 29-30).

In April, 1950, "The Fat Man" became the first of many hit records. Domino was "The Fat Man", five feet five and over 200 pounds. It was his first recording, his first hit, and his first gold record. Many have called it the first "Rock 'n' Roll" record. His second record, "Every Night About This Time," had far greater significance on Fats' music style, for this is the first example of his 6/8 triplet style of piano on record. Fats did not originate the triplet piano, having learned from Little Willie Littlefield, but he made it popular. By 1952, Fats Domino's stardom was really established when "Goin' Home" reach No. 1 (EMI 17-8).

His recording success was matched by the success of his many live performances. In 1954 he embarked on a series of one-nighters that lasted for five months. In August he appeared at Brooklyn's Ebbett's Field as a headliner in Alan Freed's "Moondog Jubilee of Stars Under the Stars." Domino was the first musician to become a Rock 'n' Roll star solely on the strength of his music and not as an image or novelty.

Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" soured to the top in July, 1955. Presley didn't get national attention until August, 1955 and Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" hit the charts in December 1955 (Shaw 8-10). By this time, Fats Domino had fifteen charted hits and seven gold records. Dave Bartholomew called Domino's vocals warm, rich French Creole intonations. "We all thought of him as a country and western singer," not a blues singer. Elvis was "rockabilly" until Alan Freed coined the name "Rock 'n' Roll." It was all just old two-beat Dixieland, but with rhythm and blues (Broven 32).

Domino's band also had a big influence on this new music. Almost every record featured a tenor saxophone solo, usually from Herb Hardesty or Lee Allen. The saxophone was the first musical symbol of Rock 'n' Roll. Other members were Ernest McLean, guitar; Clarence Hall and Alvin "Red" Tyler, tenor sax; Joe Harris, alto sax; Salvador Doucette, piano; Earl Palmer, drums; and Bartholomew on trumpet (EMI 14).

Domino's strong New Orleans bluesy influence was the roots of Rock 'n' Roll. With a five year head start on almost every Rock 'n' Roll artist, it was natural that he would have an affect on most of them. Little Richard, passing Fats back stage at a concert said, "Fats, I sure do wish I had a hit record like you." Domino replied, "Well, I like that song 'Tutti Frutti.'" The list of artists that Fats directly affected is long; following is a short short list: Lloyd Price, Bobby Mitchell, Bobby Charles, Tommy Ridgley, Eddie Bo, Wardell Quezergue, Allen Toussaint, Clarence (Frogman) Henry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Dorsey, Chubby Checker, The Neville Brothers, Aaron Neville, Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney, and name anybody you want. Testimony to Fats' success was how fast cover artists like Pat Boone and Rickie Nelson recorded his hits.

What would be the history of Rock 'n' Roll if Elvis was a black man and Fats white? For sure, Elvis would not be a pop icon. Domino kick started Rock 'n' Roll. He proved that African-Americans could make lots of money with their music., and thus he became a role model for many who followed. His biggest impact was on the recording industry itself, as record producers began asking the obvious, "If Fats Domino can sell millions of records yearly with his silly music, how many could an equally silly white man sell?" From 1950, the search was on. In the end, Elvis proved Fats was right -- Rock 'n' Roll was here to stay.

Fats Domino's legacy is his music, 110 million records sold, only the Beatles and Elvis have sold more. Today, at age 66, Fats lives in relative anonymity in the neighborhood of his youth. He hasn't recorded for twenty years, but still does live performances with the same enthusiasm he started with fifty years ago. Fortunately for me, in New Orleans today it is still possible to pay 25 cents and listen for those magical words from the jukebox ... "I found my thrill ... on Blueberry Hill."


Berry, Jason. "The Fat Man Turns Sixty." New Orleans Magazine May 1988: 27-31, 88 90.

Broven, John. Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans . Pelican Publishing Company. Gretna, La. 1978.

EMI Records, "They Call Me the Fat Man... Antoine 'Fats' Domino, The Legendary Imperial Recordings." EMI Records . Legends of Rock 'n' Roll Series. 1991

"Fats Domino in His Prime." Figaro 27 October 1980: 25.

George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm & Blues . Pantheon Books. 1988.

Hannusch, Jeff (a.k.a. Almost Slim). I hear you Knockin': The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues . Swallow Publications, Inc. Velle Platte, La. 1985.

Hannusch, Jeff (a.k.a. Almost Slim). "Fats' New Album Falls very Flat." Figaro 27 October 1980: 25

Shaw, Aronld. The Death of Rhythm & Blues . Pantheon Books, New York. 1988.

Wyckoff, Geraldine. "They Call Me the Fat Man: Antoine Fats Domino, The Legendary Imperial Recordings." Gambit 10 December 1991.

ya Salaam, Kalamu. "Our Music Is No Accident." The New Orleans Tribune April 1987: 7
Blueberry Hill

(Lewis-Stock-Rose) Chappell & Co. Inc., ASCAP
Master # IM 1082, Time: 2:20
Recorded 7/56
Released 9/56 (Imperial 5407)
Charted R&B 10/6/56, Reached #1
Charted Pop 10/6/56, Reached #2

"Blueberry Hill."

I found my thrill
On Blueberry Hill
On Blueberry Hill
When I found you

The moon stood still
On Blueberry Hill
And lingered until
My dream came true

The wind in the willow play
Love's sweet melody
But all of those vow you make
Are never to be

Though we're apart
You part of me still
For you were my thrill
On Blueberry Hill

The wind and the willow play
Love's sweet melody
But all of those vow you make
Were only to be

Though we're apart
You part of me still "When I sing a song, I want
For you were my thrill people to remember the words."
On Blueberry Hill Fats