Tag Archives: r&b

Fats Domino -One of the First Rockers

Fats Domino recorded his first Top 40 hit in December of 1949. Some consider his hit, “The Fat Man,” to be the first Rock and Roll recording.  Over the years, Fats sold over 65 million records; a number surpassed only by Elvis for the 50’s era.

Fats Domino singing "Blueberry Hill" on the Alan Freed Show 1956.
Fats Domino singing “Blueberry Hill” on the “Alan Freed Show” 1956.

His records scored in the Top 10 of the pop charts ten times during the fifties, and he went on to reach the Top 40 Pop Chart 37 times in his career.  And that was only Pop.  Add in his R&B charted songs and Fats Domino hit the Top 100 an amazing 84 times.

His signature song and my favorite, Blueberry Hill hit #2 on the Pop Chart and #1 on R&B in 1956.  It wasn’t a new song.  Blueberry hill started out a Swing tune recorded by Sammy Kaye in the 40’s, and later covered by Louis Armstrong.  Fats added his special juice, a bit of Creole influence, and his special back beat and made it a classic.

And we’re still singing along to his other hits:  Ain’t That a Shame, Blue Monday, I’m Walkin’, Walking to New Orleans, I’m In Love Again, and much more.

Fats Domino co-wrote many of his hits with his longtime friend Dave Bartholomew who also served as his producer.  Dave Bartholomew was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Their creations often used what they called “The Big Beat”.  It was a combination of Domino’s boogie woogie style and a strong backbeat.  Add in a bit of Domino flair, and it was Rock.

Throughout his career, Domino insisted that he was still true to R&B.  He said “Everybody started calling my music rock and roll.  But it wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues I’d been playin’ down in New Orleans.”

Fats Domino Honors

With his success, it’s  not surprising that there were a lot of awards and recognition along the way.  Major awards include the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and The National Medal of the Arts awarded by Bill Clinton in 1998.

Fats Domino home after Katrina
Fats Domino home after Katrina

In 2005,  Fats was presumed lost in Hurricane Katrina.  His New Orleans home was found heavily damaged and empty.  He had stayed behind to care for his ill wife.  “RIP Fats.  You will be missed” was spray painted on the house.  It wasn’t until several days later that he was found safe after being evacuated.

Fats Domino was one of the charter inductees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Billy Joel presented him as part of the first group of inductees in 1986.

 

Classic Rockers

The classic rockers didn’t invent rock and roll, but they defined it.  Starting from different directions, four different flavors of rock worked toward the middle.

Classic Rockers #1: R&B Artists

One batch of classic rockers were the base rock and rollers: The black artists who brought rhythm and blues up a notch to what we know as rock today. Following WWII, many Southern blues artists moved North and some of the best ended up in Chicago which became a center for the blues. It was also the time that Leo Fender and Les Paul’s electric guitar advances were taking the guitar from a rhythm accompaniment to a lead instrument. Blues artists Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon were early masters of guitar driven performances.

Classic Rockers #2: Sam Phillips and Sun Studio

The story moves next to classic rockers Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis and his early artists. Sun Studios recorded many of the top black blues singers including B.B. King, Joe Hill Louis, Rufus Thomas, and Howlin’ Wolf, but in the 50s, it wasn’t socially acceptable for whites to buy records from black artists.

Label from Rocket 88. Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.
Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.

It was Sun Studios that released one of the contenders for the title of rock and roll’s first record. “Rocket 88″ was recorded by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. As a side note, the song was written, and the band was led by a young Ike Turner, who later went on to fame with Tina.

Classick Rockers #3: Elvis

The next flavor of classic rockers was led by the king, Elvis Presley. As a white performer, Elvis’ versions of black blues tunes were considered acceptable by white audiences. It sort of helped that he had a great voice and over the top stage presence too, but many of his first hits were all covers of black blues tunes. That’s All Right Mama was written and previously recorded by Arthur Crudup and Good Rocking Tonight came from Roy Brown, and later Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel.

The Sun Studio
The Sun Studio

Sam Phillips and Sun Studios would go on score hit after hit by bringing white performers together with black music. He was the tops in rock and roll records while Sun Studios was up and running, producing more records than anyone else. His first love was blues and said “The blues, it got people- black and white- to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be. They would sing about it; they would pray about it; they would preach about it. This is how they relieved the burden of what existed day in and day out.” He was also quoted as saying “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”

Elvis wasn’t the only hero in the camp of classic rockers. It also included Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Billy Haley & the Comets, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Roy Orbison, and Gene Vincent along with others.

One of the classic rockers, Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

Of this list, many will say that Chuck Berry is the true “King of Rock and Roll”, but racial attitudes of the times just wouldn’t allow it. He, along with Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, and others received a lot more recognition as attitudes relaxed, but at the time had difficulty finding recording studios and distributors. Many big names of rock from The Beatles to the Rolling Stones credit their influence.

Classic Rockers #3: Rockabilly

The third flavor of early classic rockers was rockabilly. The name came from a combination of rock and roll and hillbilly music, and that’s just what it was. Carl Perkins is the acknowledged leader here with hits like Blue Suede Shoes and Boppin the Blues. Many of Elvis’ hits were rockabilly as were early hits by Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and others. Rockabilly evolved quickly and by the early 1960s, it was merged into mainstream classic rock.

Rock’s Influences

Rock family influences
Rock family influences

Chuck Berry, one of the founding fathers of Rock and Roll, had a great quote about Rock’s influences:
“The Blues had a baby.  They call it Rock and Roll”. Fats Domino said just about the same “”What they call Rock and Roll I’ve been playing in New Orleans for years.”

It’s clear that Rhythm and Blues is Rock’s closest relative, but as it grew, influences from many different genres found their way in.  Here’s a few of rock’s early influences:

Country Music

Some of Rock’s most influential ancestors fall in the space somewhere in between Country Music and Rhythm and Blues. Music historians list several sub-genre in here, including Western Swing, Hillbilly Blues, Honky Tonk, and Bluegrass.

Rockabilly

Early in the history of Rock, the country / blues combination was combined with early Rock. The result was Rockabilly, and it brought the first major wave of popularity to the Rock craze. Elvis’ 1954 recording of “That’s Alright Mama” started it off, and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” spread Rock’s musical influence around the world.

Gospel

Over the years, Rock has borrowed heavily from Gospel, most notable in the harmonies. Many of the early stars credit their church and Gospel music for their musical training.

Teen Idols

“Sex sells” is the old advertising slogan and it proved itself in the early history of Rock. Elvis, of course, started it off with his “Elvis the Pelvis” stage appearance, but after Rock’s initial burst of popularity, the buzz faded. All of a sudden, there were no stars. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were killed in a plane crash, Elvis was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Jerry Lee Lewis had shocked even the liberal rockers by marrying his underaged cousin, and Alan Freed had been convicted in the Payola scandal.

When the Winter Dance Party Tour (Buddy Holly’s tour with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper) resumed, it included three clean cut, all american teenage heartthrobs. Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Robert Velline (Bobby Vee) sang soft rock love songs and rocketed to stardom. They were followed by Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton, and the California beach singers like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean.