Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer, Fats Domino dies at 89.

Whenever anyone talks about the giants of rock ‘n’ roll, they always mention Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and, of course, Elvis Presley, but blasphemously, Fats Domino doesn’t get mentioned anywhere near as much. He was a pioneer and there before all of the aforementioned.

Domino was one of the first artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and, according to Rolling Stone magazine, he was reportedly only second to Presley in record sales in the fifties thanks due to a string of 11 top 10 hits between 1955 and 1960. He became a massive influence on many rock acts including John Lennon, Cheap Trick and Led Zeppelin.

He was born Antoine Domino in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1928 and learned piano from an early age. By the time he got to his teens he was already performing in a number of New Orleans bars. He dropped out of school but, like many budding musicians of that time, needed some extra money, so he got a job in a bed-spring factory. In 1947, at the age of

19, he was spotted by a local bandleader called Billy Diamond who invited Antoine to join his band. It was Diamond who nicknamed him ‘Fats’ as a homage to the 20s and 30s jazz pianist Fats Waller. Diamond also announced to a crown one night, “I call him ‘Fats,’ ‘cause if he keeps eating, he’s going to be just as big!”

In 1949, he signed to Imperial records and his first recording was a song called The Fat Man, a happy celebration of his size, which eventually sold over a million copies. He recorded a number of songs, very much in a piano-based rock ‘n’ roll style and then, in early fifties he teamed up with producer and songwriter Dave Bartholomew and the pair formed a long-term partnership. In 1955, he crossed over into mainstream pop with his first US hit being Ain’t That a Shame which reached number 10. In the UK it was his third hit but stalled at number 23. We clearly weren’t ready for him yet. His first UK hit was I’m In Love Again. He will probably always be best remember for his second UK hit, Blueberry Hill which originally peaked at  number 26 here, then on re-entry made number six, however, it made number two in the States and was originally recorded by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra in 1940. Numerous people have recorded it including Glenn Miller, Gene Autry, Louis Armstrong, Little Richard, Pat Boone, The Beach Boys and Elton John.

In 1959 a singer called Ernest Evans came on the scene and one night was performing a Fats Domino impression, when he finished Dick Clark’s wife asked him what his name was and he replied, “My friends call me ‘Chubby'” to which she asked, “As in Checker?” Their thinking was that chubby meant fat, and checkers was like dominoes and so from then on he was known as Chubby Checker.

Fats scored a staggering 77 hits on Billboard top 100 singles chart between 1955 and 1968, his last being a cover of Lady Madonna which peaked at number 100. In the UK he managed 22 hits.

After the hits he continued to tour and made cameo appearance in various films but by 1980 he’d had enough touring and moving around the world and decided to stay in his birth State explaining he couldn’t get the food he liked most anywhere other than at home. He occasionally ventured out for a few live shows his last being a three-week tour of Europe in 1995. In 1987 he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1998, he received the National Medal of Arts which was presented to him by President Bill Clinton.

In August 2005 in was announced in the US press that Fats had died because his home was flooded and damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Fats refused to move because of his wife’s failing health. No one had heard from him for a while and someone decided to spray ‘RIP Fats. You will be missed’ on the wall of his house which the press believed. The truth only came out after CNN announced that a coast guard had rescued the Domino family and taken them to a shelter in Baton Rouge. The disaster gave Fats a new lease of life and he recorded a new album called Alive and Kickin’. He lost most of his possessions but a number were replaced. His record company replaced all his gold records and President George W. Bush personally presented his with another National Medal of Arts.

His wanted his house to be rebuilt as he loved his home, but in the meantime, returned to performing in 2007, the same year he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and also the year a 30-track all-star Domino tribute album called Goin’ Home was released and featured Blueberry Hill (Elton John), I’m Walkin’ (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Ain’t That A Shame (John Lennon) and I Hear you Knocking (Willie Nelson). Virtually every song on there was written by Fats and Dave Bartholomew.

Fats died of natural causes on 24th October aged 89, Dave Bartholomew said of him, “He is just like the cornerstone — you build a new church and you lay the cornerstone, and if the church burns down the cornerstone is still there.” Dave Bartholomew was born 10 years before Fats and will be (hopefully) celebrating his 99th birthday on Christmas Eve.

What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) (Information Society)

This week’s choice will be unfamiliar to many readers as the song was never a UK hit, received very little airplay and the artist is not known in this country, but a late 80s release which may well have fared better had it been released about six years earlier.

The Information Society were a synth-pop quartet comprising guitarist Paul Robb, bassist James Cassidy, vocalist Kurt Harland Larson and keyboard player Amanda Kramer who formed in 1982 in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a sound that would have fitted in perfectly with the likes of Yazoo, Depeche Mode and OMD to name just three, but they were fairly ahead of their time when it came to using samples. Sampling, as we know it i.e. using existing recorded material made by other people began properly in the mid-eighties beginning with The Art of Noise’s track Close (To the Edit) which used interpolations of Yes’ Leave It, a track from the 90125 album. The Art of Noise must have been Yes fans as the song’s title was inspired by the title of Yes’ 1972 album Close To the Edge.

It’s also surprising that it wasn’t a hit because it carries a message that many people could relate to; What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) tells the story of a man trying to get his wife/girlfriend to open up and say what’s on her mind. He could see something was wrong but she wouldn’t say. “When we wrote the lyric, we considered it just a collection of emotional impressions,” Paul Robb explained in an interview with Song Facts, “When you look back at it now, it’s a clear narrative about the difficulty that people have communicating with each other. At the time, we weren’t writing it with that in mind, but it’s so clear when you just read through the lyrics, it’s a very simple and clear-cut story. We didn’t really realise what we were writing about. You fall into these grooves – I think it’s just the way the human brain works, even when you try to avoid it, you fall into the next groove over. But it’s still the same narrative structure, because that’s the way the brain works: we like to tell stories.”

Looking at the title, the parenthesis didn’t seem to link to the body of the song, Pure Energy is what Dr Spock (played by Leonard Nimmoy) uttered in Star Trek. It was in the 26th episode called Errand of Mercy in the first series where Dr Spock and Captain Kirk visit the Planet Organia where its inhabitants are so ahead of their time that there is no need for a physical body and Spock utters the words, “Fascinating. Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all.” On the 12″ extended version the track opens with the lines, ‘It’s worked so far, but we’re not out yet,’ which is another Star Trek line this time spoken by Dr McCoy in the eighth episode of the second series called I Mudd.

They planned to release the parent album ahead of the single but they ran into problems because none of the dialogue from Star Trek had been cleared with Paramount Pictures. Their record company made several attempts to contact Paramount but were getting no response so eventually, after six months, the label’s A&R man managed to contact Adam Nimmoy, Leonard’s son, who relayed the message to his father who personally cleared the samples.

The single was released and made number three on the Billboard singles chart where is spend six months. In the UK it fell short of the published top 75 by peaking at number 81. The eponymously titled album made number 25 in America.

Amanda Kramer left the band in 1988 when the song was beginning to happen. She later went on to work with Karl Wallinger and his band World Party and toured as a backing singer for Siouxsie Sioux and Lloyd Cole and then in 2003 joined, and is still with, The Psychedelic Furs.

The band parted company in 1993 when their label, Tommy Boy, dropped them but Harland wanted to continue, so he bought the rights to the name from the other band members and released an album in 1997 called Don’t Be Afraid. In 2006 both James Cassidy and Paul Robb decided on a reunion but Harland declined to be a full-time member, but did contribute vocals to a track called Seeds of Pain. They drafted in Christopher Anton as their new lead singer and they added a female touch by bringing in Sonja Myers. In 2014 Harland returned fully and were back to the original male line up but now included VJ Falcotronik. The same year they released an album called Hello World and two years later came Orders of Magnitude an album of cover versions which featured, among others, Heaven 17’s (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, Exile’s Kiss You All Over and the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me.

What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) was featured in the 2000 film American Psycho which starred Christian Bale and again, more recently in an episode of the American Medical drama Grey’s Anatomy in 2014.

You Always Hurt The One You Love (Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry)

This week’s choice is an old standard made famous by a rockabilly singer who earned his nickname from the way he sang. That man is Clarence Frogman Henry.

Clarence was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in March 1937 and when he was 11 his family moved west to the Algiers area of the city when they were unable to afford the rent. He was one of six children and he recalled when he was growing up, “My daddy played all kinds of string instruments, as well as the harmonica and piano – I don’t care what, my daddy played it. My mamma kept us in the church, so we had to go to Sunday School.” He listened to a lot of Fats Domino and Professor Longhair – so much so that he used to imitate them at school – and came to love the piano. “When I was 8 years old I asked my mama to send me to piano lessons because she’s sent my sister and she didn’t like it. So I started going and learned the fundamentals. My style I taught myself.” His mamma was keen for him to learn the blues, so to please her he did, but when she left the house for work he then played the boogie-woogie that he loved.

His school teacher put a band together with a local r&b singer called Bobby Mitchell, they were called The Toppers and Clarence was with them for about three years. He also learned the trombone and alternated between that and the piano. He graduated in 1955 and the following year got a job in the Fatman club working four hours a night for $5. He was making a name for himself because he then went to work at Bill’s Chicken Shack for a little more money and moved onto the Old Joy piano lounge where he earned over $50 a week. Next he got a job in a club called the Brass Rail where Paul Gayten, the A&R man for Leonard Chess (of Chess records) was also playing. “I started singing a song called Ain’t Got No Home and I played it for Paul who sent it up to Leonard Chess. Leonard then came down to hear it,” Henry said, the song was a novelty song and was the first occasion that he showcased his frog-croaking voice which thus earned him his nickname. He also sang part of it in a high voice which sounded female. Henry explained why, “Shirley and Lee were from New Orleans and were hot during that time. I didn’t have a female singer in the band, so I had to switch my voice like a girl.” And why the frog sound? “How I do the frog sound I don’t know. On the West Bank, Algiers, you had the alligators and frogs which I used to imitate in school, to scare the girls!” He had written a song called Lonely Tramp before Ain’t Got No Home and used to perform frog and female parts on that too. “When Leonard heard it he told Paul to break it up into different parts with the girl and the frog. Henry spent 1957 touring the US, especially New York, Washington DC and Baltimore where he shared a stage with the likes of former Drifters lead singer Clyde McPhatter and Roy Hamilton.

Gayten, along with Bobby Charles, the man who wrote and recorded the original version of See You Later Alligator, wrote But I Do, or sometimes credited as (I Don’t Know Why I Love) But I Do for Henry and he rewarded them with a top five hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Then came the follow-up; “Back in those days you had to get a follow-up to your hit,” Henry recalled, “they sent me a dub and I was supposed to record I’m A Fool to Care but some kinda way, Joe Barry came out with it before I did. So we went to Chicago and Allen Toussaint, who was the arranger for my session, and I were going through a lot of songs and we came up with this Ink Spots song called You Always Hurt the One You Love and cut it.” The song was written by both Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher in 1944 and originally recorded by the Mills Brothers the same year. Many people covered it including a parody version by Spike Jones in 1946 and then Connie Francis, who had the first UK hit in December 1958, Maureen Evens in 1959 and Fats Domino in 1960. The Ink Spots version, that Henry heard, was from 1957. Ringo Starr had a go at it in 1970, Willie Nelson in 1994 and Michael Buble in 2002.

Allan Roberts was a New York-born musician and songwriter who had originally trained as an accountant. He then started playing piano in clubs around Broadway and began writing songs for the likes of Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday. In 1944 he met an aspiring songwriter called Doris Fisher, whose father was the Tin Pan Alley songwriter and music publisher Fred Fisher, and began working on songs together and You Always Hurt the One You Love their first big success. Together they wrote many songs that were recorded by Perry Como, The Andrew Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Their most successful UK hit was That Ole Devil Called Love which was first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1944 and a number two hit in 1985 for Alison Moyet.

Henry’s follow-up was the double A-sided hit Lonely Street and Why Can’t You – the latter being written by Bobby Charles. “He (Charles) was from Abbeville and he was doing most of the writing for me,” Henry reiterated, “I loved his style. Bobby wrote songs that appealed to me, I could feel them. I liked Country & Western the way Bobby wrote it. Allen Toussaint changed it into a pop music feel but Bobby was a great, great writer. I’ll never forget him for what he did for my career. I admire him.” The song just missed the top 40 and was Henry’s last hit.

So what happened next? “When the bookings went down, I worked on Bourbon St and then a disc jockey on a radio talk show called me saying he would use Ain’t Got No Home for his homeless show and everything started happening for me again.  There was over 29 years of royalties I didn’t get, so I got a lawyer who contacted MCA and they gave me five years of back royalties and from then on I started getting the royalties.” In 2005 Henry was inducted in the Delta Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame and two years later inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

As for the songwriters; Roberts died in Los Angeles in 1966, at the age of 60 and Fisher married a real estate developer in 1947 and then retired from the entertainment world. After raising two children she became an interior designer as well as an antique furniture collector. The couple divorced in the late sixties and she moved back to California to set up a kitchenware retail business. She died in January 2003 aged 87.

The Ballad of Bonnie And Clyde (Georgie Fame)

Many songs have been inspired by a film, for example, John Hartford wrote Gentle on my Mind after seeing the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was written after Deep Blue Something singer and songwriter, Todd Pipes, saw Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, but decided that Breakfast at Tiffany’s would make a better song title and this week’s choice, The Ballad of Bonnie And Clyde was another.

The songwriters, Mitch Murray and Peter Callender, went to see the film, Bonnie and Clyde, about two 1930s gangsters, Bonnie Parker played by Faye Dunaway and Clyde Barrow portrayed by Warren Beatty. “We both decided that they had blown the music,” says Mitch, “They should have had a hit song and so we thought we would write one. At first we considered giving it to Joe Brown or Lonnie Donegan, but they didn’t seem quite right for the song. Then the managing director of CBS told Peter that they had signed Georgie Fame and were looking for a big hit. We added a special jazzy bit for Georgie – ‘Bonnie and Clyde got to be Public Enemy Number One’ – as we thought that would sell it to him, but he wasn’t very keen on the song. We did a demo with machine guns and skidding cars and we were asked to go to the session with our sound effects.”

The film’s music interludes included Deep Night by Rudy Vallee and Foggy Mountain Breakdown by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, to name a couple, but no actual theme. It tells the story of how Clyde, who had recently been released from prison, returns to crime as a bank robber. He meets a waitress, Bonnie, who is bored of her job and life, and together the two form the basis of a gang of bank robbers who terrorise the American southwest in the 1920s.

Georgie Fame said, “I was working up north and I had to fly down to London, do the track, and go back up north for that night’s show. I was working pretty hard at the time and I hadn’t even seen the film when I recorded the song.” Once the track was recorded, the producer, Mike Smith, took it to a studio at Marble Arch to spend the night mixing it. But then came a problem; “The sound effects were wonderful,” Smith explained, “but we discovered an electrical fault and we had clicks all through the drum track. I had to call up (session drummer) Clem Cattini to help.” Clem told me, “I received this call from Mike late one night to go to the studio as he need my help. He told me to get a taxi and he would pay for it, so I went up to London, listened to the track that needed to be re-recorded, did it in two takes and then got a taxi home.” Smith continued, “It was not easy, but I managed to use Georgie’s vocal and the front line from the brass and eventually got it together. To this day, Georgie doesn’t quite believe they did it, but we ended up with an outstanding record.” Mitch Murray, the song’s co-writer, remembered, “We didn’t feel that we get Georgie to do it again because he hadn’t wanted to sing it in the first place! Clem Cattini came in and put the drums back on the track and that is not easy as he was doing it the wrong way round. He did a brilliant job.”

The song went to number one in January 1968 and although the Blue Flames backed Georgie on most of the early singles, they weren’t always credited. Sunny, Sitting in the Park, Because I Love You, Try My World and The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde all failed to credit the Blue Flames on the label. It was Georgie’s third and final UK number one following Yeh Yeh in 1965 and Get Away in 1966. The song did manage to upset some movies goers because they claim it gave away the ending of the film.

Fame, whose real name is Clive Powell, continues to record and tour both on his own and as a member of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. He was also been an on and off member of Van Morrison’s group too. He has two sons, Tristan and James, who are both musicians and in 2010 they all performed together at Twickenham Stadium to celebrate the 10th-birthday celebrations of The Eel Pie Club.

With their husky voices, and fellow Geordies, Georgie Fame and Alan Price are often confused and they increased the confusion by making the album, Fame and Price Together, which included their hit Rosetta. Georgie told Spencer Leigh, “We both play the piano and sing, but I don’t see a lot of similarity. Still, people genuinely come up to me and ask for Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear and Alan gets requests for The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.”

Tom Petty is dead at 66

 

Today, Tom Petty’s backing band’s name became very apt when we heard the news that Tom Petty had died aged just 66. He had been in good health because just two weeks ago Tom and the Heartbreakers had completed a 40th anniversary tour concluding with a performance at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

Tom was born Thomas Earl Petty in Gainesville, Florida on October 20 1950 and his interest in music began in 1960 when he was fortunate enough to meet Elvis Presley. He dropped out of High School to join the band Mudcrutch. He said in a 2006 interview with Fresh Air, “The minute I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show — and it’s true of thousands of guys — there was the way out. There was the way to do it. You get your friends and you’re a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun. It was something I identified with. I had never been hugely into sports. I had been a big fan of Elvis. But I really saw in the Beatles that here’s something I could do. I knew I could do it. It wasn’t long before there were groups springing up in garages all over the place.”

He decided to learn guitar and one of his early teachers was former Eagle Don Felder. In 1976 he formed a band that called The Epics which later evolved into the Heartbreakers, the band included his long-term keyboard player Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell to whom Tom once said “You’re gonna be in my band forever” after he saw him perform a version of Johnny B. Goode. The other two members in the original line-up were Ron Blair on bass and Stan Lynch on drums. In a 2017 interview in Rolling Stone, Campbell said, “We grew up together and we love playing together more than playing with anybody else. We’ve been through so much together. I don’t want to name names, but a lot of bands go out together and they just don’t like each other. They’re making a lot of money and just clocking in. We’ve never been like that, and we have a chemistry and a telepathy between us that is really rare.”

He first hit the US came in November 1977 with Breakdown but had to wait two years for his first top 10 hit which was Don’t Do Me Like That. He charted 28 American hit singles, the biggest being Free Fallin’ which reached number seven in 1989. In the UK his chart career was less successful first appearing in 1977 with Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll which got to 36, but his biggest UK hit was I Won’t Back Down which peaked at number 28 in 1989 and featured George Harrison on backing vocals. Clearly 1989 was his best year.

In addition to his career with and without the Heartbreakers, he was, in 1988, invited to join the Traveling Wilbury’s, a supergroup that included Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Bob Dylan. Their debut single, Handle With Care, was co-written by all members and originally intended as a b side to a George Harrison single, but the record company decided it was too good to be tucked away on the flip, so decided to release it as an a side and it went to number 21. The track was produced by Otis & Nelson Wilbury who were Jeff Lynne and George Harrison respectively. Roy was known as Lefty, Dylan as Lucky or Boo and Tom was Charlie T. Jr. or Muddy Wilbury. Their follow-up, End of the Line nearly was because, bizarrely, it stalled at number 52.

In 2002 he released the brilliant album The Last DJ, which fairly criticised the music industry of being greedy and belittling its worth by using half dressed women in video’s to sell music. The title track was very much in the vein of Harry Chapin’s W.O.L.D and Mark Germino’s Rex Bob Lowenstein which both had a fair swipe at radio for becoming bland and boring and playing almost non-stop pop songs as well as losing the personality DJ.

In 2007 he was one of a number of artists who recorded a tribute album to Fats Domino who lost his home in Hurricane Katrina. Tom recorded I’m Walkin’ and all money raised helped to pay for new musical instruments a various schools in New Orleans.

In 2014, Tom charted his 18th UK album with Hypnotic Eye which gave him his second highest charting album and his first top 10 studio album since 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open. The American TV station TMZ were, as usual, the first to break the news and reported that Tom had suffered a full cardiac arrest and was found unconscious and not breathing in his Malibu home Sunday night. He was on a life-support machine but he was taken off it when he was showing no sign of brain activity.

Towards the end of the recent tour he gave an interview to Rolling Stone saying, “It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road. This tour will take me away for four months. With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.”