Born in 1928, Antoine “Fats” Domino is one of the most important R&B and rock-n-roll icons on any instrument. A New Orleans native, Domino arrived on the scene with “The Fat Man” in 1949. Many considered this song to be the first rock-n-roll tune in history. Domino himself never cared much about the distinction between rock-n-roll and rhythm and blues. Instead, he simply focused on his unique sound, which combined elements of stride, boogie-woogie, and other blues styles.
Unlike Ray Charles, Domino's style never changed much. However, his consistency as a performer allowed him great staying power in a fickle industry. The pianist also possessed a friendly and smooth-toned voice, which helped him sell more albums than any other black artist in the pre-Beatles era. Another reason for this was his keen relationship with producer, trumpeter, and songwriter Dave Bartholomew. Together the Domino-Bartholomew team scored many Top 40 hits. Some of these songs include “Ain't That a Shame,” “I'm Walking,” “Blue Monday,” and “Blueberry Hill.”
Fats Domino and the Beatles had a long-running musical relationship. The inspiration for the Beatles' song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is believed to be a line in Domino's “I Want to Walk You Home.” In 1968, the Beatles modeled their song “Lady Madonna” on Fats Domino's style, along with Humphrey Lyttelton's 1956 hit “Bad Penny Blues.” Domino returned the compliment in 1970 by covering “Lady Madonna.”
Domino is probably best remembered for his triplet piano feel, which can also be thought of as a 12/8 ballad. The two terms are interchangeable. This style influenced a decade or more of rock-n-roll balladry. FIGURE 13-4 shows you a basic rock chord progression using triplets.
FIGURE 13-4: Basic Rock Ballad
FIGURE 13-5 shows you a souped-up version of the same chord progression. The difference between the two progressions lies only in the left hand movement.
FIGURE 13-6 emulates Domino's 12/8 style. For this exercise, a full twelve-bar blues has been written. The bass line is typical of Domino, who used it on “Blueberry Hill” and other selections throughout his career. Typically, a horn section or guitarist would double the left hand.
It would be unfair to cite only Domino's 12/8 ballad style. He was a dynamic performer who also played up-tempo shuffles and other styles very effectively. FIGURE 13-7 illustrates the kind of driving shuffle feel that Domino might have used on any number of tunes. (“The Fat Man” is a good example of this.) The four-bar excerpt is a Domino shuffle. You'll notice that it's quite boogie-woogie influenced. Try working this pattern into a full twelve-bar blues.
FIGURE 13-5: Intermediate Rock Ballad
FIGURE 13-6: Fats Domino Slow Blues
FIGURE 13-7: Fats Domino Shuffle