Last night I watched a documentary about Fats Domino on PBS American Masters. I immediately recalled my earlier blog post on the origin of rock and roll. The premise of that post was that rock and roll music was merely a continuation of black rhythm and blues music and not something completely new that was created by white musicians. I had the audacity to say that perhaps, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, or Little Richard should have been the King of Rock and Roll instead of Elvis.
The documentary showed that Domino’s influences came from boogie-woogie jazz and the blues. He was named Fats by a fellow musician who compared him to Fats Waller. His singing style was influenced by Joe Turner and Amos Milburn, among others. Even his first single, The Fat Man, was a simply reworking of Champion Jack Dupree‘s Junker’s Blues.
The show further documented that, around the mid 1950’s, American Disc Jockey Allen Freed began to use the term Rock and Roll to popularize black rhythm and blues among young, white audiences. It also pointed out that Freed’s first Rock and Roll show exclusively featured black artists. I have heard recordings of Freed’s early radio shows in which he played nothing but black rhythm and blues and Doo-Wop for white teens who called in with requests. This was before Elvis or any other white southerner had become popular, let alone been coronated as King.
The most telling moment in the documentary was when Fats was asked, during a television appearance in 1955, “What is this new thing Rock and Roll?” He replied, quite casually, “It’s just Rhythm and Blues; I’ve been playing it for fifteen years.”