Friday, November 05, 2010

Mr. Rock and Mr. Roll . . . together again

Go grab youself a cold one, Cap, then get back here.

You good?

OK, now sit youself down and watch this story from WWL-TV in New Orleans. After a bunch of years, Channel 4's Eric Paulsen brought Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew back together to remember the days when they were helping to birth rock 'n' roll . . . and to play some of the old songs, too.

This is as close as you're ever going to get to seeing -- alive and still kickin' and in the flesh -- the origins of the music that changed the world.

Look at this. These are the men of a time, of the glory days, of the most musical place on earth.

IF YOU WANT to see inside the soul of Louisianians of a certain age -- black and white, rich and poor -- if you want to see what makes up a goodly portion of my soul . . . formed in my parents' back bedroom in Baton Rouge, playing Fats Domino 78s on a 1949 Silvertone console, you're looking at it right here.

The Times-Picayune's Keith Spera describes the scene:
Dave Bartholomew straightens up and pulls on his gray suit jacket. He enters the home, the residence of an old friend he hasn’t seen in years.

Fats Domino.

Together, Bartholomew and Domino authored the richest chapter in New Orleans music, making rock ’n’ roll history along the way. Bartholomew “discovered” Domino, co-wrote his hits and produced the recordings that sold millions of copies in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Next week, Bartholomew and Domino are the subject of the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s 15th American Music Masters series. A week of lectures, interviews and film screenings at the museum and a day-long conference at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland culminate with a Nov. 13 tribute concert featuring Toots & the Maytals, Lloyd Price, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Theresa Andersson, the Dixie Cups and many more. Bartholomew, 89, plans to travel to Cleveland for the concert; Domino, 82, is not making the trip.

In 1999, Bartholomew and Domino sat down with me for a joint interview prior to their separate performances at that year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Since then, they’ve had little contact.

In advance of the Hall of Fame festivities — only the third time the prestigious American Music Masters series has honored living musicians — WWL-TV news anchor Eric Paulsen conspired to reunite Bartholomew and Domino. Paulsen and Domino are buddies; it was Paulsen who spirited Domino to the Fair Grounds in an unsuccessful gambit to get him to perform as scheduled at the 2006 Jazz Fest.

Paulsen arranged for Bartholomew to visit Domino’s post-Hurricane Katrina home in Harvey for the first time on Oct. 5. The result of that effort airs on Thursday, Nov. 4 during WWL-TV’s 10 p.m. newscast.


Domino’s infamous performance anxiety stems in part from doubts about his own abilities. He’ll tinker on a piano at home with family and friends, but his days of performing publicly are likely over.

With a camera rolling, he is reluctant even to play at home. But grudgingly, he takes a seat at a black baby grand. A Lifetime Achievement Grammy and a commemoration of his 1986 induction into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame rest atop the piano. Gold records hang above a couch fashioned from a classic pink Cadillac’s tail section. The couch was salvaged from his flooded Lower 9th Ward home, and restored.

Bartholomew hoists his trumpet to his lips. Domino touches the piano keys. Instinctively, his right hand reels off triplets as his left struts to a distinctly New Orleans rhythm.

Bartholomew encourages him: “Antoine, you still got it, man!”

“You still got it, too!”

They knock off the first verse of “The Fat Man,” Domino’s first single, recorded in December 1949 on North Rampart Street. Bartholomew reminisces about their initial encounter at the Hideaway Lounge in the 9th Ward.

Meanwhile, Domino picks up steam at the piano.

“Just get him started and he’ll never stop,” Bartholomew says. “Yeah! Yeah you right!”

Paulsen notes that the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame considers “The Fat Man” one of, if not the, first rock ’n’ roll songs.

“I’m glad they said that,” Bartholomew says. “Because Fats had been playing the blues for a long, long time. It was good that somebody actually recognized what we were doing.”

They slip into their old roles of producer and artist, with Bartholomew directing and coaching. “Why don’t we play ‘The Fat Man’ all the way?”

Domino plunges in. Bartholomew cheers him on: “That’s you! That’s you!” But Domino loses steam, and they don’t make it all the way.

Bartholomew spins tales set in Philadelphia and London, two stops for the barnstorming Domino band back in the day.

Paulsen wants them to do “I’m Walkin’”: “How’s that song go, Fats? I can’t remember.”

“How I start it, Dave?”

“A-flat,” Bartholomew says, humming the melody as a guide. Domino launches, then abandons “I’m Walkin’” in favor of “Blue Monday,” a favorite of his. He turns to the WWL cameraman and grins, a sign that he’s having fun.

“The city of New Orleans has been so good to us, spread our music all over the world,” Bartholomew says. “We’ve been blessed by God. At this age I still can play the trumpet. And you can still play the piano. Two blessings together.”

“I’m still hanging in there,” Domino agrees.
FROM THEIR lips to God's ear. And may we always be walkin' to New Orleans.

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