Monday, June 18, 2007

Blue Monday

Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll
By Rick Coleman
Da Capo Press tradepaperback

One of the ironies of Katrina was that one of New Orleans’ greatest celebrities to be temporarily unaccounted for during the chaotic aftermath, was a founding father of rock ‘n’ roll many had presumed to have already passed away. Fats Domino remains one of the Crescent City’s favorite musical sons, and his legacy is appropriately dealt with in Rick Coleman’s Blue Monday.

As a young musician, Domino absorbed the varied musical influences from his home city, including jazz and particularly boogie woogie piano. Coleman quotes Domino from an interview with noted jazz critic Ralph Gleason on the success of his music:

“‘The only thing is the rhythm,’ replied Domino between chews. ‘You gotta keep a good beat. The rhythm we play is from Dixieland, from New Orleans.’” (p. 128)

Indeed, Domino had many jazz oriented players in his band at various times, including Plas Johnson (of Pink Panther theme fame) and Clifford Scott (who recorded for World Pacific). Coleman often makes comparisons between Domino and Louis Armstrong—two revolutionary New Orleans musicians, who were also enthusiastically committed to entertaining their fans. It was a comparison Lew Chudd of Imperial Records, Domino’s label, also made on his behalf. According to Coleman:

“Chudd strongly emphasized to [Ed] Sullivan Domino’s similarities to Louis Armstrong, who even to most whites was an American icon. After all, Satchmo’s 1949 version had inspired Fats to sing ‘Blueberry Hill’ and—re-released—it followed Domino’s hit up the chart.” (p. 138)

Chudd is one of the heroes of Monday, not just for championing Domino’s music, but for promoting African-Americans to high level executive positions well before the rest of the music industry was ready to follow his example. In fact, Monday is a fascinating history of early rock ‘n’ roll. Coleman deftly weaves in social and historical context throughout his narrative, as when he discusses the underground penetration of rock behind the Iron Curtain:

“Sailors imported forbidden rock ‘n’ roll records, which were bootlegged onto the only available vinyl—x-rays displaying ghostly bones. The fact that teens defiantly treasured the wretched ‘rib records’ proved their passion.” (p. 212)

Throughout Monday, Coleman makes an impassioned case for New Orleans’ overlooked role in the birth of rock, giving credit not just to Domino, but to his longtime collaborators like Dave Bartholomew. However, the personality of Domino, a private person uncomfortable with interviews, never fully emerges from Coleman’s pages. He remains mythic figure—a touchstone for the revolutionary musical events unfolding largely because of him. Still, Monday is a rich cultural history of both rock ‘n’ roll and New Orleans.