Fats Domino turns 87 today. While perhaps debatable everywhere else, in my mind he’s the real King of Rock n’ Roll. And, he also has a some of his DNA in ska and reggae.
“Be My Guest” hit 8 in the popular music charts in 1959–one of four Domino songs that got into the Top 40 that year. Not bad, considering he only recorded six songs.
“Be My Guest” marked a decade of Domino getting young people of all backgrounds to dance together. And with lyrics like “Come on baby and be my guest/Come join the party and meet the rest,” Domino made it a world dance party.
That dancing was particularly important in Jamaica where disk jockeys held dance parties in the street. As the unofficial northern capital of the Caribbean, New Orleans has had a long history with Jamaica. Island workers would arrive in New Orleans to work in canefields and return home with armloads of R&B records. Many argue that ska developed its rhythm from the shuffle and boogie beats that were emanating from Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans at the time.
“Be My Guest” was a huge hit in Jamaica and its 4/4 time with the drummer hitting hard on the offbeat apparently became the foundation of ska. Its not that Fats was the only inspiration. Professor Longhair, Smiley Louis and other R&B stars of that period were essential. But Domino was top dog, often covered (e.g. Super Cat’s My Girl Josephine) and paid homage in songs like Derrick Morgan’s “Fat Man.”
Bob Marley said reggae started with Fats Domino, according Rick Coleman, author of “Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Whether it did or not, there are lot of people on this planet dancing because of Antoine “Fats” Domino. That alone is worth honoring the day of his birth.