New Orleans Marks Fats Domino’s Death in Its Usual Style: With a Party

A painting of a snowman holding a rocket launcher in the window at the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association's office

“It’s odd to say this, but I feel like I did when Prince died,” Mr. Perrine said. “When somebody who I respect that much dies I try to figure out how big a hole is left,” he said. “This one looks like a chasm. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like to recover from his loss.”

“I had to break the news to my dad,” said Don B. Bartholomew, son of Mr. Domino’s frequent collaborator, the bandleader Dave Bartholomew. “He took it terribly hard. I called him about one o’clock today. I knew he would be getting calls and I didn’t want him to hear it from the public. But it was so difficult to tell him.”

Mr. Bartholomew now runs the studio in the city’s Seventh Ward where his father and Mr. Domino used to write and rehearse. On Wednesday afternoon he was working out arrangements for his family to participate in memorial events. Down the block some of his neighbors were out on the porch, playing Mr. Domino songs and drinking beer.

Inside the studio’s office, where the sleeves of Mr. Domino’s rock ‘n’ roll records from the 1950s were on display, Mr. Bartholomew remembered the man he thought of like uncle.

“Fats was in this studio when it was just a rehearsal space. They would be in here jamming, writing songs, rehearsing for tours,” Mr. Bartholomew said. “I remember going to the airport to meet him. It was very impressive, all the gold rings, high fives, he’d slip some bills to us kids. We’d go to his house in the Ninth Ward, and he was always in his room cooking some food. To me, he was the world’s greatest piano player. I think of him as the real king of rock ’n’ roll.”

Over at the Circle Bar overlooking Lee Circle, where a controversial statue of Robert E. Lee was removed earlier this year, the roots-rock band the Iguanas were preparing for their early evening performance, working out which of Mr. Domino’s songs to include.

“Every time I sing one of his songs, especially lately, I think about how he might not be around for much longer,” said Joe Cabral, a band member. “Now that he’s gone the songs take on a different meaning.”

Meanwhile, the Creole String Beans were rehearsing at Funky Nola studios for a Friday night gig and preparing some of Mr. Domino’s material. “I’m trying to stay happy in spite of the news,” said Derek Huston, a saxophonist. “I saw Fats dozens of times. I would go to Jazz Fest to see him and put my kids on my shoulders in the interests of raising them right. ‘See that man up there? He was born in New Orleans just like you were.’ The greatest things in life need to be celebrated.”

Out in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Mr. Domino’s old friend, the drummer and vocalist Bobby Cure, was preparing a tribute to Mr. Domino at the Max. “Every other song will be Fats Domino tonight,” he promised. “We always play Fats. ‘Blueberry Hill’ always gets the biggest response. Everybody sings the first line, and they all get up and dance.”

Mr. Cure promoted Mr. Domino’s performances in neighboring Chalmette, La., during the 1980s and his band often opened for Mr. Domino’s.

“We played together at the closing of Pontchartrain Beach,” he said, referring to a local amusement park that was shuttered in 1983. “We’ve been friends ever since,” he added, “It was sad to see him lose his memory recently.”

Jimmy Messa, a regular performer on Bourbon Street at the Tropical Isle, said he was stunned by the news of Mr. Domino’s death. “I lived in Chalmette all my life and work in the French Quarter,” he said. “I’d pass by Fats’ house in the Ninth Ward every day.” Mr. Messa said that one day a taxi driver told him, “ ‘I know Mr. Fats. He calls me and gives me his grocery list, and when I bring him his groceries he gives me a $50 tip’.”

Back at the Circle Bar, Mr. Cabral looked out the door as night fell over the city and pondered the obelisk where Lee’s statue used to be. “I would like to see a statue of Fats Domino atop it one day,” he said. “Who wouldn’t?”

Continue reading the main story

Leave a Response