Wednesday was close to Blue Monday for millions of music fans as they learned of the death of the legendary Fats Domino.
It brought to my mind a chance meeting with the “Godfather of Rock and Roll” 14 years ago.
In April 2003 my wife, Kathy, and I traveled to New Orleans to attend the city’s annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. Transplanted Detroiter Kim Strother, wife of the late News sports columnist Shelby Strother, always liked to take friends to the curious and memorable. And on a Monday, between Jazz Fest weekends, she didn’t disappoint.
Kim drove us to the Lower Ninth Ward, a modest neighborhood, to view the home of the music great. Kim parked along the curb and I stepped out to photograph the iron fence-bordered house decorated prominently with the letters “F D” and “Fats Domino Publishing.”
As I was preparing to snap the photo, a figure slowly opened a screen door on the front porch and slipped into my view finder: the man himself. I waved to Kathy and Kim to join me.
“Fats, is it OK to photograph your house?” I asked, to which he replied, “Sure, would you like to come in for a cold drink?” When we replied enthusiastically yes, he motioned to an associate to “go down there and open that gate to let those people in.”
Maybe it was the heat, possibly the hangover of the first few days of Jazz Fest music, but we all stumbled dream-like up the front steps and inside the house.
As we tried to absorb the moment, our guide – Fats Domino, elegantly dressed in black pajamas – strolled ahead of us and pointed out many framed gold records lining the walls – replicas of millions of sales. Then there was the baby grand piano, a theater-style viewing room and, up a short flight of stairs, a bar where dozens of silver dollars were displayed under a glass countertop. We commented on his home and collection of coins as Domino squeezed behind the bar and handed us sweating bottles of water out of a fridge.
“Yeah, that’s from all those years playing Las Vegas,” reflected Domino, shaking his head with his infectious grin on his face.
After drinking with Fats at his bar – still have to pinch myself at the memory – I commented on his performance at Jazz Fest, and he smiled when I mentioned enjoying one of his lesser known numbers “Red Sails at Sunset” but was surprised he didn’t play “Ain’t That a Shame” – one of his biggest hits.
“Did you hear any other complaints?” Domino asked. And when I said “Yes, you didn’t play long enough!” he laughed.
On the way out, he permitted us to take photos with him on a white couch framed by the pink finned rear end of a classic Cadillac. During Kathy’s photo op, Domino turned to her and crooned a couple of lines from “Ain’t That a Shame” to my wife.
We floated out the front door to our car and drove way, laughing at our good fortune and the generosity of a man who opened his door to strangers to offer them a cold drink.
It was a story I relished retelling to friends, old and new, over the years. At the end, I always concluded by pulling a dog-eared business card out of my wallet and turning it over, where a handwritten: “Luck, Fats Domino” was inscribed.
Mike Martindale is a staff writer for The News.