Fats Domino, 'Alive and Kickin' After Katrina The New Orleans music legend nearly perished and his home was heavily damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But his latest record looks toward the future with optimism.

Fats Domino, 'Alive and Kickin' After Katrina

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The other week in New Orleans I got to sit down with a legendary lifelong resident of the Lower Ninth Ward. Fats Domino isn't very talkative nowadays, but you wouldn't call him understated either. He's 78 and he came to our interview looking dapper in a white cap with a bill, a hat befitting a yachtsman. He wore a gold medallion around his neck, and on his wrist a pocket watch and a bracelet joined together into one great gold timepiece. He sat at a piano, which he warned me he would play very little, and he made good on that warning.

Mr. FATS DOMINO (Musician): No, I'm not giving up nothing right now.

SIEGEL: You're not. Will you later?

Mr. DOMINO: Well, never can tell. According to how I feel, if I drink wine I feel fine. I might make up my mind and give you something.

SIEGEL: In the flood last year Fats Domino nearly perished. He stayed in his home and he had to be lifted out by a Coast Guard helicopter. So there was real residence to a lyric that he had written a few years earlier but never released. A lyric that answered his own question.

(Soundbite of song, Alive and Kickin' by Fats Domino)

Mr. DOMINO: (Singing) All over the country people want to know, whatever happened to Fats Domino. I'm alive and kickin'. I'm alive and kickin'. I'm alive and kickin' and I'm where I want to be.

SIEGEL: Alive and Kickin' is the title track of Fats Domino's new album, which is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Fats Domino is donating the proceeds from sales of the album to the Tipitina's Foundation. Tipitina's is a renowned New Orleans music club, and the foundation is dedicated to preserving and restoring the musical culture of New Orleans. And second, a lot of the lyrics sound like they should have been written post-Hurricane Katrina, even though they weren't. He says, even before the storm people were asking what had happened to him.

Mr. DOMINO: Several times people would say, what happened to Fats, you know? And I just thought about it, if you will, and did the song. Finally I did. I'm Alive and Kickin'. Especially this song with Katrina you know. It kind of fit in, maybe.

SIEGEL: I think everyone in America, whoever heard Blueberry Hill or Ain't That a Shame followed what was happening here a few months ago when you were being rescued.

Mr. DOMINO: I thank them, very proud, and I appreciate the feeling toward me. I guess any way we go to (unintelligible) New Orleans are home, you know?

SIEGEL: But that must have been just a horrifying experience to live through.

Mr. DOMINO: If was, but like I say I'm still alive and kickin' and I'm sorry for them that didn't make it, but we're going to make it. We're making it.

SIEGEL: For half a century, Antoine Fats Domino has been making music in New Orleans. They used to call it rhythm and blues until in the mid 1950's when they started calling it rock and roll.

Mr. DOMINO: I think the beat made it start calling it rock and roll. They start playing it faster, you know. Let me get the piano here. (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of song, When Whippoorwill Call by Fats Domino)

Mr. DOMINO: (Singing) When the whippoorwill call, and evening night. Right here. When whippoorwill call.

SIEGEL: That's the difference.

Mr. DOMINO: Hear the difference.

SIEGEL: You turned a pop song into a rock and roll song.

Mr. DOMINO: Might be a little faster. I like the way it sounds like that.

(Soundbite of song, When Whippoorwill Call by Fats Domino)

Mr. DOMINO: (Singing) When the whippoorwill calls and evening is nigh, I hurry to mine and have fun. Yes, to the right, you find a little bright light that leads you to my blue heaven.

SIEGEL: Fats Domino recorded My Blue Heaven in 1956, but it's a much older song. And with lines like, when evening is nigh, it's not like one of his lyrics. They tend to me rhyming scraps of everyday conversation. You made me cry when you said goodbye. I'm walking, yes siree, and I'm talking. And after all these years he's still at it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DOMINO: (Singing) New Orleans is where I'm from. I love gumbo, would you cook me some? And let me know when it's done. Give me some.

SIEGEL: The house that Fats Domino was airlifted out of in the Lower Ninth Ward is just a few blocks from the house where he grew up. Fats Domino is from New Orleans and of New Orleans. He is still in New Orleans, but his neighborhood is still uninhabitable so he's temporarily living on the west bank of the Mississippi.

Mr. DOMINO: I ain't too far from it. Fourteen, 15 minutes.

SIEGEL: Across the river. The old neighborhood in the Ninth Ward, it doesn't look too good in the Lower Ninth, it's...

Mr. DOMINO: No, well, it's going to be all right. It'll take a little time.

SIEGEL: You're ready to wait and you want to go back?

Mr. DOMINO: Oh, I'm going to wait it out. I'll be there pretty soon, I hope. I don't think I'll leave the Ninth Ward.

SIEGEL: That's home to you and that's where you should be.

Mr. DOMINO: I want to sing a song, do you know what it means to miss New Orleans. I'm always going to be on the scene, it'll always stay the same.

SIEGEL: When Fats Domino was first recording, the white singer Pat Boone covered his song Ain't That a Shame. He says that was okay with him, he was the songwriter. And he's quick to point out that his biggest hit ever, Blueberry Hill, was a much older song that he covered.

Mr. DOMINO: I think someone wrote it in the twenties, '27, '25, '26, '27, something like that.

SIEGEL: Is that right?

Mr. DOMINO: Before I was born, yeah. People started asking if I wrote it, but I didn't. I just rearranged it the way, you know, the way I did it.

SIEGEL: But that's an amazing thing, when you can take a song that exists and the way you do it, that's how, people just assume you must have...

Mr. DOMINO: Well I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I liked the song, see? Let me do it this way, you know.

SIEGEL: Could you just leave us with some Blueberry Hill maybe?

Mr. DOMINO: Ain't too much I can give you.

(Soundbite of song, Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino)

Mr. DOMINO: (Singing) The wind in the willow played, love's sweet melody. And that's me.

SIEGEL: Fats Domino's new album is called Alive and Kickin'. It is sold only online by the Tipitina's Foundation, and there is a link to that website at our website NPR.org.

(Soundbite of piano music)

SIEGEL: You played that last note with your elbow.

(Sounbite of piano music)

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Domino, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. DOMINO: Okay, thank you.

SIEGEL: It's a pleasure.

Mr. DOMINO: I'm not much for talking, but thanks a lot. I did the best I could right now.

(Soundbite of song, Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino)

Mr. DOMINO: (Singing) I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, on Blueberry Hill when I found you. The moon stood still on Blueberry Hill. It lingered until my dream came true. The wind in the willow blades. Love's sweet melody. But all of the vows you made are never to be. So we're apart.

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