With the Super Bowl approaching on Sunday, and the Saints in it, echoes of "Who, Dat?" are heard day and night around New Orleans. But for music fans, they might just as well be shouting, "Who, Fats?" in honor of the city's greatest living native musical son, Mr. Domino. Roll me over, there you go, as Van Morrison once sang.
You might call NOLA "Fats City." So let's do some Walkin' to New Orleans.
Now it may surprise you to learn that even though I was an editor at the legendary magazine Crawdaddy for eight years, I never knew much about New Orleans music back then. Hell, the name of the magazine didn't even come straight from Louisiana, but from the London club where the Rolling Stones got their big break. Of course, I was a Fats Domino fan back in the '50s but that was about it, beyond appreciating some of the other pioneers and Dr. John.
That all changed about 10 years ago when I finally got to New Orleans and I've been back many times since. I've visited Preservation Hall, street festivals and amateur jams, and of course the yearly JazzFest, which is more rock than jazz these days. I spent some time at a museum with the first instrument played as a boy by the city's greatest native son, Louis Armstrong. I even made a pilgrimage to Fats Domino's house in the Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped it, and him, out.
Two years ago, with my old Crawdaddy buddy, Peter Knobler, I got to hang out with Fats in New Orleans at the great party for him at Tipitina's, and he was a lot of fun. This marked the release of the tribute CD with Robert Plant, Neil Young and others
But why does Fats mean so much to our story? It may surprise some of you to learn that it was Fats, not Elvis or Chuck Berry, who recorded what many consider the very first rock and roll song, way back in 1949, naturally titled, "The Fat Man."
You may also be shocked to learn that the Fat Man, in the 1950s, had nearly as many hits as Elvis, and unlike Elvis, he wrote or co-wrote many of them himself, not to mention providing the main instrumental backing. This became the model for future rockers, such as the Beatles, who were big fans and wrote "Lady Madonna" in his style. Obviously, his importance as the main black artist crossing over to the white teen audience can't be overstated.
Of course, he wasn't alone. Almost equally legendary in Nawlins is the great, if lesser known, piano master Professor Longhair . And I have to admit that in the past I have proposed his "Tipitina" as our new National Anthem.
In honor of my favorite city, New Orleans, and timed to the Super Bowl, I've just launched the first episode of my "Incompleat History of Rock 'n Roll" web series, which David Wild, the longtime Rolling Stone writer, hailed here at HuffPost as "the most promising upcoming Web music series."
Yes, it focuses on The Fat Man.
Greg Mitchell, the longtime editor of Editor & Publisher, is the author of ten books. He blogs here and the trailer and first episode of his rock and roll series is here.