All About the Music
A closer look at and companion to the music we play on the show, written by the Prairie Home music librarian, Kathryn Slusher.



Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew

By Kathryn Slusher

March 26, 2004

Songs written by Fats Domino and his longtime producer and writing partner Dave Bartholomew have made their way onto A Prairie Home Companion several times over the past few seasons. Both are proud native sons of New Orleans, Louisiana, and their era in musical history was a triumphant one. They pioneered a joyous new sound that came from New Orleans, shook and rattled the nation with its big beats, and brought focus to the exhilarating music scene in the Crescent City.

Born Antoine Domino on February 26, 1928, "Fats" first started playing piano on an old upright that was in his parents' home, then moved on to the clubs on Bourbon Street. He eventually dominated the 1950s rhythm and blues scene as a performer. His unmistakable percussive style merged the lively and exotic jazz and blues celebrated in his hometown with the emerging rock n' roll genre. His playing was also influenced by stride and boogie-woogie piano, and he was a fine singer and showman as well. He met Dave Bartholomew in 1949 at the Hideaway Club in New Orleans, and a partnership was soon formed. Bartholomew co-authored and arranged most of Domino's tunes, and his popular dance band became Fats Domino's backup band. Their first single was recorded just a few days after they met. Called "The Fat Man", the record was a substantial hit, climbing the Billboard R & B charts and peaking at #2. "The Fat Man" is often proclaimed as one of the first rock n' roll records ever recorded. When asked about this fact, Fats reportedly answered: "I wouldn't want to say that I started it, but I don't remember anyone else before me playing that kind of stuff."

Through 1956, the duo created more than 40 hit songs for their record label, Imperial, including two songs that hit #1 on the Billboard R & B charts: "Goin' Home" and "Ain't That a Shame." Domino's third #1 single, "I'm in Love Again," came along in January 1956.

Garrison and the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band performed their own version of "I'm in Love Again" to open our most recent broadcast from the Saenger Theater in New Orleans, January 31, 2004:

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Garrison changed the words to "I'm in Town Again" to pay tribute to the city of New Orleans and all of its spoils. Though the lyrics are different from what Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew wrote originally, you'll recognize the familiar stomping ball-change opening.

We took a previous trip to New Orleans to broadcast from the Saenger Theater on February 16, 2002. One of our guests that day was Geoff Muldaur, who spent some time living and making music in New Orleans early in his career. Spencer Bohren, another guest that day, had fallen so in love with the city that he spontaneously packed up and moved there from Colorado in the early 1970s, deciding that he belonged in New Orleans after a random backstage conversation with Dr. John. Spencer once said about his adopted home: "In New Orleans, I found kindred souls who lived for music in a place where music is woven into the fabric of life. Just walking down the street makes you a better musician...it comes up through the soles of your feet!"

We also augmented our Shoe Band with some terrific New Orleans horn players: Tim Green, a much-heralded and in-demand saxophonist who worked for years with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown; and Freddy Lonzo, a well-known trombone player and a favorite sideman on the New Orleans music scene. APHC's longtime friend Butch Thompson was also on hand, as was his frequent collaborator, trumpeter Duke Heitger, who lives and performs in New Orleans and leads the Steamboat Stompers on the riverboat Natchez.

Geoff and the full band performed "Walking to New Orleans" with Spencer helping out on backup vocals:

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Released in June, 1960, "Walking To New Orleans" was the last big commercial hit for Fats Domino. It was co-written with Dave Bartholomew and Bobby Charles (also known as Robert Guidry), another important New Orleans songwriter and a friend of Geoff Muldaur's. The song is unique in that it is one of Fats's only records to include a string section.

Also on that show, Pat Donohue and Garrison performed "I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday," a song that was a hit for Fats Domino in 1959. Fats didn't actually write this one; Dave Bartholomew wrote it with a man named Roy Haynes, and it had actually been a previous hit for Bobby Mitchell. Roy Hayes wasn't really a songwriter, but worked for a miserable boss at a Baton Rouge packing plant. The lyrics were originally an angry lament to his boss, and morphed into: "I'm gonna be a wheel one day, I'm gonna be somebody /I'm gonna be a real gone cat, then I won't want you. / Everything's gonna go my way, and I won't need nobody/ I'm gonna be a real gone cat, then I won't want you."

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Butch Thompson is world-renowned as one of the premier interpreters of ragtime, stride, and traditional jazz piano. He tours extensively, preserving the subtleties of the New Orleans style for his audiences all over the world. "Careless Love" was one of the songs that Butch performed with Duke Heitger on our October 27, 2001 broadcast from the Fitzgerald Theater, along with Pat Donohue and Gary Raynor of the Shoe Band. It was part of a segment dedicated to the music of W.C. Handy, one of Fats Domino's early influences.

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Fats Domino recorded the tune "Careless Love" in 1951. It was the B-side to his single "Rockin' Chair".

Sometimes on A Prairie Home Companion, we have a need for upbeat, recognizable transition music, to be played as a talent show contestant enters/exits the stage, to play a stand-up comedian on or off the stage, or to keep momentum going between joke segments on the annual joke show. Two well-known Fats Domino creations have served us in this capacity: "Blueberry Hill," written by Tin Pan Alley composers Al Lewis, Vincent Rose, and Larry Stock in 1940 and re-created by Fats Domino in 1956; and "Land of 1,000 Dances," written by Fats Domino and fellow New Orleans artist Chris Kenner. Both songs are lasting relics of the birth and evolution of the rock n' roll style, and will be heard by people for centuries, as they have become part of our cultural landscape. If you listen closely to our archived joke shows and talent shows of years past, you will hear the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band joyously rip through the choruses of these legendary melodies.

Dave Bartholomew was a multi-talented figure on the New Orleans scene and helped to define the New Orleans rhythm & blues sound of the 1950s. Born in Louisiana on December 24, 1920, Dave Bartholomew played brass instruments as a kid, and fronted Dixieland bands while still in his teens. He spent time playing on the river boat <I>SS Capitol</I>, which traveled up and down the Mississippi River, spending summers in St. Paul, Minnesota and winters in New Orleans. During WWII he was drafted into the army, where he played with the U.S. Army Band and learned how to score and arrange music. He brought that skill back with him to New Orleans when the war ended, and went on to an astonishing career as a writer, producer, talent scout, and highly respected A & R man for several record labels. His most prolific and artistically important association was with Fats Domino, but other artists recorded Bartholomew's songs at the same time. "One Night (With You)" was a big hit for Elvis Presley in 1959 (the original was actually "One Night (of Sin)," but the lyrics were deemed too racy for the time!) "One Night" is also a favorite in Garrison's repertoire; he sometimes performs it to warm-up the audience and occasionally sings it on the broadcast—most recently on his June 26, 1999 performance from Knoxville, Tennessee:

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Dave Bartholomew also performed, and though he didn't achieve fame as a solo performer, he was at the forefront of the New Orleans scene and did have some local hits. One of his better-known gems is the song "Jump Children," which Mike Dowling brought along to St. Paul to perform on our March 9, 2002 broadcast from the Fitzgerald.

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Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew are semi-retired now, living out their twilight years comfortably in New Orleans. In fact, Fats decided in the 1980s that he wouldn't leave New Orleans anymore, claiming that he "disliked touring, and couldn't get any food he liked anywhere" except in his home town. Even an invitation to perform at the White House couldn't change his mind. They continue pass on their wisdom, passion, and incredible stories to other musicians through the occasional performance and/or interview, and continue to garner accolades for their important contributions to music history. Their accomplishments will continue to influence generations of artists worldwide.




Past Articles
  • Winding Down at Wolf Trap (5/27/04)
  • Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew (3/26/04)
  • California, I'm Coming Home (11/26/03)
  • The Songs of Johnny Cash (10/23/03)
  • The Music of Lennon and McCartney (07/01/03)
  • A Tanglewood Lollapalooza (06/01/03)
  • Marvin and Mavis Keep Smilin' (05/01/03)
  • Classical Parodies (04/01/03)
  • Good Cookin': the Songs of Memphis Minnie (03/01/03)


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