Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, featuring B.B. King, Robbie Robertson, Robert Plant, Olu Dara, Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones, and Ben Harper

By Daniel Garrett

Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino
Executive Producer: Bill Taylor
Assistant Producer: Adam Shipley
Coordinating Producer: Chris Finney
Tipitina’s Foundation
Vanguard Records/Welk, 2007

In memoriam: Harold, a father and brother (Uncle Harry)

Cultural maps are redrawn at different times, as new territories are explored, named, and invested in by artists and thinkers, and as old landscapes lie in exhaustion or ruin or simple neglect. The work of Fats Domino, a popular songwriter and entertainer of decades past, has received new attention and respect in recent times, partly due to the excavations that often accompany aspects of popular culture when their heat has cooled and crusts have formed over their once-flowing pools (an example: Rick Coleman’s book Blue Monday, from Da Capo Press, 2006, on Fats Domino), and partly due to a tragedy, the terrible effects of hurricane Katrina that brought the world’s eyes and ears to rest on New Orleans. The value of the work and pleasure Fats Domino and other New Orleans musicians have given the world has been recognized afresh; and in celebration of that value—and to raise awareness and funds, we now have Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, a two-disk collection of performances new and old, of songs centered on love lost and found, by a great variety of distinguished performers, beginning with rock star and political activist John Lennon, the former member of the Beatles and the assassination victim of an admirer’s misplaced ambition and rage (music, an entertainment, often becomes bound with more serious matters, for better and worse). Lennon performs “Ain’t That A Shame,” written by Fats Domino and his songwriting partner Dave Bartholomew, in Lennon’s brusque vocal style, with a rollicking piano, saxophone, and drums. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers do Domino-Bartholomew’s “I’m Walkin’,” and Petty’s fast singing is in a nearly sweet conversational manner, supported by bass, guitar, piano, drums, saxophone, and handclaps; and it is interesting to hear how different musicians, such as Petty, choose to incarnate Domino’s spirit rather than to transform the material with their own energy and style. B.B. King, with Ivan Neville’s band Dumpstaphunk, transforms the song “Goin’ Home,” a song about leaving a faithless lover and going home, into a shouting blues-funk piece (King’s guitar and Neville’s B3 organ are prominent; and the song has a strong groove). Elton John, one flamboyant piano man, pays tribute to an earlier one, Fats Domino, when Elton sings in a traditional style Domino’s popular rendition of “Blueberry Hill,” a Lewis-Stock-Rose song written about remembered romance, in a recording produced by Elton John—Elton John’s voice is deep, diction clear, and tone moderate. Taj Mahal and the New Orleans Social Club’s interpretation of Domino-Bartholomew’s “My Girl Josephine,” produced by Warren Haynes, is one of the highlights of the two-disk Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino. Taj Mahal’s voice is rough as he recounts the specifics of a past relationship and the music is jazzy, driven by sprightly piano notes, light percussion, and bass and organ, as well as interpolations of Creole French speech. The song is musically interesting, and suggests the possibilities for future interpretations of Domino’s oeuvre, as do the performances by Robbie Robertson with Galactic, Robert Plant (with Lil Band O’ Gold; and the Soweto Gospel Choir), Marc Broussard with Sam Bush, Olu Dara with the Natchezippi Band and Donald Harrison Jr., Toots and the Maytals, Bruce Hornsby, and Herbie Hancock with George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste and Renard Poche.

So many things go into the development of an artist’s catalog: the desire to express personal experience, to contribute to an art form in ways that complement or revise the work of other artists, the need to make money for one’s own survival, and more. The rigors of time, as well as critical review, and also public pleasure and memory, often determine what is valued of that catalog. That other artists like and respect one’s contributions goes a long way in keeping songs alive—and having such artists, emerging and established, as Joss Stone, Paul McCartney, Lenny Kravitz, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt and others acknowledge his accomplishments should hold Fats Domino in good stead for a long time. With guitarist Buddy Guy and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Joss Stone and singer-saxophonist Kevin Harris perform a song about insecure love, Domino’s “Every Night About This Time,” featuring the line “I go to sleep to keep from crying,” giving the piece a blues-inflected treatment. Joss Stone’s voice—a unique blend of the sweetly feminine and the rawly sensual—is one I am fond of, and her appreciation of Domino—in light of her appreciation of other African-American performers—is no surprise. Joss Stone likes African-American musical traditions for their expressive possibilities. Paul McCartney, accompanied by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint on piano and Herman Lebeau on drums, offers a simple take on Domino’s “I Want to Walk You Home,” a song as elemental as the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” (McCartney’s voice is too stiff for my taste, but his humility is touching.) Lenny Kravitz, with a large group—the Rebirth Brass Band, Troy Andrews, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, and Maceo Parker—does a fun and funky performance of an appealing song, Domino-Bartholomew’s “Whole Lotta Loving,” a performance that echoes James Brown and Prince (the highly enthusiastic and energized Kravitz is nearly camp—but I prefer Domino’s very charming original recording). Dr. John’s inimitable croaking voice is heard on a song about a man asking his lover not to go, “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” with Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas singing behind him, and the terrific saxophone playing of Ronnie Cuber. I liked the piano playing of singer Jon Clearly best in his duet with singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt in Domino-Bartholomew’s “I’m in Love Again/All By Myself,” and found the simplicity—just piano and voice—affecting in Art Neville’s solo performance of Domino’s “Please Don’t Leave Me,” produced by Chris Finney.

A lament for an abandoned lover, Domino-Bartholomew’s “Going to the River” on Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino features Robbie Robertson with Galactic, a small band, and the musical detail and bifurcation of the arrangement are imaginative and intriguing. Robertson’s singing is soft, direct, convincing; and the textured musical arrangement is first mellow then hard. Randy Newman makes Dave Bartholomew’s “Blue Monday” into a typical Newman complaint, self-indulgent and funny (even pleasure seems off-center in his interpretation). Robert Plant’s voice is confessional, tender, and wild in “It Keeps Rainin’,” a composition attributed to Domino-Bartholomew-Guidry, and performed here with Lil Band O’ Gold, featuring the accordion of Steve Riley and the guitar of Plant’s co-producer CC Adcock. Corinne Bailey Rae concludes the first half (disk one) of Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, and I am happy to hear her in this environment: her own songs are very idiosyncratic, and her identification with artists such as Fats Domino and Joni Mitchell suggests that her eccentricity is no accident. Bailey Rae’s slow singing of “One Night (of Sin)”—with the phrase, “living with you, been lonely too long”—has a country music tinge; and she is joined by Jim Corry on saxophone and Jan Ozveren on guitar—and her performance can be taken as an encouraging sign for the future.

The second half of Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, disk two, begins with Neil Young singing—and playing guitar and harmonica—with the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, on the Domino-Bartholomew-Guidry piece “Walking to New Orleans,” one of Fats Domino’s most popular recordings, but Robert Plant’s covering, with the Soweto Gospel Choir, of Domino-Bartholomew’s “Valley of Tears” is truly special: Plant’s singing is without false affect, and the choir’s singing is delicate, fine, softer than silk. Norah Jones (I am tempted to write “the great Norah Jones”—she is able to make beautiful performances seem as easy and as natural as thinking), with only piano and guitar, makes Donaldson-Whiting’s “My Blue Heaven,” a song of family contentment, into something of a country tune, revealing it as elemental; whereas, Lucinda Williams treats “Honey Chile” like an early rock song that has a lot of fight and pleasure left in it. The theme of gratitude for beginning and ending the day in “Rising Sun,” and the sincere rendering singer Marc Broussard and mandolin-player Sam Bush give it, recreate the song as a prayer: an offering of praise, and of surrender. Olu Dara’s voice is stark, nearly otherworldly, his declarations coming out of some deep dark place in “When I See You,” which Dara enacts with Donald Harrison Jr. and the Natchezippi Band. Produced by John Porter, Ben Harper with the Skatalites provide “Be My Guest” with a big-band exploration. Harper’s singing is exuberant and pleading nearly at the same time; and the Skatalites, a Jamaican band that often perform reggae and ska, give the song a subtle Caribbean rhythm. Yet, it is Toots and the Maytals in the Domino-Bartholomew seduction song “Let the Four Winds Blow,” produced by Toots Hibbert, that is quite full of soul. With Dean Frasier’s hot saxophone playing and the doo-woppish background singing, and a very clean uptempo production, the song “Four Winds” really lives.

“I hear you knockin’ but you can’t come in,” is a well-known line from Bartholomew-King’s “I Hear You Knockin’,” a signature recording by Fats Domino in which a returning lover is rejected, and on Goin’ Home Willie Nelson’s voice—one of earth and sand, of sanity and grace—makes the song seem a cross between jazz and country music. Irma Thomas and Marcia Ball, two of New Orleans’ leading singers, together do Domino’s composition “I Just Can’t Get New Orleans Off My Mind,” which describes New Orleans as a place of pleasure and lasting life traditions—it is a bright, happy production. Bruce Hornsby’s piano is in the foreground of “Don’t Blame It on Me,” and as with Elton John and Norah Jones, that is remarkable tribute to the piano playing of Fats Domino. Hornsby sings (and produced) the song and it is one of the strongest pieces gathered here. Mixing jazz, blues, and funk, Herbie Hancock invigorates a warning to a lover, a prediction of success and broken ties, called “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday,” with the musical help of George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste, and Renard Poche. “The girls all love me because I know my way around,” boasts the song “The Fat Man” written by Domino and performed by Los Lobos in a traditional uptempo style. “So Long,” an affirmation of personal freedom, is presented with a heavy rock guitar introduction (Jeff Raines, guitarist), dense music, and an eccentric vocal performance by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux with Galactic. The second half of Goin’ Home, disk two, is brought to a close by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Walter Washington and Theresa Andersson performing the song “When the Saints Go Marching In (I Want to Be In That Number).”

Louisiana-born Daniel Garrett has been a longtime resident of New York, and his work—on art, the environment, fiction, film, music, poetry, and politics—has appeared in, or been featured by, The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, The Compulsive Reader, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option, PopMatters.com, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today. In addition to writing about New Orleans music for The Compulsive Reader, Garrett has written a little about Louisiana in film for Offscreen

( http://www.offscreen.com/biblio/phile/essays/wealth_and_welfare/ ) and one of his pieces on James Baldwin appeared on IdentityTheory.com ( http://www.identitytheory.com/books/garrett6.html ). Author contact: dgarrett31@hotmail.com or d.garrett.writer@gmail.com.