Around the Island

Friday Night Dialogues: Film explores life of a rock n’ roll originator

COURTESY PHOTO | The cover of Joe' Lauro's film about Fats Domino.
COURTESY PHOTO | The cover of Joe Lauro’s film about Fats Domino.

He wasn’t as flashy as Little Richard, Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly, but he had more charted hits than the three of them combined. He sold over 60 million records, including five that went “gold” before 1955, influencing Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Elton John and scores of other musicians in the process.

In a fitting event for Black History Month, the Shelter Island Library’s “Friday Night Dialogues” will present “The Big Beat: Fats Domino and the Birth of Rock n’ Roll” on February 17 at 7 p.m. The film will provide an opportunity to learn about the life and music of the legendary Antoine “Fats” Domino, who, along with long-time collaborator Dave Bartholomew, produced some of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest hits, including “Blueberry Hill,” “I’m Walkin’” and “Ain’t That a Shame.”

Filmmaker, music archivist and documentarian Joe Lauro was introduced to Mr. Domino over 10 years ago by a woman who attended the premiere of “The Wildest,” another documentary by Mr. Lauro about Louis Prima. An intensely private man, Fats told Mr. Lauro, “I don’t want to be documented by nobody!” But eventually his attitude softened, and the two partnered in the making of this film, which first aired on PBS on February 26, 2016, Mr. Domino’s 88th birthday.

The film focuses on Fats’ early years and his collaboration with Mr. Bartholomew.

“These guys were doing rock ‘n’ roll before it had a name,” Mr. Lauro says. “That New Orleans beat can be heard in so many different types of music. Even Ska owes some of its style to Fats Domino.”

Fats’ 1956 performance of “Blueberry Hill” on the Ed Sullivan Show, along with a clip of “Ain’t That a Shame” at L.A.’s 5/4 Ballroom, are indicative of how his music cut across racial lines in what was then a largely segregated America.

One key to the development of this documentary was the discovery of a film of a complete concert with Fats’ original band, filmed at the Antibes Jazz Festival in France in 1962. As Mr. Lauro told the New York Times’ Alan Light in an interview last year, “That inspired me to get over the other hurdles. Everything I needed was in that concert — they lead a second line through the audience, there’s great piano playing. Then I knew I needed to make the film.”

Fats’ last top 100 hit was his 1968 cover of “Lady Madonna,” a song that, according to Mr. McCartney, owes its memorable piano hook to Fats Domino’s influence.

The airing of the film on PBS last year was edited from the 90-minute “Director’s Cut” that will be shown in its entirety at the Friday Night Dialogues presentation. The evening will be hosted by local musician and writer, Tom Hashagen.

Up Next: On Friday, February 24 at 7 p.m. come by the library for our “Battle of the Brains” trivia night with master of ceremonies Reporter Columnist Bob DeStefano. Register your team of four at the library circulation desk.