Featured Story
11/03/17 8:00am
COURTESY PHOTOS | From left: Fats Domino, Dr. John and trumpet player Dave Bartholomew (Fats songwriting partner for 68 years) at the Carver Theater during the premiere of Joe Lauro’s ‘The Big Beat’ at the New Orleans Film Festival on October 23, 2014.

COURTESY PHOTOS | From left: Fats Domino, Dr. John and trumpet player Dave Bartholomew (Fats songwriting partner for 68 years) at the Carver Theater during the premiere of Joe Lauro’s ‘The Big Beat’ at the New Orleans Film Festival on October 23, 2014.

Fats Domino died last weekend in Harvey, Louisiana. Over the course of his lifetime, Mr. Domino sold 60 million records and had more hits than any artist of his era, except Elvis. “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” and “Walking To New Orleans” are just three of those hits, which is why, when he died on October 24 at 89 years old, he was remembered as a pioneer of American rock and roll and nothing short of a musical legend.

Perhaps no one would agree with that sentiment more than Joe Lauro — documentarian, film archivist, front man for the New Orleans-inspired band the HooDoo Loungers, and former Shelter Island resident. (more…)

02/08/17 4:30pm
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. (more…)

Featured Story
03/01/16 4:30pm
PHOTO COURTESY HAYDEE ELLIS | COURTESY PHOTO Islander Joe Lauro, left, with Fats Domino, the subject of a documentary that aired on PBS last week.

PHOTO COURTESY HAYDEE ELLIS | COURTESY PHOTO Islander Joe Lauro, left, with Fats Domino, the subject of a documentary that aired on PBS last week.

On the final day of the 25th annual New Orleans Film Festival in October 2014, Shelter Islander Joe Lauro sat next to a musical legend, a man synonymous with the city where music is a way of life. At the Carver Theater, Mr. Lauro’s documentary “The Big Beat” — a detailed look at the rise of boogie-woogie sensation Fats Domino — was set to premiere. (more…)

09/12/13 3:02pm

COURTESY PHOTO | Joe Lauro and Fats Domino.

Shelter Island’s Joe Lauro, a filmmaker, musician, record collector, music historian and archivist, wants Fats Domino to see something — he hopes before the end of the year.

The genius boogie woogie pianist and songwriter from New Orleans who had sold 62 million records by 1962 with his musical partner Dave Bartholomew, the band leader, Fats is now 85 years old, living in his daughter’s suburban home. Bartholomew is in his 90s. And Lauro wants him to see it too.

There is not a lot of time to spare.

Lauro’s goal is to complete his latest film, a documentary called “The Big Beat: Fats Domino and His Band,” as soon as possible. It is now “three-quarters of the way complete. I just have to get it to the finish line,” Lauro said in an interview last week.

To get there financially, he has launched a Kickstarter campaign on the Internet to raise $20,000 in credit card-backed pledges by October 14. If that goal is not reached, no cards will be charged and Lauro’s project will get no funding. If the goal is reached, Kickstarter will take a 5-percent fee.

Meanwhile, Lauro and a partner in New Orleans who will edit the film, have funded the project, for which they’ve obtained an advance through a DVD deal. “But it’s not enough,” Lauro said.

Because many of the musicians who appear in the film are still alive, securing the rights to clips and their music is costly, he said. And even though Lauro’s own company, Historic Films Archive LLC, is providing some of the historic footage, “We just don’t have the money,” he said.

Lauro is building the film around a rare video of an entire Fats Domino-Dave Bartholomew concert recorded in 1962 by a French filmmaker during the Antibes Film Festival. After years of negotiations, Lauro has secured the rights to the video.

No such recording of a Fats concert survives in the United States because American TV shunned black music in those days except in very small, highly controlled doses, Lauro said.

Lauro’s film includes interviews and footage that will document Fats Domino’s boogie woogie roots in New Orleans. It will show how Fats and Bartholomew, performing as the Fats Domino band, merged American rhythm and blues traditions into popular rock and roll.

The interviews have been shot, the rights to most of the footage have been secured and Joe and his partner in the project are ready to begin editing. “We need more money than we have and I want to get this done before these guys are dead,” Lauro said.

To make a pledge, go to Kickstarter.com and search for the project by its title, “The Big Beat: Fats Domino and His Band.”

Joe Lauro has produced a number of documentaries over the years about American music. Among them are “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” about songwriter Harold Arlen, which was aired on PBS; “Louis Prima: The Wildest,” which ran on AMC; and “The Howlin’ Wolf Story” about blues giant Chester Burnett, which was released as a DVD.

The idea for the Fats Domino film came up during a premiere of the Louis Prima film in New Orleans about a decade ago. “I met a woman, Haydee Ellis, a little southern belle who is Fats’ best friend,” Lauro recalled. “She loved film and said you should do a film about the Fatman.”

“She took me over to Fat’s house … he lived in a little double shotgun shack in the neighborhood he grew up in,” Lauro said. Next door was “ a huge 1960s modern mansion that his wife lived in and he lived in the little shack. You had to go through his bedroom to get to the kitchen. This is Fats Domino! He’s in his bathrobe with his hair net on and people are in and out, they’re playing dominoes, they’re cooking crawfish. It was just such a parallel universe.

How could you not be intrigued?”

Katrina destroyed that old neighborhood. Fats now lives in his daughter’s suburban house “and all his friends are gone,” Lauro said.

08/30/13 10:30am

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Joe Lauro and friend Jabbo on the Lauros’ front porch.

Ever since he was a kid growing up in Brooklyn and later Massapequa, Joe Lauro has marched to the tune of a different drummer. What kid in the 1960s would have been so fascinated by “The Jolson Story,” the 1946 biopic about the son of a cantor who rose to super-stardom singing in blackface about the Swanee River?

“I was nine years old when I first saw it,” he said during a front porch talk on North Ferry Road last week. “It really made an impression on me. I wanted to know about that era” of music in which Jolson had come of age.

“I used to get beat up in school all the time. Everybody got beat up — until you found your way.”

His way was to explore American music of the early 20th century and collect records, images and film clips from those early days. He’s still at it and, by the looks of things, making a good living with his company, Historic Films Archive, a service featuring historical footage of the nation’s greatest bands and musicians that has provided “hundreds of thousands of clips to award-winning documentaries, television programs, feature films, and television commercials,” according to the company website.

“I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “I’ve always been able to make a living out of the things I truly love.”

He’s also a documentary filmmaker whose works have been featured on PBS and who’s now at work on a film about Fats Domino for which he is seeking Kickstarter donations; an internationally known collector of “shellac,” which is to say 78-rpm records; and a musician with his own professional band, the Hoodoo Loungers, a New Orleans “Mardi Gras-style party band,” according to its website, that will be among the many bands playing at the annual Shelter Island Beach Blast, which is coming up at Wades Beach on the Saturday after Labor Day, September 7 from 3 p.m. to midnight to benefit the Island Gift of Life Foundation.

The event, which started out as a private party and jam session in his backyard at the barn known as the HooDoo Lounge, has grown over the years to become the landmark end-of-summer party for Islanders and fall fundraiser for a local charity that quietly helps Islanders in need.

Who knew in the early 1960s that Joe Lauro, the geek, would turn out to be cool?

“My ultimate revenge,” he said, was spotting the guys who had been “kicking the [expletive deleted] out of me” out in the audience, rocking along with everyone else when he performed as a musician with a band. By then he also knew how to fight, something his father taught him how to do.

A city corrections officer who became an administrator at the Brooklyn House of Detention, his dad, Joe, was one of a kind, too. He launched an arts program there, taking the “drugged out musicians, addicts and transvestites and putting on these shows with them. He was a real visionary. He got them books in a deal with the New York Public Library,” the younger Joe said.

His mom, Isabella, was a housewife and a “strong Italian” lady. She and Joe now live in Florida, as does Joe’s sister and brother-in-law.

He went to college at SUNY Plattsburgh, after which he applied for a job on Wall Street. He wore clogs to the interview.

Questioned about the footwear, he realized, “I just couldn’t do it. I was so damned lucky” not to fall into a career he didn’t truly love.

Instead he went to NYU’s prestigious graduate film school with the likes of the Coen brothers and Spike Lee, after which he went to work for Kino International, which operated a film archive service, and started living in the city. He connected through Kino with Patrick Montgomery, whom the company had hired to create modern trailers for some of the vintage art films it had in its collection. “We really hit it off,” Joe said. Montgomery, who had founded a stock footage and image service in the 1970s, hired Joe to run his archive service while he was busy making those trailers.

That’s how Joe learned to run the kind of business he’s developed over the years as Historic Films, which he founded with a partner in 1991. They soon moved the business from the city to the East End because the partner owned a home in Southampton. It’s now based in Greenport.

Joe met Karen Edwards, a member of a very old East End family who’d grown up on Shelter Island, at the Buffalo Road House in the city. He was playing tic tac toe by himself “and she joined me.” At the time, she was working as the manager of the Cornelia Street Café and had no plans to make Shelter Island a full-time home. But after she and Joe married in 1993, and he moved his company out east, it made sense to come back. They raised their son Oliver here. Now 18, he was about to head off to his freshman year at Ithaca College last week.

Joe finds archival material for his business, and old 78s for his record collection, by working his vast network of connections, listening to stories and exploring whatever avenues turn up. Taking a shot in the dark, he once wrote Don Kirschner, the legendary music promoter, hoping to represent him in licensing “Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert” TV shows. Kirschner eventually showed up in a limo and took Joe out for dinner at the Palm in East Hampton. Nothing ever came of Kirschner’s business proposal — it turned out he wanted to buy Joe’s company — but he did introduce Joe to his current partner, Andrew Solt, who owned the rights to “The Ed Sullivan Show.” His meeting with Kirschner also led, in a roundabout way, to his eventually offering a rock-bottom price for the rights to Kirschner’s archive at an auction and winning the bid.

The New York Times, Joe said, would soon print a story about his discovery of a trove of stereoscopic slides of famous performers such as Billy Holiday singing at tiny clubs, all shot in the years right after World War II by a professional photographer who happened to be a jazz fanatic. They came his way through a fellow record collector who sold them to Joe as part of a package deal.

Joe has produced several documentary films, including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” about songwriter Harold Arlen, which was aired on PBS; “Louis Prima: The Wildest,” which ran on AMC; and “The Howlin’ Wolf Story” about blue giant Chester Burnett, which was released as a DVD.

He wants now to wind up his Fats Domino film, “The Big Beat,” for which the archival work, licensing and interviews are complete. The project, and how Joe developed it, is worth a story all its own. It all started when Fats’ friend, a lady named Haydee Ellis, liked Joe’s film about Louis Prima and told him, “You should do a film about the fatman.”
For details, go to http://kck.st/1a8npX2 or kickstarter.com and conduct a search.