In the summer of 1970, a friend and I lived in a church in San Francisco for a month. We'd just gotten out of high school, the minister at the church said we could stay there, so we pretended to be grownups for a few weeks. (Well, my friend almost tried ... I didn't quite make it.)
We hung out a lot at a nearby park that we called Dog Heaven. I'd wanted to be a hippie so badly, this was my chance to live the dream. I'd walk around The City barefoot ... what a moron. One night we walked to Fillmore West, which was a couple of miles away ... saw Sha Na Na, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks.
Another night, we ordered delivery from a dessert place that advertised on KSAN. It was called Magnolia Thunderpussy, and their specialty was ... well, I'll let Wikipedia describe it:
Magnolia Thunderpussy ... was a San Francisco burlesque performer, radio personality, filmmaker and restaurateur. Thunderpussy operated two San Francisco restaurants in the 1960s: the one at 1398 Haight Street (at the corner of Haight and Masonic), which bore her name, featured a late-night delivery service and erotic desserts such as "The Montana Banana", which was an unsplit banana, representing a phallus, served "erect" in a food service "boat" with two scoops of ice cream, representing the other components of male genitalia, with shredded coconut, representing pubic hair, and a small dollop of whipped cream at the end of the banana.
One day we were walking around the Fillmore District, and this drunk guy came over to us. I thought he was a 100 years old, but he was probably more like 35. I had just turned 17, anything older than 30 seemed ancient to me. He had a lot of missing teeth, and he smelled like the proverbial brewery, but he was in a very good mood, so we talked with him for a bit. Suddenly, he started singing to us, and it was a song I knew:
I admit, I was a little scared by this man. Which was ironic, because Fats Domino, whose song the drunk man was singing, never, ever scared me. His voice, instantly identifiable, always brought a smile to my face, even when he was singing sad songs. His excellent piano playing, combined with his vocals and the great backing from guys like Dave Bartholomew, Earl Palmer, Lee Allen, and so many others, produced one wonderful single after another. He cut a million of them ... he sold more records than you can imagine. He was a titan of the early days of rock and roll ... hell, he predates rock and roll, his first single coming out at the end of 1949. Almost 20 years later, he was back on the charts with "Lady Madonna", which was a tribute from Paul to Fats.
Robert Christgau wrote:
Domino was the most widely liked rock and roller of the '50s--nobody hated him, which you couldn't say of Elvis, or Pat Boone, who despite the color of his skin charted just two more top 10 records. Warm and unthreatening even by the intensely congenial standards of New Orleans, he's remembered with fond condescension as significantly less innovative than his uncommercial compatriots Professor Longhair and James Booker. But though his bouncy boogie-woogie piano and easy Creole gait were generically Ninth Ward, they defined a pop-friendly second-line beat that nobody knew was there before he and Dave Bartholomew created "The Fat Man" in 1949. In short, this shy, deferential, uncharismatic man invented New Orleans rock and roll.
"Invented New Orleans rock and roll" ... that's pretty much like saying he invented rock and roll. But he wasn't scary, the way all of the other pioneers could be. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, Little Richard ... they could be scary. But not Fats.
Here he is, late in life, on the great TV show Treme: