As It Happens

There was 'something magical' about Fats Domino, says longtime friend

Without Fats Domino, there would be no rock 'n' roll, says the late musician's friend Eric Paulsen.
Rock 'n' Roll legend Fats Domino, pictured here in 1973, has died at the age of 89. ( Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns via Getty Images)

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Without Fats Domino, there would be no rock 'n' roll, says Eric Paulsen.

The New Orleans rock legend, who inspired generations of musicians, including Elvis and The Beatles, died Tuesday of natural causes. He was 89.

"There was something magical about Fats," said Pauslen, a TV reporter and old friend of Domino's. "He had a charisma about him that was just unmistakable."

Paulsen, who works for  WWLTV in New Orleans, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about Domino's life and legacy. 

Here is part of that conversation.

How did you first come to meet Fats Domino?

I do a morning television show here in New Orleans and, for years, I had been trying to get Fats Domino to do an interview, as a lot of my colleagues had tried. And he was camera shy and wouldn't do it.

And then about 14, 15 years ago, he was having a birthday and, just on chance, I gave his daughter a call to see if he'd do the interview.

She asked him and he said, "Yeah, he'll do it."

So I went over there and we talked for several hours and he played some music for me and, as we were leaving, I noticed he had a picture on the wall of himself standing in front of ... a big Cadillac couch.

Domino sent Eric Paulsen this photo after the TV reporter admired it during an interview at the musician's home. (Submitted by Eric Paulsen)

It's the back of an old Cadillac made into a couch, and he has a picture of himself standing in front of it and I admired it and I told him about it. And a couple of days later, he sent it over to my house with a very nice note as a gift.

The next week, he called me up and asked if I wanted to go for a drink and we went to a little bar in the Ninth Ward and had drinks and, all of sudden, it was friends.

A note from Domino to Paulsen. (Submitted by Eric Paulsen)

What was he like?

You know, for a guy who's that big of a star, very humble man, kind of shy. But still, he loved the flash. He would go on stage, he'd have the diamond rings and watches and things like that.

But at home, he just wanted to live in the Ninth Ward in his house and cook red beans and, you know, just make music.

Domino was humble in life, but he loved to sport flashy jewellery on stage, says Paulsen. (Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)

Describe for those who haven't seen a live performance with Fats Domino, what was it like?

He's got an infectious smile and he always sits at the keyboard and he's got the mic usually on his right side and he's just looking at the audience and smiling and it's just, it's amazing. 

Domino always smiled at the audience during live performances, his friend remembers. (Clayton Call/Redferns via Getty Images)

He was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. He didn't leave and he had to be rescued. Tell us a bit about what happened there.

Katrina was coming in the weekend before. I was live on the air doing live coverage for our hurricane coverage. And I called Fats while we were in a break and I was begging him to leave because he was in an area I knew was vulnerable. And he just wouldn't do it. He was stubborn.

And after the storm hit there were all kinds of rumours he had perished. But he hadn't. He got rescued and was OK.

I went back with him to his house when he first went back there and ... it had "RIP Fats Domino" on the front of his house written in spray paint.

I said, "Fats, what do you think about that?"

And he goes, "They got me dead too soon."

But he lost a lot in that flood, didn't he?

Oh yeah. He had two big beautiful grand pianos there. The Cadillac chair was in that house. ... He got, like, 13 feet of water in that house. It was a rough, rough time.

Fats Domino's home in the Lower Ninth Ward was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Let's talk a bit about his influence on rock 'n' roll.

All the people from the British invasion from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones and everybody else. they worshipped Fats Domino.

When The Beatles came to New Orleans in the '60s, the person they wanted to meet was Fats Domino. So when I was interviewing him, I said: "Well, you got to meet The Beatles." And he goes, "No, The Beatles got to meet me."

At a time when there was very little crossover between black and white audiences ... he was able to draw in both of those. ... How did he feel about that?

He told me stories about how he and [collaborator] Dave [Bartholomew] would be on the road and they would go and play before a sold-out house, but then they could not check into a hotel that would accept blacks. They only wanted white people. So they had to go out of town to stay or, you know, find a restaurant that would be willing to serve them. Even though these same people were lovingly listening to his music at the concert.

If you could pick one Fats Domino song for us to play, I know this is hard, but what would it be?

The one I love and I think its so apropos of this day is Ain't That a Shame, 'cause ain't that a shame that we lost Fats?

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