Fats Domino Rock and Roll Legend Got His Start at Club Desire

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“Fats” Domino was born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. (February 26, 1928 – October 24, 2017) was an American pianist and singer-songwriter who was of the pioneers of rock and roll music. Domino sold more than 65 million records of Louisiana Creole descent. Between 1955 and 1960, he had eleven Top 10 hits in the United States. Fats Domino (1962)

During his career, Domino had 35 records in the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and five of his pre-1955 records sold more than a million copies, being certified gold. His musical style was based on traditional rhythm and blues, accompanied by saxophones, bass, piano, electric guitar, and drums. His humility and shyness may be one reason his contribution to the genre has been overlooked.

When Charlie Armstead built Club Desire in the Upper 9th Ward back in 1948, he was inspired by high-end New Orleans clubs like the Dew Drop Inn in Central City.

Both Armstead’s club and its crosstown counterpart were locales where black patrons turned out in their finest suits and dresses to enjoy an evening of music and libations. That’s why Armstead dubbed Club Desire “A Downtown Club with Uptown Ideas.”

For six years, until Armstead’s death, Club Desire hosted the likes of Ray Charles, Billy Eckstine and Count Basie, not to mention New Orleans legends including Dave Bartholomew and Antoine “Fats” Domino.

But now the landmark club may have a date with the wrecking ball.

“It would be a shame to see the club demolished without giving someone a chance to buy it, even if it would be expensive to fix up,” said music historian Rick Coleman, whose biography of Domino, “Blue Monday,” won the ASCAP award for Outstanding Musical Biography in 2007.

Coleman said the iconic New Orleans singer and piano player not only performed at Club Desire but ignited his career on its stage.

“The first time he played there, he was sitting in during the intermission of Dave Bartholomew’s band,” Coleman said. “Earl Palmer, the drummer, was friends with Fats and would let him sit in, but Bartholomew didn’t like it because Fats would wear overalls from his day job as a mechanic. Dave would say, ‘I thought I told you not to let that guy in the overalls play,’ and Palmer would say, ‘I forgot.’ ”

Club DesireThanks to the crowd’s positive response, Domino earned a spot in Billy Diamond’s band, which eventually became the club’s headliner. Until that time, Domino was known as Antoine, but Diamond noticed he was putting on pounds and started calling him “Fats.”

Coleman said Domino stood out because of the type of music he played, including favorites like “Swanee River Boogie.” It wasn’t long before he was lured away from Club Desire by the Hideaway — by Coleman as “a little hole in the wall two blocks away” — with the promise of having his own band.

In 1950, after Domino’s single “The Fat Man” rose to No. 2 on the national R&B charts, Armstead got him back to Club Desire by giving him a car. “It was an old broke-down Buick, but it was Fats’ first car, and he loved it,” Coleman said.

Club Desire muralNot long after that, Domino went on tour, and Ray Charles began his sojourn in New Orleans. According to Coleman, Charles went back and forth between the Dew Drop Inn and Club Desire. It was during the year or so that Charles lived in New Orleans and played at those clubs that his music took on its gospel overtones and then segued into soul music.

Armstead died in 1954 and his wife managed Club Desire for a while, but its heyday was over. For the past 60 years, it has been sorely neglected. Attempts by a nearby resident to purchase it in 2008 failed, in part due to its murky ownership.

“Really, it’s amazing that the building has stood as long as it has. It has survived neglect, Hurricane Betsy, Hurricane Katrina and everything else,” Coleman said. (via The Advocate)

Photos Courtesy Preston Lauterbach https://prestonlauterbach.files.wordpress.com

  • Fats Domino (1962)
  • Club Desire
  • Club Desire mural

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