For reasons unclear, during the George W Bush administration, among other things, they recklessly deregulated the radio industry. In the past, there were limits to how many radio stations one person or company could own. Once the W administration deregulated the radio industry, those limits were removed. There was quickly a consolidation of radio station ownership by a limited number of corporations. As these big conglomerations grabbed up all these formerly independent radio stations, they did what corporations do – they standardized. So we went from thousands of independently owned and operated radio stations to McRadio. Formats and playlists were all changed to a repeatable, profitable formula. The playlists were shockingly short and apparently based on what was popular in the past. On rock radio you are more likely to hear Springsteen’s Born to Run for the millionth time instead of The Rising. In essence, they killed conventional radio with the exception of very few stations like WXRT in Chicago, which remains the gold standard of FM radio. Nothing positive comes from this sort of thing.
Luckily, about this time, satellite radio came along. I signed up as soon as I could and for me, terrestrial radio was from then on, dead. I was thrilled with the dozens of stations and formats. But even with all those choices it was hard to keep up with new music releases. Social media and the “inter web” help but sometimes music just slips through the cracks for me. I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when I was in the car, listening to satellite radio and I heard Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers doing I’m Walkin’ an old Fats Domino tune. I had no idea where that song came from. I had never heard it anywhere. It was an awesome song. How could I have missed this?
I’ve always loved Fats Domino. For me he belongs on the rock and roll Mount Rushmore along side Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. His piano playing is such a fundamental influence on everybody who came after him we tend to forget how important he was. You can have Jerry Lee Lewis, give me Fats Domino. Even his songs about breaking up had a joyful resilience to them. Fats always seemed happy. For me Fats was always the sound of New Orleans. When you travel to the Big Easy you see Louis Armstrong all over the place, but for me, Fats is the man when I think about New Orleans.
As I started to research where this Tom Petty version of Fats’ song came from, I found an article about Hurricane Katrina. Apparently Fats was in New Orleans, at home, when the hurricane hit. He had refused to leave his home, apparently concerned for his wife who was ill and eventually had to be airlifted out of his house by a helicopter. There were rumors that he had drowned and someone actually spray painted RIP on the front of his house. Katrina was a horrible disaster, but luckily Fats was spared and was actually very active in raising money for displaced musicians.
All of that horrible back drop is what led to the 2007 tribute album for Fats, called Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino. I don’t know if this album was put together to raise money for Fats or for the New Orleans’ musicians who had been up-ended by Katrina but there was a charitable intention for the record. Now, tribute albums can be dicey. Some artists choose to cover the artist being honored with extreme reverence. Some artists choose to turn their cover versions inside out and completely reinvent the song. For the most part the best tunes on tribute albums find some middle ground between reverence and experimentation. Typically there is such a diversity of artists that tribute albums tend to be a bit of a hot mess. There was an Amnesty International tribute album for Bob Dylan a few years ago and it was all over the place. I tend to treat tribute albums like a buffet – pick the few songs I like and leave the rest. That’s what is so remarkable about this album, it hangs together so well. I think the key to the coherence of this amazing record boils down simply – its Fats’ songs. There is common ground on these songs that holds the album together despite a wild diversity of artists and styles. The other thing about this record that is remarkable is the level of talent that showed up to honor the Fat Man.
There are not one but two Beatles who actually contributed to this record. John Lennon’s 1975 version of Ain’t That a Shame from the Rock ‘n’ Roll album starts this album in a rollicking way. Paul McCartney, brilliantly teamed with New Orleans’ pianist Alan Toussaint, turns in a reverent version of I Want to Walk You Home. The contribution by these two could sum up their partnership – McCartney reigned in Lennon a little bit and Lennon pushed McCartney. Regardless they both turned in great songs for this record.
The list of great artists only begins with the two Beatles. Elton John does a great version of Blueberry Hill. Robbie Robertson, Randy Newman and Neil Young, yes, Neil Young all show up and contribute great songs. The diversity of the artists on this record is amazing: Willie Nelson (country), B.B. King and Taj Mahal (blues) and Herbie Hancock (jazz) all turn in distinctive versions of Fats’ tunes and yet they all seem to fit together. B.B. King’s version of Goin Home is one of the true standout tracks on here.
Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams and Norah Jones all contribute great tracks. However, I must admit, an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Corinne Bailey Rae is probably the stand out female artist on this set with her live from Tipitina’s One Night of Sin. Give me a lady singing about sin any day.
It’s a treat to hear artists of this caliber performing beloved songs by Fats Domino but the guy who blows the doors off the album is Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. Plant’s voice is like fine wine, it becomes more nuanced and smoother as it ages. He has two contributions here. He does a soulful vocal turn on It Keeps Rainin’, which probably should of been the title of this album considering its flood backstory. But its his take on Valley of Tears that is the best thing on this album. It’s just Robert Plant’s soaring voice, accompanied by the Soweto Gospel Choir and some percussion. It’ll give you goose bumps.
There are really very few mis-steps here. Everything Lenny Kravitz does any more sounds like a cheap imitation of Sly and the Family Stone, and he doesn’t fail to do that on this record. Art Neville’s Please Don’t Leave Me is so stripped down it sounds like a demo. Bruce Hornsby’s Don’t Blame Me is recorded at such a tempo you wonder if he was in a hurry to catch a cab. There are some local New Orleans’ bands that show up toward the end of the set. If you’re not into horns and piano you might not enjoy those songs but then again, if you don’t like horns and piano you probably didn’t like Fats to begin with.
Listen and Enjoy!