By Chuck Woodbury
For some reason, a few minutes ago I started humming “Blueberry Hill.” The song reminded me of the night I met Fats Domino. I may have told you this story before but I’ll tell it again just in case.
It was probably 25 years ago, and I was aboard an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Sacramento, which includes a short stopover in Reno. I was flying first class because I was on a media trip, and back then PR people didn’t fool around trying to impress you.
In case you’ve never flown first class, I’ll tell you the advantages: there’s more foot room, the food is not as bad, the bathrooms are close by, the flight attendants call you by your name (sometimes) and bring you hot towels every so often so you can wipe off your forehead, even if you don’t need to. The first time I flew first class I was all alone in the section. When the flight attendant handed me the hot, steamy towel I didn’t know what to do with it. Maybe I figured it out, can’t remember.
Anyway, it was late at night and I was half-asleep as we pulled into the Reno terminal. A few people boarded, including a short black fellow with several huge gold rings. He sat next to me. A few minutes later we were airborne for the short hop over the Sierra to Sacramento, which is where I lived.
“Nice rings,” I said, and he said thank you. I asked him what he was doing in Reno. “I play with Fats Domino,” he said, but so softly I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “Oh, you play with Fats Domino?” I asked to clarify.
“No, I AM Fats Domino,” he replied.
Well, I was surprised and happy, too.
But, as I looked at him, I couldn’t figure out if he was Fats Domino why he looked so young. I remembered seeing Fats Domino on TV in the 1960s when I was a teenager, and he was grown up even then. Yet there in the seat next to me was a guy without a noticeable wrinkle on his face! Wait a minute, I thought, is this guy pulling a fast one on me? But the more I looked, the more I realized it was, without question, the one and only Fats.
Well, within a couple minutes Fats put his head on his official American Airlines pillow, and then fell asleep. A few minutes later the plane landed in Sacramento and I got off. I didn’t say goodbye to Fats because he was snoozing. The plane was turning around, headed to New Orleans, which is where he lived.
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When growing up in the late 50’s early 60’s in Laurel, MS, I would tune the radio (am only) to a New Orleans station. I loved to hear him sing and he is still one of my favorite singer of that time.
Fats was a Friend of the Family, or should I say, Fats Domino was a part of the Family. Anyone that knew Fats. and anyone Fats knew was like FAMILY. He was a shy quiet person until he got to know you.
I was never a fan of Fats Domino’s music, but I would have been thrilled to meet him.