Fats Domino receives reproductions of awards lost in Katrina

Published 6:48 pm Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Twenty of Fats Domino’s gold records lost or destroyed during Hurricane Katrina have been reproduced and were presented to the 79-year-old Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer at a French Quarter nightclub Monday.

Domino was all smiles, saying repeatedly “thank you, thank you” to a crowd of about 100 friends and family. Also present were some of the city’s most noted musicians, including Irma Thomas, Charmaine Neville and guitarist and singer Deacon John.

Among the gold-plated records Domino lost when Katrina flooded his 9th Ward home on Aug. 29, 2005 were “Going to the River,” “Blue Monday,” “Valley of Tears,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Whole Lotta Loving” and “I Want to Walk You Home.”

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“It’s Fats. He’s deserving of it all,” said Thomas, who also lost her home in the flooding that followed Katrina in August 2005. “We all lost a lot, but he had more to lose. His career was a lot longer and a lot bigger than any of ours.”

Domino also was recognized Monday by the Recording Industry Association of America with its “American Music Legend” award, making him only the second artist to receive the honor — the first being Johnny Cash about a decade ago.

“It’s not an annual award,” said RIAA spokeswoman Laura Doud. “It’s to award those elite artists whose imprint on American music is undeniable and invaluable.”

It took months for historians to track down Domino’s lost sales records, which span from 1950s “The Fat Man” to 1960s “Walking to New Orleans.” Historians had to track down some original 78-RPM recordings, which were dripped in gold before being printed with Domino’s name and album titles.

“Everything was replicated, down to the record labels and the framing,” said Jennifer Ballantyne, a spokeswoman for Capitol/EMI, the recording label that helped with the project.

Cosimo Matassa, a recording engineer whose Rampart Street studio was where Domino recorded his first album “The Fat Man” in December 1949, said Monday that he was touched so many in the music industry came forward to help Domino.

“It’s a marvelous tribute and a great favor to him,” said 81-year-old Matassa, who was 23 when he worked with Domino. “We were just making a living, and loving it. We had no idea all that would come from it.”

Domino rode out Katrina in his Lower 9th Ward home, which flooded along with 80 percent of New Orleans when Katrina’s storm surge broke levees. Part of his home is being rebuilt by the Tipitina’s Foundation, which helped scores of musicians find housing and new instruments after the storm.

The foundation is rebuilding Domino’s studio and publishing office, which is next to his house and includes a full kitchen and two-story entertainment room.

Tipitina’s owner Roland von Kurnatowski said he’s not sure Domino and his family want to move back into the house next to the studio due to increasing crime and a lack of health care services in the 9th Ward.

“There are a lot of factors involved,” he said after Monday’s ceremony.

Besides resurrecting the studio, the foundation is planning to open a co-op office across the street from Domino’s home. The co-op will provide business development and job skills training for musicians and music students, said von Kurnatowski.

The foundation just wrapped work with Elton John, Tom Petty, Lenny Kravitz, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones and others who have recorded a tribute album of Domino’s songs to benefit the foundation.

The album is due out next month, and roughly 25 percent of the album’s proceeds will go toward rebuilding Domino’s studio, which is about 70 percent complete, and the creation of the music co-op office across the street from Domino’s home.

Domino’s house is surrounded by blocks of abandoned homes, many untouched since Katrina. For more than a year, he has been living in a gated community full of newly constructed homes in the New Orleans suburb of Harvey.

On the Net:

The Tipitina’s Foundation: http://www.tipitinasfoundation.org