The amiable rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose steady, pounding piano and easy baritone helped change popular music while honoring the traditions of the Crescent City, died Tuesday. He was 89 years old.
Mark Bone, chief investigator with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana coroner’s office, said Domino died of natural causes at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The son of a violin player, Antoine Domino Jr. was born on Feb. 26, 1928, to a family that grew to include nine children. As a youth, he taught himself popular piano styles — ragtime, blues, and boogie-woogie — after his cousin left an old upright in the house. Fats Waller and Albert Ammons were early influences.
He recorded his first song, “The Fat Man,” in the back of a tiny French Quarter recording studio. In 1955, he broke into the white pop charts with “Ain’t it a Shame” — but actually sang the lyrics as “ain’t that a shame.” The song was covered blandly by Pat Boone as “Ain’t That a Shame” and rocked out years later by Cheap Trick. Domino enjoyed a parade of successes through the early 1960s, including “Be My Guest” and “I’m Ready.” Another hit, “I’m Walkin,’” became the debut single for Ricky Nelson.
He was one of the first 10 honorees named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Rolling Stone Record Guide likened him to Benjamin Franklin, the beloved old man of a revolutionary movement.
His dynamic performance style and warm vocals drew crowds for five decades. One of his show-stopping stunts was playing the piano while standing, throwing his body against it with the beat of the music, and bumping the grand piano across the stage.