Written by Fantasma el Rey
Rock ‘n’ Roll, y’all! That’s what it’s all about, and in Fats & Friends we have a rocking good time with the piano masters of rock’s early years. Led by Fats Domino, this DVD also includes Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles sharing the same stage at New Orleans’ Storyville nightclub. The host on that legendary night in 1986 was Paul Shaffer, whose band provides back up for Lewis and Charles. Three rock icons, one stage, and a hot night blend together for one hell of a performance.
After a short interview by Shaffer at the bar, which kicks off each performance, and an intro by his bandleader/trumpeter Dave Bartholomew, the Fat Man gets things rocking with his long time band of professionals. They include two men that deserve way more attention than they get in the R’n’R world. One being Bartholomew and the other is heroic sax slinger Lee Allen, a session sax man who is featured on countless hit songs of that day and goes un-credited on many more; around the time of this show he was a member of the roots rock band The Blasters. Both scored minor hits on their own in the 1950s while playing on nearly all of Fats biggest recordings.
If you don’t recognize these men by sight, then you might not notice them on this disk because they go un-credited here as well. Allen doesn’t solo once and with the amount of tunes played it’s really no surprise but he deserves some mention. Keep your eyes open for the tall saxophone player third to the bandleader’s right. On the special features there is some extra footage of Bartholomew playing and Shaffer makes a quick mention of him there, little mention is better than none at all.
The mood for the evening is fast and furious as Fats opens with “The Fat Man” and swings flawlessly into “Walking To New Orleans,” a tune that’s a bit slower yet moves just as well. From there he lets loose on the mega hits “Blueberry Hill” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” the latter being a Big Joe Turner tune covered and rocked up a bit by Bill Haley. The “round mound of sound” closes his set with a medley of “So Long” and “C.C. Rider” while exiting to the instrumental “Sentimental Journey,” which he plays standing up. Fats is a solid rocker, with a voice in fine shape and skills on the ivories that stand alone and define the big beat sound of early rock’n’roll.
If Fats is the quite storm, then Jerry Lee Lewis is the full-blown tornado plowing though three of his songs at a breakneck pace. “I Am What I Am,” “Great Balls Of Fire,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” are revved up by Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, while Lewis hits the keys with pounding strokes and lighting-fast glissandos. Lewis even stands on the piano as he sings the final chorus to that “shakin’” song and exits with a few “butt bumps” to the keys as he leaves. They don't call him “The Killer” for nothing
Paul Shaffer and the “All-Star Band” jam though Ernie K-Doe’s “A Certain Girl,” a fine little number done in the classic New Orleans party style before turning things over to the genius that is Ray Charles. Charles only does two of his own songs: the rocking “I’ve Got A Women” and the much slower “Drown In My Own Tears.” Charles then begins a New Orleans piano boogie that turns into “The Lewis Boogie,” and then a true all-star jam as both Lewis and Domino join him on stage.
Lewis sings his boogie, and Fats chimes in on vocal duty for “Low Down Dog.” All three finesse the 88s and take turns on a verse to “Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” a song that all three recorded in their careers and in their own unique styles. Closing out the show, all three jam along with the All-Star Band on the rollicking “Swanee River Rock (Talkin’ Bout That River),” a fine end to an all-too-short hour of piano mastery.
The bonus features on this DVD are an interview with Paul Shaffer reminiscing about that night and the difficulties he faced in having three individual star personalities to deal with. The interview is highlighted by rehearsal footage of the big three and some of the other band members playing and warming up.
Fats & Friends is an entertaining hour of piano greats at their best; one is gone, one doesn’t come out much, and one thinks he’s the last of the best. I’ll let y’all figure that one out for yourselves. Ray Charles stands out for the fact that his music is a beautiful hybrid of gospel, country, and R&B. Jerry Lee Lewis is the wild man blessed with a strong voice, a natural talent on the piano, stage presence, and a smirk as he plays that screams, “Sit down or stand up but I will rock you.” All the while Fats Domino possesses sublime vocals, straight-ahead stomp and good-time groove that pushed his records to sell in the very high millions. No frills or flamboyant, flashy stage shenanigans just a good time.
One thing that can be said of these three men is until the very end they will, and Charles did, retain their strong vocals and piano talents. Now lets give Fats his own two-hour legends special because there isn’t much of a film to be made of this quiet man’s life.