Music journalist Rick Coleman's insightful, often controversial new biography Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll is both a loving tribute and a bold alternative cultural perspective. Coleman argues not only for a fresh look at Domino's importance as a pianist, vocalist and songwriter, but also that the black contribution to rock 'n' roll has been minimized by numerous accounts painting Elvis Presley as the music's creator. He is especially miffed that Domino's status as a hit-maker and performer has taken a back seat to his personal flamboyance. While many of Coleman's claims will be familiar to those with more than superficial knowledge of people like Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, he restates their impact with zeal and passion.
Coleman traces Domino's rise in a New Orleans where issues of race and class hampered the city's darker-skinned residents. He also shows how several major music labels and personalities among them such figures as Dick Clark, Alan Freed and Lew Chudd played favorites and political games, undercutting Domino and many other gifted black performers while insuring maximum publicity and performance opportunities for less talented white teen idols. But thankfully, the book isn't totally gloom and doom. Coleman provides expert analysis of Domino's playing style, showing his mastery of triplets and the integration of elements from African and Latin idioms alongside New Orleans blues and R&andamp;B. Domino was also an accomplished vocalist, particularly on upbeat, rhythmically tricky numbers. Most importantly, Coleman points out that Domino's recordings have sold more than 100 million copies, making him one of the most successful composers in rock history. Such Domino originals as Blueberry Hill and Ain't That a Shame are now staples, and Domino's scope encompassed country, blues and jazz as well. While it's doubtful that Blue Monday can reverse the effect of decades of inaccurate music journalism on its own, it sets the record straight regarding both Fats Domino and the creative impact of African Americans on '50s popular music. Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville City Paper and other publications.