A great big shame
How Pat Boone Stole Fats Domino's Thunder
by David Hinckley
Sunday, October 23rd, 2005, (New York) Daily News
Two stories about famous seventy-something musicians passed in the night last week, and they shook a few ghosts loose.
Out in L.A., Pat Boone reported that before he retires from touring next year at age 75, he will release multiple CDs of country songs, love songs, gospel songs and patriotic songs.
"A musical fireworks display," he calls it. Then next spring, he'll put out "We Are Family," a CD on which he'll sings duets with his favorite R&B artists. Smokey Robinson joins him for "Tears of a Clown," James Brown for "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."
Yes, you read that correctly, and let's all agree it's a perfect bookend to a career that took off 50 years ago when Pat scored his first hit with "Ain't That a Shame," a retitled cover of Fats Domino's incendiary R&B rocker "Ain't It a Shame."
And that's where last week's second story comes in.
Down in New Orleans, Fats Domino returned to his house and his publishing company for the first time since Hurricane Katrina washed him out.
Eighteen of his 21 gold records were missing. His white grand piano was wrecked by toxic floodwaters. But like most of his New Orleans neighbors, Fats was happy that he's still here to survey things for himself.
Looking at an "RIP Fats" someone spray-painted on his house when he was reported missing, he said, "I'm still here, thank God. I'm alive and kicking."
Domino has lived a quiet life for years, playing when he feels like it, and that's the direct fruit of songs like "Ain't It a Shame," which launched his pop career just as it launched Pat Boone's.
By the summer of 1955, Fats was a certified R&B star, and "Ain't It a Shame" topped the R&B charts for 11 weeks. But it also crossed over to pop radio, and in the end it wasn't just a hit record, it was an important record. In 2002, it was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
And its path to that prominence remains instructive.
The way the music biz worked back in the day, a popular song often had numerous recorded versions, on the theory that different listeners liked different voices and styles. So once "Ain't It a Shame" became an R&B smash, Dot Records decided to have Boone cut it for the pop market.
At first he balked, feeling its lyrics were unsophisticated and the use of the word "ain't" sent a bad message to schoolchildren.
But he cut it anyway, and it soon plunged him into a deeper controversy that was just starting to mushroom.
By 1955, white music fans had started hearing R&B artists like Fats, Ruth Brown and Little Richard on the radio. They liked them. So now Pat's recording of "Ain't That a Shame" was not just a popular song in a different style. It was a "cover version" many saw as pushing aside the creator's own original record.
Defenders of cover versions argued that they still spread songs to a wider audience. If they were blander, that made them more palatable to many pop fans, and certainly "Ain't It a Shame" sold more copies with two hit versions than it would have with one.
Still, the fact remained that the bleached-out version of a great rock 'n' roll song went to No. 1 while the real version peaked at No. 10.
There's never been much point in comparing Boone and Domino. Pat was, and is, a good pop singer who cut solid, catchy radio records. Fats works in another universe. Their names would not appear in the same sentence except that 50 years ago, they became pop stars with the same song.
A number of black artists later covered by Boone, including Little Richard, said they didn't mind, because the covers promoted the song and the records appealed to different fans.
Domino, speaking years later about "Ain't It a Shame," said the Boone cover "hurt. It took me two months to write, and his record comes out about the same time mine did."
Happily, both Domino and Boone survived. They saw more of their money than many of their peers and were smart enough to hang onto it. That both are still around and making plans in 2005 is a good story.
But if American popular culture is no longer wary of Fats Domino records, what happened with Fats and his neighbors in New Orleans is a reminder of something less encouraging: that today in real-life America, like on the pop charts 50 years ago, we still haven't resolved all issues of color.
Ain't that a shame.
http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainmen ... 4993c.html