Jazz Fest’s Quint Davis on Fats Domino’s Legacy

From tour managing for Fats Domino on two European treks in the 1980s to hanging out at the pianist/singer-songwriter’s big pink house in New Orleans, Festival Productions CEO Quint Davis has plenty of fond memories and stories to tell about the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer.

Of course, Fats was also a frequent performer at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which Davis produces and directs.

Pollstar reached out to Davis on Oct. 25 to share his recollections of Fats after news broke earlier that day that the legendary performer had passed away of natural causes at the age of 89.

Fats sold some 65 million records, thanks to hits like “Shake Rattle and Roll,” “Ain’t That A Shame” and “Blueberry Hill.” His many accolades include being one of the first 10 people to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and receiving the National Medal of Arts in 1998. The singer/songwriter and pianist is synonymous with New Orleans and the birth of rock ’n’ roll.

As Davis said, “There are two people from New Orleans, really made up of New Orleans, who changed the music of the whole world and that’s Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino.”

In addition to working alongside Fats on a professional level for many decades, Quint was also lucky to know him personally as a “humble, sweet … gentle giant” who loved jewelry, shoes and cooking for friends.   

Fats Domino
– Fats Domino
A Fats Domino tour poster from Quint Davis’ personal collection

Pollstar: How did you become close with Fats Domino?

Quint Davis: I toured managed, production managed and business managed, which included two long major European tours with Fats, which meant sort of living together on the bus, in the hotel room, in dressing rooms, on stage – everything. And from that we really developed a bond that endured until today.

We were great friends, he liked me and I liked him. So are there stories? That’s for sure. And then once that bond was established, I would go to his house and hang out and play piano and sing.

That must have been amazing.

Yeah, he had a big house, this big pink house. It was famous. He had a sofa made out of the biggest fintail light from a 1963 Cadillac. It was these huge fins, with these two rocket shape tail lights on each one. And he had a sofa made out of that where the trunk would be. It was an actual Cadillac. It wasn’t like something that [just] looked like that. So that’s just an example of the big house.  

And then through the backyard he had also bought the next-door house, which was a small, what we call a shotgun house. And over there, which he spent a lot of time in, at the back was the kitchen. There was a kitchen and a front room with a piano. And those were his two things – he loved to play and he loved to cook. And he’d come up and sit in the front room at the piano and we’d talk and play and sing. Then he’d tell me to come in the kitchen. And he made the best hog’s head cheese I ever tasted in my life. And he’d give me a pound of it.

He would bake incredible cakes and pies. And take them out in his Rolls Royce and go around the neighborhood and give them to people.

What a guy!

He was a wonderful guy. When you think about the romanticism and the sort of gentlemanliness of most of his music like “Blueberry Hill” and stuff, that was him. It wasn’t like he would act like some big star … smile while he was playing the piano … and then he’d get off stage and chew your ass off and was just horrible to work with – No. He was a gentleman, he was humble, he was sweet, I never heard him shout at anybody. I never saw him really get into a thing with anybody. Sometimes he’d say something kind of under his breath (laughs), but really, he was this gentle giant. He was a genius. 

How did New Orleans play into his sound?

Fats never left [New Orleans]. He always stayed connected. When he started having No. 1 records in the ’50s, he didn’t just pop up and all of a sudden he could play and sing like that. In the ’30s and in the ’40s, he was playing this rocking barrelhouse piano music that was here. And so he built that up and eventually became this style and it’s got second line beats in it.

But like I said, he was this sweet, humble man. He was shy. He was very shy. He would almost never do interviews, sometimes the biggest people want to do an interview, they were making movies about him and [saxophonist] Reggie [Houston] and I would set them up and would call him and they would go to his house and Reggie would let them in, but he really, it wasn’t his thing. He was shy and he was humble, that was off stage.

On stage, he lit up, he was dynamite.

What about his wardrobe?

Now one area that he wasn’t so shy and retiring, was man, he was decked out. Fashion and jewelry, I don’t think any other rockstars came close. The first time I went on tour with him, everybody had suitcases but there was this steamer trunk that belonged to Fats.

We opened it up and it was all shoes, beautiful, handmade shoes. There were alligator shoes, lizard shoes, in all colors, and then he had suits and shoes to match. But his jewelry – oh my god!

Fats sold 65 million records, he had 22 No. 1s, I think, which is more than anybody. He loved his jewelry. … Fats had a ring that was an entire grand piano with the top up – you know how a top goes up on a piano with a stick – with diamonds all over it, that he wore when he played. And he had these other big rings on. …

And then he had these big cufflinks that said “Fats” in script, right, out of diamonds. All diamonds: “Fats.”

He loved his jewelry. Period. He loved jewelry. He wasn’t flashy at all at home or in the neighborhood or like that, he was natural, but when it came to being Fats Domino the performer, he was decked out. Which was really great to see.

Now I found out soon, at the end of the tour, these were long tours, under the shoes was a layer or two of shoes, under that was a hot plate, pots and pans, Blue Runner red beans and rice bags. And he would cook red beans and rice in the room at night. (laughs)

That sounds great.

If it was late and I was tired or whatever, he’d say, “Come on up” and I could go to his room and eat red beans and rice.

He loved to cook. I mean, they were hidden underneath the shoes. (laughs)

He was a genius. He came up with the style of playing and singing the songs, everything. There are two people from New Orleans, really made up of New Orleans, who changed the music of the whole world and that’s Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino.

Fats Domino
AP Photo
– Fats Domino
NBC’s “Today” show, New York City, Nov. 9, 2007

Do you think there will ever be anyone like Louis or Fats again?

No, no, not at all. Because when people pass on, you know, life will go on and music will go on, I mean, in 2019, the Jazz and Heritage festival will have its 50th anniversary. So if you think about it, we’ve had three generations of musicians and in New Orleans, it goes all the way back to the turn of the century.

So there are always great [musicians] in the next generation but Fats Domino – no. No one will ever take that place. That leaves a big hole in the world that won’t be filled. That’s like if Mount Everest collapsed into the ocean. (laughs) There are other mountains but there’s only one Mount Everest and he was certainly the Mount Everest of New Orleans and New Orleans music. …

Fats, like I said, he didn’t just start playing worldwide hit records in the ‘50s. It was a continuation of the rock and barrelhouse, rhythm and blues. One time he said, “I’m not saying that I invented rock ’n’ roll, but I really didn’t hear any of that stuff before me.” (laughs) …

He was a sweet, humble man who loved to cook. … We would go out, all over, we were all over Europe, every main city … and he would go out and he would kill ‘em! But he’d come back and he’d be the same guy. He didn’t act like he considered himself some big star. I don’t know what he thought about people going crazy in every city in the world every time we played. But you know, he took that in stride. And he loved the people around him and he loved his family. And he really loved New Orleans.

Did his sound change over the years?

His band, he never modernized it. He never added electric keyboards or background singers or anything. His band, when I was with him, was the same: piano, bass and drums. He was [on] piano and the singer, two guitars behind him and six horns. All from New Orleans so they knew how to play the beats.

And he never changed that. I mean, maybe some musicians came and went, but not that many. When we went to a city in Europe, and let’s say he hadn’t been there before, it was like a time warp. It was like if you were back in the ‘50s, you know, the people were going crazy, they were dancing, but you got to hear the original Fats Domino music, which was so amazing and so wonderful. … He was a dynamic performer on stage.

You said he was shy off stage but he was dynamic while performing. Would his personality almost change in a way once he got on stage?

No, he was [still] a super sweet guy! … A piano player who sings has something like a boom mic, the mic stands over here, what you call the boom stick and the microphone for your mouth. He had a little straight stand that he put next to him in the middle of the keys, facing him so he could sing facing the audience and he’d be playing like a mofo! And then when he sang he could see everybody and everybody could see him and he would smile, generally, because he was so happy about it.

So it was still him, but you listen to a song like “I’m Ready” and it’s rocking!

I’ll tell you what, he was a little guy but he was really strong. At the end of a show they would do “The Saints Go Marching In” – he would stand up and everywhere we went we had these huge grand pianos, I mean, 10-, 11-, 12-foot grands. He would stand up, I don’t care how big it was, start playing the “The Saints” and bump, bump into it! And the piano would move a little bit. Bump into it again! And the piano would get rolling. And he would bump all the way across the stage to the other side, playing the whole time. It was rock ‘n’ roll!

So at the end of the show, when this happened, when the song came, everybody in the band backed up (laughs), and so when the show was ending he was standing all the way on the other side of the stage standing up. Now he never sat down anymore because when he started bumping he left the bench behind. He pretty much always did that, in a fun way.

Looking over photos of Fats Domino you could tell he was so full of joy and seemed so genuine.

That’s a great description and it sounds like it would be a cliché or something, but he was. I have this picture at my desk and I see it every day. I’m looking at it right now. And it’s Fats and Elvis, not a posed picture, in a bar or something, sitting at a table, talking, and Fats is smiling. You know, and that’s what it was. He was part of the royalty: Fats and Elvis.