By Chuck Woodbury
Fats Domino died this week. He was 89. When I think of Fats Domino I hear him singing . . .“I found my thrill. . . on Blueberry Hill.”
It met Fats once. We weren’t really friends as it says in the headline. But we did spend about 20 minutes together. Sort of. Fats was asleep part of the time.
We met in Reno. I was flying first class back to Sacramento from Virginia, where I’d been on a press trip. Back then, there were lots of perks for travel writers, like free trips, and usually in the first class section. I flew first class to Singapore once, where I rode a rickshaw and drank a Singapore Sling with a beautiful Chinese girl in the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel where it was invented.
But back to Fats Domino. My plane stopped in Reno before resuming its final leg to Sacramento. I was in an aisle seat in the first class section. It was late at night, maybe around midnight. A short black man asked if he could get to the window seat. I noticed he wore several gold rings. He was soft-spoken and polite.
“What are you doing in Reno?” I asked. “You live here?” He said something, but it was sort of mumbled. All I heard was “Fats Domino.”
“Oh, you play with Fats Domino?”
“No, I am Fats Domino,” he said.
Well, that was a shocker! He was much too young to be Fats Domino, whose music I had loved for years. He didn’t have a wrinkle on this face. But it was him, all right.
I don’t remember much of what we said after that other than Fats said he was flying home to New Orleans. The plane would drop me off in Sacramento, then turn back toward home.
As the Boeing 737 climbed out above the Sierras, Fats and I sat side by side, he at the window seat, me by the aisle. As I prepared for my arrival 20 minutes later, Fats snoozed. I don’t know if we talked after that. I think he was out like a light.
So that’s my Fats Domino story. May he rest in peace.