Billy Diamond, the musician, promoter and manager who helped launch Fats Domino’s career by giving him one of his first gigs and, more importantly, his famous nickname, died Thursday. He was 95. Diamond’s daughter Tracie said her father died in Los Angeles.
Diamond, a bass player, first met Antoine Domino in 1947, seeing him perform at a backyard party in New Orleans. According to Fats Domino biographer Rick Coleman, Diamond was impressed enough with the young piano player to ask him to join his band, The Solid Senders.
Coleman’s 2006 book, “Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” recounts the gig where Diamond introduced Domino by the nickname now known worldwide.
“That’s my boy, ‘Fats’ Domino,” Diamond reportedly told the audience. “I call him ‘Fats,’ ‘cause if he keeps eating, he’s going to be just as big!”
“He got mad when I called him ‘Fats Domino,’” Diamond later recalled to Coleman. “But he never gave the name up. I saw the dream because of Fats Waller. Don’t be ‘Antoine,’ be ‘Fats,’ because ‘Fats’ is an outstanding name, you know what I mean? Like ‘Minnesota Fats,’ ‘Fats Domino was a classic.”
Domino, who was 19 at the time, said later that the name stuck.
"I used to be kind of small," he told author Jeff Hannusch, "but I started picking up weight and Billy started calling me 'Fats.' Then everybody started calling me 'Fats Domino.'"
In his 2001 book "The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues," Hannusch writes that Diamond also encouraged Domino's singing ability.
"It was Diamond who first encouraged Domino to start singing a few numbers during their sets," he writes. "According to Diamond, Domino immediately displayed the talent which would set him apart from other entertainers...."
As Domino’s fame spread, Diamond would not only perform with Domino but also became his road manager. His business sense, along with a healthy reputation as a promoter and hustler, helped land gigs for the band.
Coleman's book quoted Domino’s legendary songwriting partner and producer Dave Bartholomew as saying Billy Diamond was “the best road manager Fats ever had.”
Appearing last year at a panel discussion organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland to honor Domino and Bartholomew, Diamond shared stories from his long association with the two.
“One of my jobs as road manager was to get us a place to stay. It was very hard back then to get a hotel,” Diamond said, alluding to the impact of segregation on the all-black band. “If we played Virginia, we had to go all the way to Washington, D.C. to get a room.”
Diamond also downplayed his own musical talents.
“Dave (Bartholomew) knew more about the music than I did. I can play bass, but I like to take care of the money, that’s easier. I like to handle the money,” he said at the panel discussion at Case Western Reserve University.
Hannusch explained that the job of road manager included driving, making sure the band's vehicles were working properly, making sure their outfits were laundered, as well as hiring and firing musicians.
Diamond’s own musical career might have taken a different turn had he followed the advice of Louis Armstrong, who gave the young Diamond a trumpet when he was a teenager. According to Diamond’s web site, he never learned to play it, though, opting instead to build a washtub bass and become a Dixieland bass player, under the tutelage of Oscar “Papa” Celestin.
In the 1950s and 1960s, in addition to promoting Domino, Diamond also promoted R&B talents such as Shirley and Lee, Huey “Piano” Smith and James Booker.
In the early 1960s, according to Hannusch, Diamond and his wife relocated to Los Angeles, where he hired bands for and managed the 5-4 Ballroom.
Diamond is survived by his wife, Josephine Shirley Diamond; two daughters, Tricia Diamond and Tracie Diamond; and two grandsons, Jameson Pierce Diamond and Steven Diamond.
Funeral services will be held in New Orleans but arrangements are still being finalized.
Billy Diamond with his daughter at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert in Cleveland. Courtesy bigcitybluesmag.com. Credit: Shirley Mae Owens
Yes, I was thinking of you - wanted to see if anyone had posted this sad news. Though it was lucky she didn't die as young as Amy Winehouse, who was also a multiple addict. Etta also ballooned to about 400lb at one point, and had gastric bypass surgery.
So many wonderful, heartfelt songs. The all too usual story of a life of family chaos and violence from those "promoting" her.
It is VERY bizarre that I hadn't heard of the death of Coco Robicheaux. Robichaud is an extremely common Acadian name up here as well, and a long-serving Premier of New Brunswick (the province where the heartland of Acadia lies) was a Robichaud.
The x at the end of that and several other French names in Louisiana is due to Acadians signing their name with an x after the name was written out by a literate official.
LaGatta -- that brought back a completely buried memory. When we went overseas my grandparents sent us records among other things. I can remember my mother showing us how to rock and roll to Dance With Me, Henry. Thanks!
So so sorry about Etta... We saw her perform at the New Orleans Jazz Fest easily over 20 years ago. She seemed a little "tipsy",as were most of the audience. I will never forget her doing a rendition of the Rolling Stones song, Miss You. She was having a little bit of difficulty remembering all the words but no one cared at all,just having a real good time...