Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: As if it were yesterday, I vividly recall hearing a rumor in the mid-'50s, that Fats Domino was seriously ill and not expected to survive whatever the disease he supposedly had. This came right in what I would consider his peak period, circa 1956.

Ironically — even with the extra weight that made Fats fat — he has outlived most of his first generation rock and rollers.

Which leads to my question, which is about one of his very early singles: “Hey! La Bas Boogie.”

With his New Orleans roots, I am not surprised he would do some French, or Cajun, tunes. I would just like to know the meaning of “Hey! La Bas.”
—Julie Croft, Tunica, Miss.

DEAR JULIE: I also remember hearing those stories, which fortunately turned out to be only rumors. As you know, Fats Domino is very much alive, still married to “Rosemary” (the title of one of his 1953, Top 10 hits), and still living in the Crescent City.

I doubt there is much meaning to the “Hey! La Bas Boogie” (Imperial 5085), since about 95% of it is a boogie-woogie instrumental. It has just one 12-second vocal segment, which amounts to Fats singing “Hey! La Bas” five times, and his background singers repeating those three words each time after him.

Literally translated, the primary definition of la bas is the low, or the lowdown. From bas, sometimes spelled basse, we get bass — as in the lower notes of an instrument, or a deep voice.

Some music writers have pointed to a connection between La Bas and a voodoo god of luck; a view I merely pass on for what it's worth. I do know that Fats makes no voodoo references when discussing the recording.

In an interview, transcribed in the “They Call Me the Fat Man” CD booklet, Fats has this to say about “Hey! La Bas”:

“It just somethin' we put together right quick. “Hey! La Bas” was an ol' Dixieland tune I used to hear all the time. It was my brother-in-law's idea to do it.”

I realize that Tunica is the casino capital of the mid-south. Anatomically speaking, however, I find Tunica a very interesting name for a city.

DEAR JERRY: While reading your December 11 column, which mentioned Brenda Lee's “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,” I thought to myself that Brenda must be about 55 years old now.

I remember seeing her circa-1958 on the Ed Sullivan TV show, in a taffeta dress and little Mary Jane shoes, singing “Pennies from Heaven.”

Though physically pre-pubescent, her adult voice just rang from the stage.

So how old is Brenda Lee now?
—Nancy Mottet Elbert, Tacoma, Wash.

DEAR NANCY: Coincidentally, on the very day that feature ran in the Tacoma paper, Brenda celebrated her 57th birthday. She was born December 11, 1944 in Lithonia, Georgia.

IZ ZAT SO? Of all R&B artists who have no hits after 1964, no one has more total hits to their credit than Fats Domino.

Between 1950 and 1964, Domino charted 63 different recordings, including at least one in every one of those years.

In his mid-'50s heyday, Fats churned out an amazing 19 chart hits during just 1956 and '57.

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