I’m Walking (1957)
“I’m Walking” is literally a knee-slapper. Some of the rhythm section is provided by an extra who slaps his knees.
It sounds like a telephone book being riffled, like background noise, like the sound of a party. It gives the track an antique, sittin’-in-the-backyard feel.
It’s so simple you want to smack your forehead. That belies the fact that the song is a crucial link between old-time R&B and the rise of Rock-N-Roll.
“I’m Walking” by Fats. Walking and rocking.
Fats Domino drives this 1957 tune relentlessly forward with his New Orleans-style, bawdy-house piano. There is a guitar buried somewhere within that emerges during the pots-and-pans second instrumental break, and a fine pumping bass that is all but overcome with the heat of the dazzlingly fast ivories work. As the song progresses, the already-quick tempo notches up a bit, hitting breakneck speed, 80 in a 30 zone.
The honking, yowling, blaring sax adds another thick layer of laminate to a song that is essentially all rhythm. The madly shuffling drums serve to bear out the structure. The band is made for partying – Mardi Gras, street shows, saloon bash, you name it.
The lyrics are short and to the point, only two verses and a chorus that signals the tempo upshift.
As I can be, I’m waitin’
For your company, I’m hopin’
That you’ll come back to me
What you gonna do
when the well runs dry?
You gonna run away and hide?
I’m gonna run right by your side
For you pretty baby I’ll even die
Fats had 37 Top-40 singles in his career. The material ranges from the rueful “Blueberry Hill” to the jaunty, celebratory “I’m In Love Again.” Born in 1928, he is not just a fixture on the Big Easy scene, he practically is the scene,
a senior musical statesman of enormous stature.
His jitterbug-piano stylings can be heard almost anytime that Rock includes the instrument. Most prominent among such songs is “Lady Madonna” by The Beatles, assigned to Paul McCartney’s fine hand at songwriting. (Fats returned the favor, releasing his version of the song in 1968.) By extension, Fats also influenced The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog” and “Hey Jude.” But any New Orleans-type of rolling boogie you can think of – not too forced, easy but grooving, heated but cool – carries Domino’s imprint.
“Lady Madonna” – Paul McCartney, live, 2002
“I’m Walking” is a seminal Rock-N-Roll tune – roots, branches, flowers and seeds spreading and giving birth continually everywhere in the genre. Fats is one of the fathers. And he asks the impenetrable questions, as this one in “I’m Walking”:
What you gonna do
When the well runs dry?
- Just when you’re ready to throw in the holiday towel on Christmas music, shoehorn in a listen to Fats Domino’s rendition of “Jingle Bells.” It’s a smile restorer. It gets down the joy of the secular side of the big season without – as you would expect – missing a beat.
- Says Fats about his home: “I traveled all over for about 50 years. I love a lot of places, and I’ve been to a lot of places, but I just don’t care to leave home. (He lives next door to his wife, Rosemary, in New Orleans’ poor and gritty Lower Ninth Ward, his lifelong neighborhood.) I was born and raised here, and I never lived anywhere else.”