Shelter Island’s Joe Lauro, a filmmaker, musician, record collector, music historian and archivist, wants Fats Domino to see something — he hopes before the end of the year.
The genius boogie woogie pianist and songwriter from New Orleans who had sold 62 million records by 1962 with his musical partner Dave Bartholomew, the band leader, Fats is now 85 years old, living in his daughter’s suburban home. Bartholomew is in his 90s. And Lauro wants him to see it too.
There is not a lot of time to spare.
So Lauro’s goal is to complete his latest film, a documentary called “The Big Beat: Fats Domino and His Band,” as soon as possible. It is now “three-quarters of the way complete. I just have to get it to the finish line,” Lauro said in an interview last week.
To get there financially, he has launched a Kickstarter campaign on the Internet to raise $20,000 in credit card-backed pledges by October 14. If that goal is not reached, no cards will be charged and Lauro’s project will get no funding. If the goal is reached, Kickstarter will take a 5-percent fee.
Meanwhile, Lauro and a partner in New Orleans who will edit the film, have funded the project, for which they’ve obtained an advance through a DVD deal. “But it’s not enough,” Lauro said.
Because many of the musicians who appear in the film are still alive, securing the rights to clips and their music is costly, he said. And even though Lauro’s own company, Historic Films Archive LLC, is providing some of the historic footage, “We just don’t have the money,” he said.
Lauro is building the film around a rare video of an entire Fats Domino-Dave Bartholomew concert recorded in 1962 by a French filmmaker during the Antibes Film Festival. After years of negotiations, Lauro has secured the rights to the video.
No such recording of a Fats concert survives in the United States because American TV shunned black music in those days except in very small, highly controlled doses, Lauro said.
Lauro’s film includes interviews and footage that will document Fats Domino’s boogie woogie roots in New Orleans. It will show how Fats and Bartholomew, performing as the Fats Domino band, merged American rhythm and blues traditions into popular rock and roll.
The interviews have been shot, the rights to most of the footage have been secured and Joe and his partner in the project are ready to begin editing. “We need more money than we have and I want to get this done before these guys are dead,” Lauro said.
To make a pledge, go to Kickstarter.com and search for the project by its title (or simply click the following link) “The Big Beat: Fats Domino and His Band.”
Joe Lauro has produced a number of documentaries over the years about American music. Among them are “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” about songwriter Harold Arlen, which was aired on PBS; “Louis Prima: The Wildest,” which ran on AMC; and “The Howlin’ Wolf Story” about blue giant Chester Burnett, which was released as a DVD. Read more about Joe Lauro here.
The idea for the Fats Domino film came up during a premiere of the Louis Prima film in New Orleans about a decade ago. “I met a woman, Haydee Ellis, a little southern belle who is Fats’ best friend,” Lauro recalled. “She loved film and said you should do a film about the Fatman.”
“She took me over to Fat’s house … he lived in a little double shotgun shack in the neighborhood he grew up in,” Lauro said. Next door was “ a huge 1960s modern mansion that his wife lived in and he lived in the little shack. You had to go through his bedroom to get to the kitchen. This is Fats Domino! He’s in his bathrobe with his hair net on and people are in and out, they’re playing dominoes, they’re cooking crawfish. It was just such a parallel universe. How could you not be intrigued?”
Katrina destroyed that old neighborhood. Fats now lives in his daughter’s suburban house “and all his friends are gone,” Lauro said.