WWL's Eric Paulsen kicked off Davell Crawford's tribute to Fats Domino on Jazz Fest's Acura Stage on an eccentric note. Before the show started, he proudly recalled the day in 2006 when he personally drove Domino to the Fair Grounds and the back of the stage, where Domino declined to perform claiming illness.
Paulsen told the story as one to fondly remember and not the first public sign of Fats' concern about his memory and mental condition--fears since proven to be well-founded. Paulsen told the crowd that Fats sent his love, and with that well-meant business out of the way, Davell Crawford could start the show.
YouTube has videos of Crawford playing two very different versions of "I'm Walkin'," and when he opened his set with the song, he added a third, one closer in spirit and sound to Fats'. Throughout the show, Crawford stayed fairly faithful to the originals and let Domino's songs do the work, pushed by the elemental snap of Joe Dyson Jr.'s snare drum.
The set was understandably hits-heavy, but Crawford folded in a number of second-tier classics including "Valley of Tears" and a spirited "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" with a little of "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday" folded in.
Crawford could have easily made the moment about him, but he let the songs be the stars, asserting himself just enough to qualify as a front man. Like Domino, he passed most of the solos to the horn section, which included veterans of Domino's band Roger Lewis from The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Elliot "Stackman" Callier, and Reggie Houston. Fats' drummer and long-time friend Ernest "Box" Fontenot replaced Joe Dyson Jr. in the drum chair for "Blueberry Hill," joining George Porter Jr. for a song in the rhythm section.
The set started a little loose with a few arrangement details getting by the band, but Domino's songs are part of a body of core knowledge shared by a generation of New Orleans' musicians. Once they got through the kinks, the songs were propulsion machines, churning forward with relentless, spirited energy.
By the time Crawford finished with "When the Saints Go Marching In"--naturally--there were another 10 Domino hits left to do, but it was impossible to complain. Crawford and the band did Domino's catalogue proud.