Joe Lauro, a Shelter Island musician, filmmaker and image archivist whose Greenport business, Historic Film Archives LLC, is known around the world for its clips of famous recording stars, is on a mission.
To make sure the world remembers Fats Domino and his band as a force that shaped modern rock and roll a half century ago, he’s at work on a documentary film, “The Big Beat: The Story of Fats Domino and His Band,” for which almost all the archival work and interviews have been collected or shot.
All Mr. Lauro needs is another $20,000 to finish the work, which he hopes to do by the end of the year so he can show the finished product to Mr. Domino himself.
Mr. Lauro is a familiar figure on the local music scene. In addition to performing with his own professional band, the Hoodoo Loungers, he is the host of the “Legends of Rock” series at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor.
The next edition of the series, the fifth, is slated for 8 p.m. on Friday, September 20, at Bay Street, when Mr. Lauro will present rare clips from his archive of Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Band, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and others.
“It’s as close as we can get to seeing them live,” Mr. Lauro said of the show.
His Fats Domino film is built around a clip that Mr. Lauro discovered in the French National Archive, a 45-minute film of the complete performance by Fats Domino and his band at the Antibes Jazz Festival in 1962. Because American television in those days never aired full-length performances by all-black groups, showing only a number or two on “American Bandstand” and a few other shows, the French footage is extremely rare.
Anyone of a certain age remembers Fats Domino and his rock and roll hits “Ain’t That A Shame,” “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walkin.’” A brilliant boogie woogie piano player and composer, he and his band partner, Dave Bartholomew, merged rhythm and blues into modern rock and roll in the 1950s, according to Mr. Lauro.
The musical icon is now 85 years old, living in his daughter’s modern house in a manicured New Orleans suburb. His new home is a far cry from the bungalow where Mr. Lauro first met Mr. Domino some years ago, introduced by a friend of the legendary performer who had admired Mr. Lauro’s documentary about band leader Louis Prima, which had premiered in New Orleans, where Mr. Prima lived.
“Here’s a guy who sold 60 million records by 1962 and he lived in a double-shotgun shack in the neighborhood he grew up in,” Mr. Lauro recalled. Next door was “a huge 1960s modern mansion” that his wife lived in. “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 crayfish. It was just such a parallel universe.”
The musician and the film-making musician became friends. Eventually, Mr. Lauro secured Mr. Domino’s support for the film project. Meanwhile, the shack was ruined by Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Domino was rescued from an attic window as the floodwaters rose.
“That whole life ended with Katrina,” Mr. Lauro said. “Even if they rebuilt his house, he couldn’t move back because there’s nobody in the neighborhood.”
Mr. Domino’s later life is not the focus of the documentary. It’s about his “musical career, how rhythm and blues developed into rock and roll in New Orleans and how Fats and Dave Bartholomew were architects of that change. I’m ending the story in 1962,” Mr. Lauro said. “When the Beatles arrived in America, that’s where music changed.”
Growing up in Brooklyn and Massapequa, Mr. Lauro developed a fascination with early 20th-century American music, especially the jazz and blues influences of New Orleans, he reported. He studied film at New York University and began working for a film archive service in New York after graduation. He founded his own archive more than 20 years ago and moved it from the city to East Hampton and later Greenport. He and his wife, Karen Edwards, live in Shelter Island.
His documentary films draw material from his own archives. They include “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 blues giant Chester Burnett, which was released as a DVD.
Those interested in donating to Joe Lauro’s Kickstarter campaign can do so by visiting Kickstarter.com and looking up the link for “Fats Domino.”