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Entertainer Louis Prima"One of the all time greats in the entertainment world."
- Hank Greenspun,
Las Vegas Sun

He was the guy that practically invented the Las Vegas style of Lounge entertainment. Loud, brash, playful but righteous in his skills as a musician and consumate in his singular style of hyper-energetic performing.

"My brother Leon started it all. He played the piano. In school they made me leader of the orchestra because I played the violin, but I followed Leon and the boys in his jazz band around." - Louis Prima

Tony Horowitz, trumpet player for Louis Prima’s band from 1974-1975 told me for the book Beyond Our Wildest Dreams: In the early 1950s Louis Prima had retired from the big band and all that, he and Keely Smith were living in New Orleans and they went out to Las Vegas on a vacation. Louis was looking the town over and he saw what the lounges were all about; basically a lounge at that time was where you sat, had a couple of drinks, bet your keno tickets and the entertainment usually consisted of an accordion, a clarinet, a bass player and that was it. And they were playing music that made elevator music sound like heavy metal.

So Louis had this idea. He called Sam Butera, whose father had a butcher shop in New Orleans, and Amado “Motsey” Rodrigues and some other New Orleans boys. Keely was their singer and Louis paid them to rehearse five or six days a week until they got really tight. He wanted go in there with a jump, jive and wail outfit—nobody was doing that.

When Louis presented the idea to the powers that be at the Sahara they said, “You are stark, raving mad.” So Louis told them, “I’ll show you how mad I am, I’ll four-wall the joint.” That meant he leased the room and took the door and the drinks, everything that was spent in there went across Louis’ hand. However, he had to pay rent on the lounge, he had to pay the cocktail waitresses, he had to pay the bartenders, and he had to pay for the booze. This was quite a gamble and it paid off in spades. Louis became an icon.

I first met Louis and Sam in 1963, this was after he divorced Keely and married Gia Maione [the band’s new lead singer that he met at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey]. I was like 17 years old, I was with Jimmy Wakely’s band at the time and we swapped sets with The Witnesses at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe so I made friends with Sam Butera, the Italian Troubadour “Rolly Dee” DiIorio, and the rest of the guys in the band. Now punch your clock ahead to 1974.

I got a call from Sam, apparently he remembered me. Trumpet player Morgan Thomas, drummer Jimmy Vincent, bass player Rolly Dee, and keyboard player Bruce Zarka had decided to leave The Witnesses and start an act called The New Goofers. They were an incredible comedy act as well as playing good music—but they would do the routine while swinging from a trapeze. Sam asked me if I’d like to join the new Prima band. Having just finished playing lead trumpet and recording with Ray Charles I was looking to go with Count Basie’s orchestra. But the opportunity to play with Louis Prima? He was a whole different animal.


The Official Louis
Prima Web Site!




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