Monday, October 18, 2010

LOUIS PRIMA JR. keeps Dad's music alive!

His father was known as 'The King Of Swing" and his exuberant personality and musicianship captivated audiences around the world for over 50 years. Louis Prima was truly unique. Though he passed away over 30 years ago, his legend continues to grow. Today, his son Louis Prima Jr. carries on the torch, keeping his fathers music alive and gaining new fans worldwide. A talented performer in his own right, Louis Jr has his own band, the Witnesses, and Dad would sure be proud! Prior to his upcoming East Coast gigs, I spoke with Louis Jr about his dad's music and his own music too....

MICK: You started out as a rock singer with moderate success. What made you want to go back and do your father's music?
LOUIS: When grunge hit rock and roll, I kind of gave up on the music business. I didn't like the depression trend or whatever was happening to it so I gave up on the music for quite a few years. Like any good stage person, I really loved being on stage. The only other music I could think to do that made me happy is my father's music, which was the obvious choice I suppose.

MICK: What was your dad like as a father?
LOUIS: He was exactly the way he was on stage in real life. He was a lot of fun, liked to laugh, liked to have a good time. He was kind to people, gentle to people. We had a good time together. I spent a lot of time with him. He taught me how to play golf, took me to rehearsals, recording studios and out on the town. He was a real fun guy!

MICK: Do you keep in touch with Keely Smith?
LOUIS: Unfortunately no. There's a little bit of bad blood between her and my mom [ Gia Maione; Smith was Prima 's 4th wife]. We actually don't talk at all. I saw her at jazz fest in New Orleans, the first time I was ever in the same room as her.

MICK: Does your sister Lena still perform?
LOUIS: Yes she does. She's actually performing in the area now.

MICK: Tell me about your band The Witnesses.
LOUIS: When I put this together, I didn't want to be hiring musicians out of town. I wanted to have a band like my father had. Guys that are dedicated to the music and enjoy what they are doing. It's been a process to find the right bunch of guys. I've got them now. They're fantastic !
I've got a girl singer with me now , Sarah Spiegel. We are putting on a really good show. It's one thing to just do the music but I want people to remember what it was like live, the energy, the fun. What they produced in their live show, we are trying to put that in ours. I'm very fortunate to have the guys I have now. We're really having a great time!

MICK: Is there anybody in your band from your dad's old band?
LOUIS: No, unfortunately there's not to many of them left.

MICK: Do you play the East coast often?
LOUIS: We haven't been back east in about two years. We always get a great reception, especially with the well to do Italian community out there. They come out in droves! Aside from playing in my home town of Las Vegas, New York and New Orleans are my favorite places to go.

MICK: It must have been a great thrill for you to see your dad get a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
LOUIS: My management team and myself had an accidental meeting with somebody who really pushed this thing forward. Doing my father's music is to maintain and protect his legacy and get him some of the respect that he deserves, not just as an entertainer but as a musician and what he gave to the world for 50 years. This was a major step for sure. It was a grueling process but the team worked very hard and we were fortunate to have the help of Ricardo Montalban's son-in-law, Gil Smith ( he operates the Montalban Theater in Hollywood), kind of helped us along. Another cat by the name of Brian Sayre out in Hollywood helps us out also. We got it done! It was a fantastic day, fantastic reception and turnout. It's times like that you get to appreciate exactly how they loved him and his music.

MICK: Do you have a favorite song of your dad's?
LOUIS: Yes I do! Now that I have a dedicated band, we are going through the catalog and running new songs. My favorite arrangement's of his was "Them Their Eye/ Old Man River" a medley from the "King Of Clubs" album. that's probably my all time favorite. We just added " Five Months, Two Weeks and Two Days" to our repertoire. That is my favorite song right now. It's fun to perform and it truly demonstrates the power of the band that I have, showmanship wise.

MICK: Do you throw in new songs every now and then?
LOUIS: Yes, there's a wealth of material. My father always played what was popular. He took other people's songs that were popular and twisted them his own way. We eventually want to do that too and of course some original material. We are constantly adding things. when we come to New York, it's not the same show you saw last time. I'd love to play every single song every night but we mix it up good and play things different every show.

MICK: There's another singer who does your father's music by the name of Ron Gelato. Are you familiar with him?
LOUIS: I've heard the name but I've never been fortunate to hear him or see him.

MICK: There's been word that a motion picture about your dad's life is being made. What's happening with that?
LOUIS: My mother Gia Maione is the executor of the Louis Prima estate. She has passionately protected it and made it grow. We are constantly in talks with several different movie studios as well as Broadway shows. It's a matter of finding the right mix and people who are willing to tell the correct story. Whether good or bad, we want to make sure that this isn't one person's version of what happened. Richie Valens had a pretty good career but Louis Prima was around for 50 years, there's a lot to touch on. We'll eventually get it done, hopefully sooner than later.
We need the right team and the right script. The politics of Hollywood play into it but it's something I want to see done and it will get done!

MICK: Don't you have a new recording coming out?
LOUIS: We are, hopefully, going to be in the studio in November and December. We have Ron Dante, who was the Archies and produced many of Barry Manilow's hits and some of Cher's hits, on board. We are currently in talks with Capital Records to be in the same studio that my father recorded in. If that happens to fall through, we have couple of other people on board because I'm anxious to get recorded and getting something out there as well.

MICK: When you perform at the Queensborough Performing Arts Center on October 24th, you are sharing the bill with Dean Martin's youngest song Ricci Martin. Have you worked with him before?
LOUIS: I've never worked with him before and I'm very excited to do this. We talked quite a few times leading up to this. It's a very interesting pairing because my father was on stage with Dean Martin many times. We may actually share video footage of him and Dean Martin on stage. To close the show, Ricci and I will be doing a number together.

MICK: What are your future plans?
LOUIS: Besides the recording, they are finally going to put a statue up of my father on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. I believe that's happening on December 4th. Also, in cooperation with Binion's Hotel here in Las Vegas, David Berman and Big Daddy Carlos, we are putting on a birthday party for my father December 7th. He would have turned 100 years old. We putting on a show, also in cooperation with the Veterans of Pearl Harbor. We'll be back east again in January at Feinstein's at the Hotel Regency in New York. We will be in New Orleans at the end of the month. We are also shopping for a home base here in Las Vegas so we can have a place we can call home. As long as I'm working, I'm happy!

Louis Prima Jr. brings his famous father's music to life this weekend, Oct 24th at the Queensborough Performing Arts Center, 222-05 56th Avenue Bayside, NY. at 5pm. 718-631-6311

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