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Louis Prima Jr. & the Witnesses Featuring Sarah Spiegel - 7/22
at City Winery New York City
For five decades, Louis Prima Sr. stayed at the forefront of the entertainment world. With his inimitable style and musical prowess, he has remained an influential figure to artists and fans alike. Prima tunes are constantly used in movies and on TV, as well as in chart topping covers by David Lee Roth, Brian Setzer and Reba McEntire, just to name a few.
Now, LOUIS PRIMA JR. (www.louisprimajr.com) is stretching the boundaries between the swing and rock eras, turning up the fire and adding blistering energy to a batch of Prima classics on Return of the Wildest!, his debut album on Warrior Records/Universal Music Distribution.
Prima Jr.’s debut album draws from his legendary father’s catalog, while revving up and dynamically re-imagining the songs for the current generation with eclectic, ever-evolving tastes. With fifty years of Prima music to choose from, the entertainer had a wealth of material to work with and ultimately chose songs that fit in best with the strengths of his band. The set list on Return of the Wildest!, as in his live shows, includes a mix of familiar classics (“Jump, Jive, An’ Wail,” “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody”) and award-winning gems not immediately associated with Prima (“Oh Babe,” “Sunday Kind Of Love”).
Recording Return Of The Wildest! at The Tone Factory in Las Vegas (owned by longtime friend Vinnie Castaldo, who co-produced the album with Prima), Prima Jr. went old school, recording mostly live, as his father did, to maintain the energy and flow of the music. He recorded the rhythm section live in three days, then the horns in two and vocals in one.
To ensure that the live energy translated to the final product, he bucked conventional modern wisdom, and while doing a bit of editing, didn’t do any major Pro Tools fixes.
Louis Prima Jr. has traveled a long road to carry on his father’s amazing legacy— starting with the drums at age five, piano at seven, guitar at eleven, and eventually the trumpet through his high school years. His professional journey began in the ‘80s, fronting rock bands until he finally settled into his father’s style and music. Since 1995, Prima Jr. has juggled a part-time music career while raising his two children and working as a food and beverage manager.
While he had been dabbling with the current concept since the mid-2000s and performed off and on in the intervening years, Prima Jr. finally felt right about committing full-time to recording and performing again when he found band mates who were as dedicated as he was to making it happen.
These past few years, working with a powerhouse eight-piece, brass infused band called The Witnesses—the same name Louis Sr. called his trusty backing cats—46-year-old Prima Jr. has been touring the world, celebrating his dad’s legacy with what he calls, “an updated sound, what my father would be doing now if he were still with us. He always evolved with the times. In the ‘70s, he had a preeminent Hammond B-3 player and rock guitarist playing with him. If he had amps and today’s technology available, he would sound like us.”
“My goal was to create a show in my father’s style but with a contemporary vibe and rock twist that would be like no other,” he says. “It was important for me to find a group of musicians who, like me, believed in creating something unique. I didn’t just want part-time chart readers, but musicians with whom I could create a cohesive sound, guys who live and breathe music. The four-piece rhythm section has hundreds of years of combined playing experience, and all are, like me, seasoned rock musicians who believe in the power of performance. My three-piece horn line has some young California cats that grew up listening to and studying my father’s music and know how to entertain.”
Joining Prima Jr.’s band of seasoned rock musicians is renowned singer, actress and musical theater performer Sarah Spiegel.
While many large ensembles have members rotating in and out based on availability, this “family” of Witnesses has more of a rock mentality, in which the band that plays together, stays together—and plays together as friends after the shows are done.
Anyone who comes to hear a mere “tribute show” should be prepared to have their socks knocked off – or stay away. Prima Jr. isn’t keen on nostalgia – he comes to rock!
Bringing a new energy and current attitude to the music, Prima Jr. and his band are less concerned about reliving the past than about creating a future for it. More than a tribute show, like the kind you might see in a supper club, he has created a bona fide rock act that pays tribute in a concert atmosphere.
Since their recent breakout performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (aka Jazz Fest) in Prima Sr.’s hometown, the ensemble has performed everywhere from Seattle to Palermo, from small clubs, performing arts centers and major casino showrooms to some of the largest music festivals in the world.
One of the highlights of this musical odyssey, and a proud moment in Jr.’s life, was on July 25, 2010, the year Louis Sr. would have turned 100. Prima Jr., Spiegel and The Witnesses were present when the legend received his long overdue posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Prima Jr. accepted the star on his father’s behalf, and then Prima Jr. and his band performed a rousing homage to his father, that had the thousands of spectators and paparazzi dancing in the street, turning Hollywood and Vine into Mardi Gras.
One of the keys to the success of Prima Jr.’s live show (and, for those who haven’t yet had the experience, the recording) is that, despite his dad’s iconic designation as the “King of Swing,” the band doesn’t lean solely on that form. Interestingly, Prima Jr. has always believed that Prima Sr.’s vibe was more rooted in New Orleans street music and Southern Dixieland than in swing. “The brilliance of it is that it’s accessible to any genre,” he says, “and it’s not swing; it’s Prima!”
“We’re not reinventing the wheel musically,” Prima Jr. adds. “This is more about reintroducing entertainment to the entertainment business. We have a set list, but our concerts are not completely pre-planned. We breathe a lot of new energy into this music, by virtue of the pool of life and musical experiences everyone draws on. On everything from ‘Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody’ to ‘Las Vegas Woman’ to ‘Night Train,’ we’re about being louder, brasher and faster, bringing happy music and a good time back to the masses. Since the dawn of time, music has been about escape and celebration. I’m not sure what’s happened in recent years, where music is about glorifying all that’s wrong. Our show is about escaping, forgetting the world exists for an hour, tapping your toes and sweating a little.”
Prima Jr. infuses that live rock and roll feel into the ten tracks on Return of the Wildest!—whose title is a sly wink back at Prima Sr.’s 1956 Grammy Hall of Fame album The Wildest!, which captured that generation of listeners with its innovative mix of rock and roll, jump blues, jazz and eccentric humor.
“As in the live show,” Prima Jr. says, “I chose songs that showed off my band. Creating arrangements was kind of frightening, though. I mean, how do you change a brilliant piece of material, yet stay true to its roots? My biggest compliment came from my mother, Gia Prima, who performed with my father from ’62 till his passing. She loved the arrangements. I had the benefit of following around a genius for the first part of my life, listening to and studying his music. I also had a brilliant band director in school who taught me about classical and jazz theory… and then there are those rock and roll influences.”
“So, in a way, it’s very easy to do,” he adds. “Yet it only happens because I have the privilege of playing off of the strengths of my versatile band. I’m not trying to be my father, but it’s exciting to take his music to this place where so many generations of fans can enjoy it. I’m doing this to the best of my ability, and, judging by the fans’ reactions, so far I think I’m doing a pretty good job!”
Since the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Prima Jr. has performed hundreds of shows for fans of all ages around the world.
34 years after Prima Sr. passed away, and 76 years after the iconic bandleader penned the defining Big Band classic “Sing Sing Sing,” one thing is clear: the world still has a voracious appetite to laugh, be happy, dance and “Jump Jive An’ Wail.”
“Louis Jr’s show was outrageously fantastic. Incredible energy, exciting music- they should have a permanent spot on the Vegas strip” (Robin Leach)
“Blows the doors off” (Atlantic City Weekly)
“Louis has serious swing chops and dynamite entertainment value just like his old man without a doubt. LPJ take the family lineage into the 21st Century” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“LPJ revived his Dad’s hits in a high powered show. People were literally dancing in the streets” (Los Angeles Jazz Scene)
“Prima and his sizzling 8 member band took fans back to the era when his father was the hottest act in America. The life, times, and music lives on in his son and the sensational present-day Witnesses” (Napa Valley Register)
“Junior has recreated his Dad’s sound and wild antics” (NY Daily News)
“Louis slayed the sold out Hard Rock Café. The band blew out the Vegas Strip. High energy. Packs ultimate power punch” (Vegas News)
“It’s a show with infectious energy” (Daily Fiasco)
“Louis Prima Jr. is a dead ringer for his Dad” (www.neworleans.com)
“The new crown prince of swing” (www.allmusic.com)
Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Michael Bublé