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The Villages
Saturday, July 2, 2022

Louis Prima Jr. pays tribute to father’s music in show in The Villages

Louis Prima may be gone but the spirit of his life and the soul of his music lives on – with his son.

Louis Prima Jr. hit town Sunday evening and turned a Paisans Club show at the SeaBreeze Recreation Center into a raucous night of jumping, jiving and wailing.

Louis Prima Jr and the Witnesses on stage Sunday for the Paisans Club
Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses on stage Sunday for the Paisans Club.

“We are not a tribute band, but we pay tribute to my father’s music,” Prima said during a break between sets. “His music touched so many people, and had so much soul. We honor his past while creating something new and fresh.
“I think he did that all his life. He was always trying something new. If he were here today, I bet he would have a rap number in the set.”

Prima Jr. and his nine-piece band, The Witnesses, romped through a pulsating concert, flavored with jazz, blues, Dixieland and rock and roll.

Saxman Marco Palos blows some hot licks as Louis Prima Jr points out
Saxman Marco Palos blows some hot licks as Louis Prima Jr. points out.

Early on, the band covered one of Prima’s staple numbers: “Jump, Jive and Wail.”  This was vintage Prima, laced with big band horns and swing sounds, backed with a rocking beat.

The group jolted things with another Prima standard, “Oh Marie.” That upbeat tune was as tasty as homemade pasta, topped with gobs of spicy marinara sauce.
Junior and his band don’t just play the songs. Like his cool-rocking daddy, Junior knows that the stage show, personality and choreography juice up the audience as well as the performers.

Singer Kate Curran captured the sound of Louis Primas music
Singer Kate Curran captured the sound of Louis Prima’s music

“My Dad was the king of swing, and I want to be like him,” Prima said.
 Junior and his bandmates, pranced about the stage doing, at times, what seemed like a combination Bunny Hop and Electric Slide. It looked like musical aerobics.
Prima is the center of it all, a beefy ball of energy and talent. He roared through the vocals, played the trumpet, and acted like a conductor on a trampoline, jumping to the beat.
The band – along with singer Kate Curran – seemed to be suffering from a severe case of the rocking pneumonia and the boogie-woogie blues.

Saxman Marco Palos oozed with personality, blowing hot licks while sporting a shiny burgundy suit, highlighted by his wavy black hair piled high on his head. He often took center stage with acrobatic movements and searing musical riffs.
Kate Curran played the role of singing partner to Prima, with sweet and saucy vocals. She captured another era with her yellow, print dress, accented by pastel yellow flowers covering her 1940s’ swept up hairstyle.   

Junior admitted that many people may not be familiar with his father’s name. But most know one of his famous movies roles: Providing the voice for King Louie in the 1967 Disney film, “The Jungle Book.”
In that film, Prima sang the song, “I Wan’na Be Like You.”
“Just about everybody knows that song because they grew up with it,” Junior said. “It was my father’s first gold record.”
The son delivered a spunky and funky version of “I Wan’na Be Like You,” capturing the joy and frisky, childlike whimsy that made his father so popular.
The elder Prima, who died in 1978 at 67, had a career that spanned six decades. In a way, Louis Prima was a bridge from the big band music of the 1940s to the rock and roll of the 1950s and beyond.
“He was always ahead of his time,” the son said. The elder Prima became a major star and headliner in Las Vegas. He had help from sax man Sam Butera, who led the backing band known as the Witnesses. He always had a female singer on stage, and the best known was Keely Smith.

Jerry Vicenti head of the Paisans Clubs introduces Louis Primia Jr.
Jerry Vicenti head of the Paisans Clubs introduces Louis Primia Jr.

They worked on such hits as, “Just A Gigolo” (later covered by David Lee Roth), “That Old Black Magic,” “Eleanor,” “Oooh Dahdily-Dah” “Angelina Zooma Zooma” and many more. He even made a couple of movies, “Hey Boy, Hey Girl,” with Keely Smith,  and “Twist All Night.”

Louis Prima Jr.’s mother, the late Gia Maione, was his father’s fifth wife and also sang with her husband.
“I was so glad she got to see us, and she liked what we are doing to keep my father’s music alive,” said Prima, 56. He has been playing and touring with the band for about 15 years.

He and the group have released a couple of albums and performed some of the original tracks. They opened the show with “Oh Babe,” a rollicking blend of swing and rock. “Go Let’s Go,” delivered more of the same.
Prima turned serious when he talked of the past two years and the problems of the Covid crisis and how it stymied the band’s career. He was living in Las Vegas, but had to get back to his roots in New Orleans.
“I needed something because of these past two years,” Prima said. “The music saved me and New Orleans saved my soul.”
His song “New Orleans “ sounded like a bluesy, Dixieland parade at a New Orleans funeral march, filled with bittersweet joy and memories. “I had to go running home to New Orleans,”  Prima said.
“This band is tremendous, we paid $15,000 to get them and they are worth it,” said Jerry Vicenti, who, with his wife Annette, heads the Paisans Club.

There was only one problem Sunday night during the sold out show.

“We ordered cannolis for dessert, but we couldn’t get any chocolate cannoli,” Vicenti said. “Because of the pandemic they couldn’t load the chocolate cannolis on the ships in California. So, no chocolate cannolis tonight.”
The Paisans didn’t need chocolate cannolis on this night. They had something better: Louis Prima Jr.

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