Up Close and Personal With The King of Swing Louis Prima Jr.



In the music world, as in any great profession, a gifted talent is one who is blessed with the unique ability that can make him almost reach that unreachable star. The King of swing, Louis Prima Sr., was one of these men. He was the first of his kind, (Prima, in Italian, means First) he was a great performer and composer way ahead of his musical contemporaries.

Born in the land of blues and soul, in the heart of new orleans, he was born with the gift of creativity which he used to write a list of songs that included “sing, sing, sing”, a composition that somehow became synonymous with Benny Goodman even though it was originally Louis Prima’s song. Prima Sr. also wrote “Oh Marie,” “A Sunday Kind of Love” and “Oh Babe” just to name a few.

The senior Prima had a need and a desire for creating on stage laughter and mayhem and he knew just what songs would draw that out of his audiences. And in a way, because of this knowlegde and secret to created controlled mayhem, he sacrificed his standing in the community of serious band leaders, the so called respectable Benny Goodman, and the Harry James bands. Some of his hip and hit songs were “zooma, zooma” and “Baciagaloop makes love on the stoop.”

And my personal favorite, “Angelina Please Don’t Leana on the bell!” These tunes may seem from a far off era when music was different, but they can still be successful. A rock star like David Lee Roth, for example, recorded a Louis Prima sr hit, ‘Just a gigolo” and run it up to the number one song on the charts.

Today, loyal fans of the great Louis Prima sr. are blessed with his talented image/ son Louis Prima Jr., who just like his famous Papa blows that horn with a wild verve, composes music and tears up the stage with a beat that vibrates its audience from head to toe. I’m pleased and excited to say in this week’s column i’ve been given the opportunity to interview Louis Prima Jr. so let’s get started.

Cookie: Ciao Louis, and thank you so much for taking time to visit with us . Getting to know you a little better is a nice treat for me and for all our readers. First of all, we know your dad was born in New Orleans and honed his craft there. Where is your birthplace and where did you spend your childhood years?

Louis: Thank You so much for the opportunity to be in your column. I was born in Las Vegas on Father’s Day, and have called Vegas home for most of my life. I spent about 6 years in new orleans and Covington, Louisiana as a child. We have many friends there, and like to refer to new orleans as our second home. I should note that growing up, i spent every summer on the Jersey shore, seaside heights to be exact, with my grandparents on my mother’s side (gia Maione). My mother was born in Bordentown, NJ, and grew up in Toms River, which is where my grandparents live. My grandfather owned the “RED TOP” bar on the boardwalk at the time.

Cookie: Sinatra may well have been the “Chairman of the Board”, but your dad was “The king of Swing”. He held court for many years while playing in Las Vegas and everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bob hope were regulars in his audience. With your Dad’s reputation so strongly felt in Vegas, did you feel it would hinder you or help you in creating your own career persona?

Louis: I am told that i look like my father, occasionally sound like him, and have his moves and energy. It has always been important to me not to just play the music, but to try and put on the show as well. My band and cohort sarah spiegel, all contribute to the live show mayhem, and are not just talented musicians, but brilliant performers as well. it is an honor for me to have such a great musical legacy to uphold, and there is nothing i would rather be doing.

I do not make any effort to emulate my father, i just get up and do what i do. There will always be comparisons, but i never feel there is any hindrance. It would be foolish for me, or anyone for that matter, to try and equal what my father was. I merely want to continue what he started, and keep his music and show going for generations to come.

Cookie: Louis, you have duplicated your Dad’s band, created another “Witnesses” right down to the girl singer, Sarah Spiegel, with all this similarity to the original cast of characters how do you manage to still keep this the Louis Prima Jr. show?

Louis: Let me start off by pointing out, that my father was not just the 8 piece combo he had in the Vegas years. He began in New York in the 30s with 5 piece, he had a big band in the 40s, etc. he changed with the musical times, but always surrounded himself with top musicians and singers. When my mother first joined my father, he had 3 horns and a rhythm section. This was my favorite sound, so that is what i go with. We like to call ourselves, a rock band with horns.

The sound is updated for the times and technology. Definitely a lot of energy in our interpretation. My best friend Michael (Mikey Bones) gerbino, (my bass player), and i have spent many years finding the right group of people. They are part of my family. It is like being on stage with all of your best friends. My rhythm section is rooted in Rock and Roll, and my horn guys are a bunch of talented young cats, who love to perform. And Sarah… well she is just Sarah, a beautiful woman with an outstanding voice, and her own unique personality.

I never set out to have anyone look or act like anyone my father had. Everyone is their own personality, and we put it all out there on stage. This is how we remain different. We are essentially doing our own thing, just playing the happiest music on earth, Prima Music, with a lot of energy and excitement.

Cookie: Sarah Spiegel has some awesome shoes to fill, those of Gia Maione, your talented Mom who sang with the band for many years. Are any of the new members of the band related to the original musicians?

Louis: No, I am the only one. But we all have a connection somewhere to the music. When we found sarah, she was in La, looking for a “Louis Prima” type band to play with. she grew up on the music, as did everyone in my band. We all enjoy the challenge of playing the songs, and definitely enjoy entertaining a crowd. I think the best part is, that none of us are trying to be, or emulate anyone. We are being ourselves, and having fun.

Cookie: You play drums, trumpet, piano, sing and conduct the band, do you also compose and arrange your own music? Can you please give us a website where your fans can get more info on your exciting career, and check out your upcoming show dates and recordings?

Louis: Yep, I call myself a Jack of all things Music, and a Master of none. I have been surrounded by music my whole life, and i started on drums at 5 years old. I am predominantly a singer, then trumpet player, and drummer, in that order. But i wanted to be familiar with all instruments, so that I know what’s going on around me. I am a song writer, and eventually will start slipping in some of my own songs into the mix. Folks can visit or the fan site

Cookie: You and your sister Lena obviously have inherited the Prima talent and carisma. Are there any more Primas at home that will be following you on to the stage?

Louis: I have two amazing and talented sons. Jacob is 17, and a brilliant artist. He has been in college art classes, and his teachers are amazed at his work. Then there is anthony who is 13. anthony plays trumpet, drums and guitar. Everything musical he touches he is good at, and he has joined me on stage to both sing and play the horn. He is quite an entertainer himself.

Cookie: One thing I always ask my Italian American guest is this question…. what’s your favorite Italian dish and can you cook it yourself?

Louis: I don’t think i could pick a favorite, but pretty much any veal dish does me just fine, but you just can’t beat a good “Braciola”. When i was 15, i cooked in an italian Restaurant. My mother’s side of the family is stacked with restaurateurs from back east, and i got most of my skills and recipes from my mother. Cooking is my second calling.

Cookie: Before we close is there anything more you would like to share with our readers?

Louis: I just would like to thank all of our fans, present and future, for the opportunity to spread the greatest music on earth. We are currently finishing up our debut CD which should be available by september. They can sign up for our mailing list at the fan site, and we will let everyone know when it is done.

Cookie: It’s been my extreme pleasure chatting with you, Louis, and i know your Italian American fans will be flocking to see you at your next live appearance at trump Plaza, the Las Vegas Hilton, the Hilton in Altlantic City and many more, wherever the beat takes you. Jazz, Pop and Swing, the Prima Legacy is in good hands! grazie tanto e buona fortuna to Louis Prima Jr. and the Prima Band!

Cookie Curci is an experienced freelance writer, born and raised in San Jose, California. Cookie writes syndicated columns across the country, and wrote a “Remember When” column for The Willow Glen Resident for 15 years. Her work has been published in 15 Chicken Soup for The Soul books, and in the series of “Mother’s Miracle” books ( Morrow books).

She has a short story in the new book “ELVIS”, Live at the Sahara Tahoe; has been published in San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury news, Woman’s World, Primo magazine, Mature Living, and many websites.

Cookie is currently writing for several Italian American newspapers and magazines, they include LaVoce Las Vegas, Amici Journal, L’italo Americano, Life in Italy and Italiansrus.