Party Band Updates Classic Jump-Swing Style with New Originals on Second Album, an Out-of-the-Box Jazz Hit
On “Blow,” Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses‘ second album, the singer-trumpet player and his rowdy horn-driven party band blow hard and mostly fast on 11 tracks including eight new originals, with barely containable brass and sass.
Even more so than “Return of the Wildest!,” the hard-touring Las Vegas-based outfit’s acclaimed 2012 debut, “Blow” (Warrior Records/Universal, Tuesday, June 10, 2014) captures the off-the-hook energy and unabashed fun of a live Witnesses show, where audience members from 9 to 99 get off their tail-feathers to dance, swing and jump, jive an’ wail along with the musicians.
Not surprisingly, “Blow” was the most-added album on American jazz radio its first week out. It debuted in the CMJ Jazz Chart’s Top 25 and jumped into iTunes’ Top 15 jazz during its premiere week as well.
Video: See the exclusive video interview with Louis Prima Jr. About ‘Blow’
Before the term was co-opted by hipster cokeheads, “blow” was a euphemism among hipster jazz musicians, especially horn players, meaning “play your ass off.” Full-tilt swingin’ jump-blues-boogie is the context with Prima Jr. and his band on “Blow”; these guys have so much natural energy, “marching powder” would probably just slow them down.
Seven Years and Many Gigs Ago: The Road to ‘Blow’
Growing up the son of The King of Swing, jump-jazz pioneer and trumpeter and Louis Prima, Prima Jr. was immersed in the music and showbiz scene from infancy, and picked up the trumpet while still in grade school. After stints during his teens and 20s in rock and punk bands, Prima Jr. jumped into swing with both feet in 2007. He rounded up a new bunch of wild and crazy Witnesses (also the name of his dad’s band) to back his play.
Tapping into his father’s rich catalog, from “Sing Sing Sing” to “Just a Gigolo” to “I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book,” Junior and crew began to hit their stride in 2010, delivering a breakout performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
It was quite a homecoming; Prima’s family hails from the region (and Italy before that), and Junior grew up in New Orleans and Las Vegas. The band has been invited back to the Jazz and Heritage Festival as favorite sons each year since.
In fall 2010, Prima Jr. and crew also wailed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at a huge ceremony dedicating a star to his father on Vine Street, in front of the Montalban Theatre just south of Hollywood Boulevard and the Capitol Records Tower.
Not too much later, Prima Jr. connected with Warrior Records/Universal label chief and producer Jim Ervin, who helmed sessions for “Return of the Wildest!” in 2012.
The debut album scored rave reviews as the Witnesses kept up a brutal touring schedule to back it. They gigged from L.A. to Italy, playing solo shows and sharing the stage with superstars from Aretha Franklin to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
The Witnesses also played “Access Hollywood Live” and Jimmy Kimmel’s show along with lots of local TV appearances from coast to coast promoting upcoming appearances, like their show at the Malibu Inn.
Everyone who heard “Return of the Wildest!” dug the album, the band, the players’ unbridled enthusiasm for the music, the stellar musicianship — yet the big breakthrough to major airplay, sales and bookings always seemed just over the horizon.
Undaunted, Prima Jr. began writing new material with his bandmates; it was time to update The Witnesses’ classic repertoire with new tunes and arrangements in the party-band spirit.
Blowing it at Capitol Studios
Co-produced at Capitol Studios by Prima Jr. and Ervin, “Blow” is, in two words, smokin’ hot. On the set of 11 songs including eight originals, Prima Jr. injects more of his own manic personality, and brings the jump-blues-swing sound his father made famous from the ’30s through the ’60s right into the now.
The album’s many highlights to these ears include the title track, “Go Let’s Go,” “New Orleans,” “Might be Crazy” and “I Just Wanna Have Fun.” The latter could have very well been the album’s title track.
Trumpet player Prima Jr. is aided and abetted on “Blow” by his wild three-piece horn section featuring Marco Palos (tenor sax), Phil Clevinger (trombone) and Ted Schumacher (trumpet), and a rhythm section powered by Gregg Fox (piano and organ), Ryan McKay (guitar), Steve Pandis (bass and fluegelhorn) and A.D. Adams (drums).
Chanteuse Sarah Spiegel exited The Witnesses in 2013, but Prima and his band of musical brothers soon found a soul sister in vocalist Leslie Spencer, who can croon a ballad, belt a brassy blues, and swing anything in between. Spencer makes her debut on “Blow” taking the lead on the torchy “Someday” and the sassy “I Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Yet even while driving for his own sound, Junior fearlessly recorded in the same rooms at Capitol where his dad laid down tracks more than half a century ago.
And as Natalie Cole did in the same studio back in 1991 with her Grammy-winning “Unforgettable” album, singing a virtual duet with her departed dad Nat “King” Cole, Prima Jr. pays homage to his greatest mentor with a then-and-now trumpet and vocal duet with Prima Sr. on a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “That’s My Home.” Ervin and Junior added Senior’s original 1959 vocal and trumpet solo on top of new rhythm and vocal tracks recorded by the Mach 2014 Witnesses.
Nope, this ain’t yo’ daddy’s or yo’ mama’s swing music. It’s way more impolite, sweaty and fun, and not for the faint of heart. Listening to this album is exhilarating; akin to jumping into a ’49 Mercury, flooring it, and letting up on the gas pedal only long enough to refuel.
And if initial reviews and chart action are any indication, “Blow” should finally jack the band’s fame and fortune up to where it should be.
Get more info about Prima Jr., “Blow” and upcoming tour dates at the band’s official website.
Special thanks to Jim Ervin, Seth Yudoff, Michael Licata, Dana Gordon and A.P. Hagen.
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is a features writer and photographer for KHTS Radio News (hometownstation.com) and SCVTV’s scvnews.com, the online news and entertainment division of SCVTV, community television for Southern California’s Santa Clarita Valley. He also independently provides Web editorial, social media and SEO writing/editing services for select clients, and writes the occasional post for his own website. On TV, Peeples books, writes, hosts and co-produces the popular “House Blend” music and interview show on SCVTV (scvhouseblend.com). In addition, he delivers the KHTS/SCVTV “SCV Entertainment Beat” report Thursday night/Friday morning (the Web version is posted on the SCVNews website. Previously, Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal newspaper (2007-2011); the original award-winning writer/producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One (1988-1990); and a 1994 Grammy nominee as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” boxed set (MIPF/Rhino, 1992). Contact him at skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com or visit https://stephenkpeeples.com.
Article: Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses ‘Blow’ Hard on Second Album
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com