The Tradition Lives With Swing King Jr.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 18:58

An Interview with Louis Prima Jr.

by: Casey Pukl

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone either deny that they’re anything like their parents or wish that they weren’t, I’d own a lot of Manolo’s and Seat Belt Bags. What can I say? I’m weak. But I can’t say that I’d be getting a dime from Louis Prima Jr. The son of the legendary, “Swing King,” has been touring the country bringing his father’s music back to the forefront with a bit of an edge. I got the opportunity to talk to him today about this freshly finished debut record, his incredibly talented sons (we knew the genes were good, so no surprise there), and just what it means to him to perform his father’s music.

CP: You started out playing rock and roll in a pretty successful band before you took a break. What inspired you to come back to the music industry and plau your father’s music?

LPJ: You know, every young person wants to do what’s popular. I love rock, I’ll always love it, and at the time it was just what I was into. But rock got a little depressing, grunge started, and I just felt a certain level of frustration with the music business in general. I took a break, but I came back. It’s my first love. I loved my father’s music forever, and it just felt right to come back and perform it.

CP: I know that you’ve commented previously that you didn’t want hired guns as your band when you started this project. Has it taken a while to get a steady band together?

LPJ: It has definitely taken a while to get the right mix for the band. I’ll never speak ill of anyone who has ever played with us, but it has taken a while to get the right band together. I guess it’s been a bit of a long haul finding people who not only enjoy the music, but that love the whole show. I wanted to find people with a pure love of their art not just a paycheck. We’ve really got that now. There’s nine of us, and we’ve been playing together for about a year and a half now. We travel together, and I think we all really genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

CP: That sounds like the perfect fit, and like it fits the feel of your father’s band.

LPJ: It’s a great time. We have so much fun on stage. There’s a lot of times when we’ll make fun of each other on stage, and you know, with our show, nothing is scripted. That’s just us having fun, and I truly enjoy that aspect of it.

CP: Now that definitely sounds like your father’s band. Did he always have the same energy at home? Was he the same person on and off stage?

LPJ: He absolutely was. He was every bit the person he was on stage in every aspect of his life. He was the guy who enjoyed life, and he enjoyed having fun. He was a great father, and he enjoyed having fun with his family. I can remember being on trips in the summer, and he’d always stop for a fan. I can count on one hand the number of times I ever saw him upset.

CP: Now you have a family of your own.

LPJ: I do. I have two little nightmares of my own now (laughs). No, they’re great. I have two boys that are 17 and 13, and they’re so talented. My oldest is an artist, and he is just so talented. It amazes me what he can take from pen to paper. He’s incredible. And my youngest, he’s a musician. He is the perfect example of someone who just has that raw talent. Anything he touches, drums, guitar, trumpet, he can play it. He’s got just enough ego to be dangerous (laughs). I say that, and I’m kidding of course, but it takes that confidence and that presence, and he just has it.

CP: Do you try to pass on the experience you had with your dad to your kids? I know you guys used to tour with your dad a bit.

LPJ: We toured with my father in the summers a lot, and my kids will come out in the summer sometimes, but for the most part they’re at home. I’ll bring them out when it doesn’t interfere with school and all that. We do still spend a lot of time together. Anytime I’m home, I’m spending time with my kids. And they’ll come out to the local shows. Sometimes I’ll have my youngest come up and play with me, and that’s always a good time.

CP: Now, what are you playing these days? Are you mostly doing your father’s music, or more originals and current covers?

LPJ: We’re still predominantly playing my father’s music, but once we get steady, we’ll incorporate some other originals and current songs. We actually just finished recording our first album, so there’s a lot happening.

CP: Congratulations! That’s fantastic! When are you looking to release?

LPJ: I’d like to release it as soon as possible— before Christmas if we can get it together.

CP: Awesome. Is the album a lot of your father’s material?

LPJ: Yes. My father had a fifty-year career, so there’s a ton of material to choose from. I like to grab some of his material, some of the gems that people have never heard, or didn’t know he did. I rearranged them to cater to my band. While we match his band in instrumentation, we also have the option for more technical computers backing us as well. We’re louder, brasher, and faster than he was. But we’ll always perform his music, and over time, we’ll add more other stuff. That seems to be the direction we’re heading in.

CP: That’s so great to hear.

LPJ: Thank you. It’s been a long time coming. It took a while, but I wanted to wait until I had the right guys in the band. Now we’ve got them, and it’s really great.

CP: I know it has to be tough to choose, but do you have a favorite song that you perform right now?

LPJ: You know, it changes by the month (laughs). I usually really like the new stuff that we’ve just started doing. Right now though, I’d have to say that I have three favorites from the album. “Oh Babe” is a song my father did three versions of, and our arrangement is a combination of all three arrangements. My father used to love to feature all the members of his band, and I like to do the same. We also did a version of “Night Train” that’s definitely on my favorite list right now. The sax player just killed it. Then the last one is “I Wanna Be Like You,” from The Jungle Book. It’s so different, and so new. I really dig it right now.

CP: That’s such a fun song. I’m so excited to hear it! I never would’ve expected that.

LPJ: Yeah, that’s part of the fun. There are some people who know my father was King Louie, but then there are some who don’t. But that movie is timeless. Everyone has seen it, so it’s a fun song that everyone remembers and can connect to from watching it as a kid. I just wanted to put it in the right context musically.

CP: Are there any new tunes on the album?

LPJ: It’s mostly my father’s music. There were songs that I had to put on there. I had to put “Gigolo” and “Jump, Jive, and Wail” on there. I love them. I really wanted people to hear what a musical genius my father was. You know, he did everything from the small combos in the 30’s to 60’s and 70’s rock and roll. It’s a fine mix of the originals and the unexpected.

CP: Do you ever find it difficult to maintain your own persona while performing your father’s music? 

LPJ: This is something I get asked a lot, and I’ll put it this way. If I wasn’t his son, I would still be a huge fan of him. I would still love his music, and I would still want to perform it. Performing is about giving people a chance to enjoy themselves and put the rest of the world away for an hour. In putting this together, my only goal was to not make it a tribute show and not call it that. I’m myself. Sure, there are times when I sound like my father and I move like him, and I might even look like him. But I’m still me. I have a drive and an energy to perform. I’m not trying to be like him, but I am his son. We have some hereditary things that are just going to be similar. I’ve never had an identity crisis about it or anything like that. It’s a part of me.

And I also love that my band isn’t trying to be someone else either. Sarah Spiegel isn’t trying to be my mother, none of the other guys in the band are trying to be anyone from my father’s band. Everyone is their own person just playing the music that they love their way. We all have the drive to be on stage, and it keeps me going. I was never battling that.

CP: What are you most looking forward to playing Anthology?

LPJ: I’ve been wanting to play San Diego for a while now. We played Italian Fest back in October, and we got a great reception. We’ve played everything at this point from small clubs to 4,000 seat outdoor shows. But my favorite place to play is in night clubs. The vibe just makes it easy to get people drawn into the show and engaged. I love to involve the audience, get them dancing. I want to make people forget about the entire world for one and a half hours and just have fun.

Be sure to bring your dancing shoes down on Saturday night, and check out Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses featuring Sarah Spiegel! In the mean time, feel free to practice your dance moves to our Louis Prima Sr. Spotify playlist!

Louis Prima Hits

WHAT: Louis Prima Jr.
WHEN: Saturday, November 26, 2011, 7:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$46 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile