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Friday, October 20, 2006

Capitol Collector Series (Capitol, 1991)


I've been waiting a while to write a review about one of the most uplifting compact discs I have in my collection. A yellow background surrounds a crazy, goofy Louis Prima with the most realistic "o" face you'll ever see on a person with his clothes on. He had so much life and energy the sparks and beams coming out of him on the cover seem natural out of his own soul, after listening to this collection of songs. Specially after the last track, the traditional "St. Louis Blues." A blast of energy and passion provided by an amazing singer, songwriter, bandleader and entertainer. If rock and roll hadn't exploded in 1955 and if culture had evolved in a different way, i.e., there was no Cold War and no Vietnam, most likely the World would be adoring Louis Prima as one of the artist of the 20th Century.
Prima and his fourth wife, Kelly Smith, influenced pop duo Sonny and Cher by providing funny dialogues, laugher, teasing and a little bit of drama that every once in a while went ouf of the stage and in their bedroom. This 1991 CD covers the Capitol years of Louis Prima, the same ones he shared with the beautiful and talented Kelly. You don't even have to look at her to realize she was a beautiful young gal and maybe she was too good for him. Prima was arrogant, crazy, controlling, perfectionist and result-driven. On the Capitol studios he never dubbed anything, he always recorded live with the band he wanted to have, the Witnesses, featuring a great sax player named Sam Butera who often stole Prima's spotlight. Prima was happy having this guy next to him, going crazy at the sax while he sang and played his trumpet on these beautiful american and italian standards. "Angelina/ Zooma Zooma" is taken from a Tahoe show and you can feel the place is going electric. "Just A Gigolo" compresses Prima's behavior and charm; a charm that reached rock and roll singer David Lee Roth, who covered this tune in 1985 not as a tribute to Prima but as a homage to swingers from all over the world, including himself. Brian Setzer also covered Prima with "Jump, Jive and Wail" and the curiosity of rockers increased. Who the hell was Prima? What happened to his fame and fortune? These songs recorded for Capitol are extremely good! "Lazy River," "Basin Street," "Banana Splits For My Baby" show a bluesy, calmer side of Prima and his band; but you need to hear them bringing down Hollywood and Vine with "Oh, Marie!" and "Five Months, Two Weeks, Two Days." Fast, sexy, relaxing tunes. Kelly Smith provides a softer and romantic side when she sings "Embraceable You" but gets annoyed by a Louis Prima who's in the mood for party and teasing. That love/hate act was the fuel of the show and the years covered in this collection. Too bad they weren't acting and hate won over love. But as good Prima and Smith were together, they should have known their relationship wouldn't last.
Prima divorced Kelly Smith and that was the beginning of the end. His contract with Capitol expired and he switched to pop, trying to catch up with the new sounds of the mid sixties. He died in 1978 and his star grew bigger among a small number of fans who loved the swingin' style of Prima. We hope we are still up to the challenge.
The CD and other gems: