Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with LOUIS PRIMA JR
Louis Prima, Jr. is the son of singer, songwriter, musician and King of Swing, Louis Prima. Like his father, Louis Prima, Jr. is a multi-hyphenate, playing almost every instrument there is, singing and fronting his ten-piece band known as The Witnesses. Pillow Talking was fortunate to see their show at The Cutting Room in New York City and instantly became groupies of the high-energy, musically diverse performances by the entire uber-talented and charismatic band.
Pillow Talking and some of our brood caught up with the band for the second time as they played to thousands in a ninety-degree, open-air free concert at the Morristown, NJ Jazz & Blues Festival. We also were thrilled to have had a private chat with Louis in his tour bus (known as the Sex Panther according to the website) after the show — he didn’t even take the time to change as his band mates came in and out to shift from their signature suits to casual and comfortable shorts and tees. Stay tuned for a fascinating discussion with this incredibly talented performer. And afterward, check out their tour schedule and don’t miss them if they’re at a venue near you!
PT: It’s great to finally catch up with you and get this chance to chat. Of course this was our second time seeing you and we were blown away again. We always begin with our standard lead question, so if you don’t mind, tell us about your background.
PT: (Laughs) What was it like growing up the son of Louis Prima?
LPJ: It was just like everyday life. I didn’t think there was anything odd about it – other than my parents went to work at six at night instead of during the day like my friends’ parents. But to me, it was a normal childhood. I didn’t know anything different.
PT: But your parents did take you on stage to perform when you were five.
LPJ: Oh, yeah. I was on stage long before I could remember. Matter of fact, the second song I ever sang with my father on stage was “Your Mama Don’t Dance [and your daddy don’t rock and roll].” That’s why I like to keep that in the set – just because of the memories. He’d also make me tell dirty jokes. He’d give me the lines in my ear. Or sometimes when they would introduce him, he’s send me out on the stage with a trumpet.
PT: (Laughing) We read about those pranks.
LPJ: Usually during the summer we were on the road with him. He had a motorhome. He’d never fly. I hate to fly, too. We drove everywhere. We spent the summers with him and then he’d drop us off on the shore with my mom’s parents in Seaside Heights and we’d spend a couple of weeks to a month there every summer. And then we’d hop back on the road with him.
PT: We read your grandfather had a restaurant or bar in Seaside Heights.
LPJ: He actually owned the first Italian bakery in New York. He was born on the boat coming over. The Maiones [my mother’s family] have bricks on Ellis Island. He opened a restaurant, the Red Top, in Bordentown. And he had a bar and a nightclub in Seaside Heights. He had a B-3 [Hammond organ] in the bar. Well, actually, it was behind the bar where the bartenders work and he would just go sit down and play.
PT: There was a time growing up when you drifted away from music, right? You went into the food and beverage business?
LPJ: When I graduated high school, I wanted to be in business. So I started college. But I started sitting in with friends’ bands doing rock and roll. I play just about every instrument there is. I say I’m a “jack of all, master of none.” To me, I was never going to be the player I wanted to be. I kind of knew that. But when I have a microphone in my hand – I knew that was me – the front guy. Singing – it felt at home. So I did that. I did rock and roll for ten years. Then I got frustrated with the music business and I started a family. So I did the right thing. Got a haircut. Got a real job. I was in food and beverage management until my kids discovered that girls existed and their Dad didn’t matter much anymore.
PT: (Laughs) (Wayne) I’m at that point now!
LPJ: They understand that Daddy is going to travel for a living and we made it work. I quit the day job…but I kept the haircut (laughs).
PT: (Stephanie noticing tattoos on Louis’ arms) When did the tattoos come in? They don’t go as well with a day job (laughs).
LPJ: Actually they have been around for a while although not when I was doing rock and roll. I got into tattoos later, but I’m afraid of needles.
PT: (Stephanie) My nineteen year-old daughter is into tattoos – actually all of my kids like them but they’re not old enough yet.
LPJ: My oldest son is a tattoo artist.
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) Don’t introduce him to my daughter. She loves tattoos – and tattooed boys.
LPJ: (Laughs) I like tattoos. Everything means something. You just have to know it’s going to be on there forever.
PT: So how hard was it for you to get back into the business?
LPJ: Not that hard. I had a friend of mine that I knew back in the rock days who actually approached me to maybe get a band together. I had put a band together with my sister immediately after rock and roll, but because of my frustrations and the difficulties with this business I was kind of done with it. So it never got legs and it never took off. The hard part about getting back into it was finding musicians because I was not content with chart readers or being the typical singer that shows up with the book and puts it in front of guys and they bury their faces. I’m not comfortable with that. I want a rock band behind me and I want people who are all stars of the show because I’ll allow them to be.
PT: Your band is the absolute best.
LPJ: I think in our band there are no [single] stars, the band itself really is the star as a whole. It took quite a few years to amass everybody and get everything in place. But I let our show speak for itself. It’s mayhem. Everybody IS a star – everybody outperforms themselves from the night before. They are all outstanding musicians and we’re all friends as well. So that is a bonus.
PT: (Stephanie) The band really blows our minds. We see so much theatre and so many concerts, and yours is one we’d really love to follow you around the country if we could (laughs). We’re not joking. Your show is just so incredible. There is so much enthusiasm and it is so authentic. There’s nothing fake up there. How did you find such unbelievable talent?
LPJ: It was really hit or miss. And old, old friend of mine who played bass for me for a while brought me my guitar player [Ryan McKay], my drummer [A.D. Adams], and my keyboard player [Gregg Fox]. Gregg has been with me for the longest – he’s been with me since around 2006. Marco [Palos on sax] found me. We actually met at Sam Butera’s funeral. We were introduced to each other. He showed up at a show I was doing in Hollywood and literally walked up to me after the show and said, “I want to be your Sam Butera. I want to be your sax player, give me a shot.” [Butera was a saxophonist who was best known for his collaborations with Louis Prima Sr.]
PT: (Stephanie) Was Marco wearing those cool shoes at the time? (laughs)
LPJ: (Laughs) Yeah. And he said, “I’ll bring you a trumpet player and a trombone player and just give us a shot.” I went to California to see his band play. We talked a little more about it. We had a rehearsal in Hollywood and we weren’t even one song in and I knew these were going to be the guys. I actually met Will [Pattinson], the bari sax player when I went to California to see Marco. There are budgets that are involved, but I have a love affair with the bari sax and I told Will that one day we’d be hitting it good enough where I’d be able to afford the tenth person on stage so for him to keep abreast of things. He and Marco were friends, and about three years ago I made the call and said, “We’re ready to jump – get your sax and let’s go!” And I met Leslie [Spencer on vocals] on Twitter.
PT: Wow. (Stephanie to Leslie who was sitting across from us in the bus, relaxing after the show) I had chills today when you were singing.
LPJ: Yeah. She was one of Brian Setzer’s Vixens, one of his background singers. I was watching a holiday football Sunday and Fox had the Brian Setzer Orchestra playing outside the Fox Studios – not at the game – but they were doing bumpers in the commercials. I don’t know how much you follow me on social media, but on my personal pages I’m a little sarcastic at times. I like to poke fun at things to get a laugh. And I put up a post or tweet something to the effect that “What’s her name is still singing the Sunday night football theme and Terry Bradshaw’s daughter is lip syncing the National Anthem,” (laughs) “and the background singer for Brian Setzer is upstaging the whole band.”
PT: That’s wild.
LPJ: So a friend of hers is a follower of mine [on Twitter] and copied the tweet over to her. She follows me and blah, blah, blah – we go back and forth – a little comedy – we hit up again going back and forth on Twitter, then maybe a month later she said, “I’ll come and sit in with you one day but I won’t put the microphone down.” And I said, “Be careful what you wish for.” And when I needed to look for a singer, she’s the only one I called.
PT: What a great story. (Stephanie) It was fate! By the way, Wayne wants to know what your dry cleaning budget is (laughs). When we saw you at The Cutting Room [in Manhattan], it was hot and now today you are in suits jumping all over the stage in 90-degree heat. I don’t know how you don’t pass out up there.
LPJ: It’s funny. Several times I wanted to move away from the suits. But I miss the days when people dressed up to go out. You go to a nice restaurant or show and there are people in flip-flops and board shorts.
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) You put a picture up about that on Facebook! I saw that! But I know what you mean. Gone are the “jackets required” days.
LPJ: (Laughs) And it frustrates me because you used to get dressed up to go to places and you used to take care of yourself. So I think it’s a little statement of mine – “Look what we’re doing.”
PT: It worked for Dean Martin and Bobby Darin.
LPJ: Yes. There are days like today where you’re just dying. And last week in Montclair Donny [Palmer the band’s road manager] threatened to quit if I put the suit on. It was that hot.
PT: (Laughs) That’s great!
LPJ: It’s what we do and we’re all performers. Once you hit the stage – that’s just what we do.
PT: (Wayne) I think I said in my review that I’ve seen all the greats, Elvis, Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Bette Midler and countless others – and your show is the best I’ve ever seen. You have ten people on stage performing their hearts out. What made you decide to go that way?
LPJ: I was frustrated with rock and roll. The music that was being put out by the labels wasn’t fun. I’ve always believed that music is supposed to be a celebration and an escape – not a depressing entity that grunge was. The entertainment aspects element left rock and roll as well. You have guys that are “foot starers” – they stand up there and that’s their show. That’s not how you do it. I’m a rock and roll fan. I still listen to some of the music my kids listen to as well, but I love my father’s style of music. And I don’t consider it swing – I consider it “Louis Prima.” I posted the song “Solitude” on social media one day and a friend of mine said, “It’s the most depressing song in the world and your father made fun of it.” And that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to have fun with it.
LPJ: So I gravitated to this style of music – partly because it was an easy kick off – I figured it wouldn’t be an easy sell, but it would be a door opener for me to get back into it. But I never wanted to be a tribute band. I wanted to play my father’s music and I wanted to create new – as if he were here, with new music. He never stayed the same. He’s the only guy who stayed relevant. You look at the Stones – God love them – but they’re the Stones. Aerosmith is Aerosmith.
PT: Yes, we know what you mean.
LPJ: Louis Prima reinvented himself every ten years. So it was always important to me to move it forward, be our own people – like I said, we’re not doing tribute band – we create our own music and do what we want to do and people listen to it and like it because it’s entertaining and fun.
PT: It really is different and we absolutely love it. We also will be reviewing your second album, Blow.
LPJ: The title Blow is very tongue-in-cheek. The main reason I called it Blow is that it’s been a long time since a band has come out utilizing horns the way we do – as far as their presence, the dynamic entity that they are within each song. They are up front because that’s the way we write it.
PT: (Stephanie) I am a huge fan of horns/brass in bands. And one of the biggest reasons your show is so phenomenal is that everyone on stage is truly having a good time and that spills over into the audience.
LPJ: I think I truly speak for everyone that we’re really truly are enjoying ourselves. There’s no set list. There’s a basic plan, but we’re just having fun and it just so happens that there’s people in a crowd watching us.
PT: (Laughs) That’s exactly how it feels!
LPJ: I think I’ve said it before in other interviews. The crowds – they know if it’s genuine or not.
PT: Well, we know you’re exhausted so we’ll just ask our last signature question. If you were to sum up your life to date in one word, what would it be?
LPJ: Wow. In one word? (pause) I don’t think I can do it in one word. Hmmmm…eclectic. My father did a version of “That’s Life.” You know the line – “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate / A poet, a pawn and a king / I’ve been up and down and over and out” I really have. I’ve lived in my car. I’ve raised two amazing kids. I’ve been on the road with a rock band. I’ve seen the world with this band. Yeah – eclectic is the word.
PT: That’s a really spectacular answer. That explains everything and it is so descriptive of your band, too. Thank you so much for this great and eclectic interview! We can’t wait to see you perform again!