Doug Sahm: Bringing It All Back Home (To Texas)

‘I wanna bring up one of my really old buddies, Doug Sahm! Everybody knows Doug and we go back a long way … ‘ (Bob Dylan welcoming Doug to the stage in 1995)

‘You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul’ (Doug Sahm)

Doug Sahm was a walking, talking, totally, ‘Texas Texture’ kind of a guy. A Texan’s Texan. Texas is a very, very, big place and is home to a staggering variety of music which is nourished in beery roadhouses, sprung floor dance halls and honky tonks heavy with the aroma of marajuana.

Music there is avidly listened to, played and danced to by a knowledgeable audience who know which songs are the best to two-step to, which are the best to slow dance to and which are the best to get you ready for a first class fist fight.

Doug Sahm growing up in a largely black section of San Antonio in the 1940s and 1950s absorbed the music blasting out from the radio and the clubs and stored it away as the treasury he would draw on, honour and add to for the rest of his life. You name it Doug Sahm knew it, loved it and could play it with the affection of a true devotee.

Doug was your man if you wanted to hear honkytonkin’ country, some gritty R&B, gutbucket or romantic blues, a Cajun two step, a once round the floor again polka, western swing or Tex-Mex border ballads. And, you could hear all these styles in one night and dance till you dropped! Whether you were a redneck or a hippie, a fan of Willie Nelson, The Grateful Dead or T Bone Walker, Doug had just the groove you were looking for.

Doug has been a boy wonder musician playing fiddle, steel guitar and mandolin on radio from the age of 6 – he was never anything other than a working musician until he died at the tragically young age of 58 in 1999.

Though Doug was widely known in Texas where he had played paying gigs before he turned 10 (once sharing the stage with the great Hank Williams) he first came to wider notice in 1965 with a fabulous record, ‘She’s About A Mover’. This was issued under the name The Sir Douglas Quintet as legendary producer Huey Meaux hoped buyers would assume the band were members of the all conquering British Invasion.

The subterfuge couldn’t last long once it was noticed that two of the band were clearly of Mexican heritage and they all had rich Texas accents. No matter, radio play was duly delivered and once heard, ‘Mover’ was an unstoppable hit!

Doug and the boys had managed to blend Ray Charles, The Beatles and a Texas two-step rhythm into an addictive confection which still has the freshness and impact of a classic song (Texas Monthly No 1 Texas tune of all time!). The Quintet lock into the rhythm as the magnificent Augie Meyers adds bite, colour and texture on the Vox Organ.

Front and centre Doug shows what a marvellously soulful, warm and winning singer he was; always true to the spirit of the song he was singing, always connecting with his fellow musicians and his audience. As I might have said in 1965 – it’s a gas! An absolute gas!

Doug was launched into a career which featured national TV spots and tours with James Brown, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. There was never a major hit follow up to, ‘Mover’ but the initial version of the Quintet produced albums with gems a plenty including, ‘Mendocino’ and, ‘Nuevo Laredo’.

The next Doug Sahm record I want to draw your attention to is the Jerry Wexler produced album, ‘Doug Sahm And Band’ on Atlantic from 1973.

The record is notable for extensively featuring Bob Dylan who at that time was still largely in reclusive mode. More importantly it is one of those records which has such a consistently attractive musical character and personality that it seems to glow in your imagination as you listen to it. And, believe me as someone who has listened to this record hundreds of time its charm never palls.

It’s one of those records like Van Morrison’s, ‘Moondance’ which alters your mood for the better every time you hear it. One of those records that just as you are about to put it back in the sleeve you decide with a smile that you should play again, just one more time!

Every track has been my favourite at one time or another. Doug, the Cosmic Cowboy, assisted by musicians of the calibre of Dr John, Flaco Jimenez, ‘Fathead’ Newman, David Bromberg and his indispensable musical brother Augie Meyers cooks up a richly flavoured Texas stew which continually whets and satisfies your musical appetite.

There is a glorious sense of relaxed enjoyment in making music, a sense, listening , that we are neighbours of Doug’s dropping in on a house party that will last for days, each song suggesting another, as everyone is having so much damn fun! It’s Texas blues, Texas country, Tex-Mex and 100% the magic of Doug Sahm.

Forced to choose one song to play here I’ve selected his anthem for his hometown, ‘(Is Anybody Going)To San Antone’ which features Dylan on guitar and harmony vocals. This song, like so many on the album and throughout Doug’s career, conjures joy out of thin air – which will do for me as the definition of what music at its best can do in our lives.

Doug was always touring, always making music whether he was in or out of fashion. Mind you, he was always in fashion with fellow Texas musicians and musicians and listeners everywhere who appreciated a man who talked a mile a minute, wore his heart on his sleeve and was always ready to play one more song.

Doug made a lot of records featuring wonderfully productive collaborations because he put the music first not his ego. He brought a lot to any group venture but he knew that it’s the combination of flavours that makes for the tastiest meals.

The ideal example of the above is the glorious series of records he made with his friends, Flaco Jimenez, Freddie Fender and Augie Meyers under the banner of The Texas Tornados. Listening to these albums offers a feast of pleasures as they carry you through a loving history of Texan musical culture. A few days spent with these wonders virtually guarantees you a PhD in Texas Studies!

To give you a sense of the prowess and generosity of Doug as a bandleader here’s a deliriously enjoyable clip of him with the Tornados featuring a properly rowdy version of, ‘Adios Mexico’ followed by a lovely take on Butch Hancock’s exquisite ballad (Number 1 in my Texas pantheon), ‘She Never Spoke Spanish To Me’. If you’re not up and dancing at the first and crying after the second there’s no hope for you.

Doug Sahm lived every day with a smile on his face. All over the world from Stockholm to San Antone, from London to Lubbock his music made him friends and followers. When you dig a groove as wide and deep as Doug did it can never vanish. I usually like to recommend selected records to illustrate an artist’s career. But for Doug Sahm I would simply advise you to buy as many as you can.

Adios compadre. Vaya con Dios.

Breaking News July 2:

Cheryl Sahm has read and approved this post and wants to draw attention to the Kickstarter campaign with regard to an excellent Documentary about Doug. A great cause I am happy to support here on The Jukebox.

CALLING ALL GROOVERS!!! We’ve got MAJOR news! Steve Earle | Lucinda Williams | T Bone Burnett | Boz Scaggs | Marcia Ball Find out WHY these folks want YOU to join them. The filmmakers of Sir Doug and The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove documentary want the world to know Doug Sahm’s authentic sound, so we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $75K in only 30 days! Please checkout the link below and see how you can support Doug’s legacy.

http://bit.ly/SirDoug

We’re raising the funds needed to license over 40 of Doug Sahm’s hits for our film and it’s going to take the help from ALL of DOUG’s FANS and FRIENDS to get there! Without these funds, we can’t pay for music rights to distribute the film. Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, let’s get him the recognition he deserves in the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME too.

Kickstarter is all or nothing, so please pledge, post, share, and tweet! Regardless of whether you can give, it would mean so much if you could help spread the word

‪#‎KickstartSirDoug‬ ‪#‎RRHOF‬ ‪#‎InductDoug‬ ‪#‎DougSahm‬ ‪#‎SirDoug‬ ‪

Fathers Day : Paul Simon, John Gorka, Seamus Heaney, Slievenamon & My Dad

Fathers and Sons. Sons and Fathers. Sons carry their Father’s in their bloodstream, in their mannerisms and gestures and in the echoing halls of their memories. No matter what you do in life, no matter how radically you roam from where you started you remain in some part of you (in more parts that you usually like to acknowledge) your Father’s son.

The process of becoming a man might be defined as honouring and taking the best from the experiences of your Father’s life while finding through your own experiences the kind of man and Father you want to be yourself.

Coming to terms with your Father, the Son you were and are and the man and Father you have become is the work of a lifetime. A story that’s always unfolding, always being rewritten as you learn more about the man you are and understand more about the man your Father was. Sons, schooled by the abrasive tides of life, sometimes learn to have a certain humility about the easy certainties of their youth as to who their Fathers was and what made him that way. It’s easy to be a Father until you become one.

‘What did I know? What did I know of
Love’s austere and lonely offices?’ (Robert Hayden)

Sons writing about Father’s is one of the great themes of all literature and songwriting because that story is always current, always unfolding, always full to the brim with all that is human in all its bloody and terrible glory. No two stories of Fathers and Sons are the same though most will recognise something of themselves in every story.

Here’s a cry from the soul. Paul Simon’s, ‘Maybe I Think Too Much’ from his aptly titled, ‘Hearts And Bones’ record. Fathers and Sons – Hearts and Bones, Hearts and Bones. Sons never know when they will need to call for their Fathers to appear in their dreams.

‘They say the left side of the brain dominates the right
And the right side has to labor through the long and speechless night
In the night my Father came and held me to his chest.
He said there’s not much more that you can do
Go Home and get some rest.’

The song about Father’s and Sons that grips my heart every time I hear it and which calls to me in the middle of the night is John Gorka’s, ‘The Mercy Of The Wheels’ Forgive the initially muffled sound.

‘I’d like to catch a train that could go back in time
That could make a lot of stops along the way
I would go to see my Father with the eyes he left behind
I would go for all the words I’d like to say
And I ‘d take along a sandwich and a picture of my girl
And show them all that I made out OK’

I miss my Father. My Dad.

I miss the smell of Old Holborn tobacco as he smoked one of his thin roll your own cigarettes.

I miss the days of childhood when I would buy him a pouch of Old Holborn for Father’s Day.

I miss getting up in the middle of the night with him to hear crackly radio commentaries on Muhammad Ali fights.

I miss the early Sunday mornings when we walked to a church two parishes away because he had been advised to walk a lot after his heart attack.

I miss hearing him roar home Lester Piggott as he brought the Vincent O’Brien horse into the lead in The Derby with half a furlong to go!

I miss hearing him say, ‘There’ll never be another like him’ as Jimmy Greaves scored another nonchalant goal for Spurs.

I miss hearing him say, ‘That was a complete waste of electricity’ as he glanced at the TV screen as some worthy drama concluded.

I miss sharing a pot of very, very strong tea with him well before six o clock in the morning – because as anyone with any sense knew the best of the day was gone before most people bothered to open an eye.

I miss sitting with him in easeful silence.

I miss him always expecting me to come top in every exam while always expecting me not to count on that.

I miss his indulgence in Fry’s Chocolate Cream bars.

I miss him saying, ‘You’ll be fine so ..’ whenever I had to face a daunting new challenge in life.

I miss him calling out the names of the men who worked with him on the building sites – Toher and Boucher and O’ Rahilly with me double checking the spellings as we filled out (creatively) the time sheets accounting for every hour of effort in the working week

I miss watching him expertly navigating his way to a green field site not marked on any map to start a new job and then watching him get hopelessly lost a mile from home on a shopping trip

I miss watching his delight as David Carradine in the TV show Kung Fu, unarmed, took on another gang of armed swaggering bullies and reduced them to whimpers in a few moments – ‘You watch he’ll be catching bullets next’.

I miss hearing his wholly unexpected but wholly accurate estimation of Bruce Springsteen’s cultural importance when seeing him featured on a news special when he first came to England: ‘He’ll never be Elvis’

I miss the way he remained a proud Tipperary man and Irishman despite living for more than 40 years in England.

I miss his quiet certainty that there was an after life – a world where Father’s and Sons divided by death could meet again.

I regret not being able to introduce him to the beautiful woman who, amazingly, wanted to be and became my wife.

I regret not watching him watch my Daughter and my Son grow up into their glorious selves.

I regret not watching him enjoying the pleasures of retirement and old age.

I miss alternating between thinking I was nothing like him and thinking I was exactly like him!

I miss the shyness of his smile.

I miss the sound of his voice.

I miss the touch of his leathery hands.

I miss the way he swept his left hand back across his thinning scalp when he was tired (exactly as I do now).

I miss the sound of my name when he said it.

I miss my Dad.

My dad lies in the green pastures of his beloved Tipperary now under the sheltering slopes of Slievenamon (he would never have forgiven me had he been buried anywhere else!) You can almost hear this song echoing in the silence all around him.

I walked many roads with my Father. I’ve walked many miles without him by my side now (though I sometimes feel his presence). I hope I have many miles to walk until I join him again. As I walk I will lean on him as I face the twists, turns and trip hazards ahead, accompanied by the words of
Seamus Heaney:

‘Dangerous pavements … But this year I face the ice with my Father’s stick’

Chris Smither – Killing The Blues on Desolation Row

‘Somebody said they saw me, swinging the world by the tail,
Bouncing over a white cloud – killing the blues’. (Roly Salley)

‘I been left for dead before – but I still fight on
Don’t wait up – Leave the light on, I’ll be home soon’. (Chris Smither)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s groups of earnest, intense young men in the great academic institutions of America began to develop what can only be called an obsession with Afro-American blues music which had been recorded in the pre war period.

Names like Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James began to take on a hallowed and mythical status.

As they endlessly played the few records they could find of these mystery figures from the 1920s and 1930s (to the despair of their room and dorm mates) they wondered: could it be that some 30 or more years after these wondrous sides had been made that these legendary musicians might still be alive and just waiting to be discovered by enterprising young blues scholars?

Scouring record sleeves and song lyrics for clues it occurred to Dick Spottswood and Tom Hoskins that Mississippi John Hurt’s, ‘Avalon Blues’ from his epochal 1928 sessions must surely refer to Avalon Mississippi.

Maybe Mississippi John was still living there!

Entirely oblivious to the esteem he was held in by highly educated white men young enough to be his grandsons.

And, miraculously John Hurt was still living in Avalon and though he had long left the life of a professional musician behind he was delighted to be, ‘Re- Discovered’ and given the chance to bring, ‘Frankie’ and, ‘Candyman’ to life again in coffee houses, the gleaming halls of Harvard and festival stages where the riveting gentleness of his songs, his guitar playing, his vocals and his personality won him tens of thousands of devout new admirers.

An LP of his 1963 Newport performance was issued and this record along with others like Lightning Hopkins, ‘Blues In The Bottle’ became sacred texts for aspiring white bluesmen who practiced the guitar stylings until their fingers bled.

Some of these blues apprentices were able to produce note for note recreations of their heroes great works. However, it soon became clear to the acute among them that just being able to play all the right notes in the right order at the right tempo did not make you a Bluesman.

No, really being able to play the Blues called for a cultural immersion, a sacramental devotion; a process of virtually religious formation that was beyond the desire, the will and the capability of almost all those who imagined that they could walk the walk, talk the talk and play the guitar like those old men had done and it seemed in many cases could still do.

However, there are always exceptions to every rule and always some acolytes who indeed have heard a true call, who have a vocation they are willing and eager to commit themselves to no matter how difficult the path.

The artist celebrated on The Jukebox today, Chris Smither, over a 45 year long career has proved that the call he heard as a teenager in New Orleans was indeed inviting him into a new baptism as an authentic musician who can play the blues or any blues related music with complete authority.

Here he is with his take on Mississippi John’s ‘Frankie and Albert’. The visuals of this live version are shaky but the sound is fine.

It’s charming that Chris starts this virtuoso performance by parodying the stumbling steps of a novice setting out to follow the footsteps of a master.

As you listen it’s clear that Chris Smither has now attained master status himself as he marries thumb, fingers and stamping foot to attain and maintain a grove, the Groove, which will win and hold the attention of the audience as the eternal tale of faithless love and its terrible consequences unwinds.

Chris Smither’s first instrument was the Ukelele and perhaps that goes some way to explain his fleet fingers and fluid touch as he plays the guitar. Add in his bedrock bass lines provided by a calloused thumb and the accents provided by his Italian loafers (thin soled, heavy heeled) stomping on a wooden board and you have a one man orchestra!

As, ‘Frankie’ progresses I hear a Super Chief locomotive speeding through the waving prairies sending light and sound streaming into our eyes, our ears and our hearts.

Chris Smither a fine songwriter himself with a wry, laconic style has throughout his career taken songs from his contemporaries and illuminated their depths through the scrupulous attention he brings to their strengths and a commitment to finding his own key to the heart of a song in his guitar style, choice of tempo and vocal tone.

Listen to him here take on one of Bob Dylan’s most extravagant masterpieces, ‘Desolation Row’ and make it his own with this gorgeously sardonic, rheumy eyed version.

Desolation Row might be described as a tour d’horizon of the madness of America in the mid 1960s or a glimpse into the head full of ideas surging through Bob Dylan’s brain at the time (lots of room for overlap there!).

Chris Smither strips away the bravura of Bob’ s performance and sings the song like a long time resident on Desolation Row who knows Cinderella well, has suffered the nightsticks of the riot squad and is used to the sounds of the ambulances echoing in the night.

Chris Smither is a troubadour who lives his life on the road travelling light from town to town bringing a treasury of song in his knapsack.

He’s a great live performer because he is able to surrender himself to the songs he plays trusting that all the hours of living with the material and his instrument will allow him to just play and let the work flow.

Watching Chris Smither play amounts to a seminar in the psychological concept of flow. The emotional heart of the songs he plays are channeled and directed, released in all their vibrant energy to touch his audience.

Time seems to be suspended, speeded up or slowed down according to the demands of the song in hand. Meanwhile his hands, thumb and fingers go where they are meant to go, where they must go, without any seeming effort or glances in the mirror.

The sorrow, the joy, the wisdom and the rapture locked in great songs are released to bloom in our imaginations.

Below, you’ll find yourself holding your breath as Chris suspends time as he performs Peter Case’s wonderful song, ‘Cold Trail Blues’.

I love the way Chris begins the song at the slowest possible ambulant tempo. The whole songs proceeds like a dream like serenade where the everyday rules of time no longer apply.

The guitar lines and the vocal seems to be like smoke drifting into the sky towards a bright but cold and distant moon. The very act of playing the song seems to be a demonstration of that hope against hope that all hope is not lost.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the chances of love and a life worth living again have not been absolutely left too far, too far behind.

Chris Smither has had his struggles with life. For much of the 1970s he was mired in alcoholism and is thus no stranger to the physical and emotional ditches by the side of the broad highway of life.

Returning, chastened, to that highway he has written songs imbued with hard won, though never bitter wisdom. Many of his songs are honest, measured reports from the emotional battlefields we all visit from time to time.

In, ‘Leave The Light On’ he hymns the lure of home as only a man who has spent half his lifetime absent from home can.

The song offers reassurance that we can learn from the defeats and the self inflicted wounds of this bruising life and find a kind of blessed peace if we pay attention.

Perhaps this last song, Roly Salley’s ‘Killing The Blues’ most aptly demonstrates Chris Smither’s ability to play a song in its platonic perfection.

This is surely one of those songs handed to its writer directly from the heavenly home of the songwriting muse. How else to explain a song so immediately a truthful discovery as well as a reminder of a truth we have all always known.

There have been many fine version of this song song but none anywhere near Chris Smither here. The song in this performance flows sweetly and surely like an an ancient river to the endlessly welcoming sea.

Chris Smither casts spells and enchants us. One of the great tasks of a musician using rhythm, melody and line is to take us out of our everyday world and take us to a place, a still space, where we can realign our hearts and minds and find again our true direction. That’s a task Chris Smither has carried out with devotion and distinction.

Finally to show the measure of Chris Smither’s vocation as a musician here’s his answer to the question, ‘Do you remember learning (Mississippi John Hurt’s) Candyman?

‘I’m still learning it!’

Recommended Recordings:

There are enormous pleasures contained in every record Chris Smither has ever made. My personal favourites are:

‘Another Way to Find You’ (Live)
‘Live As I’ll Ever Be’ (Live!)
‘It Ain’t Easy’
‘Small Revelations’

There is an excellent tribute album to Chris, ‘Link Of Chain’ featuring Mary Gauthier and Dave Alvin among many other roots music luminaries.

Chris Smither is well represented on YouTube and I especially like the ‘Extended Play’ clip.

Louis Prima : Let’s Have A Party!!

You know him. We all know him. You know who I mean. The Guy. That Guy. You met him at school, at college, or you met him at work or at what in your glory days was your favourite bar. He might have been your uncle or your dad’s best buddy – call him Eddie or Tom or Mike. That guy – the walking, talking, laughing, crying, joking, catalytic, charismatic, party starting Guy! Yes, that Guy.

Might be years since you’ve seen him but you can still remember and spin the stories: ‘What about the time he … And would have got arrested if the cop hadn’t had him singing at his wedding!’

Well, Show Business and the music industry is heavily populated with those Guys – it comes with the territory of exposing yourself by getting up on stage for an audience to judge just how good you are or indeed if you’re any good at all.

And, of all those Guys, of all those Guys, the Guy who stands out for me as the most catalytic and charismatic; the most guaranteed to start the party you can never forget was Louis Prima. Let’s have a Party!

To start the party a recording from Louis’ great period with Capitol Records in the late 1950s when he produced a fountain of hits that had crowds jumping, jiving and wailing all across the world (but most especially in Las Vegas where he had legendary residencies at the Sahara and the Desert Inn).

Well, that has all the fun of the circus! Louis sells this operatic paean to love under the moon and stars of Naples with a mixture of genuine romanticism and sheer show biz pizazz. Often in Prima performances he seems to wind up like a baseball pitcher deciding, seemingly in the moment, whether to throw the fastball, the change up or the curve according to his own mood or the mood he senses coming across the footlights from the audience (and even in the studios Louis Prima always played to the audience).

The distinctive shuffle beat that is at the heart of Louis’ 50s sound is augmented by a wailing sax curtesy of bandleader and right and left hand man Sam Butera and by an assortment of hortatory foot stomps and handclaps. Now that I think of it Louis Prima may just be the most musically hortatory performer who ever lived!

I imagine that among the audience listening to this song will have been many former WW2 GIs who had indeed found love under the moon and stars of Naples. Some who brought brides home must have smiled at the memory of those Mediterranean nights and some who decided to return to the sweetheart waiting at home must have smiled more ruefully as they remembered the girl they left beside the beautiful Bay of Naples.

Louis Prima started out in New Orleans imbibing the spirit of Jazz in the cradle of the music. But, like so many others it was in the Big Apple in the mid/late 1930s that his career took off both as the dynamic live performer who could sell out theatres in both the white and the black communities and as a recording artist. It was in New York in 1936 that he wrote and recorded, ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ which in the version by Benny Goodman would become an iconic Jazz standard.

Louis, notwithstanding Italy’s Axis status during WW2, continued to record and have hits with songs celebrating Italian-American life during the course of the war. ‘Angelina’ may well have introduced many rural Americans to terms like,’Pizzeria’ and ‘Pasta’. Few, however would have needed dictionaries to get the point of, ‘Please No Squeeze Da Banana’ or ‘Bacci Galupe (Made Love On The Stoop).

Post war Louis struggled to maintain a big band along with his stable of horses and alimony payments to a string of ex-wives. Key developments that would lead to his renaissance as a big league performer were his meeting with the 17 year old singer(and soon to be wife number 4) Keely Smith in 1948 (when Louis was 37) and his hiring of Sam Butera as band leader and arranger for his Vegas residencies and for his recordings with Capitol. Buttera, a fluent, no nonsense tenor sax player had a great instinct for songs and arrangements that would suit Louis Prima’s crowd pleasing genius.

It was Sam Butera who had the inspired idea to mash-up the songs, ‘Just A Gigolo’ and, ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ to create a matchless vehicle for Louis Prima’s overwhelming ebullience. The live version below features what can only be called a burlesque performance with Louis clowning and mugging like a solid-gone hep cat. The band and the sometimes bewildered Keely do their best to keep up and echo their leader as he plays with the song, them and the audience.

Louis could tone things down on record as you can hear in his and Keeley’s hit duet on Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s evergreen romantic classic, ‘That Old Black Magic’ which won a Grammy Best Song in 1959. I still think you can insert an imaginary exclamation mark after every line sung by Louis but it does not to my mind distract from a fine recording which showcases a cool Keely vocal.

The late 50s and early 60s were golden days for Louis (despite splitting with Keeley in 1960) as he hit peak form as a live performer while recording several excellent sets for Capitol. He was, of course, hit by the tsunami of The Beatles appearance on the scene and it might have seemed that his days as an artist of note were numbered. Louis reacted by continuing as a considerable live draw and by setting up his own record label.

Then by one of those quirks of fate beyond all analysis Louis found himself right back in the spotlight with an enormous hit through the unlikeliest of collaborators – Walt Disney! Louis had recorded Mary Poppins and Robin Hood LPs and a Winnie The Pooh theme before he scored a great triumph with his movie stealing performance of the Sherman Brothers’, ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ as the voice of the Orangutang, ‘King Louie’ in the film, ‘The Jungle Book’.

With the assistance of Phil Harris, voicing the character of Baloo the Bear, Louis lays down a classic performance that still stirs young and old some 50 years after it was recorded. I love the way the song builds slowly, beginning almost drowsily and the way Louis takes such care in enunciating the lyric.

I remember first hearing this song as an 11 year old at the cinema and being thrilled by the abandon of the characters to rhythm, to the beat! I also remember that even on the way out of the cinema some bright sparks had already memorised the song and gave stentorian performances with exaggerated simian antics to puzzled passers by going about their Saturday morning shopping. That defines an instant classic pretty well for me!

Louis Prima never gave up performing – how could he? It was oxygen and ambrosia for him. Louis died, after three years in a coma on 24 August 1978. He had lived a big-hearted, generous, big life. Louis packed an enormous amount of music and joy into his 67 years.

SING UP LOUIS! SING UP!

Louis Prima! Now that was some Guy!

Recommended Recordings:

‘The Wildest’ (Capitol 1958)

‘The Widest Comes Home!’ (Capitol 1962)

‘Lake Tahoe Prima Style’ (Live on Capitol 1962)

There is also a valuable film documentary, ‘The Wildest’ from 1999 which shows Louis in unstoppable full flow.

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