ALBUM TITLE: The Wildest!
ARTIST NAME: Louis Prima
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1956
Holly: Night Train
Kelly: Just a Gigolo
The Wildest! was recorded in April 1956 and released by Capitol Records in November of that same year. The album features Prima with his wife of the time and performance partner Keely Smith, as well as saxophonist Sam Butera and a further combo of 5. At the time Prima and his act had a long standing gig at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Capitol wanted to try and capture Prima’s performance personality and charisma on tape. Prima and company were the biggest act in the city at the time and took 2 days to record the 32 minute record.
The album was considered innovative at the time for mixing early rock and roll, jump blues and jazz, and is also considered Prima’s crowning achievement with Allmusic noting it ‘rocked as hard as anything released at the time’.
Louis Leo Prima was born in New Orleans Louisiana on December 7, 1910. His mother was a music lover who insisted all 4 of her children learn to play an instrument. Louis started on violin, but became interested in jazz when he started listening to musicians such as Louis Armstrong. He started teaching himself cornet when his brother Leon left the instrument at the house and started playing in bands at school.
Prima’s early years as a professional musician were hit or miss. He moved from New Orleans to New York to play gigs there, but at his first gig he was turned away as the club owner thought he was Black (his family is Italian). He returned to New Orleans and recorded some tunes for the Brunswick label, then moved to California to expand his musical repertoire. He continued touring around the US for the next few years, gaining more and more traction until 1939 when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended one of his performances and invited him to play at her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s birthday celebration. Prima’s career skyrocketed after that, and he was able to pull big money for his band’s performances.
1954 is when things really changed for Prima. He opened in a new act in Las Vegas with performer Keely Smith and signed a contract with Capitol Records in 1955, which culminated with the release of The Wildest! in September 1956. Prima continued to churn out albums (as well as infidelities and divorces) through the rest of the 1950s and 1960s, with a highlight of voice acting the animated orangutan King Louie in Disney’s The Jungle Book in 1967.
Prima suffered a heart attack in 1973, followed by a brain stem tumour and a cerebral hemorrhage which saw him fall into a coma for 3 year and pass away on August 24th, 1978 aged 67.
Prima was married 5 times. His 2nd wife didn’t even know he had a daughter until she saw it on a tax return.
Prima’s crypt features an inscription from Just a Gigolo (from The Wildest!), reading ‘When the end comes, I know, they’ll say ‘just a gigolo’ as life goes on without me’.
Ok, before I start my review part of this blog, I’d like to mention that Kelly and I take turns doing the research on each song and album. This is the 4th album in our series and I’ve had the depressing job of researching In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning and Tragic Songs of Life, while Kelly gets early Elvis and now Louis Prima. I don’t even want to look at what’s next for me!
This is a great change of pace from Tragic Songs of Life, though! Louis Prima is a fun listen and this album was a great combination of songs I know, new versions of standards I know, and songs that were totally new to me. One of the great surprises of this album as a whole was the ballads. Louis Prima is known for his fun, high energy tunes, but it was a treat to hear Body and Soul and Night Train get the Louis Prima treatment.
The band is energetic and tight, and Prima’s trumpet playing is clear and strong. Saxophonist Sam Butera influenced a whole ton of jazz, pop, and rock saxophonists for decades after this recording, because of his solid sound, with that gratey edge to it. He plays with a very in your face, confrontational style and tone that was different from what a lot of the mellow tenor players from that time were doing.
One of the things that was most striking about the album as a whole, especially after the first four albums we’ve listened to is the variety of styles, different singers, and different instruments being featured all on one album. The previous three albums were all songs painted with the same brush, and this variety of sounds really made the album an interesting listen for me.
As far as favourite songs go on this album, I have a few. First is Just a Gigolo. I know it’s the Louis Prima song that everyone knows, but it really is a great song, full of energy, and Louis sings it so well. I also enjoyed Oh Marie. I love the rock and roll tenor sax, the Dixie brass section at the end, and just the fun, rolicking vibe of the song. And another notable track is Night Train. It’s a really unexpected version of the song, slow, dirty, in your face, with the drums and piano chunking away in triplets, and Sam Butera doing his thing. I also love the unexpected ways they play with time in this one, and little trickley bits of piano going on. Ok, and just one more – Body and Soul as a trombone solo is great, beautiful trombone playing, and the trombonist quotes The Peanut Vendor at the end, which was fun!
All in all, this album was a really fun listen. I enjoyed the whole album overall, and would listen again!
What a FUN listen! My first encounter with Louis Prima was as the voice of King Louis from Disney’s The Jungle Book, especially the song I Wanna Be Like You, so I was super excited to listen to this album because I didn’t know much about his non-Disney work.
Listening to this album and doing the research on it made me imagine sitting in a booth in a lounge in 1950s Las Vegas with some daddy-o in his zoot suit watching, sipping Manhattans and watching Louis Prima’s show! I think they did a really good job of capturing those live show vibes in this album, and Prima sounds like he’s having a great time and so does the band. It does remind me a lot of the swing phase in the late 1990s that the Gap brought to the mainstream with their swing khakis commercial.
I really like the sound of the band on this album too. They and the background singers are tight and locked in. It doesn’t sound like Louis was a terrible taskmaster, so it makes me think that the band just really liked sounding good and playing well together. Louis Prima’s trumpet playing is perfect for the album, especially during the song The Lip, where he shows off this playful side. I’ll talk more about the trombone playing a little later, and I will definitely leave talking about saxophonist Sam Butera to Dr. Saxo-Holly.
Just A Gigolo is the first track AND my favourite of the album. It’s so iconic and I can’t help but sing along with the background singers. My favourite part of the song though is that crunchy chord on the word “I” that the voices lock into after Prima’s little “cause”. I would say a close second for my favourite track is Body and Soul. Done as a trombone solo, I was actually surprised at how much I liked it, because I normally don’t super love the sound of the trombone, but the way this one is played, especially with this song, just works so well. I mostly know Night Train as performed by James Brown and his Famous Flames, so it was cool to hear this different, slower version! I’m also familiar with Jump Jive and Wail, which sounds like every other version of that song, and I would say that it’s the throw away track of the record.
All in all, this record is fun and super danceable! I’m adding it to my Discogs wish list.
Average grade out of 10:
Link to the album on Spotify: