Famed Jazzman Sam Butera Remembered Saxophonist Sam Butera died Wednesday. Along with Louis Prima, he was a major force in the development of the Las Vegas lounge music scene in the 1950s. Butera arranged many of Prima's classics, including "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" and "Jump, Jive & Wail."
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Famed Jazzman Sam Butera Remembered

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Famed Jazzman Sam Butera Remembered

Famed Jazzman Sam Butera Remembered

Famed Jazzman Sam Butera Remembered

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Saxophonist Sam Butera died Wednesday. Along with Louis Prima, he was a major force in the development of the Las Vegas lounge music scene in the 1950s. Butera arranged many of Prima's classics, including "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" and "Jump, Jive & Wail."

JACKI LYDEN, host:

A giant of the Las Vegas lounge music scene died this past week, and while you might not recognize the name, you know that blow.

(Soundbite of song, "Jump, Jive, And Wail")

Mr. LOUIS PRIMA (Singer): (Singing) Baby, baby, it looks likes it's going to hail…

LYDEN: Sam Butera played sax for Louis Prima's lounge act in the 1950s through the '70s. Butera and The Witnesses kept the beat while Prima howled and danced and clowned around like a crazy wind-up toy with some of the biggest names in Hollywood packing the audience. The combo earned their reputation as the wildest show in Vegas.

Mr. PHIL DIRE (Musician): Sam was the heartbeat of that whole act.

LYDEN: Phil DiRe joined Sam Butera's band in 1977.

Mr. DIRE: Louis was the front guy, but Sam was the backbone of the whole musical thing. Sam was the guy that had it all organized. I think that Sam was the guy that made Louis famous.

(Soundbite of song, "Jump, Jive, And Wail")

Mr. PRIMA: Papa's in the ice box looking for a can of ale. Papa's in the ice box looking for a can of ale. Mama's in the backyard learning how to jive and wail. Oh, you've got to…

LYDEN: Born in New Orleans in 1927, young Sam Butera soaked up the city's jazz scene. That was his passion until he was recruited to join Louis Prima in a last-ditch effort to save his career, booked to play the lounge at the Sahara in Las Vegas.

The day after Christmas, 1954, the duo took to the stage for the first time and created mayhem. For the next two decades, Butera jumped and jived, Prima wailed, and that wild-eyed exuberance on stage sometimes obscured Butera's technical skill.

Mr. DIRE: He had full control of the saxophone. He told me, he says, you know, you can't sell this and look like you're having a lot of fun when you're worried about what you're going to do. So, you have to be a perfectionist. And it showed when he got up there and performed because he was flawless. His sense of rhythm and sound was as good as anybody that I've ever heard, and I listened to everybody.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: Sam Butera was more than just a sax-man, though. He was the principal arranger of just about all of Louis Prima's music. Phil DiRe says that Butera is the one who brought the tempo to Louis Prima's swing.

Mr. DIRE: He has that New Orleans approach to his music that just carried through to all of his things. And nothing was ever written. They never had a written arrangement. It was always things that just worked out in rehearsal, and Sam would say, okay, let's try this - boom, boom boom, boom - and the bass player would fill in, and that's the way things were created.

(Soundbite of song, "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody")

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) I'm just a gigolo, and everywhere I go, people know the part I'm playing.

LYDEN: Sam Butera's collaborations with Louis Prima ended when Prima fell into a coma following brain surgery in 1975. Prima died three years later, but Butera carried on. He formed his own band to try to keep the legacy going. And a funny thing happened. Decades after the Las Vegas lounge scene had all but folded, popular artists began reviving the sound.

(Soundbite of song, "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody")

Mr. DAVID LEE ROTH (Singer): (Singing) I'm just a gigolo, and everywhere I go, people know the part he's playing.

LYDEN: That's David Lee Roth from 1985. This cover reached number 12 on the pop charts, and as Sam Butera told the Las Vegas Sun, he never got a dime out if it. Again, Phil DiRe.

Mr. DIRE: He never got the accolades. He absolutely never did. You know, you take "Just a Gigolo" when it came out, not only did they use his arrangement, but they mimicked his saxophone solo note for note.

(Soundbite of song, "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody")

Mr. DIRE: It was like a stamp. And Sam says, wow. He says, at least give me some credit here.

LYDEN: Sam Butera continued to perform until 2003. Phil DiRe was a part of that band for five years. He got to see firsthand how Butera affected people's lives.

Mr. DIRE: He had more friends. We traveled around this country day after day after day, and no matter where we went, go into a club, you know, any kind of a music club where this kind of stuff would happen and mention Sam Butera, and he had hundreds, thousands of friends, and he (unintelligible) one of them. He was a good guy.

LYDEN: Sam Butera died Wednesday at the age of 81. This is a duet from 1957 called "There'll Be No Next Time," featuring Butera singing along with his old friend, Louis Prima.

(Soundbite of song, "There'll Be No Next Time")

Mr. SAM BUTERA (Musician): (Singing) I saw this stranger leave my past, and this made me awful sad.

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) I don't blame you.

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) But in the meantime, I was getting real mad.

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) You had a right to.

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) And I said baby, what explanation do you have?

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) What she said?

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) She said, hmm, next time. I said there'll be no next time. That was the last time for me.

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) You told her right, and I'm very proud of you.

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) Then I grabbed my hat, and I headed for the door.

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) Yeah, don't, don't, don't come back here.

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) I knew I wouldn't be back there no more.

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) You're doing the right thing, Sam.

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) I walked the landlord, a real cool gent.

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) Well, what did he say?

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) He said, hey, Sam, how about the rent?

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) Now, what you told him?

Mr. BUTERA: (Singing) I said, hmm, next time.

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