Sam Butera died yesterday. He was born on August 17th, 1927 in New Orleans. Best known for his tenure with Louis Prima, he held his own after Prima's death in 1975, and continued to play with his band, The Wildest, mostly in casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno and Mississippi.
He music career began auspiciously in New Orleans where his father owned a grocery store. By the time he was eighteen he had won a contest, "Outstanding Teenage Musician in America", sponsored by Look Magazine. He was playing in Leon Prima's Bourbon Street club, The 500, when Louis Prima offered him the gig in Vegas. Butera was reportedly making $700 a week playing jazz and backing strippers, most notably Lily (or Lili) Christine the Cat Girl. Prima offered him $250, and Butera flew west, no doubt sensing greater opportunites, despite the pay cut.
Pictures of Lily
He arranged Prima's hits, including "Just a Gigolo" and "Jump. Jive, and Wail", and was known for his over- the- top stage antics and indefatigable tenor sax playing.
He was also a connoisseur of New Orleans' black R n' B scene, and according to Irving Banister, Danny White's guitarist, used to frequent Danny's performances at the Safari Club. "Danny saw him in Vegas," says Irving, " and Butera had all Danny's stage moves."
Here's a video from Daily Motion featuring Louis Prima, a deadpan Keely Smith and Sam. I believe that's Nick Tosches introducing it. If it's not, please let me know.
Louis Prima - Sam Butera - Night Train
A true son of the Big Easy, Butera was one of those only- in- New- Orleans Italian soul men, like his long time partner Louis Prima, who brought a native two- step beat to his R n' B, idolized Louis Armstrong, hated David Lee Roth and swung like a crazy man right to the end.