They buried Sam Butera in Las Vegas this weekend, giving Gabriel the one saxophonist who could make a heavenly band swing like the devil. Darkly handsome, Uncle Sam died earlier this month — a footnote for many in the musical world but a noted loss for anyone who knew where rock and roll really began.
Butera, 81, tenor played sax behind Louis Prima, a combination rivaled in our generation only by The Boss and the Big Man. He helped make Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue, and the latest incarnation of Brian Setzer possible.
If you don’t believe me, go to YouTube or dig up few Prima classics: “Buona Sera,” “Jump, Jive An’ Wail,” or “5 Months, Two Weeks, Two Days.” Listen, in particular, especially to “Oh, Marie,” where Prima scats in English and Italian — and Butera matches him note-for-note.
Butera wasn’t just a pillar of Prima’s incredible ensemble, known as the Witnesses. He brought crowds accustomed to smoky lounge acts playing bebop and tired standards to their feet at the Sahara in Vegas, with a blistering style that bridged the gap between western swing and jump blues, not to mention a smile wide as the stage. Keep reading→