PopMatters Editor & Publisher
There’s no sign of an end to Louis Prima mania, but just for the record, few are more deserving of the overdue appreciation. By now, I’m assuming most folks have picked up the Capitol Collectors Series disc (the one with the bright yellow cover and the kitchsy, surprised-looking mug shot of the Vegas swing king). That record is an undoubted 10 all the way, but if you’re like everyone else I know, that lone compilation is not nearly enough.
So here we have Wild, Cool ‘N Swingin’, a two disc set from Prima’s best-known, hit-making years with Capitol, that includes a spate of tracks from the Collectors Series, but at least 20 others besides. Essentials missing from the earlier release, but thankfully added here, include: Sam Butera’s driving sax on “O Solo Mio,” the uproariously funny Italian camp of “Felicia no Capicia,” and the always-entertaining and salacious interplay between Prima and Keely Smith on “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me/I’m in the Mood for Love.”
Digging even deeper into the rich Prima archives, Hip-O has unearthed a treasure trove of pre-Capitol, 1950’s Mercury and Decca recordings. Contrary to popular belief, Prima had his patented blend of Dixieland, jump blues and swing down pat before his Las Vegas years in the mid-1950s and before saxophonist Sam Butera joined the band. It’s just that these earlier bands didn’t swing and rock with the same reckless, and ultimately timeless, abandon as when he had Butera and the Witnesses in the fold.
Still, Beepin’ & Boppin’ is an essential purchase for all Prima and swing fans with its collection of classics (“Over the Rainbow” and Buona Sera”), New Orleans party tunes (“Ai-Ai-Ai” and “Ja-Da”) and Italian comedy (“The Manuelo Tarantel”). An added bonus is that you get to hear far more of Prima’s terribly-underrated trumpet playing on these earlier recordings.