Thursday, June 4, 2009

Remembering Sam Butera

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 7:35 PM

Music journalists near and far are mourning yesterday’s passing of Sam Butera, Louis Prima’s saxophonist sideman and praised secret weapon, who died in Las Vegas’ Sunrise Hospital from complications with pneumonia at age 81.

Keith Spera’s comprehensive Times-Picayune eulogy details Butera’s early days in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward and, later, his gig backing exotic dancers on Bourbon Street as a 14-year-old “human jukebox.” Jerry Fink of the Las Vegas Sun relates several choice quotes from Gia Maione, Prima’s widow and co-vocalist, who stayed close to Butera and wife Vera since Prima’s death in 1978. (In an odd, sad twist, Maione tells of how Vera Butera is herself in recovery after being hit by a truck this week while visiting Sam in the hospital.) And in an affectionate remembrance, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Mike Weatherford writes, “It's impossible to know how many people shook hands with Butera as he capped each set with his signature sign-off song, ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,’ leading his band on a snake dance around the cocktail tables with a beaming smile.”

Butera retired in 2004, but members of his Wildest Band — including singer/drummer Bob Ruggiero and original trumpeter Kevin Norton — continued on, performing tributes to Prima and Butera on national and international tours. As of today, the band’s itinerary reveals no upcoming dates.

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