The Capitol Recordings
This excellent eight-disc Bear Family box celebrates Louis Prima's Capitol Recordings of the '50s and '60s. Since his wife and comedic foil Keely Smith and Sam Butera and the Witnesses (Prima's ace backing unit) both recorded as solo acts during this period, they're exhaustively represented by this box as well. The first three discs cover all of Prima's studio sides and starts up the live recordings with the 1962 Harrah's Club in Tahoe sides, while disc four covers all of the seminal live tracks from 1957 and 1958. Discs five and six are the complete Keely Smith solo recordings, while the last two round up all the sides by Sam Butera and the Witnesses. The truly amazing thing about the 199 (!!!) tracks collected here is how little of it is unissued material. Even if Prima cut some duds now and then, it's pretty wild that Capitol used up damn near every last thing the man ever committed to magnetic tape, such was the high quality of rockin' mayhem he was laying down. And rock it does, all of it infested with much good humor along with Prima's and Butera's other contribution to big-beat mania, the invention of the Vegas shuffle, a loping beat that could be sped up to almost double tempo on any given number. This effect -- the solid core of Prima's rockin' groove -- is best heard on tracks like "When You're Smiling/The Sheik of Araby," and the later version from the Hey Boy! Hey Girl! movie soundtrack of "Oh Marie" (stupendous in the scattin' and honkin' exchange between Prima and Butera), "Basin Street Blues/When It's Sleepy Time Down South," and, of course, "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," the track that David Lee Roth brought to the charts in the '80s. The duets with Keely Smith ("I've Got You Under My Skin," "That Old Black Magic") and Sam Butera (Richard Berry's "Next Time") are here to savor as well and it's all very fine, indeed. After four discs of Prima's wild-ass genius, the next two of Smith with big-band backings from Nelson Riddle and Billy May will seem sedate by comparison, but they're '50s-style Capitol tracks with their own charm. Great tunes and arrangements, plus the inclusion of her duets with Frank Sinatra makes a nice bonus highlight. The final two discs of Sam Butera come much closer to Prima's rockin' slant on things, with rocked-up jazz classics and R&B tunes galore keeping the party goin' all night long. Needless to say, if you're a Louis Prima fan bordering on fanatic, this is the one to have.