Smith Recalls Prima Years

Nostalgia was in full bloom on Wednesday at the House of Blues, when veteran singer Keely Smith, backed by Frank Capp's Juggernaut big band, made a high-voltage appearance before a packed room full of swing enthusiasts.

Why all the attention for Smith, whose reputation traces almost exclusively to her mid-'50s small-band, Vegas-style routine with singer-trumpeter Louis Prima? Since only a tiny percentage of the audience appeared old enough to have experienced Smith and Prima firsthand, the only explanation is the growing impact of the current swing revival (although some undoubtedly recalled David Lee Roth's 1985 copycat version of the duo's hit blending of "I Ain't Got Nobody" and "Just a Gigolo").

Smith, 66, reminisced about both her marriage to Prima and her professional association with him, with the aid of video clips. But she devoted most of her hourlong set to a run-through of some of their hit recordings--"I Ain't Got Nobody," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "That Old Black Magic," "When You're Smiling" and numerous others. Although Smith's musical accuracy was not always up to the level of her younger years, the powerful drive of the Capp aggregation more than compensated for her occasionally slippery pitch.

What was missing, of course, was Prima. Their partnership was built around an interaction in which Smith, with her severe, close-cropped hairdo and poker-face demeanor, played the occasionally acerbic straight woman to Prima's ebullient gregariousness. It was, in fact, so successful a combination that it was duplicated, almost precisely, a decade later by Sonny & Cher. Smith recalled some of those qualities in her renderings of tunes that usually were sung by Prima, and the memories were further enhanced by both the videos and a backdrop containing large images of the pair in action.

To her credit, Smith, in her post-Prima career (he died in 1978, more than a decade after they were divorced) has become an effective solo entertainer, largely abandoning the stoic persona of the Prima partnership. And she was at her best at the House of Blues when her own effervescent personality tapped into the swing revival--most notably via a rollicking interaction with her audience on "When the Saints Go Marching In."

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