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Studio Time: La Bamba, Tom Waits, and Southside Johnny

Pacific Records, March 12th, 2021

Back in 2006, when I was young and cool, I had the chance to play with some rock icons and it was one of the greatest times of my life. Richie Rosenberg, famously known as La Bamba, starred as trombonist and bandleader on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and was a longtime member of Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes.

Over the next fews years I played a few gigs with La Bamba and the Hubcaps, and then started playing with Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, which took the rock element to another level. Along with Bruce Springsteen, Southside is a godfather of Jersey rock and paved the way for bands like Bon Jovi. Former band members include Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Van Zandt, Earl Gardner, Mark Pender, and countless others. He's a master showman, writer and singer.

My favorite memory of playing with Southside Johnny was my first gig with the band up at Mohegan Sun Casino. La Bamba called me several months before and said I needed to have the show memorized. I’d memorized concertos so the memorization didn’t scare me - what scared me was that Southside called the show from any of his albums, and I didn’t get the trombone book until a week before the show! I memorized maybe 20 of the biggest hits, and in a masterful fit of being a young, green trombonist, I went to his manager’s dressing room before the gig and gave him a list of the tunes I’d learned.

The gig actually went well, and halfway through, while the band vamped he got on the mic and introduced the band. He got to me and I think the first thing he said was a crack on my green striped shirt. Then… “This guy only knows 20 tunes! What do I do with 20 tunes!?” Then he called me up to the front of the stage, and like a deer in headlights, I walked up and just started blowing. I know he wasn’t expecting that, and I don’t know what he did because I couldn’t see him but a few minutes later he tapped me on the shoulder and I walked back to the horn section. I must have been red as a beet.

Then a year or so later, La Bamba called to say he was arranging an album of Tom Waits tunes for Southside featuring his big band, and that Tom would be guesting on a few tracks. I wore my copy of Rain Dogs out and thought this was the greatest gig call I’d ever gotten. Recording that album was incredible. Shawn Pelton on drums, Mike Meritt on bass, Scott Healy on piano, and Glenn Alexander on guitar made a rhythm section that was a force of nature. Jersey Shore legends Frank Elmo and Timmy Cappello in the sax section, and Pender on lead trumpet led the band through Richie’s writing.

The album turned out great, and it’s one of the few albums I’ve been on that I listen to regularly. Tom Waits sang on several tracks, which I'll forever consider a tattoo on my soul. Part of the CD release was a live performance we did on Conan O’Brien, and the guest that night was Willie Nelson.

Glad to be a part of it, and glad to see it getting a fresh lap on the track.


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