Louis Prima, When you're smiling

The Prime of Prima, the Best of Louis Prima and Keely Smith

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But Louis Prima Jr. did not start out emulating his father.

He would orchestrate an entire show with his hands, down to the smallest detail, and throw himself into the show. "Louis Prima: The Wildest, " a 1999 documentary now available on DVD, shows him with his big band, air-drumming furiously, keeping pace with his drummer. Always, he emphasized his Italian heritage and his hometown.

In his "Louis Prima" biography, newly reprinted in paperback, writer Garry Boulard argues that critics who dismissed Prima as an "entertainer" rather than a "musician" misunderstood his motives. "For Louis, like his hero Louis Armstrong, music was simply a means of conveying a joyful spirit, of interpreting a comic soul, " Boulard writes.

Video: Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses turn up the heat

Dancing to Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses. Video by Berit Ollestad

Forces much larger than Louis Prima forever altered popular culture in the early 1960s. The British Invasion rendered the likes of Prima, Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett yesterday’s news. The major record labels stopped returning his calls.

So the irrepressible Prima formed his own label. At the time, he and Gia lived outside Vegas in an area called Paradise Valley, on the old highway to Los Angeles. He installed an office and recording studio on their 70-acre spread on Warm Springs Road and launched Prima Magnagroove Records in 1963. He, Butera and the Witnesses recorded the "Angelina, " "The New Sounds of the Louis Prima Show" and "Just a Gigolo" albums there, among others.