Saturday, October 11, 2014

HARRY PRIME: THE LAST BIG BAND SINGER

I am not sure if I am correct, but I do believe that singer Harry Prime is one of the last big band singers left. He is a survivor of a forgotten era of popular music that should be remembered and honored for its originality and greatness. At the age of 95, Harry recently performed on September 24, 2014!

Harry Prime doesn’t let anyone pull anything over on him and he doesn’t forget a friend. Both poles of his personality were on display at his dinner show at the Epicure Cafe on September 24th. And, oh yeah, he can still sing.

Some people go to Harry’s shows to hear about Grace Kelly or the picture postcard stories from the good old days. And Harry doesn’t disappoint. He can spin a clean, upbeat tale as well as anyone, evoking the old neighborhood with the same precision as he croons the rolling bass notes of Summer Wind.

But we go to his shows for the scrappier, funny, and sometimes profane stories about growing up in East Falls, living on the road when he was a singer in a big band, and what life is like when you’re pushing 95.

Harry has often said that life on the road in the 40s and 50s was a series of mostly “less drunk and completely drunk” nights, but when he told the story of the gabardine jacket to the Epicure crowd, it offered a peek into the craziness of a crowded touring bus full of “vipers (pot smokers) and drinkers.”


In the late 40s, Harry had begun to earn real money working for the Ralph Flanagan Orchestra and one day rewarded himself with a new gabardine coat. “The coat was beautiful,” he said, “with epaulets on the shoulders.” He hung it at the back of the bus as the orchestra rolled on to its next destination on the tour. When they arrived, he found the coat dripping wet and smelling of urine, with one pocket still brimming.

“It’s always the sax players,” said Harry, as he explained the drunk who’d relieved himself at Harry’s expense. He settled the score shortly afterward, with only one complaint from orchestra leader Ralph Flanagan—“Couldn’t you have hit him in the gut, not the mouth?” Flanagan couldn’t afford a sax player with a banged-up mouth.

The crowd at the Epicure roared with laughter as Harry launched into the next song without a pause.

At another pause, we saw Harry’s softer, more sentimental side as he spoke about “his great friend” Ron Astle, who’d moved away to Florida over a year ago. He remembered how they’d first met years ago, with Ron giving Harry a CD of Harry’s songs.

He also spoke fondly about their partnership at previous Epicure performances, with Ron playing background tracks while Harry sang. We could hear a hint of sorrow in his voice as he told the story about Ron moving away, a slight tremor in that weathered baritone. And he wasn’t the only emotional one there. Not bad for a 95 year old crooner...


 

7 comments:

  1. Harry's still performing in local venues at 94...amazing! Not ready for the Geezer Music Club. Bless him!

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    1. I found Harry Prime and Peggy King. Thanks Herb for your postings and getting the great music alive.

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  2. At age 94 Harry Prime is still performing in local venues and has produced and recorded a CD of his favorite songs from his big band days. Well worth listening to. Prime belongs in the contemporary Music Hall of Fame.

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  3. I've never been able to track down this new CD.

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  4. Sadly Harry Prime (Preine) passed away yesterday. A truly sad day.

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  5. I spoke with one of Harrys sons....Harry went peacefully in his sleep, as he wished. His voice will be a welcome addition in Heaven. sadly missed here on earth. Love you Harry

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