LaBamba will return to Asbury Park with Big Band, for June 3 show at Asbury Lanes

by JAY LUSTIG
labamba interview

Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg, right, will bring his Big Band (featuring Mark “The Luvman” Pender, left) to Asbury Lanes, June 3.

Six months after his last show in Asbury Park — last year’s edition of his annual Holiday Hurrah concert, which took place in December at The Stone Pony — former Asbury Juke Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg will return to the Shore’s music capital with an 18-piece big band for a show at Asbury Lanes.

RICHIE “LaBAMBA” ROSENBERG

It will take place June 3 and feature some of the same musicians from that show — including the trombonist and singer’s longtime collaborator Mark “The Luvman” Pender on trumpet and vocals, longtime “Saturday Night Live” drummer Shawn Pelton, and LaBamba’s daughter Jade on vocals — as well as some different ones, such as keyboardist Scott Healy, who played with LaBamba and Pender for many years on Conan O’Brien’s talk shows; singer Mike Sanders; and former LaBamba & the Hubcaps guitarist Joe Vadala.

“It’s unusual that we’re playing on a Saturday night,” says LaBamba, in a phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I don’t think I’ve played a Saturday night on the Jersey Shore in … I really can’t remember when it was.

“I’m just, like, writing my butt off as far as scoring up charts. It’s a fun thing that I love to do: This is all about doing that and hearing back what I put on paper. That’s my Shangri-La.”

As usual, the big band will play both old favorites and new material.

“There’s a couple of things we’re gonna do that we’ve never done,” says LaBamba. “I always try to fill out requests, if I’m gonna have somebody come up and do something, and they request me to do something. Mike Sanders asked for (U2’s) ‘Angel of Harlem,’ so I threw that together for him. It actually sounds Juke-y, that song. So it didn’t take a lot (of work) to do. It’s in my wheelhouse. And I have a couple of originals I’m gonna to be pulling out. One’s a political thing, which is unusual for me. It’s called ‘Sign of the Times’ — I think there’s a couple of other songs that are probably out there called ‘Sign of the Times’ (laughs).

“And there’s this song that Glen Burtnik and my friend Danny Gralick — he used to be in (the band) Holme, many years ago — we wrote a song called ‘Just Around the Corner.’ I’m gonna pull that one out. We used to do that a lot. That was one of our regular tunes we did in the Hubcaps, years ago, and we haven’t played that in years. And we’ll do (Bruce Springsteen’s) ‘Paradise by the “C” ‘; I’ve done that before at a Light of Day (concert). That’ll be fun for everybody.

“So yeah, I’m really excited about doing this.”

Richie “LaBamba” is the one wearing the white hat in this vintage photo of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.

LaBamba is a Philadelphia native who had no connection to the Asbury Park music scene until he joined the Asbury Jukes, in 1976. “The first time I was in Asbury was when I auditioned for Johnny,” he says.

He had been playing in a touring band called Vicki Allen & the Image, at the time, and they were in Schenectady, N.Y., when he got a call from his friend, Jukes trumpeter Rick Gazda, saying the Jukes were looking for a trombone player. (Gazda had been in the Image before joining the Jukes).

“I didn’t even get out of my jumpsuit — we were all wearing jumpsuits,” said LaBamba with a laugh. “I just left a note underneath (the bandleader’s) door at the hotel that said ‘I got an offer I can’t refuse,’ and took off.”

He had not even heard of the Jukes at that point, but was not happy in the Image and was looking for another group to play with. And he trusted that if Gazda was involved, it was worth doing.

“I don’t even think I slept,” he said. “The rehearsal was in the afternoon at the Pony. On the dance floor of the Pony, not even on the stage. Steven (Van Zandt) was there, and Bruce (Springsteen). I was totally naive as to what I was getting into.”

He was asked to join immediately, he says. “There weren’t any other trombone players there.”

Currently, LaBamba is also working on a big band project in Los Angeles: He and Healy will debut their LaBamba/Healy R ‘n’ R Big Band at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill, July 12. “I’m very excited it,” he says. “It’s my first big band that we’re doing here.

SCOTT HEALY

“Scott was a composition major from Eastman (School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.) who is doing quite well out here with a lot of the composition crowd: arrangers and stuff like that, and jazz composition stuff. It’s actually the first time that I’m going to be able to present my jazz compositions publicly.”

So this will be a more jazz-oriented project? “It’ll be mixed,” he says. “But it’s a jazz club. I never want to pull any of those (jazz) things out in Asbury because I don’t think the crowd would take to it. But (Southside) Johnny always asks me to do some things that are tied to that. So through the years, I’ve gone that way: Some Count Basie stuff … like, Johnny asked me to write up this song that Joe Williams used to sing with the Count Basie band, ‘Going to Chicago.’ I think we did that at one of the Hurrahs, back when.

“It’s great Johnny can pull that off: I think anything Johnny wants to do, the crowd’s gonna be cool with that. It’s nice to get that type of request and be able to do something that is more related to a traditional big band, other than me doing, like, an R&B tune and adding 13 horns to it.”

Does the R ‘n’ R in the LaBamba/Healy R ‘n’ R Big Band stand for rock ‘n’ roll?

“That’s a good question!” says LaBamba. “But I’d rather leave that to the ‘What is that?’ than actually answering that.”

Of course, this isn’t really a rock ‘n’ roll project. Maybe it stands for “Richie” and something?

JESSE ASHTON

L.C. POWELL

“Or rest and relaxation!,” LaBamba responds.

“We’re in a group effort with this vocalist out here. Her name is L.C. Powell, and she has a lot of influence out here with the jazz community. And she goes to Europe and sings with orchestras and stuff like that, different types of projects. Gorgeous voice. She does a lot of Disney work.

“I’ve been preparing for it for months, already, and the job’s not until July 12. Just like I prepare myself for the Holiday Hurrah. I’ve already written up (for this year’s Hurrah) the Tom Petty Christmas tune, ‘Christmas All Over Again.’ I’ve got nobody in mind to sing it yet. But it’s nice to stay ahead.”

LaBamba’s Big Band will perform at Asbury Lanes, June 3 at 7:30 p.m.; visit asburylanes.com. They will also present a free concert in the Mardi Gras AC series at Kennedy Plaza, on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.; visit tonymart.com.

For more on LaBamba, visit labambamusic.com.

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