LaBamba humbly recalls the legends he’s shared stages with
Philadelphia-born and Jersey Shore-raised, trombone player, Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg is easily recognizable on TV with the Conan O’Brien band wearing his signature Panama hat and rocking out on his trombone. But his fascinating career as a musician spans way beyond the 25 years he spent on late night television.
Join us as we delve deep into his star-studded younger years and hear stories of his time touring with Diana Ross, growing up best friends with Bruce Springsteen, playing for The Clintons, and sharing the stage with such music legends as Frank Sinatra, Pavarotti, and Jon Bon Jovi.
We also connect with Richie more personally with our signature “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart” segment, where he reveals the most spontaneous thing he’s ever done, his go-to karaoke song, what music means to him, and much more.
He’s a loving husband of 34 years, a father of five musical children, and it’s an honor to have him here today.
Please welcome Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg, and thank you for listening to today’s compelling episode.
In this Episode
[01:10] Jason and Richie, aka “LaBamba,” begin the show, and Jason notices he brought a couple special things to him.
[02:03] Jason asks Richie how he got the nickname “LaBamba” and if his kids call him by the name. Mr. Rosenberg recalls a quick tale of how the living legend, Bruce Springstreen, christened him with the classic nickname.
[03:41] Jason is interested to know when LaBamba started playing music. Richie reminisces about his junior high school days, and the teacher that encouraged him to pick up the trombone.
[06:25] Jason asks Richie what was the first band he played in, and he shares with us the inspiration for the styles, sounds, and songs that they would play.
[07:14] Jason wants to know how LaBamba started playing with Bruce Springsteen. LaBamba looks back and recalls the phone call he got from his friend, Rick Gazda, asking if they should join Bruce’s band at a time when he wasn’t yet a household name.
[10:05] Jason inquires how long LaBamba stuck around with Springsteen and Southside Johnny. LaBamba tells us he left the band because Diana Ross liked the way the horn section sounded when she attended a show.
[10:49] LaBamba mentions that he has only had two auditions: the band he joined after touring with Diana Ross, and the band that he started afterwards.
[12:24] Jason wonders if LaBamba was married with kids while he was touring and rocking out with these major artists. LaBamba tells us the story of where he met his wife, and where he conceived his firstborn son, Evan, who is present during the interview.
[14:06] Jason tells LaBamba that he’s heard he’s played at the White House. Richie mentions the couple times he’s played there; once with his band LaBamba and the Hubcaps, backing artists like Jon Bon Jovi and Run-DMC.
[15:57] Jason would like LaBamba to clarify if he’s actually jammed with Frank Sinatra. LaBamba explains how he was on stage with the acclaimed crooner, along with his other jazz inspirations.
[17:06] Jason asks LaBamba if working with Conan O’Brien helped him become a recognizable figure in the entertainment industry, and how long he worked with Conan. LaBamba recounts the audition process, and how he got his next big gig.
[19:18] Jason asks Richie if he was still able to tour with bands while he was working with Conan and filming the show in New York. LaBamba details the flexibility and being the butt of Conan’s jokes during his time on the show.
[22:07] LaBamba clarifies that he’s been married for over 30 years, and how all his children are musically talented as well.
[24:39] Jason would like to know which Rosenberg kid likes the spotlight the most. LaBamba answers his oldest son, Evan, and plugs a show he has helped produce and co-star in called “Sunsets with LaBamba.”
[26:57] Jason requests that LaBamba play a couple tunes on his trombone.
[28:09] Jason expresses that one of the first things he noticed about LaBamba was his hat. LaBamba gives us the scoop on where we can pick up a hat like his, and the person who got him to start wearing it.
[30:01] Jason wants to know more about what it was like to be a bandmate of Springsteen. LaBamba acknowledges the great shows they’ve been a part of like Super Bowl XLIII, and says that another bandmate was just as out-there as Bruce.
[34:17] We get to know LaBamba better with a segment called “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart.” LaBamba opens up to questions like what makes him laugh the most, his favorite go-to snack, and the best practical joke he’s ever pulled off.
[42:08] While on the topic of practical jokes, LaBamba reflects on a practical joke that Conan’s crew played on him while filming a sketch referencing the infamous Naked Cowboy.
[44:53] Jason and LaBamba finish “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart” with what he’s most grateful for and what music means to him.
[46:10] Jason brings up LaBamba and Southside Johnny’s album called Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits. LaBamba informs us that it’s available online and all over.
[46:59] Jason appreciates LaBamba for coming on the show and LaBamba plays us out of today’s episode.
Jason Hennessey: Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg. Did I say that right?
Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg: That’s right.
It is. Welcome. Welcome to the studio, Hennessey Studios here. Appreciate that.
I see that you brought two things. You brought a son and an instrument with you?
They come as a pair.
They do. What’s your son’s name?
Evan. And how old is Evan?
Yeah. Doing big things, I hear. We were just talking offline.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
And you’ve got more than one son.
We have five kids.
All from the same mommy.
Yeah. And I hear everybody’s big into music like their father.
Yeah. They are. They went right down the line.
So “LaBamba.“ So how’d you get that nickname?
Well, I looked like my son there, but I had a much deeper tan and I had a short afro.
And not just the band members, but multiple people throughout the town have been given nicknames by Bruce or whoever. So everybody in the band had a nickname. I joined the band. We had- needed to find a nickname for this guy. And we were in the back of The Stone Pony and a roadie by the name of Gary Anderson, yelled out, “LaBamba!” and Bruce heard it and jumped up on the bar and said, “Give me an O, give an A, give me a B.” And that’s it.
Is that right? Bruce Springsteen jumping up on the bar.
Oh my God. Who has stories like that? You do.
I kept it.
That is awesome. So LaBamba, that’s who you were, right? That everybody started calling you that then?
And it stuck?
It stuck. Yeah.
Did the kids call you LaBamba?
They call you dad, right? Yeah.
Some. Others Rich.
Rich. Okay. So you’ve always been inclined with music as a kid, or what have you?
Yeah, pretty much. I grew up in a musical family.
So how did you get into music? What inspired you?
I started piano at 7.
And then I was going to, in junior high school, be in this choir that my sister, who was 4 years older than I, she had already been through that experience. And she hated this choir director and said, “You are not going to forget that woman. And I’m going to introduce you to the instrumental director of the school,” band director. And which his name was Mr. Evans.
Okay. Is that right?
My son, Evan.
He became quite the person that I looked up to.
And it was at the end of a year, season. So he was losing trombone players the following year because they were all graduating. “Hey, here’s a trombone. Take this home for the summer. Let’s hear how you sound when you come back.” So I was ready. Boom.
Picked it up.
Just had a knack for it. Practiced it?
Yeah. It’s a fun instrument.
Yeah. I got a funny story. So when I was a kid, I grew up in the east coast as well. I grew up in New York, Long Island. And so, it was a big day, right, where if you want to be in the band, you get to choose your instrument. And a lot of my friends chose the cool things, right? The drums and trumpet. And so, I was sick that day and so I couldn’t choose any of the cool instruments. So, the next day when I get to school, I’m like, “Can I pick my instrument?” And they’re like, “No, the only thing left is the tuba.” I didn’t know what a tuba was. I’m like, “Okay, I’ll play the tuba, right?” And then you have to go to the local music store and go get your instrument. Was that how you had to do it too, you have to go rent-
No, I didn’t actually.
They gave it to you?
They had it there. Yeah.
So, then they give me this big thing and I was a walker. So I had to walk to school every day with the tuba. It was the worst year of my life. Ah, it was the worst year, but it was fun. So I was a tuba player for about a good, what was it? Maybe fourth grade or something like that. So you played the trombone through all of middle school and then high school?
And then when did you know that this is what you wanted to do with your life?
I think by high school, I was pretty.
And you were playing in bands back then in high school?
What was the first band you played in? Do you remember?
It was called “Nine Easy Pieces.”
Nine Easy Pieces?
Yeah. It was a Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, a horn band. But we played all the unusual stuff. Back then on radio, if it was something like WNEW, or they would play the B-Sides or anything else other than on the hit that was being pushed at the time.
So that’s what we enjoyed doing.
So how many years were you in that band before you got a new next break, I guess?
Probably about 2 years.
And then how did you end up hooking up with Bruce? How did that happen?
I went on the road. I left school. I was in PMA and I left that, and went on the road with a group called Vicki Allen and the Image, a Philadelphia based group. And there was a trumpet player in that group, his name was Rick Gazda. And he also was in Nine Easy Pieces. He went to a different high school, we didn’t go to the same school. So after about a year and a half or so being on the road with Vicki Allen and the Image, we were up in Schenectady in New York and had a 2-week engagement up there. I get a call from Rick, he says, “Hey, how about joining this guy, Bruce Springsteen?” I had no idea.
And Bruce was not famous at the time. Was he?
No. He was playing The Bottom Line or The Main Point, where we are, stuff like that. He had his two records. He had Greetings out, that was… I wrote this letter and I put it underneath the door of the leader who was a bit of an asshole.
We all have those in our lives, right?
Yeah. He used to carry around a gun with him and sometimes his wife, vocalist, she would walk in looking a little dark around the eye. So anyhow, I put that underneath his door and I took off for Asbury Park for the first time. And I go to Rick’s apartment and he opens up the door and the first thing he says to me, “Hey, you want to see my maggot farm?” He’s a really weird guy.
It sounds like it.
Great guy. I love him. I still love him. That was basically a story, but the first rehearsal, the audition. And there was nobody else at the audition, it was just me. Just on this dance floor at The Stone Pony, wasn’t even up on the stage. And Bruce was there, and Little Steven, and Southside. And I didn’t know who was who at the time.
Just all icons now, right?
Yeah. I didn’t really know much about it at all.
But it worked and it stuck. On and off with The Jukes for all these years, I’m still in touch with Johnny. We still do some things. I played with him last week.
Is that right?
He’s a great guy. He’s a lot of fun.
That’s so cool. How many years did you go on tour then, with Johnny and Bruce? And that was your job then?
Yeah. I joined that band in ’76 and left in ’81 because we did a show in New York and Diana Ross was in the audience. And our road manager came down to us after the show and said, Diana Ross likes the horn section. You’re doing these steps, you’re doing whatnot. You want to go out on the road with Diana Ross?
That wasn’t a question. You were going to go on the road. Diana gets what she wants, right?
Yeah, right. Right. And again, no audition.
No audition, right?
No. No audition. I had only two auditions, I think, in my life. There was one to get into school and the other one for Joe Jackson when he put out that- [hums tune]
And there was a long line of trombone players for that.
I bet there was.
And he gave me a call and he said, “I really liked the way you played. There was a guy that came in after you who was a monster technician guy, but if we were going to take a trombone, we’d take you. But we decided not to take a trombone.”
Yeah. But that’s it. For my lifetime of just having two trombone auditions, that’s…
That’s amazing, right?
So you toured then with Diana for a couple years?
Yeah. Two years.
Yeah. And then what happened after that?
I went with Little Steven.
He was starting up a band called the Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul. And we did that tour and that record. And then things got expensive, so he had to let the horn section go.
Oh, I see.
And I just hung around Jersey Shore, playing at bars with my own band called LaBamba and the Hubcaps. Yeah, that was it.
And now were you married at the time, kids yet?
No, not yet?
No. I didn’t get married until ’87.
So how did the love of your life enter your world then?
She saw us at a Little Steven show.
Where was that at?
Where’s that? What state is it?
In New Jersey.
It’s in New Jersey. Okay.
Red Bank, New Jersey. Little club next to a theater that you now call the Count Basie Theatre.
So you’re up there doing your thing, looking good.
And she’s seeing you?
Yep. That was it.
That wasn’t it. There’s a lot more to the story.
Nah, she wouldn’t want me to talk about that.
That is awesome. So you guys started dating. Next thing you know, how many years later, you get married?
Yeah, ’87. And then this guy right here.
Evan’s the first born?
Is that right?
He was conceived in Ireland.
Did you know that Evan? I’m sure you’ve heard that story, just not the details of it.
Oh, got it.
And then my wife, so she was also involved with the tour. She was in a little dance routine with the wives and girlfriends that Bruce would bring out for one song.
That’s cool. So she actually traveled with you guys?
That’s neat. I’ve heard you played for a president too.
Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah.
So tell me that story.
Wow. And is he a clarinet player?
Saxophone. That’s right. He’s a saxophone player.
I’ve just been recently watching the Impeachment series.
Yeah, it’s pretty wild.
I haven’t seen it yet.
Yeah. It’s something.
But how was it to play in front of a president? Would you say it’s one of the highlights of your career or what?
Well, no. That was actually the first time. But I played at the White House with my band, LaBamba and the Hubcaps. And backed up all these other artists as a backup band. It was a fundraiser, Special Olympics thing, Christmas show. I’m not sure if it was just the Clintons that used to do this all the time or if-
Other presidents in the past.
I don’t know.
Yeah. It was a yearly thing for them to do. And Jon Bon Jovi asked me to do it because down the Shore again, the Shore connection. And so, there was a whole bunch of great artists on it: Eric Clapton, Run-DMC, John Popper. It was a lot of fun.
No, I didn’t. That’s an accident. He was standing on the stage when we were playing with Diana Ross.
And so, there was a fundraiser show with Diana and Frank and Pavarotti.
Wow. Talking about some icons.
So he came out on the stage while we were playing and, “Oh boy.”
Were you inspired?
“Don’t make any mistakes now.”
Is that what you were inspired by as a kid growing up?
Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. Big time.
My stepfather, he really enjoyed jazz, modern jazz. So when I brought home the trombone, he said, “Go out and get yourself a bunch of JJ Johnson records. That’s who you want to be listening to.” And he was right. He was great.
So you just would jam out at home as a kid?
Yeah. So now we’re going to fast forward, I guess, to Conan O’Brien, right? It’s what may made you famous, maybe. I was watching clips before you got here. How long were you on that show for?
Wow. 25 years with Conan.
Yeah. I was on the road with Southside. We were in Europe and I got a call from Max saying, “We got this thing to audition for. You might be interested in this.” I didn’t have to leave the tour, just worked out perfect. And we got back and rehearsed a couple of days, and next thing, Conan and then Jeff Ross are walking in the door. You know Conan personally, or Jeff Ross?
I don’t, no.
So Jeff Ross, he was our road manager for Diana Ross. So to see him walk in the door was…
You got your “in” here.
I mean, even if things go astray, it was just, wow. It was great. The whole run.
So Conan filmed in New York then?
Oh, I got it.
At the Rockefeller Center. And there was one time where I was in a car accident with my daughter, she was learning how to drive. Eventually, I wanted to come back into work, and Evan, he was going to drive me in, and then he spoke to some of the producers on the show and they said, “Hey, well, you’re here, anyhow, you’re driving your dad in, what do you want to do?” Right? That was Dan Ferguson, right? Yeah. So that all really worked out quite well. And that’s how Evan got involved with pushing himself more into these film and TV mind, getting his life rolling.
So 25 years on Conan. So did you stop touring then? You just had to be there, I’d imagine every day, right?
No. There were vacation times, during in the show. So I was still able to stay with Johnny and do some work.
This whole time. Okay.
Eventually that came to a stop, but yeah, it was a number of years of still doing both.
You ever get nervous?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
A lot of pressure.
Being up there on the stage with everybody in the world watching, right?
Yeah. It’s exciting. For some reason, I ended up being the fall-guy for his jokes. I don’t know why. It came up early in the first couple weeks of the show. They wrote a sketch called, “In the Year 2000.” And I’d have to have a, whole day, flashlight under my chin and the lights went out and there would be numerous cameras going by as I sing, “In the Year 2000.”
I remember that bit.
So that went on for quite a time. That’s one of the oldest bits in the show. It went on through the whole time of being in New York. And when we came out here to The Tonight Show.
Oh, so you worked in The Tonight Show out here too then?
So that was the year 3000. And then there was a tour that followed after The Tonight Show came to a halt, there was a tour that was put together. And we tried doing “The Year 2000” on that, but the whole thing with that is you need the cameras.
Sure you do.
So it didn’t quite work. Even though they had the two screens up on the side of the stage, they couldn’t get it going.
So you were living in LA doing The Tonight Show, and then what happened then? So then Jay Leno came back and said, “I want my show back.” What’s the story there?
Well, that’s history, right? Sorry.
Yeah, that was a bummer. That was a difficult time.
It sure was, right?
We had already rented a home with the budget of mine, what The Tonight Show would be. And then when that went bye-bye, we were biting our fingernails. “What’s going to happen?” But we managed to stay in the same home. We’re still there.
So you’ve been married 20 years. Congratulations by the way. Is that right? Married over 20?
Married for 34 years.
Okay. Married over 20 years. Jenna hates me. All right. You’ve been married 34 years? Okay. I apologize. Five very talented children, right? So what’s the secret?
Give and take.
That’s a good secret. So if all of your kids were here right now, how would they describe you?
Evan’s back there shaking his head. Mental. Maybe mental in all the good reasons. So then everybody’s musically inclined?
The whole family. So what does Evan and Jade and Justin, what instruments do they all play?
Evan started on drums. And then he went to trumpet. And then Jade started on flute and then she went to theater. And then Justin started on drums and he’s taught himself guitar and bass and some piano now. And he also, on his spare time, composes house music, which I didn’t know what that was until he started doing it.
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It’s a big deal, right? It’s a big thing.
It’s a big deal.
It is a big deal. Yeah, it is.
And then Samantha, she started on voice, she was singing. And she stayed on voice. She was in the opera at CSUN last week. And my mom used to sing opera, so every time I see the kids doing stuff, it’s…
It’s in the blood.
Yeah. It sounds like it.
Yeah. It’s an emotional thing. I stay in the back of the auditorium. I don’t get too close to the front. [laughs]
Not anymore, right? So out of the family, who likes the spotlight the most?
I think Evan.
Yeah. And he’s the master of ceremonies, 24/7.
Good. I like that.
Thumbs up from Evan. Why not?
So I saw that your family did something during quarantine. I guess on Instagram, you got something called Sunsets with LaBamba.
What’s that about?
Well, it was an idea that Evan came up with. Conan had just ended, let’s have a family meeting. How are we going to get through this? Let’s come up with some ideas. And all of a sudden there was a whole crew, 20 people or so, of people at our house, and some scripts that had been put together called “Sunsets with LaBamba.” And it was the strangest thing for me after being with Conan all that time, and then here in our backyard.
It was like going in a ride with my youngest son, giving him a lesson, teaching him how to drive. And they’re in the backseat of the car and they’re filming and do this and do that. And then we had a wrestler come over at the house because I watch wrestling. I’m a WWF old school guy. The guy who we had over was his brother, so actually had made it pretty good on WWF. But that was fun. And Evan got thrown in the pool.
Is that right?
He picked him up. And he was going to-
Oh, the wrestler did? Really?
He’s going to do it to me, but Evan says,”Maybe we shouldn’t.”
It’s like our insurance policy’s first year, right? Smart man. So I guess there’s a short and sweet musical intro to your show. And I hear that you’ve got some instruments here. So I’d love it if you would do us the honor.
[LaBamba plays “Sunsets with LaBamba” intro theme]
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Is that it?
Oh, I love it.
Well, you got to give me some more. Play some more.
So good. It’s so good. Thank you so much. Wow.
You might have to get permission to have that air, right? Do you want to press some?
Oh yeah. Well, my lawyers will make sure.
Evan: Fair use.
Fair use, right? There it is. So that was awesome. Thank you for doing that.
LaBamba: My pleasure.
And for bringing that all the way down here. One thing I noticed about you when you first walked in is your, they call it a Panama hat.
So has that been your signature look?
And for how long?
Since I joined Southside.
I’ve changed the style a little bit.
I used to wear just a Fedora Panama, but this is a Gambler. And I’ve been wearing these now for, well, probably for most of the time of Conan, I guess. There was a guy who became a very good friend of mine now, Tony Lippy in the Panama hat shop in St. Augustine.
And he sent me these hats and he hasn’t never charged me for a hat. And I’ve got 50 or 60 of these. Different colors.
So cool. How did that all start? Did you just take a hat from the house and put it on and the next thing and know, that’s your signature look or?
No, it wasn’t. When I joined Southside, we were taken around for some clothing by this woman who lived in Bruce’s house. She was a cook and became his valet. Her name was Obie.
And she took us out shopping for clothes for the Jukes, for a couple of Bruce tours, whatnot. It was strange. So we put the hat on and that’s it. I used to throw some hats out to the audience occasionally and-
That’s cool. So working with Bruce Springsteen have so many loyal fans, right? I mean, die hard fans.
What’s something that people might not know about Bruce? Something interesting about Bruce. Since you’ve known him for all these years. He’s a humble guy, right?
Yeah. He’s very humble.
That’s what I thought.
He’s a great guy. Very humble. We used to have a lot of great times together. [Bruce Springsteen and I] used to actually hang out together. We had a softball team that we would… We would play different radio stations.
Okay. So did he have a weird food thing? He orders his chicken a certain way. What’s his drink?
On the stage?
Yeah. What’s something interesting about Bruce that most people don’t talk about on normal interviews?
Since I wasn’t on all the tours, it’s- a lot of the tours are pretty much the same. And with Diana also. Actually, as far as between any band that I’ve been with who is completely different from the beginning to end, is Southside Johnny.
Is that right?
You never know what you’re going to get. He’ll write out a list and then he’ll just go from it, he’ll just-
Pull up anything. But Bruce’s shows were very well put together. There were routines all the time. And the same thing with Diana.
There were some incredible moments with Bruce, like the Super Bowl.
Yeah. Played the Super Bowl.
Was that a pinch me moment for you or what?
Yeah. Well, it all started out getting the call to do this Super Bowl. And I walk into rehearsal and I was still ailing from that leg that I had the accident with, with Jade. So I was on a cane. So he is like, “Uh-oh, what do we got going on here?” Because he had something planned. Don’t know if the cane is actually going to work.
But it all involved that he wanted to create a wardrobe malfunction purposely.
So this is after the Janet Jackson probably?
Okay. Couple years after? Okay.
So he tells me, “Well, LaBamba, what you’re going to do is you’re going to have a tear off suit. And Mark Pender,” the trumpet player who’s standing next to me, “he’s going to tear your suit off and you’re going to just be in a garter from your socks to your boxer shorts.”
And a guinea tee. And we’re going to try to make this happen. And obviously NBC and NFL probably-
Said no way.
That is not going to happen.
That is not going to happen. Right. Well, it sounds like he got a good sense of humor then for sure.
Oh, he does.
Yeah, he does.
There it is. So cool. Like I said, if you wrote a book with all the stories that you probably have, I’d love to read it.
Yeah. People have told me that.
Well maybe Evan, you can help dad make that happen. He’s saying, “No.” He’d be in some of the stories, right?
He doesn’t want to be involved.
Well, we’re going to wrap up with a segment that we call “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart.” This is easy. There’s no trivia here, there’s no Gotchas. It’s just questions. And the first thing that comes to mind, just rattle it off. So the first question is what makes you laugh the most?
I think my kids.
Okay. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
You always knew that?
Yeah. I think I always knew that.
Okay. What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is dropping my trombone slide, which I’ve done a few times. And I did it on a Bruce show too.
Yeah. I used to come out front with Bruce and do a little dance and there’s a lock on the horn, right here.
And I would lock that up and hand him the horn.
And he’d hold it and I’d do this little dance, whatnot, after I’d take a trombone solo.
Oh love the dance.
And he gives me back the horn and there was- the whole stage was covered in plush white rug.
Right? So I’d go back, way back to where the horn section’s standing. And Garry Tallent, the bass player comes up to me and he says, “Does this belong to you?”
Oh my God. Wow.
Yeah. So I guess that’s my biggest fear. [laughs]
Yes. I could see why. Here’s the next question. What is your go-to karaoke song?
Well, I only do karaoke with Evan.
And that would be Elvis’s “Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher.”
Evan: “Burning Love.”
LaBamba: “Burning Love.”
Okay. God, that’s a great karaoke song. That gets-
It really is.
People into it.
It’s fun to do it with Evan, especially. Especially after he has a couple.
Speaking of Evan, this is probably an Evan question, but I’m going to let you answer it. What makes you really angry?
Yeah. What makes you angry?
Okay. That’s a good answer. That’s a good answer. I like it.
I thought- that wasn’t a trick question.
No, it wasn’t.
There was something I didn’t know about.
Okay. All right.
There it is. It makes a lot of people angry. So you love wrestling. If you had a WWE or WWF wrestler name, what would it be?
LaBamba. Okay. There it is. Easy.
I don’t have to think about that.
What’s the movie that you’ve seen most in your life?
Oh, what a great movie. Yeah. Every holiday, you have to watch it, right?
What’s the most spontaneous thing that you’ve ever done?
When we were on our honeymoon, we went to Puerto Vallarta. And my wife, she doesn’t like being on the water much, but we got a little boat to a private island. And I saw some people, they were going up in the air with the, what do they call ‘em?
The hot air balloons?
Yeah, yeah. Not hot air, no. The-
Oh, I know. You’re parasailing.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Thank you. And I saw that and I just jumped off the boat, swam to shore, got in and took off.
Oh, is that right?
Yeah. I don’t know.
Yeah. I don’t know what was in me at the time, but it was scary as all hell. Once I got up there, the boat was this small. And there were cliffs along the side. So we were coming down and I remember, “Pull on this thing when you get…” And I was pulling as hard as I could and I thought for sure, I was going to hit the side of that wall. It all worked out.
Wow. That’s pretty spontaneous. That’s like waking up one morning and jumping out of an airplane or something like-
He did that.
Are you serious?
Evan did that.
Just wake up and no plans and next thing you know you’re doing it? That’s insane.
I don’t know about the no plans, but I just thought-
Wow. Oh my God.
Where’s your favorite place in the world to visit?
Well, we toured around a lot. Europe, Scandinavia. I think I really enjoy Scandinavia the most of.
What snack can you just not get enough of? What’s your go-to snack?
Well, I don’t eat them anymore, but it was Krimpets.
Oh, sure. Yep.
There’s a couple places in town here that actually have Philly cheesesteak places. And they bring in the-
Jersey Mike’s was one of them. I don’t know if they still have it, but that was a place that had the Tastykakes.
Actually I’ve never been to Jersey Mike’s.
Yeah. If you want some Tastykakes, I think they have them.
Oh yeah. Okay. All right.
See? There you go. What’s the best practical joke you’ve ever pulled off?
That I pulled off?
I don’t pull off any practical jokes.
I get practical jokes-
You’re the butt of the jokes?
I am the butt of the jokes. That’s underlined, “Butt of the jokes.” Every time. I don’t know why, but Conan always did this, and the guy in the band. Bruce.
But one time we tried to reenact one of those instances on “Sunsets with LaBamba.”
And Evan dressed up like me and I dressed up like our saxophonist, Jerry Vivino. I was called in for jury duty one day and I said, “I’m going to be late for show. I won’t be able to make rehearsal.” I ended up not having jury duty that day. They said, “Come back tomorrow.” So when I got to work, I walked into my dressing room and a policeman comes up behind me and starts reading me my rights. And, “You’re supposed to be in jury today. You’re not in jury, so we’re going to have to take you down.” Handcuffed me, he took me to the elevators. And then I’m in tears.
Oh my God.
“Oh my God, no, what’s going on?”
And then Jerry comes running over and says, “All right. He’s had enough.”
Oh my God. That’d gave me posttraumatic stress, right?
It was ongoing, almost daily that I would be something. I was driving into the show and I get a call from Conan’s producer saying, “We’re going to dress you up today as the Naked Cowboy.” Who’s a character who stands in New York, Times Square. And he just stands there in his underwear and a cowboy hat and boots and strums.
And I said, “Well, that’s a little embarrassing.” But they’re like, “You have nothing to worry about. The curtain’s going to open up and you’re going to be standing in front. Nobody’s going to see anything. You’re going to have the guitar over your thing there.”
So I said, “Okay, all right, whatever.” We go in, I rehearse it. The curtain opens up. I do the thing and whatnot.
And right before the show, the producer comes down to me, segment producer and says, “Well, LaBamba, we changed this up. And we think it might be better if you start at the top of the stairs where the audience is.”
Right before the show?
Yeah. Right before the show. So I go up around their way and the show’s starting. And I see my friend, James, with a camera. And I say, “What are you doing right there at that position?” I mean, “I’m walking down the stairs right here and why are you up here?” I mean, the cameras are down there. He’s like, “LaBamba, don’t worry about it, man. Just do your thing.”
And then all of a sudden it’s started and I’m walking down the stairs of the guitar and trying to hold it together where nobody’s seeing anything. And I get to the bottom of the stairs and that’s all I got. That’s it. I’m going.
And I try to walk out the doors and they’re just holding the doors shut. They’re on the other side. They’re on the other side of the door and they won’t let me pass through those freaking doors. And I’m like, “Hey.” Pushing the door. And all of the time, James, the camera guy, had the camera.
Oh my God.
That’s a practical joke.
That sure is a practical joke. Well, there’s got to be YouTube footage of that somewhere.
I think there is.
I got to go back and watch that for sure. What smell do you really enjoy? What’s a good scent?
Okay. That’s a good answer.
I thought you said, “Me.”
That’s a better answer.
That’s a better answer. “I love the smell of me.” [laughs] Oh, right. Meat.
No meat, man.
Smoked meat, cooked meat?
Yeah, bacon and-
I love that too.
Steaks, just oh man.
Yeah. So good. Let’s see here. A couple more. What are you most grateful for?
My wife and children. Absolutely, yes.
And then the last one here, what does music mean to you?
It’s my life. It’s my adventure. It’s my journey. It means everything to me. It means watching my kids grow up through it and having them have a much wider scope of music than myself and being proud of that and enjoying that.
Love it. And I know you have an album.
A new album coming out. Is that right? Is it out already?
Well, it’s out. It came out during the Spring. It’s actually a remix of… And it’s called Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits, and it’s with Southside Johnny singing all the songs, and with my 20-plus piece Big Band.
Wow. What’s the name of the album?
Grapefruit Moon. Okay.
The Songs of Tom Waits.
Awesome. And where can we get it?
Wherever you would normally get, you can pick it up.
I would love that. I would be honored.
Wow. So good. So good. That was just awesome.
Original composition, by the way.
I love it. I am honored. Thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you.
Thank you. It’s been an honor for me.