today marks 39 years since 'the trombone man' died. he passed away in las vegas after a long, nasty battle with cancer. he was only 36 years old and he was my father.
freddie assunto played trombone, and along with his brother frank on trumpet, my grandpa 'papa' jac on banjo and 'bone, and my mom, betty 'the duchess' owens singing, he helped to make 'the dukes of dixieland' one of the most popular and sucessful acts in the 1950's.
no one had ever played the trombone the way he did. he was like the jimi hendrix of the 'bone. tall, thin and lanky, he would use everything while he played, it seemed as though the slide was an extention of his body. swinging wildly and blowing so loud as to bring down the walls of jericho. he would tear it up like a lead guitar and on songs like 'slide, frog, slide', the 'bone is driving the whole thing. it slips and slides around around the melody, ripping down to the lowest note which rumbles like a fading thunderstorm.
there has not been such an animate trombonist since, probably never will.
together these guys were a well-oiled dixieland band machine, and the music they made is the most infectious sound ever put down. their records for audio fidelity are as fresh and clean today as they were 50 years ago. and still a delight to listen to.
the dukes left new orleans in '55 to persue a line of shows in las vegas. i was born in january of 56 followed by a slew of transported yats that were raised in that sleepy desert town until the mid 60's.
when all was said and done, everyone was back in new orleans, (in one form or another), by summer of '69. but what a wild ride it was . . .
i was on the road at 6 weeks old. mom told him she wasn't gonna sit around with a kid while he bopped around the country. so, for over six months out of each year we traveled back and forth across the country, (mostly by car), doing one-night stands in every backwater place you can imagine. by the time i was 10 we had been to all the lower 48 and canada and mexico. not to mention the times we moved to chicago and new york.
but i was blessed, i got to be with him growing up. my cousins weren't so lucky as they stayed in vegas or chicago while we were on the road. i really couldn't imagine a cooler way to grow up. every two years was a new midnight blue olds vista-cruiser, (the one with little windows in the roof). we were the cargo wagon and my sister and i would make forts with the drums and such, and i remember alot of peeing in jars while we plowed thru the dark rushing to the next greenville. they had it fixed so that we did school work and sent it back, but the u.s.a. was our school room. whenever we could we would stop to take in some local flavor. when i 1st saw 'vacation' w/ chevy chase, i thought that was just like dad. 'let's go see the biggest ball of gum wrappers!' i swear we saw every cave in the country, he really liked caves, and i am now scared to death of them. he made sure we saw as much as possible and taught me to drink up life and everything it has to offer.
i still miss him badly, but i am sure he is up there jammin' with his family and satchmo and jimi and miles . . . well, i am off to play some old dukes records.
here are some videos of the dukes on the ed sullivan show in the mid-50's:
(video stream from the dukes of dixieland.com)
bill bailey/tiger rag
old man river/south rampart street parade
and a tune:
satchmo and the dukes of dixieland - bourbon street parade