Thursday, April 21, 2005

april 21, 1966

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
bill bailey/tiger rag
76 trombones
old man river/south rampart street parade
and a tune:
satchmo and the dukes of dixieland - bourbon street parade


griff le riff said...

you are not wrong, your dad was total star, he steals the show man,,, even when he's just clicking along to the other solos!

thanks so much for that post, loving your style mr sleepbomb!

Jim Marquis said...

Sounds like he was very cool cat.

Anonymous said...

Someday You'll Be Sorry
(words and music: Louis Armstrong)

Someday you'll be sorry
The way you treated me was wrong
I was the one who taught you everything you knew
and then your friends made you sing some other love song
Good luck may be with you
and may your future days be bright
because there never will be another
who'll treat you like a brother
Someday you'll be sorry dear.

This was recorded by the Dukes of Dixieland and sung by Frank to Freddie, knowing that he was soon to lose his beloved brother. I don’t know how he got through it without breaking down in tears.

Mikey, you did terrific here.

And if anyone wants to know more about The REAL Dukes of Dixieland and the Duchess, check out this link:

She was 17 and Freddie was 21. And Frank was only 19.

This is a live track, and shows how hot they were as a young band.

dickvandyke said...

Hey fella - this is what Blogging is all about.

You are very fortunate to have such an legacy - and to be able to make it accessible to the world!

Respect from a little corner of Yorkshire, England

Devilfish said...

This is good stuff

You must be real proud of your old man, may he rest in peace.

Keep up the good work. Respect

sleepybomb said...

thanks ya'll for all the kind words.
my aunt yvonne sent me an e-mail today, (i guess she is to shy to post here), but i just had to include it . . .

Beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, you made this old broad cry. When Ray and I came to Vegas 45 years ago.....(today), was a cultural shock for me, desert and land for miles. No trees or flowers or blue jays, things I took for granite in Nawlins
but what good times we all had on 2620 Burton Ave. Taking care of you and Jan in the day and your cousins sometimes at night.
Many summers Ray, Gramma and I baby-sitting the house when all four of you hit the road, and one or two times when they went on the road and you and Jan were left in our care, we did have fun and I miss those days.
I remember that day all to well. I had to drive to the school to pick up you and Jan and knowing that he had passed
and not saying a word to the two of you, but you knew something was wrong and you asked me and I had to lie fighting back the tears. When we got home Betty Joe and Dr. Browning were in the living room, Angel crying because your Mom was and not knowing why then you screamed saying "what will we do".
Well kid we somehow got through the week, then trying to figure what to do now. Sorry did not mean to bring up the dark days, I love you and yes Freddie will be missed.........even though we beat everyone else at Yazee.
Love you, Yvonne

if you read this annyvonne i love you too, thanks!

Helskel said...

wow. I see now you're not just a punctuation of musical talent in your family, but that it runs deep...very deep.

I'll raise a glass this eve to your old man. cheers.

Johnno said...


It's posts like this that make me grateful for you coming across my blog and leaving a comment that day. Otherwise I would haved missed out.

meg@mandarin said...

oh yea, that was worth reading and listening. Mr. Personality

Laurie said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. From the story to the links to the comments. I loved the Ed Sullivan video.

sonicfrog said...

Very touching. In between the jam sessions in the clouds, I'm sure he's glad you remember him.

Blimunda said...

Bonito as we say in Portuguese. Wonderful and thank you for sharing it.


Danno said...

I had no idea your father was in the Dukes of Dixieland, I'm on the floor. I was just looking at the picture of you as a child with Walt Disney, saying "How the hell did he end up in a room with Walt Disney?" The story was beneath it. Your Father sure played a mean Trombone! Some of my favorite Louis Armstrong tracks are with the Dukes! Someday You'll Be Sorry, Dippermouth Blues, Back O'Town Blues! Wow, thanks for sharing your fascinating, heartbreaking story, this is why I love the internet.