Butera’s Beat: So long saxophone Sam

Las Vegas gets little credit for creating a uniquely American music scene, but snazzy sax man Sam Butera deserves plenty of plaudits for giving the Strip's jumping, jiving lounge sound some of the respect it richly deserves.

Butera died Wednesday morning at a Las Vegas hospital. He was 81.

Butera and his Witnesses set the musical scene for Louis Prima and Keely Smith at a time the Las Vegas experience for most tourists began in the lounges, where the entertainment was high-energy and low-priced.

Louis, Keely, Sam and the Witnesses were so popular that they attracted big-name stars to the lounges, which juiced the electricity for all in attendance. Back before the Las Vegas advertising budget exceeded the gross national product of France, lively lounges enabled Bud and Bertha from Dubuque to party for pennies and return to the farm with endless tales of dancing all night and rubbing shoulders with celebrities.

And Sam’s saxophone generated the rhythm for the whole swingin’ scene.

Times and tastes change, but Sam and his sax had work from here to Sarasota until his big heart developed a funky rhythm of its own that prevented him from spending quite so much time traveling.

All good gigs must come to an end, but Sam’s beat will go on in many hearts.

Somewhere in the Midwest, a generation of Buds and Berthas are remembering the time in Vegas when they cut a rug all night to Sam’s swingin’ saxophone.