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40 yrs for local band
by stevenew,posted Sep 16 2011 12:59PM
We have all heard the band at local events for years and on The Magic Of Christmas here on Magic, one of our most popular songs is “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Vince Vance. Vince Vance is an entertainer through and through, a creature whose DNA predisposed him to show business. Still, the singer, keyboardist and songwriter with the Heat Miser hair is amazed that his career has endured for four decades.
After 40 years in showbiz, Vince Vance still enjoys being the center of attention.
``It seems almost impossible that I've done this with my life, 40 years of consistent shows,'' he said recently. ``Hopefully I handled it with some aplomb. Always gave 'em a smile. Always played a minute more instead of a minute less. Always been thankful and patient.''
On Saturday, Vince Vance & the Valiants celebrate their 40th anniversary with a four-hour ``Louisiana Legends'' show at Rock?'n'?Bowl in New Orleans. The expected parade of guest stars includes Jo-el Sonnier, Rockin' Dopsie Jr., Al ``Carnival Time'' Johnson and the Jokers' Art Sir Van.
The Valiants still average around 100 dates a year, mostly private functions. As a composer, Vance's credits include ``All I Want for Christmas Is You'' _ not to be confused with the Mariah Carey song of the same name _ which he co-wrote under the pen name Andy Stone. The Valiants' recording of ``All I Want for Christmas Is You'' scaled the country charts six times in the 1990s. LeAnn Rimes and Sammy Kershaw, among others, covered it. Vance says he could still live off the annual royalties ``if I wanted to live poor.''
He has written goofy Saints songs ("Gris-Gris on the Other Team'') and goofy political songs, including ``Bomb Iran.'' Set to the melody of the Beach Boys' ``Barbara Ann,'' ``Bomb Iran'' was omnipresent on radio stations around the country during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. Years later, Vance cooked up ``Bomb Iraq,'' built on the Coasters' ``Yakety Yak.''
Much silliness with skits and costumes ensues during a Valiants performance. Vance describes the ensemble as ``a community of male and female artists who live a vaudevillian existence, making a living by singing and dancing and being comedic.''
But maintaining a band is not all fun and games.
``Forty years . it's not been pleasant, really, for other people. It hasn't been that pleasant many times for me. It's been a struggle to keep a band together.
``I just tweeted this morning, `None whom I began with stands with me now. Maybe I had bad breath.'?"
Vince Vance was born Andrew Franichevich Jr. in Oakland, Calif. He moved to New Orleans as a young boy and later graduated from Francis T. Nicholls High School. Along the way, he realized he possessed a ``sensitivity to music. I see numbers in front of me.''
He majored in English and music at Southeastern Louisiana University, then took a job as the band director at Donaldsonville High School while moonlighting as a piano player on Bourbon Street. One night in the summer of 1971, he was approached by a group of waiters who had started a '50s-style doo-wop novelty act along the lines of Sha Na Na.
He signed on as the keyboardist and musical director for the newly christened Vince Vance & the Valiants. He quit his high school job, and didn't bother to turn in his thesis for the master's degree in English that he had been working toward at Southeastern.
The Valiants' first gig was Sept. 18, 1971, at Your Father's Mustache in the 400 block of Bourbon Street.
``I didn't care to take the spotlight,'' Vance said. ``It didn't start out that way. I wanted to be a musical director and write music. I thought of myself as serious. I'm just this nerdy composer, really.
``But I was also like a mushroom, a fungi. (Get it? A `fun guy.') I had a knack for it.''
The original Vince Vance, James Etienne Viator, modeled his stage persona after Sha Na Na's greaser frontman, Bowser. By 1974, the former Andrew Franichevich had assumed the role of Vince Vance. He remade the character as a wild, Jerry Lee Lewis-like firebrand, playing keyboards behind his back and wearing animal skins onstage.
Since then, dozens of Valiants have passed through the ranks. Not all of them appreciated that the band continued after their departure.
``It was like I had this destiny, and people resented it,'' Vance said. ``They wanted it to die when they left, to say it was over and no longer relevant.''
He loved it too much to quit. ``It was my life's work. It was like living a dream. This thing overwhelmed me, this fantasy world that I live in. You live your whole life as a fantasy, as this character named Vince Vance whose hair is 18 inches in the air.''
He always appreciated fantastic follicles. As a boy, he admired the coifs of James Brown, Little Richard and local rhythm & blues character Esquerita.
``I really didn't have cool hair like Elvis and Frankie Avalon and Bobby Darin, guys I wanted to be like. One time, my hair looked exactly like that, and that was it. It was too curly and too weird.''
Especially frustrated before a 1975 gig in Phoenix, he brushed his hair straight up and sprayed it in place. ``Everybody looked at it and said, `Hey, dude, that's it!'?"
With that, his signature style was born. Maintaining the architecture atop his skull can be a challenge. Humidity adversely affects rigidity.
``And people look at you in a strange way, like you're a girlie-man or a weirdo. But I believed that it made a stronger impression on audiences. I've dedicated my life to that, to making sure that each show is something that someone will never forget.''
The Valiants worked hard in the early years, 250 dates a year, mostly on the road. Late one night in October 1982, while traveling in Texas between gigs in Beaumont and Dallas, the band's van was struck head-on by a vehicle whose driver had fallen asleep. Guitarist Richard Heath was killed; the others suffered broken bones.
Vance insisted they return to the stage as soon as possible.
``I made everybody in the band mad. Guitarist Nick Manousos said, `How can we go back and face this?' I said, `Guess what? This is what we do. We play gigs; we make money.' Nick had casts on both legs. We had to carry him onstage.''
Over the years, the group released 18 albums, some more successfully than others. The show grew more extravagant. The female Valiantettes all sport V-names. ``It's rather precious,'' Vance said. ``But it's something to talk about.''
He rocks an assortment of costumes: Elvis. King Tut. Elton John. A cop. A beach bum. He travels with three cases of props: dozens of sunglasses, 30 cummerbunds, 20 pairs of shoes, 10 bow ties, a dozen boas.
``The girls have about a third of that. Even though I don't use them all the time, it's like a palette from which I can create a costume that is just right for a certain song.''
Vance is less comfortable discussing his offstage life. His wife passed away in 1987, and he has never remarried. ``I like girls, maybe too much. I really love women. It was a good idea to give up that rib.''
He has two sons, one of whom is the 9th Ward keyboardist and bandleader Ratty Scurvics. Like his father, Scurvics is not averse to costumes and theatrics, albeit of a more avant-garde nature.
``He's out there doing his counterculture thing,'' Vance said. ``I used to try to book him: `Look, can you do at least one cover song?' He's never done anything except original stuff.''
Vance prefers not to disclose his age.
``There was no age to Liberace. Little Richard is always Little. I'm not a person. I'm a character that I made up in my head. I'd rather be the character than the real person. I'm not Andrew J. Franichevich. I am New Orleans.''