Nevada cabaret veteran dies

Sam Butera 1927-2009

One of the great cabaret performers of Nevada’s postwar history has died after several weeks of hospitalization.

Sam Butera, son of a New Orleans butcher, became one of the great tenor sax players and a familiar figure in Reno and Las Vegas, often in tandem with his pal Louis Prima.

Butera played with Tommy Dorsey and other big bands and eventually drifted to Nevada after the big bands started losing steam. He became one of the best known names in casino cabarets in Reno while still pursuing a recording career, putting out several albums for Capitol and other labels, including the soundtrack for the Debbie Reynolds film The Rat Race. His compositions are now being performed—and winning Grammys—by the likes of Brian Setzer and David Lee Roth.

“There are a lot of performers, great musicians, but Sam Butera was a mentor, he was in a class by himself,” said Jan Savage of Reno, who performed in many of the same Nevada clubs as Butera during those years. “Many people have tried to imitate him and Sam, in my estimation, was not only a fine musician, excellent, but one of the most high spirited, vital entertainers.”