PETE FOUNTAIN THE MAN and FRIEND
This is a short version of a story. Not a short story! Because when trying to introduce Pete’s (Pierre Dewey LaFontaine Jr.) not always seen personality to others, I tried to hold back, but memories continued to abound. I apologize for the length of this story. Even though it could have easily been a book. There are actually thousands more words I would use to let you get to know a little more about this incredible man. Please forgive me and please, if you know anything about Pete, this group of memories of my time, just a small part my time with Pete, may not bore you. The time I spent with Pete was being taught by a great man. What Pete, like my Daddy taught me, was to be a better person. I thank you for ready, even if you stop here!
Pete Fountain was one of Mother and Daddy's most favorite men and artist ever. Pete was also the most favorite artist and man of the Studio Team and most of the people of the planet! This photograph is of Jeff, Pete's son, Pete, me, and Bennie Harrell, Pete's Son-in-Law and Manager. We were being awarded 3 Gold Albums and a Gold Single, "Closer Walk". Was I dreaming?
In my opinion, Pierre Dewey LaFontaine Jr., aka Pete Fountain (who is a distant kind to Daddy’s family), is the greatest clarinetist ever to use the instrument since its invention. Pete is both schooled and has a natural God given talent that, at his level, can not be taught. Pete has performed on the “Tonight Show Staring Johnny Carson” more than anyone in history, 59 performances. He became locally famous, was hired by Lawrence Welk, and after Hollywood and being made famous by TV, Pete came home, via touring the world from that day on. Pete never left New Orleans for any length of time in reality, but he has played to thrilled audiences Worldwide.
Pete Fountain did for OTHERS in his life's work with charities and anonymous gifting to so many. Pete also did wonderful things for the Studio and for the Evans Family and thousands more. Pete and I spent many wonderful weekends with his Daddy “The Old Bird “, as Pete loving called him, and Pete’s Family at Pete’s estate on the waterfront in Bay St. Louis, Pete’s dream home. Studio in the Country was blessed with recording several of Pete’s albums. He was a Studio Family member. I built a small studio for Pete on his estate. As happened to many, Pete’s estate was destroyed by Katrina. The devastated assets destroyed included all of the many buildings, one of which was a 12,000 square foot plantation mansion, his admired car collection, which included 2 custom Rolls Royce Convertibles and many more rare automobiles, all of Pete’s Gold Records, and clarinets. One of Pete’s clarinets was found in its case, miles inland, a long time after Hurricane Katrina was no longer. If ever a man was knocked to his knees and rose from financial loss and mental anguish, it was Mr. Pete Fountain and His Family. Pete was a fighter and a wonderful Soul who was deep into philanthropy. Katrina was not the first storm to bring grief to The Fountain Family, there was Camille and others.
I asked Pete to be the "Grand Marshall" of the MCCA Parade in Bogalusa. Don and Georgia Spiers were overjoyed. Of course, Pete said Yes. Pete never said NO to a favor or giving his help for anyone. I flew in the Studio plane and picked up Pete and his grandson at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans and brought them to Bogalusa. Once we arrived, Pete was set up on his "Grand Marshall” Float. Daddy and Pete had become Great Friends over the years I recorded Pete. Mother and Daddy were at Charles Cassidy's Depot watching the parade. Because Pete was the "Grand Marshall", he stopped the the entire parade at the depot. Pete then got off his float, walked over to Mother and Daddy, gave both of them a big hug, and a golden doubloon of that year’s "Pete Fountain's Half Fast Walking Club". (earlier called “The Half-Assed Walking Club”. Pete and Miss Beverly though it was to bold and changed it) In the many years as a member of the club, I had so much fun with Pete and all the members of the club. I had never known how friendly people could be found along our Mardi Gras route.
At the opening of "Walt Disney World Epcot Center", Pete was the Star of the TV Special presented to open Epcot Center. I was the blessed one chosen to engineer the special. Walt Disney Epcot Center had an open day for only the performers and staff of the tv special. My Children, Vicki, and I had the luxury of experiencing the dream of no lines in Epcot Center. My Children could not believe that there were only us and the crew and their families. My Children thought we were Royalty! (from Bogalusa, wow!) Absolutely no waits for any of the venues! This trip was a unique experience for our family.
Some of you know that cooking for my Children and family was my favorite thing to do. I love cooking, especially if I made the folks, I was cooking for, happy with the food I prepared. I hate to say it, mostly because of my Daddy's great sauces, I was pretty good and made the most of the event. The group, I think, thought I was an OK chef?
My favorite type of food is French, and sauces were my attempted favorites. I had an idol in the chef world before Emeril and Gordon Ramsay took over the culinary world. He was the famous French Chef Paul Bocuse. Paul happened to be the #1 Peter Fountain Fan in France. In the Epcot World Showcase, Paul Bocuse had the gourmet restaurant in the French Sector. Pete knew I was a tremendous fan of Paul Bocuse. Paul invited all of Pete's crew for dinner at his place one of the nights we were at Epcot. Pete had me seated next to Paul and I was ecstatic about the opportunity of talking to Paul and I had a thousand questions I could not wait to ask him. I was seated with Paul. One of the most favorite desserts Paul was famous for was "White Chocolate Mousse". Asking him about that dessert was on the top of my agenda. We shook hands and said hello. It soon became obvious that we could not communicate. Damn, Paul did not speak English! I was comfortable with the fact that I had been taught basic French by my sweet teacher Mrs. Holcomb, Jodi's Mother. Not so fast Sweet William, Paul spoke a specific "Parisian French Dialect" that left us unable to talk except for an interpreter. I was disappointed! Instead of the thousand questions, the only thing I got to ask was in regard to his famous "White Chocolate Mousse Recipe". I'll settle for that any day, right? I can promise you, if you give enough effort, a subject and friendship, ever how brittle, can be formed with a person, considered by you to be unapproachable or unwanted friend, may end up as one. A person who is not your mirror, but in many ways your opposite, even a fledgling relationship may come to bare. In actuality, Paul and I were in the same arena, but a man as busy as Paul has little time to talk to strangers as possible. But, at last, a bridge was constructed! Pete was talking in the group of folks at the end of the table after an exquisite dinner when Pete talked about me being his recording engineer. Bingo! Paul’s friend and interpreter heard Pete speak of me and (his name was Jean) told Paul. It immediately came to my attention that Chef Bocuse had to speak to me in the kitchen with Jean. Low and behold, Our Famous Chef was a tape fanatic. All of the music he possessed was on 2-track ¼” magnetic tape. To be more specific, Chef was the proud owner of a TEAC tape machine, which at that time in technology, was state-of-the-art for home dwellers. Mr. Bocuse asked through Jean, if there was any possible way for Mr. Evans, the recording engineer, to transfer all of Pete’s vinyl albums to 7.5 ips, 2-track ¼” tape reels for him. Chef Bocuse would then possess the most impressive of Pete Fountain collection on tape. The country of France’s foremost Fountain Collection on taped reel to reel. I knew Pete would love it, so I said I would gladly complete the mission for Chef Bocuse. WOW! I thought I was going to get cooking lessons from my favorite Chef. All of a sudden, Paul and Jean took me to his apartment in Epcot, opened his trunk, and now this Bogalusa Boy had a group of some of the most famous recipes in all the world. Now the distant friendship, which I was not advancing swiftly, became an important meeting to the Chef. Remember, give each person at least a glimmer of a chance when a conversation has the ability to bring even opposites to be a little more friendly. Almost all people deserve a small chance of being heard. You may end up with a friend that you had first formed an unfavorable opinion of. There is always a better chance of a relationship, when both parties are, at least, open to a discussion. Lesson is now over. The quite introverted Famous Chef Bocuse was kind enough to dictate three recipes (one of which was “White Chocolate Mousse by Chef Paul Bocuse”) to the Jean and give them to me. The mousse recipe is my Children’s favorite dessert and until this day, I make it quite often for them. That recipe, like that of my recipe for "Homemade Caesar Dressing", the real prototype and invention by the Creator of Caesar Cardini himself (1896-1956) ended up as mine as well. Sammy Davis, Jr. was great friends with Cesare and his Brother Alex. Sammy loved to go to Tijuana to get this salad. The brothers had had a restaurant in Los Angles that was not successful. The decision was made to move to Tijuana to survive. I worked a great deal of projects with Sammy in Los Angles at MGM Records. “Candy Man", the number one hit off of Sammy’s “NOW” album, was Sammy’s and my first Gold Record. Sammy gave me a copy of a hand-written recipe given to him by Cesare. I still have it. I gave it years later to Pete and Miss Beverly. It was their favorite salad dressing and Miss Beverly could make it at home. She did it often. Pete loved oysters most, but this salad became his favorite food not having shells.
Pete, Miss Beverly, and their Family became part of the Evans Family for over 40 years. The friendship with Pete’s Family continues to this day. I want God to know how wonderful his blessings have been for me and my family. I have suffered many self-inflicted and life's own deluge of grief and pain. But I choose to focus on my blessings. Pete Fountain and His Family are a major part of the Blessings I am so thankful to have received. Damn I talk too much. It is a feeling of relief when I share some of my stories before I leave in 20 or 30 years. I thank you so much for reading these memories of my life and I sincerely hope that you may enjoy dreaming of your memories yet to be created. I thank you again. William S. "Bleu" Evans.