Labamba, the demure brunt of many of Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien's jokes, and a superbly skilled trombonist and band leader, is accompanying his pal Mark Pender, the incredible trumpet player next to LaBamba in the Tonight Show house band - The Max Weinberg 7 - to the Cherokee Jazz & Blues Festival this year and will perform with Pender's Band at the Saturday night Main Concert at Western Iowa Tech Community College from 7-10- p.m.
Pender has been the Festival headliner for several years, but has taken a hiatus the past few years. He's coming back for the Festival's 10th annual celebration and has repeatedly asked LaBamba to come to Cherokee with him over the years.
This year, that magical tandem is booked for the Jazz & Blues Festival that promises to feature the most star-studded, talented field in its 10-year history.
"Pender told me Cherokee would be a life-changing experience for me like it has been for him," said LaBamba in his recent e-mail correspondence. "I'm excited to come and see what this is all about."
Because of his prodigious skills and long-time prominence on the East Coast music scene, LaBamba has toured with many greats, including Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Diana Ross, Dave Edmonds, and Little Steven.
LaBamba also has his own band "LaBamba and the Hubcaps," and also performs with LaBamba's Big Band which includes an additional 13 horns. Pender regularly plays with the LaBamba bands.
Young Richie started playing piano at age 7, the trombone at age 14, and attended the Philadelphia Musical Academy with full scholarship. He's been fast friends with Weinberg since meeting Springsteen and him in 1976, and has been with Weinberg's band since day one.
A most interesting fellow, LaBamba and his wife have five children and, although he misses the East Coast now that O'Brien, Weinberg and company do the Tonight Show in California, he admits that the West Coast exposure has led him in many new and challenging directions professionally.
When asked what the largest venue he has played was, LaBamba said it was an outdoor concert with Springsteen and the E Street Band in East Berlin, Germany, before the Wall came down.
The smallest venue he played was the living room in a private home.
When asked, LaBamba described Conan O'Brien as the "coolest, nicest, caring boss on the face of the planet. And he's really quite musically talented," added the charismatic trombonist.
Although he likes all styles of music, jazz and R&B are Richie's favorite genres, and when he dines, BBQ is his preference.
Known for his hats, LaBamba began wearing the handmade panama-style hats when he first began playing for the Asbury Jukes.
"I wrongly took it off (quit wearing hats) in the mid-80s, but have since changed my evil ways," joked LaBamba. "Little Steven believed that a band should always establish a strong identity and constantly wear its colors whenever in the public eye. I can't agree more, especially for someone in the entertainment industry."
For the record, LaBamba's great hats are all handmade by the Panama Hat Company (mypanamahat.com).
When told it's January in Iowa and asked if he owned any longjohns, because it's going to be below zero this weekend, LaBamba replied, "Isn't it all about the Under Armor?"
Hey, cold apparently doesn't bother another of the coolest guys on the planet.
The headliner for the Saturday evening concert at Western Iowa Tech Community College Conference Center in Cherokee will once again be Mark Pender and his Mark Pender Band, along with LaBamba and guitar legend Glenn Alexander.
This will be the sixth time that Pender and Alexander have performed in the Festival. Pender is originally from Kansas City, Missouri, as were most of the musicians who performed here in the first Cherokee Jazz Festival in January, 1992.
The various Pub Crawls are from 9 p.m. to midnight Friday, and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday. The Pub Crawls are at The Gathering Place, The Other Place, VFW, and Cherokee Bowl both nights. Also, the Copper Cup kicks off the weekend with the Northwest Iowa Musicians playing 7-10 p.m. Friday.