Having a Ball

Nashville swing band BadaBing BadaBoom and Louisiana harmonica-and-accordion master Jumpin' Johnny Sansone headline Soulard Mardi Gras' big dance events

With all the frantic jumping around expected to go on at the Mardi Gras balls, it can't hurt for the musicians to have an athletic bent.

"There's two things I love to talk about -- music and baseball," says Eddie Mugavero, founder of Nashville swing band BadaBing BadaBoom, which will play at the Soulard Mardi Gras Grand Ball on Saturday, Feb. 6, in the Budweiser Events Tent on Lafayette between Eighth and Ninth streets.

During last year's baseball playoffs, Mugavero sang and played with his band at a crowded club, but most of the listeners didn't realize that, at the same time, he was looking over the tops of their heads, trying to get a glimpse of his beloved Yankees on the 13-inch TVs behind the bar.

Then there's Jumpin' Johnny Sansone, who will play harmonica and accordion as his band entertains at the Soulard Social Aid and Pleasure Club Subterranean Ball on Friday, Feb. 12, at the South Broadway Athletic Club, 2301 S. Seventh St. As a college swimmer, Sansone was a national recordholder. And he got his nickname by his penchant for doing back flips off the piano in midgig.

"When I get emotionally wrapped up in the music, I don't feel anything until it's over," says Sansone, although he's dropped the back flip from the routine. "I don't hurt myself, by any means, but I definitely put myself into the show."

BadaBing BadaBoom gets into the show as well, led by Mugavero.
Mugavero is a New Jersey native and a New York Yankee fan, so, although he's never been to St. Louis, he felt a sort of spiritual connection to our city as Mark McGwire chased the home-run record set by the Yankees' Roger Maris in 1961.

"I started following the Yankees in '61," Mugavero says. "My dad used to take me to the games, and I must havecontinued on next pagecontinued from previous pagewatched all the other Yankee games on TV."

But as much as Mugavero loves baseball, he loves songwriting even more. His e-mail address is [email protected]. Get it? "Cut my tune"?

In fact, he was drooling to have two particular young women sing his songs, and in 1995 he recruited Maureen Mohr and Rebecca Sayre as his vocalists after he heard them singing a Linda Ronstadt tune at an open-mike night in a Nashville bar.

"They needed to be singing swing," says Mugavero, who, along with several Nashville critics, describes the pair as putting out an Andrews Sisters-type of sound. "And sometimes I'm the third Andrews Sister," he jokes, referring to his supplemental harmonies.

BadaBing BadaBoom started swinging in Nashville because Mugavero was looking to fill a niche that wasn't there.

"When I worked in New York, I was in a country-rock band," he says. "Down here, there's country bands all over the place, so I decided to do swing."

Besides, Mugavero says the swing era produced the greatest artists of melody and lyrics. He aims to keep that style alive, with his own twist.

All of BadaBing BadaBoom's material is original, written mostly by Mugavero, but with some input as well from trumpeter/flugelboner Bob Dellaposta, viola/mandolin player Stephan Dudash and stand-up-bass player Chris Enghauser. Tom Giampietro fills out the sound on the drums.

The band is finishing up its third album, and it is starting to gain a following outside Nashville, where it is already wildly popular.

Sansone is already popular here in St. Louis. He played at Off Broadway last summer, and Donna Miller of the St. Louis Blues Society, a local music organization, decided to try to book him for Mardi Gras.

That was just fine with Sansone.
"Every time we came here we made new friends and had a great time," he says. "The people seem to come out and support musicians. I was trying to get into St. Louis for years."

His four-piece band includes Rick Oliveras on guitar, Jeff Bridges on bass and Wesley Starr on drums.

It would seem natural for Sansone to bring his band and his music up the Mississippi River to St. Louis from New Orleans, because he describes his latest sound as a mix of second-line street beat and swamp rock. He says it's "Bourbon Street (New Orleans) meets Beale Street (Memphis)." When those two sounds meet on Seventh Street in Soulard, the good times should roll.

"Carnival down here (in New Orleans), if you've been to it, it's kind of a do-what-you-want approach," Sansone says. "That's what I'm going to advise people."

But Sansone hasn't totally forgotten some of the training discipline from his days as a swimmer. When Lent begins, the day after Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), he follows the ritual.

"I give everything up," he says. "No alcohol, no meat. I give up a lot of things that I enjoy.

"Living down here, you can get whatever you want whenever you want it. Lent is a cleansing time."

But until then, expect to get down and dirty at the Mardi Gras balls.

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