His song, “All I Want for Christmas is You” celebrates an anniversary
KENT HARDOUIN PHOTOGRAPH
Vince Vance’s trademarks are both his Eraserhead-style hair (according to his website, the oversized pompadour-esque look was 18.865 inches high on its best day) and costumes.
He is a New Orleans native and original, for sure – he grew up in the French Quarter (and knew Ruthie the Duck Girl) and loves his city so much, he wrote a song, “I Am New Orleans,” that nostalgically celebrates what makes it so special.
Vince Vance isn’t his given name. He never gives it to me, and though I find it out during research, I’m hesitant to use it.
“Vince Vance is a fantasy character,” he says. “And it’s a character I’ve become. So people think there’s blurring of the real me and the real Vince Vance, whoever he may be.” (The Vince Vance I’m speaking to wasn’t always the Vince Vance in the band. This one started as Andy Stone – another pseudonym, which he used mainly for songwriting.)
For almost four decades, Vince Vance and the Valiants, in its many recreations and incarnations, have performed at the Grand Ole Opry, Superdome, Rock N’ Bowl, Endymion Ball and Krewe of Halloween, to name just a few. I caught up with Vance after they performed at the Greater Baton Rouge State Fair. The band’s presentation is music, theater and performance art – all at the same time.
Vance is a noted composer. In fact, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” It has been covered by several singers, including Shania Twain and LeAnn Rimes. (The song of the same title that Mariah Carey sings is different.) The video, starring Vance and then-Valiantette Lisa Layne (who was the female vocalist in the Valiants’ version of the song), has had more than 230,000 hits on YouTube (a good source for Vince Vance videos). It charted in Billboard, and CMT named it as one of its “Merriest Christmas Videos.”
When asked about his favorite song, Vance launches into the inspiration for one: a rhyme that little girls in the French Quarter use when jumping rope. A note to Harry Connick Jr.: Vance would love if you covered the song:
“You’re Such a Beautiful Girl.”
He has also branched out; his children’s book was published in 1995: The Vince Vance Rock & Roll Reader (Fullerton Books) – a book of bedtime stores, poems, songs, brain teasers and trivia.
Anything else you need to know about Vance? “I really know how to throw a cruise and raise money.” If you’ve been to a fundraiser in the past year, Vance probably performed at it.
When asked if he’ll ever retire from performing, he gives a long and thoughtful pause. Then an answer. But I think we all know – without revealing what he said – Vance will always be on stage.
Name: Vince Vance Age: 39 ... and holding Profession: Entertainer/composer/pianist (he also admits to being a singer and a dancer) Born: Yes, on Jan. 31 Resides: At the Riverbend near Carrollton and Oak streets. I grew up in the French Quarter. Family: Widower with two sons: Stevie Ray, who lives in Florida, and Chris, aka Ratty Scurvics, pianist, composer, writer and musical director Education: Nicholls Senior High School; Bachelor of Arts in English and Music from Southeastern Louisiana University. I didn’t finish my master’s in English. Favorite books: Contact, by Carl Sagan; The Stand, by Stephen King; and the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke.
Poets: Emily Dickinson, A.E. Housman, W.B. Yeats and Edgar Allan Poe Favorite movies: The Godfather I, II & III – Director’s Cut; Groundhog Day; Silence of the Lambs; Seven; Life of Brian; The Meaning of Life; Monty Python & the Holy Grail; The Unforgiven; and The Shawshank Redemption. Favorite foods: Avocado, mango, shrimp and oyster poor boys on French bread Favorite restaurants: Deno’s, Drago’s, Mandina’s, Pascale Manale’s, Royal Palm and William’s Plum Street Snowballs Favorite music/musicians: The Skyliners, Dion and the Belmonts, Duprees, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Beatles, Duffy and Erroll Garner Favorite vacation spot: Islands, like La Maddalena, Sardinia; Crete; Bermuda; Jamaica; and the Bahamas. I also love the Emerald Grande in Destin, Fla. Hobby: NFL football, especially the New Orleans Saints. I rarely miss a game. However, I enjoy most all NFL games. Quote: “You can’t buy a good time, but you can hire me and improve your chances.”
How long have you been performing? Vince Vance and the Valiants have been together for 39 years.
How did you come to be part of the Vince Vance and the Valiants? While I was working on my master’s degree, I was playing piano at a place where the guy hated me. His wife at the time was JoAnn Clevenger, now owner of Upperline, and she liked me. He despised me because I played all this retro (19)50s rock and roll, but the people loved me. Some waiters over at Your Father’s Moustache said they wanted to put a band together to play the kind of music I was playing. I said you’re in luck, because I’m a high school band director and I can teach you all how to do it.
We went on stage for the first time on Sept. 18, 1971, 4 p.m. on a Friday at Your Father’s Moustache. The band was big, and it got bigger through the years – we had a horn section at one time.
Who are some of your influences? James Brown and the Famous Flames. It was a big production, and the first concert I ever went to. He was my influence for the show. And, at the same time we were living through the end of the (19)60s, when the musical, Hair, came out. It was very interactive. And Fats Domino on piano.
How many are in the band right now? I have five members: piano, saxophone, drums, guitar, bass; plus three Valiantettes. I often have an assistant who walks behind me on stage spraying my hair.
What instruments do you play? I’d always been on the keyboard until 1989. And then I hired a keyboardist so I can make more costume changes. I play the saxophone.
How many costume changes can you make in a show? In a night, no more than 20 is absurd.
Do you make your costumes? I’m working on some now, though some are made for me. I’m Uncle Sam almost every night, I’m a Christmas tree every night, I’m a cop every night, I’m a nerd every night.
What kind of hair spray do you use? Freeze It – the bonus size.
In 1975, when you went by Andy Stone, you said in a New Orleans Magazine article about the band, “I don’t know what these guys are in for, but I’m in it for the glory.” Still true? Probably true. It’s never changed in all these years.
I’ll take a job sometime, even though it might not be a moneymaker ... [But], I’ll do something like that because I really enjoy certain gigs.
It’s fun, and being able to do what you wanted to do all your life.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the song co-written by you (under the name Andy Stone) and Troy Powers in August 1988. But it really came of prominence in ’90, with a video released in ’93. It’s just celebrating the 20th anniversary of its major release. I’m asking my friends to request it at radio stations so it can be No. 1 again. I’m happy to be part of something that is successful.
How it came about was my guitar player, Troy Powers, said he had a great idea for a Christmas song, “All I Want is Christmas is You.” I thought about it, I actually prayed to be inspired – it’s Christmas, and it’s important to me.
True Confession: Though I’m known for being a performer, I want to be known for being a composer and writer.
Little known fact: I am a Mason and a Shriner.
This month, you can see Vince Vance and the Valiants perform in Louisiana: Dec. 10: Speckled T’s Christmas Gala, Slidell; Dec. 18: Isle of Capri Casino, Westlake.