Pete Fountain, Clarinet (1957-1959)
Famous Jazz Player Got His Big Break On Lawrence Welk Show
Pete Fountain is better known for his jazz nightclub in New Orleans than he is for his performances on the Lawrence Welk Show. However, it was on the Welk Show where he got his start in show business in 1957, playing alongside jazz trumpeter, Al Hirt.
Fountain was born in New Orleans in 1930. At age nine, he began playing the clarinet based on the advice of a doctor who thought it might help him with a respiratory ailment. At age 12, he began studying the clarinet and at the age 18, was a stand-in replacement for his idol, Irving Fazola, at a strip club on the night of Fazola's death. After graduating from Warren Easton High School in 1948, Fountain became a member of the Junior Dixieland Band and this was followed by a stint with Phil Zito and an important association with the Basin Street Six (1950-54) with whom the clarinetist made his first recordings.
Fountain bought the French Quarter Inn on Bourbon Street in 1960, performing there with his trio before opening Pete’s Place with a 10-piece band, again on Bourbon, eight years later. In 1977, he relocated his club to the Hilton Riverside hotel, playing four nights a week with his swing combo until 2003. He also continued to use a number of fellow Welk performers to arrange and perform in his albums, including Art Depew and Frank Scott.
Fountain suffered pneumonia in April 2013 which caused him to cancel some performances and he died in August 2016 at the age of 86.