Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg and his band, La Bamba and the Hubcaps, paid a call to the Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival at the Morristown Greene on a summer afternoon in August.
Rosenberg, who is known for his exceptional skill for playing the trombone, came to play Aug. 18, and he rocked back and forth with the nine-foot piece of brass nestled onto his left shoulder.
“We love working and coming here and putting smiles on people’s faces,” Rosenberg said. “That’s what we really enjoy. We like to get the people really excited and enjoying what we enjoy. Fun. That’s what it’s all about, you know? It’s beautiful that the weather cleared up, and we’re here to party.”
Rosenberg, who has been a part of Conan O’Brien’s Big Band for about 25 years, has also toured with legends such as Diana Ross, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Rosenberg began playing the trombone many years ago when his junior high school music director loaned him a school trombone for the summer in hopes he would play for the school band.
“Their trombone section was going to get a little light with students graduating and they basically said to me, ‘Here. Take this over the summer,’ and handed me a trombone,” he said. “I was just given the trombone and have been playing it since.”
Rosenberg credited a lot of his musical success to his school growing up and felt they were pretty big motivators in his career.
“I went through the Philadelphia school system growing up, and they had a great music program and great music director, Leroy Evans,” he said. “I had a great trombone teacher, Brian Pastor, who plays in the Philly Pops, and so there was some great influence there.”
Growing up in a household full of musicians, Rosenberg was always surrounded by performers. But it wasn’t until he started to play the trombone that Rosenberg began to really listen to music.
“My family was a great influence to me, as well,” he said. “My parents both knew how to play piano, they could sing, too. My sister was very musical, too. But when my parents got divorced, my stepfather was an avid jazz fan and he said, ‘Let’s get you some records,’ and I started listening to J.J. Johnson. I went out and bought every J.J. Johnson album I could find.”
Eventually after years of listening to jazz, as well as years of playing the trombone, Rosenberg was offered a spot with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
“I joined the Asbury Jukes in ’76,” he said. “I really didn’t know too much about any of their scene. I came in kind of cold, but it didn’t take too long to fall into place. I was the only trombone player that had been in The Jukes. It was a great experience. It was an eye-opening experience, or ear-opening experience, with Johnny being the record collector that he is. He knows a lot, he’s a real historian and that helped to build a lot of ideas.”
Rosenberg, along with the band, started to play at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park and really started to build a library of songs.
“We started building our library,” he said. “It was all cover stuff. Eventually we got into original stuff, but it’s the cover stuff that people really seemed to enjoy out of us.”
Rosenberg has toured with Bruce Springsteen, as well, and even played the trombone for Springsteen at the Super Bowl XLIII half time show in 2009 in Tampa. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in that game, 27-23.
“I was with Bruce for a long time,” he said. “From the first rehearsal that I came into, it was a family back there. I knew Bruce from the first day that I joined The Jukes, and I ended up touring with him. That was incredible recording and touring with him.”
Rosenberg who formed, La Bamba and the Hubcaps in the mid-1980s, also formed a Big Band consisting of 18 pieces.
“I have this 18-piece big band,” Rosenberg said. “It has 13 horns, and it’s basically The Hubcaps with the 13 horns added on to it. Occasionally, we would do some shows where Johnny or Bruce would come out and join us, and I started making that a big deal for me because I love to orchestrate.”
Since he was in high school, Rosenberg has always loved to write his own music.
“I’d get the pencil out and I’d write on the score pad, and I have this great library of stuff that I love to try out,” he said.
Eventually Johnny Lyon, a.k.a. Southside Johnny, asked Rosenberg to do a Tom Waits album, as well as asking him to score the whole thing himself.
“The album is called, ‘Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits,'” Rosenberg said. “We put it out on CD and critics loved it. It’s really one of my proudest moments. It has to be between that and the Super Bowl. That was a huge experience for me to have that all recorded and presented. To make that even more special, Johnny and the band came on Conan and we performed one of the songs live. To be a member of the house band and to have my band on that same show, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg is still currently a part of Conan O’Brien’s big band and takes every opportunity he gets to play with the Asbury Jukes, as well as his Hubcaps.