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The Las Vegas Review Journal - Sunday, July 14, 2002
Work tough to find for Treniers
For the group that may well have invented the term "rock 'n' roll," maybe it really is better to fade away than to burn out.
I speak of the Treniers, the durable lounge legends who were synonymous with Las Vegas' golden age in the '50s.
The Alabama group was founded by Claude Trenier, who turns 83 today, and his late twin Cliff. Billed as "the rocking, rolling Treniers" in the early '50s, they were neck and neck with Bill Haley in promoting the phrase through songs such as "Rockin' Is Our Business."
The group worked the Flamingo in 1947, before it had a proper lounge. After their stage time with comedian Myron Cohen, they would set up and play by a free buffet.
That helped steer casinos toward the roaring era when the Treniers, Louis Prima, the Mary Kaye Trio, Freddie Bell and others made "lounge" a musical genre beyond a physical location.
These groups made upward of $15,000 a week in '50s dollars. Today, the Treniers can't find a Las Vegas casino willing to guarantee $6,000 per week.
"It's all slots now. That's where the money is," says Skip Trenier, Claude's 65-year-old nephew, who has been in the group since 1959. "There are very few acts left. It's mostly bands playing dance music."
That's why Independence Day weekend was a turning point. If the Treniers play again, it's likely to be at special events for appreciative audiences, such as the just-concluded Rockin' '50s Rockabilly Festival at the Oneida Casino in Green Bay, Wis.
Like a similar festival each spring at the Gold Coast, organizers asked the group to delete any soft-serve filler and present a straight-ahead hour of its wildest early stuff, still paced by the honking saxophone of 81-year-old Don Hill.
As the fans cheered the group into an encore of its early anthem "Go, Go, Go," "I'm just looking at these young people with their tattoos and hairdos, and all the different countries they were from," Skip says. "They brought pictures of Claude and Cliff from the '40s to sign."
After that glorious weekend, Skip returned to Las Vegas to take a job driving for an airport limousine service. "I know evolution. Nothing lasts forever," Cliff says. "That's what I learned when I started."
But Claude, who has recently been living with another brother in California, instructs Skip to say: "We don't say that we're done. Someone might call us to work in Afghanistan."
And the Treniers would be there. That's why Skip says: "We never announce that we're giving it up. If we fade, we fade."
At least they won't fade in front of apathetic casino crowds, trying to do five sets per night for less and less money. If the festivals keep calling -- or Afghanistan -- the fans who really care can see the pioneers burn through an hour of their best.
Keep on go, go, going, guys.
-- Mike Weatherford