Up with Claude
By Degen Pener
for over 50 years, The Treniers are a living link between the
swing era and the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll. The band inspired Bill
Haley’s stage show, appeared in the early rock movieThe Girl
Can’t Help It, and proudly call themselves one of Las Vegas’
original lounge acts. With a new generation of swing fans discovering
their raucous repertoire of jump blues hits, Claude Trenier—the
band’s leader and one of its only original members, along with
saxman Don Hill—talks with The Swing Book’s Degen Pener
about a life of jumping, jiving and wailing.
did a lot of wild, crazy things. My twin brother Cliff and I came
up out of the big bands. When we first started out we started
pulling the twin thing back at the Apollo when we were with Jimmie
Lunceford’s band. One of us would go out singing and walk off
one side of the stage and the other came in singing the same song
from the other side of the stage. People went, “How in the heck
did he get around there that fast?” Man, people stopped drinkin’.
We were the new sensation.
thing everybody said about the Treniers is that they stick
together. You fight one of them, you’ve got to fight them
all. We were like the Corisan twins. That was a big Douglas
Fairbanks movie. If one felt a hurt, the other one felt
it too. We were real close. One time, we had a little
scuffle in Wildwood, New Jersey. I’ll never forget—I wrote
a song and he wanted it faster and I said no. He said,
“So what?” We started swinging at each other and he ducked
and I hit the wall and I broke my little finger. We had
disagreements but we didn’t have no violent fights where
you get a knife or a hammer or a stick or anything. We
just had little fisticuffs.
nineteen hundred and forty nine, this guy that owned a club in
Chicago called the Blue Note started calling us the Rock and Rollin’
Treniers. We had a song where we’d sing in the background, “We
gonna rock. We gonna roll.” We were playing this stuff and we
really didn’t have any name for it. The guy that owned the club
said, “What kind of music you call that?” And we said, “We don’t
know. We’re just having fun. It’s swinging.” Any number that had
a beat to it and was a little fast, they started calling rock
and roll. They just changed the name. Alan Freed called us the
greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever. We were on the Jackie Gleason
show and that jumped us up into the high money bracket. We used
to work 50 weeks a year.
tell you, I enjoyed the whole experience. Other guys in my band
got married. Cliff met his wife in Los Angeles and got married
and adopted a daughter. Not me. Hell, no. The problem is that
I would be out there with some girl and she’s talking on the phone
with her husband and I’d be [in bed with] her and she’s telling
him how much she misses him. And I said if this is what goes on
with married people, damn marriage. When I see a woman getting
close, I say, “Look, I’ve got to go—I’ve got to here, and I’ve
got to go there.” See, I’m a musician. I travel. I’d rather be
out here singing. I like to sing and swing.
course, we ain’t working that much in Vegas now. All these hotels
have cut their budgets. The music is canned. They got so many
magicians now, if each one made one thing disappear, we wouldn’t
have no Las Vegas. Some of the hotels say, “Oh, you been around
too long.” Damn, we’ve been playing the Strip for 51 years, what
the hell do they care how long a group’s been around if they do
business? Besides, all the groups that are playing around town
are playing that jump, jive and wailing stuff, the same kind of
music that we played 35 and 40 years ago. They think they done
found something new. But it’s nice to see that swing is back because
it was just laying there. It helps us too. Our last show in Wildwood
sold out in twenty minutes. It shows that the music we were playing
in those days is never lost.
don’t have no millions. I enjoyed my fun. I play keno. I like
playing the horses. The only thing I would change is to keep my
twin brother here a little longer. He was a cigarette smoker and
he wouldn’t quit. My brother Buddy died of that too. They’d wake
up and boom, they’d have a cigarette. And two minutes later they’d
have another. Cliff used to be the comedian in the group and when
he passed away, I had to be the comedian, the straight man, everything.
Until my nephew Skip came in there and he became the straight
just made eighty on July the 14th and I’m still jumpin’ around.
I got a little arthritic knee so I have to wear one of those elastic
braces when I go on stage. When we do “Go, Go, Go” and start jumping
all up and everything, I don’t want it to kick out. But once I
get started, I’m in there for the night. That’s why I’m still
in it. I have fun. When I come off stage, I say, “That’s better
than a hundred dollar bill.”
learn more about The Treniers, visit www.thetreniers.com.
To order The Swing Book by Degen Pener, visit www.amazon.com