Frankie Saved the Day

Before I continue my story about my first meeting with Frankie Laine, I want to relay why I have loved this great vocal stylist since first hearing him sing. The emotion he emotes while singing each song is what has always thrilled me. Before Frankie Laine, no singer since Al Jolson has attempted to allow emotion to overtake the vocal chords! Don’t get me wrong; I know that some singers before Frankie Laine have sung with emotion. The great Billie Holliday is one of those singers. However, Frankie used his emotional renderings in a different way. He emphasized and attacked words within each song—picking them apart at the seams, adding his own brand of storytelling to the word phrases. He lived the story of the song. Whether happy, bluesy, jazzy, or melancholy, listening to Frankie sing was like taking a journey into the song’s story. Thus, the composition really means something special to the listener.

Of course, depending on the song, Frankie exhibited both a masculine ruggedness and a masculine tenderness as part of his vocal delivery. In my Frankie Laine collection, I have a clip from the television show The Rockford Files in the 1970s. Jim Rockford, played by James Garner, referring to a boat with the name the “Wild Goose,” says, “. . . my heart knows what the wild goose knows.” Noah Beery Jr., who played Jim’s father, Joe, returns with “Oh, Frankie Laine! Now there’s a singer who sang like a man!”

Later, when I’d acquired videotapes of Frankie Laine on various television shows and in the movies, I loved watching him sing. Frankie’s hands and arms were always moving to the dynamics of the song or the upsurges of his feelings while singing—the genius of a song stylist legend!

(Continued from October blog)

In November 1985, I took the Greyhound bus to sunny San Diego. The weather in Iowa was gray, cold, and damp. I was eager to see what the west coast weather was like. My journey took an incredible two days and two nights out there. I didn’t know that the popular bus line hit every town stop along the way. I thought the bus would take me straight to my destination! Alas, it didn’t happen that way. For example, our route took us to Barstow, California, before going to San Diego—this, instead of traveling south at an earlier spot. Before that, we had a two-hour layover in Denver because of a snowstorm.

I arrived in San Diego on November 19, with my dwindling finances. Because of the long trip, I had used most of my money for food at the stops along the way. Once I had arrived at my destination at the Greyhound station in San Diego, I was left with my luggage, little cash, and no place to go.

When I had called and spoken with Frankie from Iowa, he had instructed me to call him as soon as I had arrived in San Diego. Therefore, this was first on my agenda. I went to a phone booth and, before calling Frankie, glanced through the phonebook’s Yellow Pages in order to locate a nearby hotel or motel. To my dismay, all of the prices listed in the ads were way over my budget! Quickly, the reality of my situation became frightening.

I dialed Frankie’s number. He answered.

“How was your trip?” he asked. I quickly related my long trip experience. I explained my newly discovered plight regarding my dwindling finances and no place to stay. He doubtless thought I was crazy for making such an ill-conceived trip. However, being the kind of person Frankie was, he simply asked for my location. When I told him, he suggested I walk a few blocks to a Veterans’ YMCA located a relatively short distance from the bus station. He explained that as long as I had proof I was from another state, I could stay there. The cost was only $16 per night. I could afford this and was immediately happy. Frankie suggested that I get a good night’s rest and call him the next morning. Then we ended our conversation.

Immediately relieved, I headed for the hotel. Now the sunshine, warmth, green grass, and flowers began to make me smile. I had made it to warm and sunny San Diego. I would meet my idol the next day. Frankie had saved the day!

The room was small with only a tiny bed. I was satisfied, however. I stowed my suitcases and walked down the hallway to the shared toilet and shower area. The shower stalls were completely open. It reminded me of the layout of a prison I’d seen from movies and TV. Luckily, no one else was there as I took my hasty shower, relieving myself of the grime of a 48-hour bus trip.

After a great night’s sleep, I woke up, dawned my suit, and made myself ready for the first meeting with my idol—the great Frankie Laine! I grabbed my luggage, went downstairs to the main desk, and checked out of my room. I was very excited when I called Frankie that morning.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked. After hearing that I had, he instructed me to be waiting outside of the hotel at noon, and he would pick me up. “You will accompany me on my rounds this afternoon,” he said.

I was almost overwhelmed with excitement! I had come to San Diego to shake the hand of my idol. Now Frankie was telling me that I would get to be his afternoon guest! This was almost unbelievable to me.

After finishing my morning call to Frankie, I was wondering what I was going to do for the next few hours. I had thought Frankie would see me shortly after the morning call that he had instructed me to make. I had checked out my room and had my luggage with me.

I asked the hotel clerk where I could get breakfast. He told me about a small dining area in the next room. I could afford little, but I bought a doughnut and a cup of coffee. There I sat until noon.

I went to the front door and looked out the window to see whether Frankie had arrived. There was a door at the top of the steps, which led down to the outer door. I next went down the steps to peer out of the entrance door. Frankie wasn’t in sight. I didn’t want to go outside and wait with three suitcases, so I went back up to the main floor and waited. A few minutes later, I looked through the window, and I saw Frankie walking up the steps from the door on the main entrance. His lips were pinched, and he looked angry as he made his way up the steps.

I thought I was in trouble. Celebrities can be fickle. I had had my experience with them in the past. In 1975, I attended my third Buddy Rich concert. Buddy was my drumming idol. During intermission, as Buddy was signing autographs for the hoard of people waiting, I went up to Buddy and asked him a question. This took every ounce of courage I could muster. Buddy shook his head and snapped, “Don’t ask me anything. I’m not here to answer any questions!”

I expected Frankie to be angry with me. I would be crushed if my singing idol became upset with me. Despite this, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Quickly, in just a few seconds, I processed Frankie Laine.

Frankie’s hair seemed a bit darker in the darkness of the staircase. He was casually dressed. He was tall and barrel-chested. There was no denying that this was Frankie Laine.

As Frankie opened the door at the top of the steps, I did my best to prepare myself for the blow. He looked at me, walked over, held out his hand and smiled.

“Hi, Craig, I’m Frankie Laine.”

(Continued next month)

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.