Before I continue with part three of my story about my first meeting with Frankie Laine, I want to touch upon a couple of interesting topics associated with my idol.
Over the years, I have noted that some people wonder why Frankie Laine never made a Christmas album. It seems that virtually all famous songsters have released an album of Christmas songs during their careers. Even the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, did. So why didn’t Frankie?
Frankie did record some great Christmas songs—as singles. Older recordings such as “You’re All I Want for Christmas,” “What Am I Gonna Do This Christmas?” —and my favorite—“Merry Christmas Everywhere.” Years later, he recorded “(My First) Merry Christmas Without You”—a very contemporary jazz Christmas song. He also recorded others that could be construed as Christmas material, such as “Tara, Talara, Tala” and “Snow in Lover’s Lane.”
Why he never recorded a Christmas album is a quandary. Most likely, we will never know the answer. Many years ago, this question asked of Helen Snow, president of the Frankie Laine Society of America. I remember Helen telling me the following: “I asked Frank why did he never recorded a Christmas album. He seemed bewildered and told me he had recorded a couple of inspirational albums. He seemed to consider these as one in the same.” (Frankie was most likely referring to his albums Frankie Laine and the Four Lads on Columbia and I Believe on Capitol.) A few years ago, Frankie Laine and his producers did release Christmas Wishin’, which is a new compilation of previous recordings.
According to my friend Tony Cooper of the Frankie Laine International Appreciation Society in England, Frankie once told Tony that Columbia A&R man, Mitch Miller, had been more interested in Frankie recording “singles” rather than albums. Therefore, a Christmas album seemed to be unforthcoming. Tony also told me that Frankie had considered the album Frankie Laine and the Four Lads a “truer representation” of Christmas. I guess one cannot argue with that statement.
Another interesting tidbit for readers who may not know, concerns Frankie’s first musical partner, Carl T. Fischer. (I added Carl’s middle initial “T” here to distinguish him from all the other notables with the same name and spelling.) Most Laine fans know that Carl Fischer was Frankie’s accompanist, composer, and orchestra leader for many years until his sudden death in 1954, at the young age of 42.
Some people may not realize that Carl’s wife, Terry (senior), sang with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. Keeping the musical legacy intact were Carl and Terry’s daughters, Terry and Carol. Along with friend Sally Gordon, the Fischer girls teamed up during their teen years to form the singing trio, the Murmaids. In 1963, they recorded the hit “Popsicles and Icicles.” If you’ve never heard of the song, or simply don’t remember it, I encourage you to locate it on the Internet. It is a great song written by David Gates, who would later become the lead singer in the popular hit-making group, Bread.
(Continued from November blog)
Frankie’s kind greeting instantly relieved me. He wanted to know whether I was ready for our afternoon together. Indeed, I was! He helped me load my suitcases into his car. With Frankie driving and me as the happy passenger, we took off on Frankie’s itinerary and my great adventure.
Frankie asked me questions about my family and me. He seemed to be genuinely interested. We talked about music and I told him how much his music had always meant to me.
Frankie was very nice and, in a stern way, very calm, cool, and collected. I thanked him for being so nice to me—a regular person from Iowa. I told him the story of how Buddy Rich had shouted at me in 1975 when I tried to ask Rich a question. Frankie surprised me by bursting out with “That’s bull@#%it!” He went on to say, “I wouldn’t be where I am at today without people like you; I never forget that!” It was so nice to hear my hero say this. I smiled as we continued down that sunny San Diego street.
“Are you hungry?” Frankie asked me. Of course, I was starved. He also asked me whether I liked Japanese food. I told him I’d never had it. “You’ll like it,” was his reply.
We arrived at the Japanese restaurant. After we’d been seated, Frankie ordered us both a glass of wine. We chatted as we drank our wine. I didn’t know what in the world to order from the menu. Frankie thought I’d like the tempura, so when the waitress came to take our order, he ordered that for me.
My chat with Frankie was interrupted a few times by various patrons in the restaurant. These people recognized him and greeted him. Frankie was as jolly as old Santa, as he shouted his warm responses back to them all.
When our lunch was served, Frankie picked up his chopsticks and began to eat. I didn’t know how to use mine, and Frankie tried to show me by arranging my fingers into the correct position. It was clear that I needed practice, though. Frankie assured me that it would be fine to use my silverware, and I did.
Several times during our meal, I looked across at Frankie and couldn’t believe that I was eating with him. My quest to shake his hand was turning out to be something more spectacular than I could have imagined.
Frankie and I talked about singers. I told him how much I loved Billy Eckstine and Billie Holiday. I asked Frankie who his favorite singers were. I wanted to know who he liked—both male and female. He told me he liked Kenny Rogers and Barbra Streisand. At one point while Frankie was speaking to me, he unknowingly had a couple of pieces of rice sticking in his mustache. All of this was very surreal!
Outside the restaurant, I asked Frankie to autograph the 78s of some of his song hits that I’d brought. I retrieved my briefcase from his car and carefully pulled out the fragile records. He was happy to oblige by signing his name on each record with a special white marker I’d brought just for that purpose. Just as I had asked, he signed them right over the actual grooves of the black portion of the records.
Once more on the streets of San Diego, we headed for a radio station where Frankie was scheduled for an interview regarding his new album. Frankie assured me that I could sit in the studio with him and watch the interview. We soon arrived. Frankie parked in front of the radio station. As we got out of the car, Frankie opened a box of albums, pulled out two, and handed me one. “Here you go, Craig,” he offered. I was thrilled to acquire a new Frankie Laine album release (New Directions, 1985) by Frankie Laine. He also autographed it for me.
We strolled into the studio together and found ourselves in a hallway where one of the station’s hosts greeted us. I was delighted when Frankie introduced me as his friend from Iowa by using both my first name and surname. The radio guy was very nice, but as soon as the introduction was over, he informed Frankie of an emergency that involved the radio program’s scheduled host. The interview with Frankie would have to be postponed.
Luckily, the canceled radio interview worked to my advantage. We’d planned to visit the St. Vincent de Paul Center (which eventually became the St. Vincent de Paul Village) later that afternoon, but now we had some extra time on our hands. Frankie asked me whether I wanted to see his new house. “Yes, that would be great,” I answered—trying not to hyperventilate.
(Continued next month)