Team Frankie Laine has given me the distinct honor to write a monthly blog on this website about the late great singer Frankie Laine.
My initial reaction to this writing assignment was “Great! I am grateful to be assigned such a task, but, I thought, where do I begin?”
Anxiety crept in. How do I compose my words and make them worthy? This great singer deserves only the best! How can I possibly live up to the expectation—this opportunity suddenly bestowed upon me?
Then, as if struck by a Mule Train whip, I finally developed a revelation! Thinking rhetorically, I asked myself, Why not start at the beginning? Why not write about my first encounter with this legend of song? Why not speak about Frankie in my own words, in my own way, using my own feelings?
It was November 1985. I played drums for a popular band each night of the week. I was 29 and couldn’t wait any longer to meet my singing idol, Frankie Laine. I’d just received a batch of cassette tapes of many of Frankie’s old songs from the Frankie Laine Society of America president, Helen Snow.
These songs, along with my own growing collection of Laine songs, fueled my fire to meet Frankie. Being somewhat naïve, and not very stable financially, I booked a Greyhound bus trip to San Diego even before getting up the courage to call Frankie’s secretary, Muriel Moore. I guess I wanted to be resolute in my own mind before calling to ask for permission to meet with Frankie.
My goal was to go to San Diego and shake hands with Frankie—nothing more and nothing less. The very long round-trip journey to California by bus was not an issue to me. I just wanted to meet my idol!
On the way to a gig one evening shortly after I’d booked my bus trip for the following week, I drove up to a car accessible pay telephone and called Muriel.
She somewhat dampened my spirits by saying that the date I was planning on seeing Frankie would not work because Frankie and his wife are in the process of moving into their new house. I told her that all I want to do is see him long enough to shake his hand. She asked me whether I could wait a couple of weeks. When I told her I’d already purchased m y bus ticket, Muriel told me to call Frankie myself and ask him. She said that maybe something could be arranged for me to meet with Frankie. Then she gave me Frankie’s home telephone number!
While I was at the same pay telephone, I sucked in my breath and drew upon every ounce of courage I had in my body. Once prepared, I dialed Frankie’s number. The phone rang. It was a normal enough ringing sound, but it seemed to reverberate as if coming from Mars. My adrenaline-saturated mind comprehended a ringing tone that was somehow different. After all, I was calling the home of the great Frankie Laine. There was no way on God’s earth Frankie’s telephone would ring and sound normal. It wasn’t a normal call. Frankie is an extraordinary man.
A woman answered. I realized that it had to be Nan, Frankie’s wife. Nan Grey, a former movie actress, had married Frankie in 1950. I asked whether this was Nan, and she answered that, it was.
I told her I was from Iowa and a member of the Frankie Laine Society of America. I explained that I was calling to ask permission to come out to San Diego next week and shake hands with Frankie.
She asked me to wait a minute.
I could hear muffled voices in the background. All of a sudden, a masculine voice came over the line. I’m sure my heart stopped for a moment.
It was Frankie.
I disclosed to him what a pleasure it was for me to speak with him. When I mentioned my name, he knew who I was right away. He recalled me as the “young man from Iowa.”
I explained my plans to fulfill my quest. I reluctantly informed him that I’d already purchased my bus ticket for San Diego the following week.
He shocked me by replying, “Oh, Craig, you’re not coming all the way out here by bus just for that, are you?”
I felt my courage rising.
“Yes, I must meet you. It’ll be well worth it to me.”
He asked whether I could spend a little time and make a vacation out of the trip. I told him that, unfortunately, I’d need to get right back to Iowa.
“Okay, when are you coming here?” he asked.
I informed Frankie that the trip would take two days and two nights one way, and that I’d be there on November 19.
His next two sentences put things in motion.
“Give me a call as soon as you arrive in San Diego. I’ll make sure that we get together.”
Continued next month