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Ol’ Blue Eyes’ son sticks with classics

Of The Oakland Press

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His very name casts a shadow that would have steered most sons in a direction far different from their fathers. After all, who really wants to be known — as Paulie on HBO’s “The Sopranos” put it — as “the chairboy of the ... board”?

So it’s understandable for Frank Sinatra Jr., who releases “That Face!,” his first new album in more than a decade, on Tuesday, wants to keep a low profile. But he hasn’t.

Since 1963, when the New Jersey-born, California-raised son of Ol’ Blue Eyes, then 21, made his big-time debut with the Tommy Dorsey’s band at New York’s Americana Hotel, he’s maintained a busy career as a performer, recording artist and, occasionally, an actor — including a guest appearance on the second season of “The Sopranos.”

He became his father’s band leader in 1988 — the same year he cameoed on the Was (Not Was) album “What Up, Dog?” — and now tours under the banner “Sinatra Sings Sinatra,” paying enduring tribute to his father.

But for as public a career as he’s maintained, Sinatra Jr., 62, remains a bit enigmatic. So on the occasion of “That Face!” and, what the heck, the season finale of “The Sopranos,” here are a few things to know these days about the boy who would be Chairman:

He just sings the songs, man. “I didn’t have a creative mission (on ‘That Face!’). It was all dictated by the producers. The songs existed in my book already, and the people who produced the album had the attitude that they were good enough to be on a record. We had been doing some of them in my live show for over 30 years, but they were never recorded, so we actually took existing orchestrations and just put them into this album.”

He’s just as involved in the archival continuation of his father’s career. “I have nothing to do with that. That’s handled by my sister (Nancy Sinatra) and the man who produced my album, Charles Pignone. Every so often, they stick an album in my hand that’s some concept someone’s come up with. It would be nice if they asked my opinion about things; I flatter myself that I understand something about Frank Sinatra music, but apparently my viewpoint doesn’t matter in their eyes.”

“That Face!” is on Reprise Records, which his father started, but Sinatra Jr., doesn’t care. “I have no feeling about that one way or the other. From 1960 to 1963, I was part of the original history because I worked there at that time. But after that, I would like to be as far away from the history of that label. They put out an awful lot of stuff which had to do with killing all the pigs, the cops and raping all the women and everything. In order to do things just to make a lot of money, the direction of the company was very much like the ethical makeup of a narcotics dealer. It was, ‘I’ll sell anything so long as it makes money, regardless of who is hurt in the process.’ ”

As you might suspect, he doesn’t think much of rock, rap or other contemporary music. “When I was in my 20s, because I was under 40, I was immediately assigned to be a rock singer, and I did not understand that music. I didn’t want to be part of it, and it cost me my first record contract. At that time, the music was all about the narcotics songs; we had the Beatles and the Lovin’ Spoonful and all those charming groups who were singing about narcotics, and then there were the others who were protesting the war in Vietnam. I didn’t regard either one of those subjects as entertainment, and I did not particularly care to sing about them. I had short hair and wore a tuxedo when I went to work, and that cost me a few hungry nights as well.”

But he’s happy that Rod Stewart, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight and so many others are singing from the Great American Songbook. “It began, actually, very slowly in the ’80s with a lady named Linda Ronstadt, who taught an entire generation of children about the existence of someone named Nelson Riddle. Now we have Rod Stewart and we have Norah Jones and Diana Krall. I just received a new record album by Michael Bolton, in which he’s making Sinatra music. I hope it isn’t just a very transient fad that’s going on at the moment, but it appears there’s some, I wouldn’t say resurgence, but let’s just say some interest in making this sound, which is good. I love the attitude that these people are making music.”

Attention, David Cassidy and Ricci Martin — Frank Jr.’s no a fan of your Rat Pack tribute shows. “They are an irritant. Almost every one of them is done with very, very low levels of taste, and I have never really cared for them that much.”

He hasn’t read Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles,” in which Dylan has some very kind words about Sinatra Jr. “I’ve known Bob for 35 years. He and I met in New York many, many years ago, and I was very pleased at his down-to-earth personality. I admired him for the fact that he’s not trying to be somebody he isn’t. He puts no airs on at all. He’s just trying to be him.”

How should “The Sopranos” end? No opinion. “I really don’t know. It has so many different, diverse avenues, I really wouldn’t know what to say. I’m sure they’ve given that considerable thought. I’m sure the lights are burning bright in their executive offices at night. I like those people who make that show. I like the job they do. I think they’re very good at it. I know they’re very devoted to it, and I’m very proud to know them ’cause they’re good performers and actors.”

He’d like to sing for you. Yes, you. “If they ask me — they meaning the exhibitors — I’ll be there. We could use a Detroit job, no question about it. The city’s always been kind to me. It would be nice to go there again.”

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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