Paul Anka still doing it his way
Originally, Paul Anka wanted to be a journalist.
No Paul! Don’t do it!
“I grew up wanting to be a writer,” said Anka, who grew up in Ottawa, Canada. “I wrote some articles for the local paper, and in school I took typing and shorthand. But I got kicked out of shorthand class and they put me into music. I soon realized that singing and writing music was what I was meant to do.”
And thus began the career of America’s quintessential teen singing idol, who segued in later life into a classic crooner, actor and legendary songwriter who has toured with and written for Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Buddy Holly.
Anka wrote Sinatra’s signature classic “My Way,” is responsible for Tom Jones’ biggest hit “She’s a Lady,” Holly’s enduring “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” and his own monster hits “Diana,” “Lonely Boy” and “Puppy Love,” the former penned in 1957 when he was just 16.
And of course there is “The Tonight Show Theme,” reworked by Anka for Johnny Carson’s new NBC talk show in 1962 from an earlier song he had written for Annette Funicello.
Paul Anka continues his celebration of 50 years in show business on Saturday, Oct. 6, at Harrah’s South Shore Room.
“Working at Harrah’s brings back a lot of fond memories,” said Anka, 65, who first played Tahoe at the behest of the legendary Bill Harrah in the mid-1960s.
“I played Harrah’s, Caesars, even the old Sahara Tahoe,” said Anka. “Bill Harrah first brought me to play Reno, and then Tahoe, which I still just love to this day. When I started playing Vegas, Steve Wynn would bring me to his home in Tahoe. Eventually I started taking vacations there.”
It’s been a long road for the kid who, at 16, packed his bags and headed to New York to audition for influential record producer Don Costa. Anka won a singing contract with his rendition of “Diana,” a lovestruck ode to a former babysitter.
“I was self-assured as a kid; I knew what I wanted,” Anka said. “Pop music was really in its infancy stage. It was so different than it is today with ‘American Idol’ and people plotting their careers and how much money they’re going to make. Back then it was a time of innocence, and we were all pioneers.”
Anka first began singing in the church choir as a child, and earned extra money during the summer writing jingles for companies such as Campbell’s Soup. He recorded his first single, “I Confess,” at age 14, and soon afterwards headed to New York to make the rounds of the music companies.
“Diana,” a No. 1 hit, brought instant stardom (it remains as one of the best-selling 45s in music history). At 17 he began touring with Buddy Holly, and was considered one of the biggest teen idols in an era that had plenty of big ones.
“But through it all, I kind of realized that the whole teen idol thing wasn’t something that was going to last forever,” he said. “I made sure to maintain a writing career, and then making the evolution into Vegas lounge performing, and working with the Rat Pack and all of that.”
Hanging around with Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest of the notorious Rat Pack actually gave Anka a strong sense of self. He remains, in his mid-60s, a strong, polished performer. The voice still resonates, and the mileage hardly shows.
“I saw it with Sinatra and them, all the abuse with your health that comes part and parcel with the lifestyle, and I was determined not to let that happen to me,” Anka said. “I’ve always been very health conscious. I don’t really live by time, anyway.”
Anka’s latest CD is “Classic Songs, My Way,” a collection of his favorite songs, covering the gamut of his own greatest hits to elite singer-songwriters, ballads, and pop and adult contemporary classics. The CD, which was released in August, is his first for the Decca label. On it he teams with Michael Bubel and a special “surprise” guest.
“I work for fun, not because I must,” he said. “I perform because I still need to. It’s one of those things that’s in your blood. Because, in the beginning, people didn’t come to see me because I was a performer. They came to see me because I had a hit song. Now they come because they know I’ll give them a performance like no one else.”