Anka still doing it his way
Fifties teen idol Paul Anka is celebrating 50 years in the music business with a new album. He talks to the Shropshire Star's Sunita Patel about Sinatra, Vegas and life after the Rat Pack.
At 66, Paul Anka shows no sign of slowing down. And why should he? Life has been good to him.
Despite a celebrated career now spanning five decades in which he has transformed himself from a 50s teen idol into a musician recognised around the world, he still thirsts for more.
With a massive 900 songs to his credit, including Lonely Boy and You're Having My Baby, and more than 100 recorded by other artists including Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand, as well as penning signature songs like She's A Lady for Tom Jones and Puppy Love for Donny Osmond, without a shadow of doubt he is one of the most successful songwriters in history.
Born on July 30, 1941, in Ottawa, Canada, Anka knew exactly what his destiny held for him at 13.There was no Pop Idol or similar reality TV shows back then. He found his own way to his dream.
A meeting with ABC-Paramount Records chiefs in New York sealed his fate, as Diana, released in 1957, became his first single, selling more than 10 million copies.
His talent for writing teenage songs coupled with his slender physique and heavyweight charm made him not only a smash hit in the music industry, but with the girls too.
Fans locked themselves in his rooms and he would often find a devotee hiding in his closet.
"One young girl, back in 1961, I brought up on the stage and started singing and she fell against me and fainted and urinated all over the stage. That was the craziest thing that ever happened to me," he recalls.
Despite his huge celebrity status and a lifestyle which most can only dream of, the emergence and rise of The Beatles in the mid-60s triggered the lowest point of his professional career, and that of many other artists, as Fab Four mania gripped the globe.
He may not have been topping the charts, but he was working in Las Vegas and hanging out with the Rat Pack Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr.
"Bobby Darin and I both looked up to those guys. Rock and roll was in its infancy stage so what we were doing was kind of emulating and wanting to be like those guys," he says.
"So, when I met him (Sinatra) I was just floored. Then I worked for the mob and the same crowd he knew.
"They were my mentors (Rat Pack), they took me under their wing and it was crazy times and fun times and professional times all mixed into one from the steam room to, you know, walking him (Sinatra) into a restaurant having his teeth knocked out by one of the guys all kinds of stuff like that went on, you know.
"We used to hang out in the steam room. I saw all of them nude, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, I mean that was every day, in the Sands Hotel, of course."
And he also rubbed shoulders with John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe on the rare occasion.
"I met her, I didn't know her well. I was young, she wouldn't really have anything to do wth me. I was on the periphery in the sense where I was obviously in the same room," he says.
"You know I saw JFK when he would land the helicopter and come into Vegas, you know, it was a big party all the time. Vegas back then was a very close, intimate place. Today, it is very big and corporate.
"You know, you would be in a room with a couple of hundred people and JFK was there, Marilyn Monroe was there, a lot of Hollywood stars, it was very much that was the day and what it was about back then.
"It was chivalrous carrying on and fun, fun, fun, fun, you know, a lot of laughs."
Drugs and alcohol are often associated with the showbiz scene and it was no different back then.
Asked if any goings-on stunned him, he replies: "The shocking came from, you know, when things got a little hairy around Sinatra, people were getting punched out, but primarily the abuse from their point of view was liquor, but it was liquor, and they were having fun.
"Frank would drink in excess and he wasn't fun. That was the one thing about Sinatra, you didn't want to be around him for that, but I'd never see them use heavy drugs because back then it was really a taboo issue. Anybody that was doing it was doing it very quietly, unlike today. So booze was pretty much the item that they used to get off on.
"It was the earlier days travelling with Frankie (Lymon), where I did those rock and roll shows where, you know, I'd see him with heroin and that was more of an exposure to me than the Rat Pack in terms of hard drugs."
Despite his flagging popularity against the Beatles' rise to fame, Anka remained focused on his song-writing.
"The only thing that probably saved me was the fact that I started out as a writer, not a singer," he says.
And it was his song-writing credentials that ultimately turned his career around.
My Way, a diverse song for him to write, gave him a credibility and recognition he had never experienced before, changing not only his own career, but Sinatra's too, who adopted it as his signature song.
It threw him back into the limelight, and chart-topping hit after hit has followed since.
Having recently become a father again (he and his girlfriend have a 22-month-old son) and celebrated his 66th birthday, Anka still speaks of his profession with the same desire and drive that started him off down the long and winding road 50 years ago.
That is down to reinventing himself with the times, as well as an active and healthy lifestyle.
"Art has no time. You have this feeling inside of you, you have an audience that is there to support you, you are continually active, so it is a very hard situation to walk away from," he says.
"Plus you say to yourself, 'What would I do?' I don't know what I would do.
"The part of my life the writer aspect the creative aspect is what has been the core of my longevity. The other aspect is staying fit. I work out, I eat a certain way, I am very conscious of what goes in my body, it is just something that is very logical and simple, you know. I lot of people don't, you know.
"I'm not a smoker, I'm not a heavy drinker and I am very much in tune with what my body is doing and that is just the way I have been for years. That's worked for me and I've stayed with it."
His new album is a deviation from his last album, Rock Swings, in that he goes for a full out ballad attempt, teaming up with Jon Bon Jovi for My Way and fellow Canadian Michael Buble for (You Are My) Destiny.
His version of Duran Duran's Ordinary World also features on the tracklist as one of Anka's favourites.
"I took a lot of songs that I liked, some that I thought would be a big challenge," he says.
"I like The Killers, they are a Vegas band and I love Mr Brightside and the video. Time After Time, the Cyndi Lauper song, I think is a great song and I've given it a new fresh twist.
"Jon Bon Jovi has always been a Sinatra fan. I did It's My Life on my last album in which they used the line of course 'Frankie did it his way' , spoke to them about it when they did, so there is a tie between us and I thought the approach of Bon Jovi with My Way with him liking the song and having an affinity in a sense for Sinatra and myself would be a nice marriage."
And that's not all. He is currently writing a book, chronicling his life from the mid-50s to present day.
He reveals he has been approached by Hollywood and Broadway supremos interested in showcasing his colourful life story on film and stage.
But Anka is determined to tell his story himself his way "My Way".
Paul Anka was talking to the Shropshire Star's Sunita Patel.
Classic Songs, My Way is out on Monday, October 15.