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Tag Archives: Rat Pack

Rat Pack and Johnny Carson

An exciting song that energized Rat Pack shows during the sixties in Las Vegas and elsewhere was originally published in 1926.  The Birth Of The Blues was first recorded by an artist named Whispering Jack Smith in 1927.  It was also the title of a film starring Bing Crosby in 1941.  Along with renditions by artists like Pearl Bailey and Keely Smith, Rat Pack stars Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. were also heard performing the song from time to time.

But probably the most notable performance of The Birth Of The Blues was at a Rat Pack benefit concert in 1965.  It took place at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis and featured Frank, Sammy and Dean, along with emcee Johnny Carson, filling in for comedian and Rat Pack member Joey Bishop. 

It was the closing song of the show, and featured Johnny joining in with the Rat Pack, and Johnny’s vocal was quite respectable.  The result was a great ending to a great concert that included a wonderful line-up of songs and a lot of playful clowning around including some impressions by Sammy, and some great physical comedy moves by Dean, not to mention the surprise of Johnny Carson’s contribution to the grand finale, The Birth Of The Blues. 

To this day, the song is still performed by Las Vegas Rat Pack Impersonators, in all the historic Las Vegas venues, plus from Los Angeles to New York and around the world.

One thing everyone would probably agree on is that the Rat Pack definitely had style.  And in the movie Robin & The Seven Hoods, they even sang about it.  In that 1964 film, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are joined by Bing Crosby for a rousing song and dance number on the subject of class, charm and. . .Style.  The song, written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen makes the point that it’s not just what you wear, but how you wear it.  Or, as the lyrics say, “a flower’s not a flower if it’s wilted, and a hat’s not a  hat till its tilted”.  In that regard, Frank Sinatra certainly lived his life with style.

In the movie, the song is performed when Frank and Dean’s characters Robbo and Little John decide to give Bing Crosby’s character Allen A. Dale a  musical lesson on looking good.  First, Bing samples some outrageous outfits to the disapproval of Frank and Dean.  Then, Bing, Frank and Dean are transformed from their 1930’s era Chicago gangster wardrobe into sharp black tuxedos with canes and white straw hats. . .at a tilt, of course.  And it’s all taken in by an appreciating audience consisting of Sammy Davis Jr.’s character Will, and four other cast members. 

Many years later, Style was used as the theme music for a reunion tour featuring Frank, Sammy and Liza Minnelli who was filling in for an ailing Dean Martin.  And today, the song is still performed occasionally when the Rat Pack is re-created by Rat Pack Impersonators in Los Angeles, also seen often in Las Vegas and other cities around America.

There have been several books written about the Rat Pack.  But possibly the best work out there is titled Rat Pack Confidential, by author Shawn Levy.  True to its name, it contains a lot of inside information and stories about the individuals, and the group as a whole.  There’s Frank’s history of ups and downs both emotionally and professionally. . .Dean’s lack of interest in politics and just about everything else in favor of sex and golf. . .Sammy’s struggles and his crucial but fragile relationship with Frank. . .Joey’s thin Rat Pack affiliation that existed primarily on the stage. . .and finally, Peter’s sordid and pathetic side which intensified after his questionable Rat Pack expulsion.

What makes Rat Pack Confidential a fascinating read is not only the depth of great content and detail, but the manner in which it’s written; a colorful, cool narrative that captures the style of the subjects, almost if as Frank had written it.

Shawn Levy

 The author, Shawn Levy, has been the film critic of the Oregonian in Portland Oregon since 1997.  Rat Pack Confidential was released in 1998, which is also the year Frank Sinatra died.  Not a Rat Pack era contemporary, Shawn Levy was actually born in 1961, possibly the peak year of the Rat Pack’s reign in Las Vegas.  Rat Pack Confidential is a must-read for Rat Pack fans as well as Rat Pack performers

Other books by Shawn Levy include King Of Comedy:  The Life And Art Of Jerry Lewis, and more recently Paul Newman:  A Life.

In 2002, Capitol Records released a collection of 21 Christmas songs from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.  It was called Christmas With The Rat Pack, and the cover featured Ocean’s 11 style artwork.  The album included Frank’s popular Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.  And from Dean, there’s Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, and Baby, It’s Cold Outside, among others.

Between them, Frank and Dean had recorded many holiday tunes from which to choose.  Sammy, however, didn’t  have a large Christmas catalog.  Still, he’s featured on the album singing The Christmas Song, Jingle Bells, and a song called Christmastime All Over The World, which was previously unreleased.

After the initial release of Christmas With The Rat Pack, Capitol Records reportedly received complaints from conservative religious groups about the cover, even though it’s pretty innocent.  In response to the criticism, the cover was changed to a more generic image, as seen below.

Each December, at today’s tributes to the Rat Pack, Christmas songs are usually incorporated into the show.  And they usually include favorites from Christmas With The Rat Pack, performed in the styles of Frank, Dean and Sammy, by Rat Pack Impersonators.

RatPack AerobicsW300

Many people use upbeat music at a continuous beat to guide their aerobic exercise, whether in a class or alone at home.  Having music you like enhances the experience.  So it’s good to have a lot of choices available, and now there are, because one company is turning out a variety of music packages for working out.  Among their selections is Rat Pack Aerobics, which features the songs of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., the songs performed throughout their Rat Pack years, and these days re-created by Rat Pack Impersonators.  

The Rat Pack Aerobics workout is 74 minutes long, and maintains a constant 140 beat per minute pace, with songs like Come Fly With Me, Fly Me To The Moon, Volare, That Old Black Magic, and sixteen more.

Other collections include the hits of the Bee Gees, Elvis, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Madonna, Fleetwood Mac, Disco, Country and many more, all produced for aerobic and cardio exercise programs, with over 100 titles in all.  For the complete selection, visit AerobicsMusic.com.

Young Sammy

The youngest member of The Rat Pack was born Samuel Victor Moses George Davis Jr., in the Bronx, almost exactly ten years after Frank Sinatra, and eight years after Dean Martin.

Sammy Davis Jr.’s parents were both entertainers who split up when Sammy was three years old.  At that early age, Sammy went out on tour with his dad and his dad’s partner Will Mastin in their dance troupe which, with the addition of Sammy, became known as The Will Mastin Trio.  At the age of eight, Sammy appeared in a movie called Rufus Jones For President.

Sammy served in the U.S. Army during World War II, during which he joined an entertainment unit.  After the war, he rejoined the Will Mastin Trio, but soon moved on to success of his own with solo albums and a starring role on Broadway in a show called Mr. Wonderful.

But more success and excitement was on the way for Sammy starting in 1959, when, at the age of 34 he teamed up with Frank, Dean, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford for a series of movies and one of the most memorable stage shows Las Vegas has ever seen, forever known as The Rat Pack.

 Dean Martin

Now that Martin Scorsese has a movie about Frank Sinatra in the works, it seems that Frank’s best friend in the Rat Pack, Dean Martin would also be a good subject for a film biography.  At least that’s the opinion of many Rat Pack fans and Rat Pack Impersonators

One of the first questions would be who to cast in the lead role.  As Dean, we liked the actor who played him so well in the HBO Rat Pack film a few years ago.  That was Joe Montegna, of Godfather III, who really captured Dean’s casual relaxed demeanor, not to mention looking and sounding like him.  But he probably wouldn’t be called on to play Dean again.  So who else. . .  We think other possibilities for Dino could include Mark Ruffalo, Joe Penny, Antonio Sabato Jr., and if you use your imagination, maybe even Matthew McConaughey.

RepriseIf there was a Rat Pack record label, it would have to be Reprise Records, created by Frank Sinatra in 1960.  As it’s known to both Rat Pack fans and Rat Pack Impersonators, Reprise was founded on the principle that each artist would have creative freedom and the ownership of their work.  Initially, Reprise was home to Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Count Basie, Trini Lopez, and of course, Frank himself.  Frank recorded over 30 albums for the label, the first of which was Ring-a-Ding-Ding.  And Dean Martin’s number one hit Everybody Loves Somebody was with Reprise.  Nancy Sinatra also scored a number one for the label with These Boots Are Made For Walking

Frank sold the label to Warner Brothers just three years later in 1963, at which time it went in a different direction, signing acts like The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Neil Young, and even Alice Cooper, and its focus was rock and progressive through the late 60’s and 70’s 

Today, Reprise is home to acts including Green Day, Depeche Mode and Michael  Buble, and has continued to release some great Frank Sinatra collections.

ratpack-at-sandsRat Pack stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis recorded and performed thousands of songs over the lengths of their careers.  Some songs they originated, and some were covers of songs associated first with other artists.  Among the most unusual covers would be Dean Martin performing Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line.  And there was Sammy Davis Jr. singing Wichita Lineman, introduced by Glen Campbell.  Not to be left out, Frank Sinatra also had an assortment of unusual covers, including Bad Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce, Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, and probably the most unusual cover song he ever took on, which was Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down.  That one belonged to Cher, and still does.    

Some cover song trivia from a tribute to The Rat Pack.