Bobby Vinton is an entertainer with numerous number one songs to his credit. Having started out as a big band leader that would back up major singers touring in the Pittsburgh area, Bobby hit it big as a singer when he recorded the song "Roses are Red (My Love)". This song launched Bobby's career as a major star in music, television and the movies. His longevity is what makes Bobby's career special by starting in the early 60's and still going strong today. During a packed performance in Chicago one evening, Mayor Richard Daley crowned him the "Polish Prince". Bobby is very popular throughout the world and has recorded in many different languages. Now residing in Florida you will still find him performing at major venues and festivals today. I recently caught up with him.
R.V.B. - Hello Bobby - this is Rob von Bernewitz from New York - how are you today?
B.V. - Fine Rob.
R.V.B. - Are you guys still having a heat wave down there?
B.V. - Yes, it's warm. It's nice... it's beautiful.
R.V.B. - That sounds really nice. Congratulations on your career. I understand you'll be up in our area on June 13th at The Golden Nugget.
B.V. - Right. We're looking forward to it. We were there last year and we've played Atlantic City for many years. It's kind of a second home for me.
R.V.B. - It must be nice having the longevity that you have and the popularity for such a long time. That says a lot about one's career.
B.V. - I've been very fortunate. I guess I recorded the right songs at the right time. In addition to that, I wanted to establish myself as a live performer. I knew records are something that come and go with generations. If you're a performer and got a hot act, and something that can entertain people as well as bring back memories, you'd be around for a while.
R.V.B. - You tour the United States consistently - right?
B.V. - Yeah, I still love to do it... I still get around. I'm still playing Las Vegas, Atlantic City... all the big venues.
R.V.B. - Very nice. I understand that you came from a musical family, were you exposed to Big Band music originally?
B.V. - Yes, my father had a big band back in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania which is about twenty miles south of Pittsburgh. It's the home of Perry Como. I was born across the street from Perry Como. My father had this dance band and when I was fifteen, he put me in his band. I got an early start in the music business. When I was about eighteen or nineteen, I formed my own band and I used to back up all the singers that would come to the Pittsburgh area. Back in those days, you had people like Connie Francis and Brenda Lee. They didn't have groups like they have today. They were solo singers, so when they went on tour, they needed a band to back them up in every area. That's what I would do, I would back up the stars.
R.V.B. - What did your band consist of ? How many pieces were it?
B.V. - Three trumpets, two trombones, four saxes ... the big band sound. Dick Clark heard about me and he made me his band leader. I went on tours with Dick Clark and his shows, with people like Fabian. When he did a concert, I would travel on his show. I got to know show business, what the public liked, what records were selling and what it consisted of. I was a musical arranger. I wrote the backround music for my band and some of the acts that I backed up. I knew how to write the music for what the public wanted to hear. I made a band album... Epic records heard about this young guy that had this rock and roll band, that played behind these stars, so they signed me as a bandleader. I was a former bandleader with the Teenagers. In New York... if you recall Murray the K or Clay Cole... they used to have these Brooklyn Paramount shows. I was the band leader on these shows. Some of your listeners will remember those days.
R.V.B. - Now as a bandleader... I know you toyed with a variety of instruments in college. Did you play with the band, or just lead it on the podium?
B.V. - I played the rock and roll solos on the saxophone, and let the band do what had to be done in those days.
R.V.B. - Now were you singing at that point also?
B.V. - On the opening numbers, everyone wanted the singers and rock and roll, so I said "Let me sing a song at the beginning of the show." I sang along with the chorus with the band. I didn't figure I was a singer, but they were going over better than live bands were. People wanted to hear singers and not the big band sound. I did sing at the Brooklyn Paramount and a few places, backing up the singers on one song. There was a tremendous reaction from the audience. People were asking for more. They said, "Hey, sing more songs than just one."
R.V.B. - Was that just natural singing or did you have any training?
B.V. - It was kind of natural singing. I never thought of myself as a singer. I was always more of a musician, a saxophone player or arranger. The public kind of found me. They said "We want to hear more of you." Then a record company said "Hey, you ought to make some records as a singer, because the band's are dying out." I got lucky... I don't know what happened... I thank God every day. I can't believe I had all of these number one records.
B.V. - Yes, the record company was dropping me. They said, "Look, it's not going to happen with you." I said, "According to my contract, you have to record me two more sides." They looked at the contract and said, "Yes, I guess we do. Let's figure out how we're going to do this" and they left the room. I was sitting in the offices of Epic Records and I saw a pile that said "Reject pile." I thought I should be sitting on that pile of reject records because I'm being rejected. So I started listening to them and I heard "Roses are Red My Love, Violets are Blue" and I thought, "That is a hit song, if I ever heard one." When they came back in the room they said, "We're not going to cut two sides of you as a bandleader, but we'll cut two sides of you as a singer. What would you like to do?" I said, "Well you have a song here called "Roses are Red". Let me sing that one." I also wrote a song when I was in the Army called "Mr. Lonely". I said, "Let me record these two songs and maybe I can sell enough records to make more band albums." I had no idea that they would both go to number one.
R.V.B. - There's a story out that you actually sent some roses out with the along with the song?
B.V. - Well, getting started in the record business is a very difficult thing - and when the record came out nobody played it, nobody liked it, nobody knew Bobby Vinton. The record company said, "Look, it's not happening" so I went and bought dozens of roses. I had about ten dozen red roses with the record "Roses are Red" placed inside the flowers in my convertible car. I was going to take it to all the DJs in Pittsburgh, and maybe that would be a gimmick that would make them at least aware of the record. I pulled up to the first radio station, and in those days you used to be able to see the disc jockeys playing the music in the big glass windows. I was smiling at him and I wanted to give him roses and he didn't smile back because he didn't know what was going on. A beautiful girl came walking down the street with great legs and I said, "Honey, could you do me a favor and take these roses into that DJ? I don't want to do that because he may think I'm in love with him." (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - That work's every time. (Hahaha)
B.V. - So she took the roses in, and he was smiling and talking with her, and he played the record once. I did that at a few more radio stations, and everybody played the record once or twice. Sooner or later, people kept hearing it on the radio and it became important.
R.V.B. - Were you aware that it was going to be played, or did you just happen to hear it, when you heard it on the radio for the first time?
B.V. - I only made records to sell my band. I figured in Pittsburgh - if they played the Bobby Vinton record - it probably wouldn't be a hit but everybody would know the name and they would hire my band. I sang and recorded records only so I could get some popularity with my band... so I could be ahead of the other bands in the Pittsburgh area. I had no idea that I was going to compete with Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
R.V.B. - When the song did hit so big... what happened? Were you contacted and have to go out on tour and support it?
B.V. - Yeah, the promoters contacted me where I used to play with my band, and they wanted to bring me back as a singing star. I came back to the Brooklyn Paramount a year later as the main singer of the show. I was there with all these great rock and roll bands. It was really exciting for me. Ray Charles and all of these great performers on stage - and there I was.
R.V.B. - How long was it before you started appearing on national TV?
B.V. - Well Ed Sullivan put me on right away. When you have a number one record, the television channels want you. I became very friendly with Ed. He was a big promoter for me. Everybody watched that show in those days. If you did the Ed Sullivan show, you were it. It certainly help to build my career around the country.
R.V.B. - Like I said from the beginning, as popular as you were in the 60's, you were one of the few who managed to withstand the British invasion and continue on into the 70's. Now I know you're from Polish descent and I am a little bit myself. Was it true that your mother talked you into cutting a song in Polish?
B.V. - Well what happened with my popularity is that I had hit records in other countries. I went to South America - Venezuela - and I sang in Spanish. I went to Germany - I sang in German. I went to Italy and sang in the San Remo Music Festival, which is a big event in Italy. I came back bragging the fact that I had a hit record in Italian. My mother heard me sing it at one of my shows and she says, "Hey, you sing in Italian pretty good. You should be singing in Polish." I said, "Mom, there are no Polish songs that rock and roll stations are going to play." She said, "How do you know? Nobody ever did it. Why don't you write a song that says moja droga, which means my loved one." I listened to my mother just to make her happy. I recorded a song and - once again - I had no idea that it would become a number one record. It was not only a hit record, but a happening for Polish people. It made them very proud, and got rid of the Polish jokes. I went over to Poland and was involved with raising money. I had a telethon in Chicago, where I raised millions of dollars for the Polish effort to get rid of the communist government. I went to Poland and greeted the Pope when he arrived in Poland. So that music made a little dent in what was happening at the time.
B.V. - I never did Polish jokes. I was always someone who wanted to get rid of them. I certainly didn't endorse them. You don't really hear them today. It was something I was never part of.
R.V.B. - I see. The Bobby Vinton Show. How did you enjoy being part of a production with your own show on TV ?
B.V. - It was always something I wanted to do. I figured Perry Como was from my home town. I wanted to make a hit record like Perry Como and have a TV show like him. I was fortunate in getting this TV show. It was on for three years. I met a lot of great stars and people. I had a lot of fun and it was a great experience.
R.V.B. - Now you mentioned Perry Como... did you ever cross paths with him and share the same bill?
B.V. - I did his television show. In fact, we were friends. I live in Florida now because Perry lived in Florida. When he lived on Long Island in New York, I lived on Long Island in New York to be near him and friendly. One day he moved to Florida and I said "Perry, can you find me a broker down there? I want to come down there and live somewhere around that area. So he called and looked for a broker. I never quite made it to his area but that's one of the reasons I'm in Florida. That's how much I admire this man. I wanted to be friends with him and be as close as I could.
B.V. - I lived in Great Neck.
R.V.B. - Did you ever go to the Riverhead Polish Festival by any chance?
B.V. - No, I never played it. I don't know why - I know that's the biggest Polish event going.
R.V.B. - It's still going strong. That's where my grandmother was from. Tell me a little bit about your theater that you had.
B.V. - Well, I had a theater in Branson, Missouri for nine years. I got tired of all the traveling that I was doing. I figured I'd bring the audience to me instead of me going to them. I built this theater in Branson Missouri and people came from everywhere... it was just unbelievable. It was a big production. I had the Glenn Miller Band behind me. I had twelve beautiful dancers and singers. It was really a production show. I could have taken this show to Broadway. It was so well organized and planned. I did it for nine years and then I was tired of staying home and I decided I wanted to sell the place and go back on the road.
R.V.B. - The nickname "The Polish Prince" - was that given to you by anybody in particular or was it something that the media dreamed up?
B.V. - The late mayor Daly of Chicago called me that. He came to my show in Chicago and we became friends. The Mayor loved me - I loved this man. I had him sing the Polish number with me in front of about 20,000 people and people loved it. He said, "Ladies and Gentleman, Bobby Vinton is the Polish prince." He went to the news conference the next day and he was supposed to be with the King of Sweden, who was in town that night. It was kind of an insult to the country. They asked him, "Why weren't with the King of Sweden last night?" He said, "I was with Bobby Vinton, the "Polish Prince", instead." The next day when I was leaving at the airport, there was a newspaper and I couldn't believe what I was looking at. It was a picture of me and the Mayor in the front page of the Chicago Tribune saying, "Mayor Daily proclaims Bobby Vinton "The Polish Prince." That's how it started.
R.V.B. - It's been that way ever since. I know that Jimmy Sturr actually made a song called "The Polish Prince". Were you aware that, that was going to happen?
B.V. - Jimmy is a friend of mine and I've done some shows with him. He backs me up very well. He'll back me up when I play in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in July. I had no idea he had a song called "The Polish Prince", but it certainly is a compliment.
R.V.B. - Now you've got some recognition with all of your accomplishments. I presume you were there for the Hollywood "Walk of Fame" dedication.
B.V. - I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I'm between Veronica Lake and Dinah Shore... between two bodies of water. What can I say - it's quite an honor to be honored in Hollywood with all of these great movie stars. I'm grateful for everything.
R.V.B. - I personally think that you should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Are you disappointed that you are not?
B.V. - No, not really. I never really considered myself a Rock and Roller. When you hear my songs "Blue Velvet" or "Lonely" or "Melody of Love", they're not really rock and roll music. I never really felt I was part of it. In fact, a lot of the people who put the Hall of Fame together are friends of mine and they said, "We just really don't see you as a Rock and Roller." I'm pleased to be what I am. I'm someone who made a lot of records. I've been in movies and television shows. I've played at a lot of major events and I was kind of the entertainer of the day.
R.V.B. - When you were in movies, did you have any training, or were you kind of asked to do them because of your stardom?
B.V. - I had a little training. I wished that I would have had more. I wanted to take more, but it costs money. At the time, I had to take acting lessons when I was back in Pennsylvania. I took a couple once I made it as a recording artist. It was something that I should have spent more time doing. I did make two movies with John Wayne - "Big Jake" and "Train Robbers". They were little parts but I got to meet John, and I became very friendly with him. After spending three months in Mexico - in a desert , pretending I'm shooting people , riding on a horse, I said, "It's great to be making movies but I can't wait to get back on stage in Las Vegas, with a great band and a great sound system."
R.V.B. - And air conditioning. (Hahaha)
B.V. - And air conditioning. You can brag about it but when it comes down to it, I enjoy performing more.
R.V.B. - Are there any other hobbies that you like to do when you're not performing?
B.V. - I just like music, entertainment, and I think about improving my music entertainment all the time.
R.V.B. - Well, congratulations on your career up to this point. Good luck with your upcoming shows in Atlantic City. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me.
B.V. - Your welcome.Bobby Vinton
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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