Speaking With... Frankie Avalon 05.03.13
By MIRIAM DI NUNZIO firstname.lastname@example.org May 2, 2013 3:08PM
♦ 8 p.m. May 4
♦ Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles
♦ Tickets, $49-$89
♦ (630) 962-7000;
Updated: May 2, 2013 4:09PM
Frankie Avalon has a 22-year-old grandchild?
Oh yes, says the former teen idol, with a hearty chuckle. The father of eight and grandpa to 10, is enjoying every moment of his golden years, on stage and off. “They keep me young,” he says emphatically.
The 72-year-old, still baby-faced pop singer from South Philly, who enjoyed hits such as “Venus,” “DeDe Dinah” and “Bobby Socks to Stockings” in the late 1950s, became a bona fide matinee idol with a series of “beach movies” co-starring the late Annette Funicello in the 1960s. He introduced himself to a new generation of filmgoers with his portrayal of Teen Angel in the iconic film musical “Grease” in 1978 and has added entrepreneur to his resume — hawking natural pain relievers and tanners and, most recently, a line of food items on QVC. An avid home chef (“I love to cook. I learned from my mom.”), he says a line of specialty sauces and cookbook is in the works. In between, he’s touring select dates with his concert of greatest hits, home movies, film clips and plenty of heartfelt anecdotes.
Avalon brings his show to the Arcada Theatre on May 4.
Question:What can folks expect at a Frankie Avalon concert?
Frankie Avalon: Lots of songs I’ve had through the years; fortunately they still hold up today. [Laughing] I know they’re still playing around the world because I still get royalties from them. There’s a generation out there that wants to go out and be entertained and they have their niche. And I’m that niche. But the music today is wonderful, too. There’s lots of talent out there.
Q.You made a surprise appearance on “American Idol” with “Venus” a few seasons back. And you’ve even gotten lyric shout-outs from the most unexpected groups such as Wu Tang Clan and System of a Down?Why do you think your songs have endured?
FA:I guess young people don’t resent hearing these songs. They’re good, quality songs. They’ve lasted because of their simplicity I guess. I think the difference between today’s songs and yesterday’s — songs like mine or Jackie Wilson’s or Sam Cooke’s or Bobby Darin’s — was that you’d hear them on the radio and you’d buy the record and sing along with it everywhere. In the shower, in the car, in your house. Most of the songs today are really just meant to be sung by the artist.
Q.Radio is no longer the place to break out a song these days because of the Internet and YouTube. The entire business model is different.
FA: Of course. When I was a kid, I saw my first TV set in the window of an appliance store. There were three channels. Today you have what, 500 channels? Bieber comes out of a thing called YouTube. I have no idea what those things are.
Q.You really don’t know what YouTube is? Do you own a computer?
FA: I have a computer in the house but I don’t use it. I have an old flip-phone cell phone. I use it to call people. I remember when you would just use a phone to call someone and if they didn’t’ answer, they weren’t home. [Laughs] And you couldn’t leave a message. You’d just call back later.
Q.So who do you like among today’s music-makers?
FA: Justin Timberlake is my idol. I love him. He’s one of the most talented guys to come around in a long time. He can do it all. He’s a pleasant kid. He’s an actor, a singer. He didn’t record for 5 or 6 years until he got the inspiration to do it again. That album [“The 20/20 Experience”] is marvelous. I just love his style. He’s not doing anybody else. He’s not doing Sinatra with that bow tie and hat. He’s doing his own thing. [Michael] Buble is another one. I was confused when he first came out because he was trying to do Sinatra. Why would I want to listen to some kid try to do the master’s work, and not as well? He found his own niche finally and his new stuff is amazing. I just watched him on TV singing in a subway a cappella with his guys and he was incredible.
Q.You were a teen idol back in the day, but you remained grounded, scandal-free. What advice would you give Justin Bieber, who seems to be making all sorts of wrong turns these days?
FA: Ya know, I like that Bieber kid. He’s a tough kid. But he’s more of a performer-dancer than a vocalist. I would tell him to really listen to his [mother]. She has to make sure he’s pointed in the right direction. When I was a kid, if you brought someone around to the house and your mom and dad said “I don’t like that boy,” you didn’t bring him around again. It’s kinda simple, but it comes down to watch who you hang with.
Q. I have to ask you about Annette Funicello, who passed away earlier this month. What’s your fondest memory of her?
FA: It was our friendship. She was the sweetest, the most innocent, the most naive person in a good way. She was a great mother and great co-worker. Everything about her was genuine. She was the best. We just got along incredibly. There was never any bickering on the sets, no animosity. The chemistry had was real. Our families became extremely close [Avalon is godfather to Funicello’s daughter, Gina]. But what people don’t realize is how terribly she suffered for the past 20 years or so. The last three or four years she couldn’t communicate. When she did pass, I thanked God. Her suffering was over. She’s with God now.
Q.What are your memories of Chicago?
FA: I love Chicago. It’s the city that has embraced me more than any other in the world. Back in the day we’d come through Chicago for promotion because it was such a great break-out town for your new record. We’d fly in and then drive from radio station to radio station and to the record stores and just promote the heck out of the record. Any which way to get it played.
Q.Who gave you the best advice about the music business?
FA: I have a lot of favorites but I’ll never forget one time when I was about 12 or 13, I was talking to [legendary drummer] Gene Krupa and he said kid, always keep your eyes and ears open because you’ll learn every time you see someone on that stage. Something you see will click with you and you’ll take it with you all your life. And it’s true. My guys were Nat Cole, Perry Como, Sinatra and such. I’d go see them and watch how they’d work the stage, work the audience and I’d try different things until I found the stuff that worked for me.
Q.You have a new line of food items on QVC. Where did this come from? Do you cook? And if so, what’s your best dish?
FA: I love to cook. My mom was an incredible cook, so a lot of my recipes are hers, and to many of them I’ve added my own special touches. My favorite dish to cook is my crab and spaghetti with red gravy. [Laughing] It’s gravy, not sauce.