That’s Frank’s Life
That’s Frank’s Life
A Q&A with Tony Sands
By Geoff Gehman
Tony Sands had Frank Sinatra’s style in his bones long before he made his bones with Frank Sinatra’s style. He was an elementary schooler in South Philadelphia, a Sinatra stronghold, when he began singing along with Sinatra while listening to “Friday with Frank,” the radio show hosted by Sid Mark, the renowned Sinatra specialist. He sang Sinatra for free while working in real estate and antiques and sang Sinatra for pay in bars and restaurants, once as a singing waiter at a dinner theater. In 2006 an Atlantic City resort gave him a three-year contract to play Sinatra, officially boosting his avocation to a vocation.
Sands channels Sinatra in two shows devoted to the Chairman of the Board and a Rat Pack revue. He’s celebrated in East Coast clubs and casinos for his natural recreations of Sinatra’s royal phrasing, hip timing, effortless selling and owning of all sorts of songs, and killer debonair flair. Backed by a big band on July 26, he’ll treat Mauch Chunk Opera House listeners to such Sinatra staples as “That’s Life,” “Come Fly with Me” and “New York, New York.” In a recent email interview he discussed his favorite Sinatra numbers and qualities, as well as his favorite maker of Philly cheesesteaks.
Q: What was the first song you couldn’t forget, the one that wound you up like a yo-yo?
A: “Luck Be a Lady.” It is a great Vegas song about a pair of dice. And that symbolizes Sinatra when he comes to your mind
Q: What was the first Sinatra song that put you on his radar?
A: “Evening in Vermont.” It is a great song, even though none of the words rhyme.
Q: How did you sing Sinatra tunes on and around 19th and Hicks in South Philly? Listening to records with your relations? In bars with your buddies? A cappella on the street?
A: Singing along while listening to Sid Mark’s program on the FM radio in my living room.
Q: You’ve said that you’ve had Sinatra’s tone in your bones for, like, forever. What were his vocal qualities—or his speaking or gesturing habits–that were harder to master?
A: His phrasing was impeccable. I was so interested in the music, so it was all fun and easy. It came easy to me when I started singing as an adult because I listened at such a young age. My interest was in his singing, and it wasn’t difficult for me.
Q: What was the toughest part about getting his one and only style under your skin?
A: At 11 years old I became a listener and then as I got older I became a singer of those songs. It wasn’t hard for me. I did have to build up my vocal cords over a period of years. Building my stamina took time, but after I did, I became more confident as a vocalist.
Q: What non- performing, non-musical jobs have you had along the way?
A: I was in the antiques business for a period of years, I bought and sold real estate for some time. I was a sales person in the courier business. Oh, and I was a singing waiter at a dinner theater in Pennsauken, N.J.
Q: What do you appreciate and admire about Sinatra that you didn’t before you began singing his songs for paying spectators?
A: I never didn’t appreciate him. So nothing.
Q: Is there anything about Sinatra that you don’t admire, understand, or couldn’t/wouldn’t do? Could you do a 2 a.m. show at a casino the way he did at the Sands?
A: I always admired his life and his music. I surely can do a 2 a.m. show, and I have, and I would again.
Q: Do you customize your shows? What do listeners in Florida, for example, hear that listeners in, say, Atlantic City might not hear?
A: I mainly perform two shows. One of the shows is scripted with 21 songs and is sung with tracks. The other show is sung with a live band and is more like a concert.
Q: Have you had any significant encounters with significant Sinatra associates?
A: I met Sinatra’s manager Jilly Rizzo back in the ’90s. I worked with many musicians who backed up Sinatra in the casinos.
Q: What’s your favorite Sinatra album, the one you’d take to a deserted island?
A: “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim” , the one with “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Q: So, Tony, what tops your Bucket List? Musicians have told me everything from touring the world to world peace.
A: Singing in Carnegie Hall.
A: And what tops your Fuckit List? Musicians have told me everything from ending spirit-crushing religions to killing all snakes.
Q: What’s your go-to place for an authentic Philly cheesesteak, Geno’s or Pat’s?
A: Geno’s. Because the meats are better.
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. His late father Larry sang oratorio, barbershop and Sinatra. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.