Frankie Laine Biography

Francesco Paolo LoVecchio, 30 March 1913, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 6 February 2007, San Diego, California, USA. Laine had been a chorister at the Immaculate Conception Church in his city’s Sicilian quarter before entering showbusiness proper on leaving school. For nearly a decade he travelled as a singing waiter, dancing instructor (with a victory in a 1932 dance marathon as his principal qualification) and other lowly jobs, but it was as a member of a New Jersey nightclub quartet that he was given his first big break, replacing Perry Como in Freddie Carlone’s touring band in 1937. This was a springboard to a post as house vocalist with a New York radio station until migration to Los Angeles, where he was ‘discovered’ entertaining in a Hollywood spa by Hoagy Carmichael. The songwriter persuaded him to adopt an Anglicized nom de theatre, and funded the 1947 Mercury Records session that resulted in a version of Hadda Brooks’ ‘That’s My Desire’, Laine’s first smash. This was followed by ‘Shine’ (written in 1924) and a revival again in Louis Armstrong’s ‘When You’re Smiling’. This was the title song to a 1950 movie starring Laine, the Mills Brothers, Kay Starr and other contributors of musical interludes to its ‘backstage’ plot.

Laine’s later career on celluloid focused largely on his disembodied voice carrying main themes of western movies such as Man Without A Star, Gunfight At The O.K. Corral and the Rawhide television series. Each enhanced the dramatic, heavily masculine style favoured by Laine’s producer, Mitch Miller, who also spiced the artist’s previously jazz-heavy style with generous pinches of country. This was best exemplified in the extraordinary 1949 hit ‘Mule Train’, one of the most dramatic and impassioned recordings of its era. Other early successes included ‘That Lucky Old Sun’, ‘The Cry Of The Wild Goose’, ‘Jezebel’, ‘Rose, Rose, I Love You’ (an adaptation by Wilfred Thomas of Hue Lin’s Chinese melody ‘Mei Kuei’), and ‘Jalousie’. Laines’ lyric writing abilities found him co-composing with many eminent musicians including Carmichael (‘Put Yourself In My Place’), Mel Tormé (‘It Ain’t Gonna Be Like That’), Duke Ellington (‘What Am I Here For?’), Matt Dennis (‘Allegra’, ‘I Haven’t The Heart’), and Carl Fischer (‘We’ll Be Together Again Soon’).

Laine proved a formidable international star, particularly in the UK, where his long chart run began in 1952 with ‘High Noon’. The following year he made chart history when his version of ‘I Believe’ (for new label Columbia Records) topped the charts for a staggering 18 weeks, a record that has never been eclipsed since, despite a valiant run of 16 weeks by Bryan Adams 38 years later. Laine enjoyed two further UK chart-toppers in 1953 with ‘Hey Joe!’ and ‘Answer Me’. Incredibly, he was number 1 for 27 weeks that year, another feat of chart domination that it is difficult to envisage ever being equalled. No less than 22 UK Top 20 hits during the 50s emphasized Laine’s popularity, including memorable songs such as ‘Blowing Wild (The Ballad Of Black Gold)’, ‘Granada’, ‘The Kid’s Last Fight’, ‘My Friend’, ‘Rain, Rain, Rain’, ‘Cool Water’, ‘Hawkeye’, ‘Sixteen Tons’, ‘A Woman In Love’ (his fourth UK number 1), and ‘Rawhide’. Laine was also a consummate duettist and enjoyed additional hits with Johnnie Ray, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Doris Day and Jimmy Boyd. His long-playing output included albums in an impressive variety of genres, including albums with jazz trumpeter Buck Clayton (1956’s wonderful Jazz Spectacular) and gospel vocal quartet the Four Lads.

In the early 60s Laine pursued a full-time career commuting around the world as a highly paid cabaret performer, with a repertoire built around selections from hit compilations, one of which (The Very Best Of Frankie Laine) climbed into international charts as late as 1977. New material tended to be of a sacred nature, though in the more familiar ‘clippetty-clop’ character was ‘Blazing Saddles’, featured in Mel Brooks’ (the lyricist) 1974 spoof-western of the same name. By the mid-80s, Laine was in virtual semi-retirement in the Point Loma area San Diego, California. In 1996 he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, and carried on performing until shortly before his death in 2007 at the age of 93. With sales in excess of 250 million copies, Laine was a giant of his time and one of the most important solo singers of the immediate pre-rock ‘n’ roll period.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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