Al Martino: A Vocalist With Style
by John Chintala
to the ever-changing face of popular music, there are very few recording
artists who score top twenty singles in three consecutive decades. Al
Martino is one entertainer who belongs to this select group of performers.
His chart statistics are also quite impressive. Over three-dozen of
his singles reached Billboard's Hot 100 as did twenty-four of his albums.
born Alfred Cini in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 7, 1927.
His family ran a successful masonry business, and he was expected to
follow his brothers into this field. But Al preferred listening to music,
especially Perry Como and Al Jolson. And after childhood friend Alfred
Cocozza changed his name to Mario Lanza and became an operatic teen
idol, Al decided to make singing his profession. He adopted his grandfather's
surname and "Al Martino" was born.
After singing in local Philadelphia nightclubs
(including a stint at Big Bill Rodstein's where he earned $35 a week,)
Al moved to New York City in 1948. While in the Big Apple, he roomed
with Guy Mitchell & Eddie Fisher. Since both won first prize on Arthur
Godfrey's Talent Scouts television show, Al decided to try his luck
there, too. He performed Perry Como's "If" and was also rewarded with
a first place finish. This led to a recording contract with the Philadelphia-based
independent label, BBS. Ironically, Mario Lanza was also set to wax
the song intended to be Martino's debut single for the company. Al knew
that the already-established tenor's rendition of "Here In My Heart"
would surely eclipse his own and asked him to please refrain from recording
it. Lanza obliged, and Martino's interpretation began its ascent.
"Here In My Heart" remained at the summit
of the record charts for three weeks in the summer of 1952. Following
this success, Al signed his first contract with Capitol Records. He
racked up three more top forty hits in the U.S. and then relocated to
England where he headlined at the London Palladium.
Martino returned to the States in 1958 and
began recording for 20th Fox. His first release for the label, "I Can't
Get You Out Of My Heart," just missed the top forty, peaking at number
forty-four. Ten other singles and several albums were released. Since
none came close to repeating his initial success, Al's contract was
not renewed. Still believing in his talents, Martino self-financed an
album that eventually led to his re-signing to Capitol. It was released
in 1962 as The Exciting Voice of Al Martino and contained a newly recorded
version of "Here In My Heart" which was issued as a single. Both charted
and Al's resurgence was underway.
After recording The Italian Voice of Al Martino
(which was sung almost entirely in his native tongue,) Al teamed up
with arranger/conductor Belford Hendricks, who had recently scored Nat
King Cole's classic "Ramblin' Rose." The first Martino/Hendricks collaboration,
"I Love You Because," was Al's comeback hit. It topped the easy listening
charts and reached #3 on Billboard's Hot 100 in the spring of 1963.
Martino then joined forces with fellow Philadelphian
and co-founder of Chancellor Records, the late Peter DeAngels. A string
of country/pop hits in the same style as "I Love You Because" followed,
including "Painted Tainted Rose," "Living A Lie" and "I Love You More
& More Every Day." In 1966, Al Martino recorded his signature song,
"Spanish Eyes," which stayed at number one on the easy listening charts
for a month. The album of the same name went top ten and was certified
gold by the RIAA. The following year, Al scored back-to-back number
ones on the easy listening charts with "Mary In The Morning" (written
by "Mr. Bass Man" himself Johnny Cymbal) and (writer/producer for the
Four Seasons) Bob Crewe's "More Than The Eye Can See."
In 1972, Martino appeared as singer Johnny
Fontane in the classic motion picture The Godfather (a role he would
reprise eighteen years later in The Godfather Part III.) In early 1975,
his English-language version of the Italian song "Alle Porte del Sol"
("To The Door Of The Sun") became Al's first top twenty "pop" hit in
eight years. He returned to the top 40 during that year's Christmas
season with a disco version of "Volare." After twenty years with the
label, Martino and Capitol Records parted ways in late 1982.
In the summer of 1996, Al Martino returned
to acting with a recurring role as an underworld boss in the short-lived
daytime drama The City. He also recorded an album and CD single in England
and recently released his first U.S. studio album of all-original material
in over two decades, Style. In his spare time, Al relaxes by partaking
in his main hobby: cooking. He and his wife Judi have been married for
over thirty years and their daughter, Alison, is a producer for E! Entertainment
Television. Nearly a half-century after his chart debut, Al Martino's
music continues to entertain audiences worldwide. And thankfully, he
shows no signs of slowing down.
John Chintala: When did you realize that you
could make a living as a singer?
Al Martino: Well the first time I did any
professional singing, getting up on a stage and facing an audience,
was back in the late '40s. I started in a little neighborhood saloon
in South Philadelphia. I knew the comic that was on the show and asked
him if I could sing a couple of songs. He said, "Come on up, Al. The
stage is yours." Well, the audience liked me, and because of their applause
and encouragement, I decided to sing the next night, too!
JC: How did you make the transition from singing
in your hometown to performing on a national level?
AM: In order to pursue a show biz career
back in those days, you had to have some TV exposure, and the only thing
really available then were "talent scout" shows. At that time, I lived
in New York City during the week and on the weekends I would travel
back to Philadelphia. I was rooming with Eddie (Fisher) & Guy (Mitchell)
then and they had already done the Arthur Godfrey Show and won. I thought
it would be a good idea if I went on the show, and I was fortunate enough
to win also. Some people from an independent record company in Philadelphia
had seen me on the show and thought I'd be good for a certain song that
they had composed. They came to New York City, looked me up, found me,
and we made this record, "Here In My Heart." And about a year later,
we had the number one record in the country.
JC: You returned to the top ten a full decade
later with "I Love You Because."
AM: What I had to do was make a transition
from one style to another. I was always associated with the large-sounding
type of voice interpretation of a song. Now, I had to change my style
to fit a song I wanted to record which was a country song. It didn't
require as much intensity from me. Nat Cole gave me Belford Hendricks'
number. I went to his apartment & he coached me on this new style of
JC: You then spent several years with Peter
DeAngelis as your arranger/conductor.
AM: Looking back, I think I kinda overdid
it with him. What I should have done was go back to Belford and do some
other great country songs. Instead of the new songs, I should have done
some standards; you know, those songs that were proven to be big hits
in the past. Sometimes it's better to do an old song instead of doing
something new that doesn't have the merit of an old standard.
JC: Your signature song, "Spanish Eyes," was
originally an instrumental by Burt Kaempfert called "Moon Over Naples."
AM: Right. His version started off in America
very, very well; it was making the charts. I got a hold of a copy of
it and had lyrics written to it. The songwriters wrote three different
sets of lyrics for it and it was the third version that I approved.
I knew as soon as I heard it that it was going to be a big hit because
the melody was beautiful and the lyrics were just perfect.
JC: The following year, you returned to the
top of the AC charts with a pretty folk ballad, "Mary In The Morning."
AM: The station that broke that record was
WFIL in Philadelphia, and then it started to spread all over. The station
manager's wife was named "Mary" and I think that had something to do
with him programming it so much! (Laughs)
JC: How were you cast in the motion picture
AM: It was called to my attention by Phyllis
McGuire of the McGuire Sisters. She called me and said, "Al, it would
be a good idea if you picked up a book called The Godfather. There's
a character in it called Johnny Fontane that you should think about
playing in the movie version." I said, "Well, it's not that easy. Who's
the producer? Who's the director?" And I had to work very hard to seek
these people out in order to get an audition from them. I went into
(producer) Al Ruddy's office & told him that he didn't have to look
any further for the Johnny Fontane character; I knew I could play it.
Well, he didn't commit himself right then and there. I had to wait a
few months and then finally he said, "Okay, Al, you've got the part."
I thought I was in solidly, but then Francis Coppola was hired and he
had other ideas; he wanted someone else to play that role. So, I had
to do something about that. And Bob Evans from Paramount (Pictures)
was a friend of mine. He put in a good word for me and Francis reconsidered.
JC: In 1975, your version of an Italian song,
"Alle Porte Del Sole," was a top twenty pop hit as "To The Door Of The
AM: It was one of those foreign imports that
made its way to America but English lyrics had to be written for it.
They're not an exact translation, but we kept the same arrangement,
which I felt was the best way to approach it. It had a very modern sounding
beat for its time.
JC: After seeing you in concert recently,
I noticed that most of your hits are performed in their original keys,
which is quite impressive! Is there anything special you do to keep
your voice in shape?
AM: I try to eat well and sleep well; rest
is very important. Also, I don't smoke and I don't drink that much.
I've been very fortunate that I've been able to keep my intensity level
pretty much the same as when I first started.
JC: Tell us how you came to record your latest
AM: Well, we first had to do some research.
We went to our favorite music store here (in Los Angeles) and rounded
up lots of songbooks. I have a musical director who plays wonderful
piano; his name is John Rodby. We rehearsed and rehearsed different
songs and chucked the ones we didn't like and kept the ones that we
enjoyed singing. And we thought that it would be a good concept to get
all these great musicians from Bourbon Street in New Orleans and go
into a studio and record this album.
JC: Finally, I understand that you're quite
a gourmet chef!
AM: I wouldn't say I'm a gourmet cook, but
I think I'm pretty good. It all started back in Great Britain when I
was touring many years ago. And we did two shows a night; one was at
six o'clock, the other one was at nine. And we didn't have time to go
to a restaurant, because restaurants didn't open until seven and they
closed at ten. So here we were without any good nourishment, so I decided
to call my mother and find out how we could cook a couple of good dishes.
We got ourselves kitchen equipment and traveled with it. That's the
only way we could finish the tour! So, I started collecting one recipe
after another and now I've got thousands of them. When cooking, I lean
to the Italian side, but I can do most other types, too. I have a great
collection of cookbooks; I think every chef does. If you go to any great
hotel and go into the kitchen where the executive chef is, I'm sure
you'll see lots of cookbooks. So I start from a great recipe, and then
enhance it to suit my own taste.