!-- Begin Inspectlet Embed Code -->

Prince Live: Excuse me, grandma, I'm working!

I had an opportunity 2 C Prince perform 3 times. 

prince-lovesexy-spectrum-101898-altobelli

The first time was 1988 on the Lovesexy tour.   At this time in my life, I was obsessed with Prince. Lovesexy was his 10th album in 10 years.  (Actually, it was his 11th album if you include The Black Album.)

I remember the day of the concert, October 18, 1988, I picked up the 12-inch of I Wish U Heaven -- extended three-part suite which runs over ten minutes.  The first part is a stripped-down version of the Lovesexy album song, remixed with a dance beat.  Part 2 is a gospel rendition of I Wish U Heaven with new lyrics -- "Tell me who in this house knows about sweet heaven?"   On Part 3 Prince does his best James Brown meets Morris Day impersonation and deviates a lot from the original song as he sings, "Take my coffee -- but don't U touch my cream...make me holler -- make me scream."  It's one of my favorite Prince moments.  

During the show, Prince grooved into I Wish U Heaven.  I had great seats and was sitting just a few rows from stage in the first chair of the row with the aisle to my right.  Just as he began to sing a woman came down and stood right next to me. She was dancing like nobody's business. As the song played I realized he was performing the 12-inch version and as the song segued into Part 2 the woman ran down to the stage and joined Prince.  That woman was Patti LaBelle.  

My second Prince show was at the Tower Theatre on Jan 7, 1997with my old friend and fellow Prince freak, Bob Andreano.  At this time, Prince was known as "Artist Formerly Known as Prince" but during the concert -- which started at midnight -- he characterized himself as an indentured servant during his 18-year tenure at Warner Bros. Records, and used performance to announce that he's now a free man, in control of his destiny.  It was a theme he returned to again and again but we didn't care as we danced for almost two hours to songs from new album Emancipation, a medley of old hits, and lots of old skool James Brown.  

Guitar playing Prince backing Tamar at Philadelphia's Electric Factory.

Guitar playing Prince backing Tamar at Philadelphia's Electric Factory.

The third time I saw Prince was March 1st, 2006.  Who else but Prince could announce a show with less than a week's notice, sell it out instantly and have fans lining up in the cold after midnight on a Wednesday? And here's the kicker: Prince wasn't even the headliner.

Part of a renegade theater tour intended to introduce audiences to his latest (in a long line of) protege, Tamar, Prince opted out of the main spotlight Wednesday night at a packed The Electric Factory when he and his band took the stage just after midnight (my second midnight Prince show). Rather than sing, Prince handled lead guitar duties, allowing the glamorous Tamar, and a duo of identical twin backup singers, to front an old-school R&B-style review that kept us dancing until well past 2 a.m.  My brother, Stephen, and I worked our way to the front of the stage and watched Prince attached his guitar from 10-feet away.  I lost my hearing for a week. 

The first half of the show was basically Tamar's soon-to-be but never released, album.  Prince did his best to stay in the shadows and let the spotlight shine on Tamar. At one point--after playing a riff from the extended "Kiss" 12" -- Prince even said, "No, no, no, it's not my show." 

The second half of the show was a guitar funk party. Prince and Tamar treated the crowd to "Play that Funky Music," Aretha's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," and a searing "Rock Steady" (what it is, what it is, what it is), Michael's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and Janet's "What Have You Done For Me Lately?", Sly's "I Want to Take You Higher." The only time Prince took the microphone on his own was with a full-out funky vocal on "Party Man," through which you could practically hear him laughing. With a stage filled with dancing audience members, Prince stopped his "Party" just long enough to tell a grabby older woman, "Excuse me, grandma, I'm working."

Some Random Purple Thoughts

  • People started to call me Paul Baby when I worked at WMMR. Many of us were name+baby.  There was Dar Baby, Stu Baby, Erin Baby, etc.  The nick name comes from the baby cooing sound effect used at the very end of "Delirious."
  • Best Prince impersonation is Beck's Debra from Midnite Vultures (1999)
  • Only with Prince's passing did my wife realize Prince wrote explicit songs about sex
  • Prince's Sign o' the Times was his "White Album"
  • The first time I saw the movie Purple Rain was in Munich, Germany.  It was dubbed in German except for the music.  "Das ist nicht see Minnetonka."
  • "Kiss" was the best single of the eighties.
  • I fell in love with Prince while working at WMMR in the mid-eighties. I still remember taking Erin Riley's bootleg cassette of his Black Album and making copies for everyone at the station.
  • Prince was my springboard to James Brown, Sly, EWF, and all things funk
  • "Sexy MF" is my favorite Prince song.  
  • Because I worked in radio, I had advance copies of Parade, Sign o' the Times, LoveSexy, Graffiti Bridge, Diamonds & Pearls and the Symbol CD weeks before their release.
  • Prince "jumped the shark" with the Batman soundtrack.  

 

 

Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Cover

Led Zeppelin
In Through The Out Door Album Art

6 album covers, 12 scenes, 1 story.

The original album featured an unusual gimmick: the album had an outer sleeve which was made to look like a plain brown paper bag (reminiscent of similarly packaged bootleg album sleeves with the title rubber-stamped on it), and the inner sleeve featured black and white line artwork which, if washed with water, would become permanently fully coloured. There were also six different sleeves featuring a different pair of photos (one on each side), and the external brown paper sleeve meant that it was impossible for record buyers to tell which sleeve they were getting. (There is actually a code on the spine of the album jacket which indicated which sleeve it was—this could sometimes be seen while the record was still sealed.) The pictures all depicted the same scene in a bar (in which a man burns a Dear John letter), and each photo was taken from the separate point of view of someone who appeared in the other photos. The walls are covered with thousands of yellowed business cards and dollar bills. The photo session in a London studio was meant to look like a re-creation of the Old Absinthe House, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Consummate Sinatra by Don Altobell

Sinatra's Swing Albums

  1. Swingin' Affair
  2. Come Dance With Me
  3. Swingin' Lovers
  4. Swing Easy
  5. Swinging Brass

Sinatra's Ballad Albums

  1. Only The Lonely
  2. Wee Small Hours
  3. Songs For Young Lovers
  4. No One Cares
  5. Nice 'n Easy

Top-10 Frank Sinatra Songs

  1. To Love and Be Loved
  2. All My Tomorrows (Capitol)
  3. You Turned My World Around
  4. This Was My Love
  5. Night and Day (Capitol)
  6. Learnin' The Blues (Capitol)
  7. River Stay 'Way From My Door
  8. All The Way (Capitol)
  9. A Very Good Year
  10. All Or Nothing At All (Reprise Swing Version)

The Day My Father Met Frank Sinatra

In 1955, at the age of 17, my father, Don Altobell, first discovered Frank Sinatra when he bought the LP “Swing Easy / Song for Young Lovers.” Dad knew who Frank was, obviously, but didn’t think much about him. He thought he was “okay” but no Perry Como.  

The album he chose to buy appealed to him for a couple reasons -- one, he recognized most of the song titles, but more importantly this album had sixteen songs whereas most pop albums at the time only had twelve.  “More bang for the buck,” he would say.   So, Dad’s frugalness and a keen eye for a bargain drastically and beautifully, altered his life forever.  

Sinatra’s voice, phrasing, words, and music hypnotized that 17-year-old kid.  Dad said when he first heard Frank, “the music drifted over me, into me, and through me.”

For the rest of his life, my father was a devoted Sinatra fan/devotee. Dad dressed like Frank, spoke like Frank, parted his hair like Frank, drank like Frank, and romanced like Frank.  I’m pretty sure Dad would make decisions by asking “What would Frank do?” WWFD.  

Dad loved Frank Sinatra.  Dad also loved to draw, paint and sketch portraits of people he admired.  When he was really young he drew opera singers, baseball players, and boxers.  As he got older he would draw his favorite singers, Como, Vic Damone, and of course, Frank Sinatra.  

In 1958, Dad had the great fortune to meet Eydie Gorme backstage at the old Latin Casino at 13th and Walnut in Philadelphia.  Dad decided to draw her portrait, hoping she might autograph it.  Not only did she sign it she invited him to watch her next show for free.  

With newly strengthened confidence and knowledge of how to get backstage at the Latin Casino, Dad would draw an 11 X 14 inch each week of the featured artist and follow the same procedure:  show up backstage, ask the star to autograph his drawing of them, then see the show for free.  

In the early months of 1959 dad met Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Durante, Pearl Bailey, Xavier Cougat, Ertha Kitt, Stan Kenon, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, and Perry Como. A veritable who’s who of the top talent of the times. 

Even with the thrill, honor, and satisfaction of meeting all the wonderful singers and having their autograph, his high-water mark had yet to come. It was a goal almost too great to hope for.  

Dad told me, “Frank was so big and so popular in 1959 meeting him did not seem possible.  Everything he did was out on the West Coast at the time" -- too far away to even dream of a meeting.

Besides the distance, there was the “unapproachableness" of him.  We’re talking about FRANK SINATRA.  

Still, Dad had confidence in his drawings as a means to meet everyone. He had developed an ability to ignore the “gate-keepers,” the people whose job it was to say he could not approach or “bother” the star.   

All Dad needed was for Frank to come near enough to Philadelphia. Would he work the Latin?  Or maybe the Copa in New York?  What were the odds? These would probably never happen.  But, in June of 1959, Dad read that Frank would be doing a 10-night stint at Atlantic City’s 500 Club.  Finally!

Dad worked up a few drawings of Frank to have autographed:  The front cover of the album “This is Sinatra,” the photo of Frank on the back of the “Come Dance With Me” album, and the cover of the LP “Look to Your Heart.” 

On the day of Frank’s opening night, Dad made his way to the 500 Club. He didn’t know his way around Atlantic City but figured he had found the club when he saw the billboard that proclaimed, “He’s Here!”

sinatra-hes-here-500-club-1959-don-altobell

The club itself had an adjacent office that was crammed full of people, all excited, all shouting just to be heard.  The 500 Club owner, Skinny D’amato, sat at a desk and politely, but firmly told everyone there were no seats left and they couldn’t get in no matter why they were there or who they knew.

Dad waited quietly and patiently until finally Skinny looked up and said to Dad, “What do you want?” Dad went into his spiel and whipped out his drawings.  They impressed Skinny enough that Dad was ushered into the “green room.”  Skinny gestured at one spotlighted wall, and said, “We’ll hang them right there.”

Dad, full of moxie said, “Only if I can see a show.”

“Ok,” said Skinny.  

“And meet Frank.”

“Done.”

After, what Dad called “an amazing show,” he made his way back to the green room.  The room was crowded with people all of whom had been specially invited.  There was Joe DiMaggio, Tony Bennett, Steve and Eydie, Middleweight Champion, Joey Giordello… and Don Altobell.  

No one told Dad to leave or even asked who he was.  He bided his time until finally he spotted Skinny moving among the people, quietly greeting friends.  Skinny made his way to Dad and walked him over to one small group of guests. It took him a minute before he suddenly realized who the slight, dark-haired man with his back to him was.  He turned when Skinny spoke.  Frank Sinatra.  Frank Sinatra?  Frank Sinatra!   He was standing right in front of Dad.  Skinny pointed to the drawings and said, to Frank, “This is the fellow who drew the pictures.”

Frank shook Dad’s hand. They spoke for a few minutes, but Dad always said he couldn’t remember what they had talked about.  Frank pointed to one of the drawings, the one he said he liked the most, and asked, “May I have that to give to Natalie Wood for a birthday gift?”

Of course, Dad said yes…what else could he said to this man whom he so respected and revered?

Frank autographed one of the drawings and they took a photo together. And then it was over.  All in all just five or ten minutes.  

Over the next few years, the 500 Club became Dad’s Atlantic City Latin Casino.  By that, I mean Dad was conformable, accepted, and successful at meeting stars to autograph his drawings and see shows for free. He saw Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., (again), and of course, Frank, whom Dad would meet and shake hands with a dozen more times.  

During the sixties, Dad married, and fathered two sons and, sadly, discovered he had multiple sclerosis.  Eventually, over the years Dad stopped drawing, stopped working, and eventually stopped walking. But he never stopped loving Frank Sinatra.  

Frank kept Dad going long after his body failed him.  He was content with his wonderful memories and, in some ways, his relationship with Frank kept Dad happy, positive, and alive when most of us probably would have given up.

Whenever I think about Dad today, now that he’s passed, I think about his smile and the way he loved Frank.  He surrounded himself with the drawings and the photos he drew and took of Frank. It always lifted his spirits when he retold his stories to his friends and family.. and we never got tired of hearing them.

I would like to be remembered as a man who had a wonderful time living life, a man who had good friends, fine family - and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that, actually.
— Frank Sinatra

WGOD: A Papal Playlist

Pope Francis and Patti Smith hanging out at the Vatican in 2013

Pope Francis and Patti Smith hanging out at the Vatican in 2013

I have a confession to make:  I'm a big Pope Francis fan.  I've been watching the Pontiff's every move since his arrival in Philadelphia with great curiosity.  The happiness and joy this man brings people -- with just his smile -- is beautiful.  How anyone could say anything  bad about this Pope is beyond me.  In celebration of his visit, I give you WGOD:  A Papal Playlist.  #PopeinPhilly