Sinatra Jr… the swinging image of dad

Clark Yocum talks about bringing Frank Sinatra Jr and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra to Granada

The singer who commanded the biggest “fee” of 1963 for a single appearance — £85,700 [£1.5m in today’s money, allowing for inflation – Ed] — is in England to sing in the ITV show, Sentimental Over You, on Wednesday. Name? Frank Sinatra Jr. The sum, you will remember, was the ransom money Frank Sinatra Sr. paid out after his son had been kidnapped. Sinatra Jr. will be singing with the “new” Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. It was with Tommy Dorsey that Sinatra Sr. learnt that not only did moon rhyme with June, but that croon went pretty well with swoon. This is a profile of Sinatra, Sr. and Jr., by singer and guitarist Clark Yocum, who worked with Dad in the Forties and will be working with Son on Wednesday. He talks here to TV Times

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 26 January 1964

I’LL never smile again … until I smile at you …

The thin young man concludes the last phrase of the old song, the Pied Pipers vocal group blending softly in, and suddenly there is an overwhelming round of applause to fill the room.

The young man, still a bit lost in the song, bows: “Thank you, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I’m happy you enjoyed that.”

Somehow, the applause is always mixed with nostalgia, for Frank Sinatra Jr., who was 20 years old on January 12, brings back happy memories to fans of the great Tommy Dorsey Orchestra of the Forties, the band that used to boast another Frank Sinatra as vocalist.

Both Sinatras

But if the audience is nostalgic and in a happy frame of mind, it is no more so than a singer-guitarist named Clark Yocum, a member of the Pied Pipers who sang with Frank Sinatra back in the Forties and who will be blending his voice with Frank Jr.’s during Wednesday’s Sentimental Over You on ITV.

“I met Sinatra for the first time in April of 1940 when I joined the Dorsey band,” said Yocum. “I’ve always remembered our association with pleasure because I don’t know any more talented man…

“However, I’ll have to admit,” Yocum continued, “that another April, 23 years later, is equally meaningful to me.”

April, 1963, is when Yocum met Frank Jr., just signed as a member of the “new” Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, led by saxophonist Sam Donahue. “We rehearsed in Los Angeles, and it was great to be doing the wonderful Dorsey tunes again.

“And knowing that Sinatra’s son would be with us made it even better. He’s such a nice fellow, and so like his father. He has the same poise, the same intensity, the same way of moving, of gesturing…

“And, I believe, the same talent.

“Frank Jr. was more quiet and reserved than his father at first. But then he was only 19, and this was a pretty important step for a sheltered young boy to be taking. His father was three or four years older when he joined the band—was married and was used to being on his own.”

Yocum laughed as he added: “And then, too, Frank Jr. could hardly be expected to have as much confidence as his father. After all, look who he’s following – just about the most popular singer in the world!”

The Sinatra family
Frank Jr., on the right, was five when this picture was taken with Dad, Mum – Sinatra’s former wife Nancy – sister Nancy Sinatra and baby sister Christine

One thing young Frank definitely has confidence in, though, is knowing what he wants in a song. “He knows how he wants to sound, how he wants the arrangement to back him up, and he’s willing to work hard to make each number as good as possible. “His father was and is exactly the same way. Sinatra has high standards, and he is as much of a perfectionist as you can find. Temperamentally, the two Sinatras are very alike. However, Frank Jr. has far more technical knowledge of music, and that’s something his father is very proud about.”

Frank Jr. has studied music since childhood, is a talented pianist, has written a concerto and conducted and arranged two tunes which have been recorded on the Sinatra Reprise label.

“Frank Jr. spends most of his time working on his voice,” said Yocum. “He travels with a tape recorder, tapes some of his numbers and listens to them, trying to improve rough spots.

“This has paid off,” Yocum pointed out. “Frank’s much more at ease now, although he has always had an extra amount of poise. He loves to sing, and no matter how tired he gets he never complains. We’ve been working non-stop since last May, and it’s gotten a bit rough at times.

“For instance, when we appeared at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, we were through at midnight. When we worked in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, our last show wasn’t over until six in the morning. That’s a crazy schedule for a young boy.

“When he’s not working on his voice, he spends most of his spare time listening to his father’s records. But he does date occasionally during our engagements. He’s got no time to get serious yet, though he does have a picture of Hayley Mills hanging in his room at home.” Frank Jr. told me in a recent interview: “I don’t want to get serious with any girl yet.

“The sort of opportunity I have only comes once in a lifetime and I want to prove I can be worthy of it.”

He may not have much time for girls but they are devoting more and more to him. When he played in Phoenix, Arizona, local police cordoned off his motel to protect him from a besieging horde of girl fans.

How do the various audiences react to young Frank? “They love him,” said Yocum. “We’ve had good crowds every place we’ve been, and when it’s Frank’s turn to step into the spotlight, he impresses them.

“They like the old songs such as “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and “There Are Such Nice Things,” and they like hearing the old arrangements and the familiar voice. But more than that, they seem to like Frank for his obvious sincerity and lack of pretence.

“He’s a nice boy, and it shows.

“Sinatra and young Frank are very similar when they sing … even to using the microphone the same way. They move about the stage in the same way, and they both sing so that the song is directed to each member of the audience, and they sing as though they believed every word of the lyric.”

Some of Frank Jr.’s new fans like the way he handles a tune called “The Rules of the Road.”

“A song of a lost loser,” as Sinatra might say, it is written by the same team who composed “Witchcraft.” One critic termed it: “The kind of song Sinatra might sing, but hasn’t, a song that shows his boy has inherited all the Sinatra talent in making a lyric come alive.”

“Sinatra is justifiably proud of his son,” Yocum said, “and has often been a member of the audience when the Tommy Dorsey band was performing.

“Sinatra doesn’t like to take the spotlight away from Frank though,” Yocum added. “He tries to be as inconspicuous as possible, and Frank Jr. tries to be as good as possible.

“He is so proud of his father, and he’s always especially happy when he’s in the audience.”

Yocum revealed that Sinatra has quietly made a great number of expensive arrangements available to the band, including many highly praised Nelson Riddle backgrounds.

Despite the stories of Sinatra’s outbursts of temperament during his stay with the Dorsey band, Yocum’s reply to the question “did you ever see Sinatra ill-tempered?” was: “I don’t remember an occasion.”

“Sinatra seems to think well of this new Dorsey band,” added Yocum.

“In fact, he told Frank Jr. that this would be the best experience he could ever get if he really seriously wanted to make singing a career.

“And he definitely does want to be a singer. His experience shows already. He likes the singing, but also the fact that he has a chance to meet many of his father’s friends and fellow musicians. And Sinatra has friends everywhere.

“Frank Jr. has been looking forward to coming to England ever since he heard that we’d been signed to appear here. We’ve all looked forward to coming, I might add.

“And we’re especially happy that Frank came back safe and sound to come with us.”

There are those who doubt that anyone will ever be able to follow in the footsteps of Frank Sinatra, but Clark Yocum is one who believes if anyone can, it will be … Frank Sinatra Jr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *