Mar 20, 2007 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
For the past four years, Val Peters has sung the praises of his hero and inspiration, the late, great Frank Sinatra. Literally.
Though Sinatra often referred to himself as “a saloon singer,” he was much more. The skinny kid from Hoboken, N.J. grew up to become the voice of a generation and one of the great popular song stylists of all time.
Since January 2003, Peters has been performing a 90-minute tribute, Sinatra, An American Icon at venues from Syracuse to Saratoga and even down in sunny Florida.
Forty years ago, Val Peters worked as a big band singer with a Utica orchestra led by his cousin, Sal Alberico. Though blessed with a natural singing voice, he gave up the insecurities of show business to marry and raise a family.
Peters, who lives off Caughdenoy Road in Clay, worked in sales, manufacturing and marketing for four decades, but after his daughter Michelle asked him to sing at her backyard wedding reception in Liverpool two years ago, the show biz bug bit him again. Now Peters earns standing ovations for his all-Sinatra program.
Peters, 62, performs Sinatra, An American Icon, at The Mohegan Manor, 58 Oswego St., in Baldwinsville, on Friday and Saturday March 23 and 24. Cocktails and free appetizers will be served from 6 to 8:30 p.m. followed by the 9 p.m. performance. Tickets cost $20 in advance, $20 at the door or $150 for a table of 10; 857-0079.
The recently redesigned show gets a jump-start from a supercharged medley of tunes including “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Luck Be a Lady” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
While Sinatra was raised on the mean streets of Hoboken, Peters grew up in Utica’s Little Italy.
And so I was always fascinated by Frank Sinatra, he remembers.
Long hours of research — reading biographies and studying Sinatra’s discography of 1,908 songs — led Peters to appreciate the private man behind the public persona.
In his personal life, he was so different than the Sinatra most people think they know, Peters said, How he thought, how he reacted to certain things, things he went through. For instance most people don’t know that when he was born in 1915, the doctor thought he was dead.”
The story of Sinatra’s difficult birth is part of the show Peters wrote and continues to perform across Central New York.
Co-produced by Baldwinsville-based bandleader and record producer Todd Hobin, the tribute is much more than a collection of tunes by Ol’ Blue Eyes. Although if you want to hear swinging renditions of tunes such as
Strangers in the Night, The Lady is a Tramp or New York, New York, Peters won’t disappoint. He emphasizes, however, that he’s not trying to impersonate Sinatra.
Not an impersonation
“I’m singing Sinatra but it’s my interpretation of the material, and the songs are only part of the overall performance, Peters said. I’m not trying to imitate Frank as much as use my own talents in his service, to entertain people and leave them with a deeper appreciation of his legacy.
In the show, the vocalist sings over recordings by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. “I’ve got an excellent sound man named Joe Sauve, and he makes it all work,” he said.
Peters caught Sinatra live at the Carrier Dome circa 1980. He was in great form, the singer recalls, but in 1984 his recording output stopped.
Sinatra died in 1998, at age 83.
The grim reaper came knocking on Peters’ own door in 2002, but the vocalist chased him off.
Hobin had produced Peters’ CD of material popularized by Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin and Louis Prima just before the singer was rushed into emergency open-heart surgery at University Hospital on Dec. 31, 2002. Despite his doctors’ misgivings, Peters fulfilled his contractual obligation to debut An American Icon three weeks later at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Syracuse.
There I was singing with a broken breast bone, Peters recalls, but I was on an adrenaline high.
Last year was a mixed blessing for the singer. He took the “Icon” show to Florida, performing five shows a week in Boca Rotan, and then played most of August at the Real Meals Cabaret in Saratoga Springs.
Though his voice was fine, Peters was having trouble with his legs.
Mixed blessings in 2006
“I could hardly walk,” he said. His doctors determined that he needed bypass surgery to remove blockages from an artery in his leg.
“It was a rough year,” he said, yet he continued to perform the Sinatra show. “I had to go to therapy to learn to walk again and I used a walker for weeks, but then I did the show in November at the Spaghetti Warehouse again.”
Hobin is impressed by Peters’ ability to forge ahead on a project that’s clearly dear to his now-repaired heart.
Val wrote a beautiful program, Hobin said, and his voice is a real gift, but beyond the singing, he really gets into the history.
To tell Sinatra’s life story, Peters recounts the early years with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra’s rise and fall in the 1940s and his stormy relationship with actress Ava Gardner.
“Apparently Frank often referred to Ava as a ‘wicked witch,’ and shortly after the break-up, he recorded ‘Witchcraft’ which became a monster hit,” Peter said.
“American Icon” also revisits the Rat Pack, Sinatra’s group of drinking buddies that included Syracuse-born songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen.
For years, I’ve been bursting at the seams with all this Sinatra stuff, Peters said. It was just waiting to spill out in some creative way.
Val Peters will also perform Sinatra, An American Icon following an opening set by Ms. Joey Nigro at 8:15 p.m. May 12 at The Castaways in Brewerton. For information, call 668-3434 or 430-4280.