Photo’s Courtesy of Eric Kabik
Wayne Newton, also known as Mr. Las Vegas, has been entertaining audiences for the better part of six decades. Fans would normally have to travel to Las Vegas to hear such hits as “Danke Schone,” “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” and “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast,” live in concert..
However, fans in northeastern Ohio will have an opportunity to hear those hits and many more as Wayne Newton will be bringing his ”Up Close and Personal” Vegas act to the Hard Rock Rocksino on March 25th.
Mr. Newton called NEO Music Scene to chat about his career and his upcoming appearance in Northfield Park.
Greg Drugan: Hello Mr. Newton, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks for taking some time out of your day to speak with me.
Wayne Newton: Wayne will do, when you say Mr. Newton I’ll be looking for my dad! (laughs) Well, it’s my pleasure, I’ve been looking forward to it.
GD: Many of your fans are excited to see that you are playing in the Cleveland area, can you recall the last time you played here?
WN: I played Cleveland an awful lot some years ago. I played the theaters downtown, and I played the one in the round (The Front Row). My former manager was from Cleveland and of course my wife and her whole family are from Cleveland, plus I had an uncle that lived there. So it’s kinda like a second home, if you will.
GD: You are calling this show “Up Close and Personal” is this the same kind of show that one would see in Las Vegas?
WN: Actually yes, we are doing that show right now in Las Vegas. I wrote it at the request of Bally’s, that’s where I’m appearing, and they wanted to open a new showroom where the fans can be, up close and personal, as opposed to the 1,500 to 2,000 seaters. So that’s what caused me to write the show. I wanted to write a show that was kind of a throwback to what Las Vegas was when I first came here in 1959.
The Sands showroom seated 500 people when the Rat Pack was there. The cover with Sammy, Dean, Frank and all of them, with dinner, was $5.99! I wanted to write something that brought back those kind of years and something that people could take away with them when they left the show, they would feel like a friend instead of a paying customer.
It has been very, very successful here. I wasn’t sure if the public was going to tune into this kinda show or not, but the show has been terribly successful here and I’m looking forward to bringing it to Cleveland.
GD: How is this show different than previous shows that you have done?
WN: The show we usually do has a 28 piece orchestra, 3 back up singers, and a big production with lighting and those kinds of things. This one we are doing with a much smaller group of musicians, only 4 or 5, and people get to ask questions. Whatever they want to ask and if they have requests, we can do those! So that’s the basic difference between those shows.
GD: I believe that you were one of the first artists to take up a residency in Las Vegas, playing shows for an extended period of time. Today, many acts do that for weeks or months at a time. How does that make you feel being a trendsetter?
WN: It’s been wonderful! I’ve seen it go from no television shows being shot here, when I first got here, to a complete 180 where it’s the place to shoot movies and television shows. To see these new artists come to town, and realize what I’ve known since 1959, is that you are dealing with the best lights, you’re dealing with the best showrooms, and people can come from all over the world to see a show here. When you’re on the road, you’re playing basketball arenas, or volleyball courts or wherever the venue might be. You don’t know what you’re dealing with until you get there in terms of lights and sound and production or lack of.
GD: How has Vegas changed over the years? Have the casinos that have popped up across the country diluted Las Vegas and its overall appeal or has it held it’s own?
WN: As a matter of fact, I think the casinos that have popped up has helped Las Vegas. People, I think were a little dubious when gaming started in other states, wondering if it was going to be fair, wondering if the slot machines were going to be set. They found out that it is highly regulated and cheating is almost nonexistent. There are crooks in every business in the world and gaming has no exemption. I think those places opening up has helped Las Vegas and Vegas has helped them. There’s been a tremendous surge of places to work, quality places to work for performers as well as places for people to go and have a good time and chase their dreams if they want.
GD: You have been in several movies and TV shows throughout your career, what was one of your favorite appearances or cameos?
WN: Actually I will be doing a movie that we will be filming in Canada next week that’s called Puppy Love. That will be my 40th motion picture that I’ve done. My favorites would be Vegas Vacation, obviously! I loved working with Chevy and all of those people in that film. Then I did a James Bond movie called License to Kill which was a lot of fun. I did a movie with Andrew Dice Clay called (The Adventures of) Ford Fairlane, which is still played here and there. But all the movies I’ve done acting wise, I had the pleasure of doing a segment in North and South, which was a TV mini-series. I played a warden in Andersonville prison in Atlanta, Georgia during the Civil War. That part for me, was the most challenging because it was 180 degrees from everything about who I am and the way I think. It really challenged my acting ability, so I would say that one and Vegas Vacation.
GD: You have had hit songs in the 60s and 70s. However I, like many people my age, were introduced to your music through Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. What kind of impact did that movie have on your career?
WN: (laughs) I think it’s the song that had a true impact. The movie came out and it was a big hit so that song (Danke Schoen) was reissued and became a hit again. Then other people came out and put it in their films and people started calling us to ask us if they could use it as backup in commercials on television. So the song has truly had a resurgence about every ten years!
The song was originally written for Bobby Darin to record, but Bobby was producing my record and he decided that I should have the song because he knew in his heart that it was going to be a big hit. To this day, we have had bigger selling songs like “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast” and “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” but none of them have lasted the length of time or carried the importance that “Danke Schoen” has.
GD: Excellent! I read that you are a self taught musician. How many instruments do you play and which is your favorite one to play?
WN: I play thirteen instruments all total. That came about as a necessity because I started out in the lounges in Vegas at fifteen years old and we were doing six shows a night, six nights a week. You can’t sing that much, and the first engagement ran an entire year. So I kept developing instruments to give me vocal relief. I would say my favorite or the one I’m most comfortable with would have to be the piano, drums and guitar.
GD: Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
WN: It’s interesting that I actually started in country music. I started playing steel guitar and my parents were big country music fans. So Hank Williams would have a major impact on me because my parents took me to see him live in Virginia when I was four years old. I remember that we were way up in the nosebleed section and I remember that I couldn’t see the performers on the stage. So I began looking around the crowd at their faces and I saw the happiness that the performers were bringing them and I told my mother that that’s what I wanted to do. She took that to be music. So the first people to influence me were country music stars.
When we moved to Phoenix and then to Las Vegas, they wanted more contemporary music and standards like Frank Sinatra. So I really had an education in many different kinds of music like big band stuff and things that could be attributed to Frank and Dean and that group. I had a period of time where I did each different kind of music. So I don’t really have a particular favorite kind of music. When I got here I was really kind of a throwback to those kinds of performers. I think the performance was actually more important than what music was actually being performed.
I learned from all of those people from Jackie Gleason to Lucille Ball, to Bobby Darin, Frank, Sammy, Dean all of those people had a tremendous impact on me. I’m able to recognize in retrospect, that at the time it didn’t dawn on me how much I was learning from them.
GD: Wow, that’s quite an eclectic group! So Hank Williams was the first person you saw in concert?
WN: Yes it was and yes he was. It was he, Kitty Wells and Hawkshaw Hawkins and I remember like it was yesterday! The thing that I couldn’t articulate at the the time but the thing that has really struck me is that music is the only thing that isn’t a double edged sword. Meaning, anybody that listens to a song, I don’t care what song it is, it takes them to a different place than the person seated next to them. It becomes so personal to them and they start remembering where they were the first time they heard that song, or what they were doing or what they were involved in. Every song takes everyone in that audience to a different place. That’s why I think music is so magical!
GD: I totally agree! Is there any particular song or artist that you like to cover in concert?
WN: Not really. I look at the young artists coming out today and I would say my favorite would have to be Bruno Mars. I think that he came up in the business, his family were musicians and singers so he had a totally different education in music than so many others. He’s talented.
GD: Next weekend,you are going to be here in Cleveland, is there anything you would like to say to the fans here?
WN: Yes I would and Greg, thank you for the kind words and your time. Fans in Cleveland I want to say “Boy I am I glad LeBron is back!” In my house, when he left it was like a funeral. It was something that I had never seen because they were such LeBron fans and now so am I, obviously. So, Go Cavs! We’ll be there supporting you!
GD: Mr. Newton, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. We are looking forward to seeing you next week!
WN: Thank you Greg, I look forward to it!
Wayne Newton will be bringing his Vegas style show “Up Close and Personal” to the Hard Rock Rocksino. There are a limited number of tickets available. You can pick them up at the Rocksino Box Office or www.ticketmaster.com