What it takes to crash Tin Pan Alley at fifteen
Fresh from an Ottawa classroom. Paul Anka brashly offered “Diana” to New York record makers and said he’d sing it himself. Now, less than a year later, he’s grossed $100,000 and has fan clubs he hasn’t even counted
PAUL A. GARDNER
An Ottawa high-school boy walked out of his grade-ten class last April and left town to put his talent up for grabs on Tin Pan Alley, "because,” as he said, "I figured I'd make it faster in the States.” Paul Anka's foray to New York was the same assault on fame and fortune almost every youngster builds his visions on. and it had as much chance of success as any of the other anonymous thousands that tire actually carried out.
Four months later, on his sixteenth birthday, Anka wired his mother Camilia sixteen camellias from Philadelphia. He was one of six topfeatured artists in a touring rock 'n' roll group; he sings four songs once a night and occasionally twice a day and draws a thousand dollars a week. On the same night Variety, the showbusiness newspaper, listed his recording of Diana, a rock 'n' roll tune he says he wrote in twenty minutes, in thirteenth place in total sales on the continent. One week later Anka
himself was eighth in what the paper describes as Top Talent and Tunes.
The week after. Anka's rendition of his own song had slipped to ninth place; then it climbed to seventh, stayed there a week and jumped to second, high above competing numbers by such booming box-office names as Elvis Presley and Pat Boone. On the scoreboards of two of the entertainment trade papers. Variety and Cash Box. the Anka record stayed in second place (in first: Debbie Reynolds’ Tammy) for three weeks; on the listing of a third paper, Billboard, it touched first for one week.
The week Diana topped Billboard's chart Anka sang his tune on the Ed Sullivan television show in New York. He made a second appearance as Sullivan’s guest in November after singing on the Perry Como Show and on The Big Record, which stars Patti Page. In the same month he played his home town and at year's end took oil on a British tour.
Anka draws in royalties of a cent for writing and about four cents for singing on every record sold. Sales passed the million mark (more than one hundred thousand of them in Canada) in mid-September, three months after the tune hit the radio stations and record counters. Diana topped two million early in October, and was expected to go over three million by the end of 1957. Anka is also paid for every radio and television broadcast, though juke boxes pay nothing but the price of the record. Three more Anka songs have been recorded by other artists and he earns royalties from all of them. A new Anka recording of two Anka tunes, Tell Me T hat You Love Me and I Love You. Baby, has been picked as a probable hit by all three entertainment trade papers. It had a quarter-of-a-million advance order from dealers—as much as some hits sell altogether.
The 1957 returns on his live and recorded singing and his song-
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writing are virtually certain to pile tip to a hundred thousand dollars when all the reports are in. Diana was released last June, which means he'll have earned that sum in about six months. He has a long-play album due lor release early in 1958, which may be called Paul Sings Anka. He's had several movie nibbles— he'll make a screen test in February. By mid-June of 1958 he could match Elvis Presley's reported feat of earning a million dollars in his first full year—if Anka's first full year is measured from his first major-label recording. More than a year ago he cut a record in California and it flopped. “They didn't promote it." Anka complains. "I made a dollar eighty-two clear!"
Anka's personal following has been pyramiding as fast as his bankroll. He now has about fifty registered fan clubs, with new ones springing up all the time. When he played in Atlanta, Ga., recently. he was greeted ,by a large club he hadn't known existed. He gets thousands of letters from girls all over the United States and Canada, many asking for advice—"Should I let a boy kiss me on the first date?" Some of his fans add such subtleties as. “Got a steady? If not. I'm ready.” He answers them all with cautious wisdom: “Keep calm and collected and all will go well.”
The object of all this adulation is a short chubby youth with shiny jet-black hair and a light olive complexion. I met him for the first time in the Montreal Forum, where twenty-three thousand rock 'n' roll fans assembled one Sunday afternoon for the touring show he is appearing in. His road manager, a pleasant but worried-looking young Ottawan named Bill McCadden, introduced us. I here'd been plane trouble and the group had arrived from Toronto (where they’d played to ten thousand in Maple l eaf Gardens) too late for rehearsal, so Don Everly. of the Everly Brothers, accompanied Anka in a run-through of one of his numbers. He was dressed in a scarlet sweater with a black sport shirt beneath. black slacks and white suede slippers. On stage he wore a dark suit with a white shirt whose collar poin's bulged out informally. “Do I look all right? he asked anxiously just before going on.
When he's tired, as he was that day after three nights with very little sleep. Anka’s face is flaccid and expressionless. But on stage later it lit up like a pyrotechnical display. He's five-foot-three, weighs a hundred and forty-five, and knows it’s too much.
He followed three other acts. When emcee Harold Cromer announced, “Ottawa's Paul Anka,” screams dinned through the Forum, accompanied by cheers, whistles, hand-claps and stamping. On bounced Anka. radiating personality and clapping with the audience. He sang a tune called Happy Baby to good applause. w'hich grew deafening as he turned to his own Don't Gamble With Love, in which he dropped his jumpy gestures for an occasional full-arm sweep.
His next number, a tune called Gumdrop. brought out his wildest gestures. Dozens of photographers, all teen-agers and mostly female, swarmed around in front of the stage. He had to say, “Thank you,” four times to stop the applause. Then he held up his hands, said, with a graceful gesture, “1 dedicate this song to you," and lit into “I'm so young and you’re so old, Diana.”
The rafters rang, and it was sixteen bars before any of the words were audible. He bounced through it twice, in a powerful voice, with the broken syllables (like a cracked phonograph record) that arc the trade-mark of his rendition. Then he danced off the stage, waving his left hand like a flipper. After a minute or so of heavy applause, he took one bow and he was through working until the night show.
in the audience were his beaming father. Andy Anka, an Ottawa restaurant owner, his mother, his self-possessed fourteen-year-old sister Mariam, and his lively seven-year-old brother Andy Jr. His home-town cheering section included Diana Ayoub, a handsome Ottawa girl who last spring suggested that Paul write a song about her and to whom he dedicated his first hit. She was eighteen in May, which explains its chivalrous opening lines. He says they're just “good friends:" Diana was his babysitter when he was ten and she thirteen. One hundred and twenty other relatives, friends and fans from Ottawa were there in a bloc, besides many others who had come separately.
When Anka had rested for an hour or so we went to his hotel room. Soon afterward Diana, her girl friend Gayle Jabour (president and vice-president-secretary-treasurer. respectively, of Chapter 26 of the Paul Anka Fan Club of Ottawa) and a bevy of other teen-agers burst into the room. Most of the girls kissed Paul, which caused him no chagrin.
Anka said, “I wanna sleep!" but no one paid any attention. The girls started
talking about their fan clubs. Diana’s had two hundred and ninety-three members, but Anka said, “Aw, that’s nothing. My sister Mariam has one for the Diamonds that has four hundred and twenty members! Get crackin’, kids, I need the support!” At this his mother, an attractive woman with large quizzical eyes, said, “Paul! Keep cool and collected, and they’ll class you as a second Perry Como.”
He suddenly collapsed and said sadly and wearily, “I'm going home! I want to have fun like 1 used to!” In the morning he flew to Syracuse with the show.
It wasn't much more than a year since Anka had set out on his first long-distance crack at the show-business jackpot. Just before he turned fifteen he wrote a rock 'n' roll song that he named Blauwildesbestfontein — the name of a South African city in John Buchan’s novel Prester John, which had been required reading at school. To sell it he decided to try the Los Angeles music market, which he thought might be easier to crack than New York. At the same time the trip would give him a chance to visit his uncle, Maurice Anka, a tenor who sings in night clubs on the west coast. Paul sang at dances and parties and did a few turns himself at nightclubs in Ottawa and Hull. When he had saved a hundred and fifty dollars he set off alone for California. He had just celebrated his fifteenth birthday.
His uncle had no connections among the recording companies so Anka leafed through the yellow pages, calling each company in turn to ask for a hearing. He was turned down through the Q's and was pretty discouraged when a company called RPM said he could come in and demonstrate his song next day. He did. with voice and piano, and they bought it. Before it was recorded the song needed more lyrics; Paul asked his uncle to write them. “I thought I’d cut him in,” he says airily.
Sell it yourself and save
After he’d recorded his song and written his mother a letter describing “the GIRL.S' here,” with sketches, he ushered for a month in a movie theatre at thirty dollars a week to earn his return fare. That fall he sang Blauwildesbestfontein on Cross-Canada Hit Parade, his second television appearance. His first, on Pick the Stars, hadn't done anything for him, and so far Blauwildesbestfontein hadn't sold enough copies to pay for the recording session, so Anka went back to school. He enrolled in grade ten at Ottawa's Fisher Park High School, but by April he couldn't wait any longer to have a hit recorded — “I knew I had some in me.”
He thought of making a demonstration disc, but even with a small orchestra that would have cost six hundred dollars. “So I thought I’d save my dad five hundred dollars,” he explains, “and go down and sell the song myself.”
He went to New York cold, but ran into the Rover Boys, a Toronto quartet whom he'd met in Ottawa and taken home for coffee and sandwiches some months before. They made an appointment for him at ABC-Paramount, a comparatively new but strong record company. Anka kept the appointment but found the artists’ and repertoire department closed. Next day he called for another appointment and met Don Costa, an arranger. Paul sat down at the piano and sang one of his songs. Tell Me That You Love Me. Before he'd finished Costa said, “One moment.” He called in the heads of the firm, and they listened to
it and the three other songs Anka had with him: Don’t Gamble With Love, Bells at My Wedding and That’ll Be The Day. Then the company president called Paul’s father in Ottawa to fly down and sign a contract. It was as simple as that, Anka says.
“You see, they needed a song for Dick Roman in a hurry, so they took Bells. They decided I should record Gamble and, at first. That’ll Be the Day. Then someone remembered that the Crickets had just cut a song with the same title, so that was out.”
Since they’d decided ter save Tell Me That You Love Me, another “strong" number, for his second release, they needed one more tune for the reverse side of Don't Gamble With Love. Anka hadn't even brought Diana with him. but he had it in his head—though he couldn’t remember all the lyrics. So he sang “da da da” in the blank spots; the company okayed it and he sat up till two a.m. completing the song and indicating the arrangement. The next day he was still asleep at two in the afternoon; his recording appointment was at four. His phone rang: “Get over here and start cutting!” He did, with no rehearsal. And that’s how a smash hit was born.
Diana was published by Pamco, a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount. Paul’s eyes light up when he mentions it. “Pamco! Paul Anka Music Company! It's not. of course, but I intend to form my own publishing house soon, like a lot of artists have done. And I want to start a music store in Ottawa and have my dad manage it.”
When he talks about composing Anka loses himself in his own words. “I can feel something making me write! It scares me sometimes, because I have a feeling it's something outside of me coming in and taking over. I have to sit down and write, and everything falls into place. Sometimes I change a note or a syllable later, but not much. Take I Love You, Baby. That thing got a grip on me; I sat down and wrote the song in ten minutes—so fast it frightened me!” This tune is recorded on the reverse side of Tell Me That You Love Me; Variety picked it as a hit at the end of September, and it's been getting the most play in the U. S.; Tell Me That You Love Me the most in Canada.
Although Anka would like to pick up the night-club career he started in Gloucester, Mass., when he was ten (patrons tossed him coins totaling thirtyfive dol I ars ), his company won't let him. He agrees with them, though, on a second point: they want to ease him out of rock 'n' roll. He’s had two ballads recorded already—I Lost My Love, “written for eighteen violins.” and sung by seventeen-year-old Johnny Nash. A second, this one sung by himself, was released in December. It's called You Are My Destiny—with an “up-tempo" (polite for rock ’n’ roll) number on the reverse side, though, “just to play safe.” He sang I T ost My Love for me, in a sweet voice, quite different from his rock 'n' roll delivery.
Anka, by the way, likes Elvis Presley and buys his records, “but he doesn't throw me. He's smart, though. I'd like to congratulate him!” He also likes Pat Boone, but his three favorites are Frank Sinatra “to listen to," Sammy Davis Jr. “to watch,” and Judy Garland—“both."
Anka has been a popular-music fan as long as he can remember, and his father and mother, who are both of Syrian origin, can remember his first “professional" performances. Some workmen were laying a sewer in front of the Anka house. Six-year-old Paul filled a bucket with water, floated a saucer on
the surface and talked the men into tossing pennies. For every coin that stayed in the saucer he'd sing a song. Sometimes he’d make thirty cents a concert, including the mis-aimed pennies he didn’t have to sing for. Even before that a neighbor, Harry Bradley, used to pay him fifty cents to entertain him and his family for the evening.
Three summers ago Paul was a soda jerk for a while in an Ottawa restaurant owned by a family friend, Phil Massad. Anka’s mother had called Phil and said. “Please give Paul a job. 1 want a rest at home!" Massad says. “1 could hardly get him to do anything except entertain the customers. Since we had no cover charge that wasn’t economic, so 1 had to let him go. He never resented it, though—still writes and asks after my kids.” Later that same summer Anka and tv,o school friends, Jerry and Ray Carrier, all barely into their teens, sang in a midway show at the Central Canada Exhibition in Ottawa. They called themselves the Bobby-soxers, and rehearsed at Anka's home. His mother says, “1 got so sick of it I’d push them into the basement with their monotonous guitars and Mambo Rock! They drove me crazy!” The night finally came when Anka won an amateur contest at the Fairmount Club. It was a big boost for the fired-up youngster; it meant a week's engagement at seventy-five dollars, and a chance to work with professionals. But c\en before this, he told me, he'd climb a ladder, get in a back window, sit in the balcony and watch the show at various clubs; he rarely got caught.
Alex Sherman, who owns six record bars in Ottawa, manages one in Montreal and promotes touring music shows, says that for several years Anka went in to see him about twice a week. "You be my manager!" the boy would say. "You'll make money on me!" Sherman groans,
I ahvays threw' him out. but now I’d love to have two percent of him!"
His essays in self-promotion seem to have kept Anka too busy to pick up much formal education in music. He once enrolled with an Ottawa piano teacher, Mrs. Winnifred Rees, who says she has rarely known a youngster to listen so carefully to overtones. She found him an “embryonic musician and full of personality." but after six lessons she suggested he drop them, and take up piano again when he could find more time to practice. Anka hasn t forgotten her help: not long ago he gave her a special membership in his fan club, which entitles her to attend meetings of any chapter.
Dr. Frederick Karam, conductor of ¡he choir at St. Elijah Syrian Orthodox Church (where Paul sang as a child), and one of Ottawa’s foremost musicians, gave him nine lessons in musical theory and one—at Dr. Karam’s suggestion, not Paul’s—in voice. He recalls the boy’s “terrific determination to learn things— and he learned quickly. His hits are quite well constructed, and have excellent form for popular songs. His voice is still taking shape. It will deepen and fill out still more. People can learn from Paul. Most of them don’t work hard enough at what they want to do most.”
A picture of Anka as an antic adolescent. but one who was ready to work when he was interested, comes together from the remarks of his high-school teachers. One, a young woman, says, "He was always a show-ofl." A second young woman teacher says. "He was never a show-off.” and explains that although he liked the limelight he never hogged it.
An office worker at the high school, who was a student last year, remembers
Anka coming to see her. “Gonna hear me sing at the prep dance tonight?” he asked. She told him she was.
“Scream, eh?” Anka directed.
An elderly friend, Mrs. Georgia Faulkner, recalls that Paul loved to have her read the Gospels to him, especially John and Luke, and would say after listening awhile, “See if I have that by heart.” He usually did.
The girl his first hit was named after. Diana Ayoub, recalls Anka saying. “When 1 make lots of money I’m going to hire mother a maid.” He did. Then
he fired her because she told him to get off the telephone.
“He doesn’t like to be told what to do by anyone." Diana and her girl friend. Gayle Jabour. agree. “But we told him never to get high-hat, and he hasn’t. If he did we’d cut him down to size!"
Gayle often helped Anka with his bookkeeping homework, and says he’d even make up songs about that. Or he’d order. “Think of a title." She’d say. “Starlight,” and he’d compose a song on that in two minutes.
I last talked with Paul Anka the night
before he left for Tulsa, Okla.. after a five-day layoff from the rock ’n’ roll tour. We met at a quarter to one in the morning at his father's Ottawa restaurant. Anka told me that one of his ambitions was to have his own television show—The Paul Anka Show. Then he called to a stunning waitress, "Hi, Gorgeous. are you with it?"
“Paul." someone asked, “do strange girls bother you much, making a play for you?”
"Sure, but whattaya mean, bother? I like girls!"
He doesn’t date on tour, though— he’s too tired, flying from city to city every day.
Why did he go to the U. S. for his success hid—no encouragement in Canada? “Well,” he said. “I tried my songs on Canadian publishers with no results. The CBC did nothing to hold me back; but I could see no future here except very slowly. I figured I'd make it faster in the States.”
He thinks his young brother, Andy, shows promise of emulating his success. “Already he has a lot of personality and a good voice. A lot of people get away with no voice—look at nie!” Then he turned nostalgic. “I'd like to go back to Fisher anti have a normal life again!”
It was hard It) get him to talk of anyone else, but finally he said. “I’d like to
build my parents a fine home, and send them away on a nice little trip. They need a good rest. And my grandmother, she’s eighty-two and has shaking hands —-what do you call it?—I want to send a doctor from the States here to see if anything can be done for her. I’m going to tlo that.”
lie also wants, not six Cadillacs like FI vis Presley, but a black Thunderbird, “just because it’s a nice little car.” His father says he won’t get it until he returns to school, and it’s his father who controls the finances. If he docs go back to school it will be in New York, though, so he can be near the Brill Building, Broadway (address of Tin Pan Alley). It will also be in a residential school, so he won't have to live in a hotel and possibly “fall among bad com-
panions.” Anka says he “definitely” wants to go back to school. “I hope next time we meet I’ll be able to talk to you better than now—use some big words maybe.”
“You used Blauwildesbestfontein last year!”
He grinned. “You know what I mean. I don’t want to go to university—don’t see that it would help me in a musical career—but some place like the Juilliard Institute, where I d learn all about what I really want to tlo for the rest of my life.”
“Do you want to be a millionaire?”
“I never thought of that!” he said with obvious sincerity, and stopped munching potato chips for a minute. “Well. I’ll take it if it comes, but I think it would be very uncomfortable. People on the
street who used to nod to me look scared now. Today 1 went back to school and cleared out my locker — running shoes and stuff, there since April. I ran into a girl I used to know pretty well. She just stared at me, and then she burst out crying! It kind of threw me. I don’t think / act any different to people. I hope not!”
Because of his high income tax, his expenses, agent and lawyer fees that must be paid out. Anka probably nets thirty percent of his earnings. It goes into a trust fund, short fifty dollars a week allowance for himself.
Unlike a once-popular singer who told me that at the peak of his earning power he owned only thirty percent of himself. Paul Anka proudly proclaims that Anka owns ninety percent of Anka. +