Many of the crooners and pop singers who started their careers in the 1950s were taken by surprise when rock ’n’ roll took the world by storm—and therefore put a damper on their careers.
However, a handful of singers managed to stay successful—and one of the most successful has been Bobby Vinton, now 78. The “Blue Velvet” crooner is performing at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Bobby Vinton was born into a musical family in Canonsburg, Penn; his father, Stanley Vinton Sr., was a popular local bandleader. While Vinton was growing up, he was surrounded by music, and his parents encouraged his interest in music from an early age—although music was not his only interest.
“As a kid growing up, big-band music was all I knew,” Vinton said during a recent phone interview. “My mother, of course, was a big influence on me. In fact, when I was about 10 or 11 years old, she wanted me to practice the clarinet. Like most young boys at that age, you want to play ball and play sports. She said, ‘Fine, you can do all that, but if you want an allowance, you have to practice your clarinet. Otherwise, you don’t get an allowance.’
“So I was bribed into show business,” he said, laughing.
Vinton started his first band at the age of 16 and enjoyed some local success. In fact, music earnings allowed him to pay his way through Duquesne University, where he earned a degree in musical composition. He then served two years in the U.S. Army.
In 1960, he signed with Epic Records; however, he struggled to find success, and was nearly dropped from the label. However, he was saved, in part, thanks to a creative idea he had when it came time to promote his 1962 single, “Roses Are Red (My Love)”: Vinton bought 1,000 copies of his own single and had the idea to deliver a dozen roses—with a copy of the song, of course—to local DJs in Pittsburgh.
“No one wanted to play ‘Roses Are Red,’ and we were having a tough time promoting it,” Vinton said. “… The first radio station I pulled up to, I stood outside the eyeglass window where the DJ was, and I’m standing there with my flowers in my hand, telling the DJ I wanted to give him roses. I think he thought I was in love with him. I thought I better try another approach, and I saw a girl walking up the street with the greatest legs, and I asked her, ‘Hey, would you do me a favor? Walk in and hand these roses to that DJ.’ So she did, and she had no trouble getting in, and he played it. It seemed to work, and we did it all over in Pittsburgh. Next thing I knew, it was a hit record across the country.”
After the success of “Roses Are Red (My Love),” Vinton had a few more lesser hits before he released “Blue on Blue” in 1963, followed by a cover of “Blue Velvet”—the hit that would define his career.
“What started ‘Blue Velvet’ was my hit song ‘Blue on Blue,’” he explained. “I was going to make an album called Blue on Blue, with all blues songs,” Vinton said. “I decided to really make it different. I went to Nashville, and I used all country musicians.…They don’t read the music, and they don’t have to—because they play with a feel. I had five minutes left on the album, and I decided I would do ‘Blue Velvet.’”
Meanwhile, rock ’n’ roll was starting to become even more popular, thanks to Beatlemania and the Rolling Stones. When the Beatles arrived in America for the first time in 1964, Vinton took notice of rock’s growing popularity—and knew what it meant for his career.
“My manager at the time was Allen Klein, and when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came here, they wanted to use him, because he was very smart, and had the right moves in the business,” Vinton said. “I remember one time, Mick Jagger asked me, ‘How do you feel about us guys coming here and taking all the play away from you?’ And I said, ‘Well, in a way, you have eliminated my competition—because songs like ‘Blue Velvet’ sold to the adults as well to the teenagers. So if I sold 2 million records, I sold 1 million to the teenagers, and 1 million to the adults.’ The Beatles came along, and I lost the teenagers, but I still had the adults. I was still able to sell 1 million to the adults.’
“The times were changing, and I had no idea at the time that the Rolling Stones would become as big as they are today.”
Despite the popularity of rock ’n’ roll, Vinton still enjoyed success, in part because he decided to separate himself from the rock acts by focusing on live shows.
“What I did over the years was just develop myself as a live entertainer,” Vinton said. “I have a show that is very versatile, and I figured the record business isn’t what it once was for me, so I focused on being a live entertainer that can put on this show that can compete with anybody onstage. That’s where I put all my efforts and energies.”
Eventually, Vinton stopped recording new material. His last album, As Time Goes By, a collaboration with the late George Burns, was released in 1992; he said has no plans to enter a recording studio again.
“I don’t want to record again, because the music scene is so different,” Vinton said. “I don’t want to frustrate myself. There was a time when I was No. 1 on the charts. You don’t want to start changing what is. I don’t think if I had the greatest song in the world that a pop station playing Lady Gaga would play me or any artist from my generation. You have to accept the time for what it is.”
While Vinton has retired from recording, he still has passion for live performances.
“It’s just something I feel I do very well,” he said. “I’ve played casinos all across the country, and this past weekend, a girl came up to me after the show who was with her mother, and she said, ‘I really didn’t want to come see you. I really enjoyed the show, and … you brought out the teenager in my mother.’ So these things happen—and believe me, there’s nothing else I can do or want to do in my life.”
Bobby Vinton will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 7, at The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $40 to $60. For tickets or more information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.hotwatercasino.com.