Neil Sedaka’s career has taken many twists and turns over the years. He was one of the most successful early rock ’n’ rollers before his career derailed in the 1960s—setting the stage for an amazing comeback in the 1970s.
And today, he’s focusing on … classical music? That’s correct—although concert-goers can expect to hear his hits when he returns to the area to perform at the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Friday, May 24.
The concert will come within days of him receiving a significant honor.
“I’m getting an honorary degree in music from the Moravian College in Pennsylvania. It’s a big music college, and it’s my first honorary degree. I’m very excited,” Sedaka said. “I never finished Juilliard. I went to the prep school for eight years and the college for three years. They’re doing an evening of Neil Sedaka songs, and a great pianist is going to play my piano concerto.”
“I wrote two symphonies and a piano concerto. I’m going back to my roots. I started as a classical pianist, and I said, ‘Well, why don’t I give it a shot?’” Sedaka said. “Jeffrey Biegel, who is a great concert pianist, has been playing the piano concerto all over the United States and made a recording. Not too many rock ’n’ rollers can say that.”
Over in the United Kingdom, Sedaka is still a huge hit. In recent years, he’s played concerts in Hyde Park and at the Royal Albert Hall.
“The English have welcomed me over the years; even when I was out of work in America, they were very loyal to the original American rock ’n’ rollers. So they welcomed me always,” Sedaka said. “I played the Royal Albert Hall many times: once with a symphony, once with my band, and a couple of times solo. The last time was solo. It’s an exciting place with a lot of history in classical music and pop music. There are many balconies, and it’s about 4,000 people.
“I did Hyde Park for 45,000 people. … That was quite an experience. It’s unusual. It’s a long career. I’ve been writing music for 67 years and singing 63 years. I started writing when I was 13, when I discovered I had a voice, and I was the first rock ’n’ roller to go to Australia, Japan, South America and Europe. Elvis didn’t travel. I took the opportunity to be the first.”
At one point, Sedaka had a portrait done by Andy Warhol.
“He was a friend in the ’70s, and we used to go to Studio 54 and various parties,” Sedaka said. “I posed in downtown Manhattan at his studio. (His work) had a big showing at the Whitney Museum (which closed) a couple of weeks ago. I was prominently on the wall, which is quite nice. I knew he always did three photos and painted them. The first one was offered to me for $25,000, and that was his usual fee, and the other two are in his Pittsburgh museum. … He was a scatterbrain, but he was quite a character and very prolific. Either you love him, or you hate him; there’s no in between.”
What was Sedaka’s impression of the famed Studio 54 nightclub in all its infamous glory?
“It was absolutely crazy. From ballet dancers to drag queens to film stars, it ran the gamut,” Sedaka said. “There were rooms for the drugs, and in those days, I wasn’t a druggie. I tried a little bit of everything, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I still like vodka. I’m an old-timer.”
His 1975 song “The Immigrant” has had a resurgence lately, in a country divided on the issue of immigration. The song is a tribute to his family roots.
“Phil Cody and I released that back in 1975, and it’s more relevant today than ever,” Sedaka said. “I do close the concerts with it. Whether you agree or not, our country was raised on immigrants. My grandparents came from Istanbul, Turkey, in the early 1900s, and I think that we captured something there that’s important.”
Sedaka turned 80 in March, but he said he has no plans to retire as of now.
“You have to know when to bow out. It’s like a ball player: You have a great skill and a great career record—and you get out on the field again, and realize you’re not up to par: When that happens, I’m going to bow out,” Sedaka said. “I still have my voice, which is very strange. I was told years ago that when you’re 70, your voice goes. But my voice at 80 is still very strong. I have a little arthritis in my hands, so I don’t play Brahms; I play Sedaka. As long as the people come out, and I can still reach a certain standard with the voice and the songs, I’ll continue.
“That adrenaline rush is so strong when you’re in front of people. You can feel under par, but all the aches and pains go away, and it’s when you get off the stage that you really feel it. The adrenaline and the endorphins are incredible. It’s probably the biggest natural high in life, being in front of an audience.”
While you’ll indeed hear Sedaka’s hits, that’s not all you’ll hear at his show.
“I like to get to the ‘neglected children,’ and during the encore, I like to do three or four of those neglected ones that were buried in the LPs, and they get a great reception,” he said. “That’s very hard to do—play something unknown to the audience. When it gets a better reception than ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,’ I’m very proud of that.”
Neil Sedaka will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, May 24, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $65 to $75. For tickets or more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit www.morongocasinoresort.com.