Niagara Gazette

May 23, 2013

Here comes 'The Polish Prince'

By Thom Jennings ngedi@niagara-gazette.com
Night & Day

Night & Day — It’s the busiest weekend in long time for high-profile concerts in the area. At Artpark on Friday the Avett Brothers perform the first concert of the venues 40th anniversary season. Darien Lake hosts Tim McGraw on Saturday and on Tuesday Fall Out Boy makes a stop at The Rapid’s Theatre for a sold-out show.

Also on Saturday, Bobby Vinton comes to the Seneca Niagara Casino. Vinton’s storied career has lasted over five decades, longer than the careers of the three other artists coming to town this weekend combined. (Avett Brothers-13 years, Fall Out Boy-12 years and Tim McGraw- 21 years)

This week I had the honor of speaking with the legendary Bobby Vinton by phone from his home in Florida. My first question was about his song, “Mr. Lonely,” which was one of his first major hits.

“The song was a big hit with the Vietnam veterans. It was a big hit in Asia, in fact in Japan the song was so big there was a radio show at midnight called “Mr. Lonely” and they played my music as their theme song. It was a late night call-in show where people talked about their problems and when I went to Japan to perform I was amazed at the phenomenal that song received.”

In 2005, rapper Akon released a version of the song with Vinton’s vocals sped up.

“They had to get my permission to use the song and I have a friend that I have known for a long whose son runs the label. He told me his son had someone that made a remake of “Mr. Lonely” and I told him he could do whatever he needed to do. He said it was going to be a number one record by this rapper named Akon and I told him to send it to me. When I heard it I thought the speed was wrong. I thought it was the worst thing I ever heard,” Vinton said, chuckling.

Vinton’s daughter’s assessment was quite different; she recognized that Akon’s version would be a hit. His wife thought it was great and also thought the Akon version would be a hit. Akon’s version went to number one in 14 countries.

“To this day I get royalty checks from countries I have never heard of.”

Contemporary artist Lana Del Ray, who is performing the song on her current world tour, recently recorded another of Vinton’s signature hits, “Blue Velvet.” To date it hasn’t been as successful as Akon’s remake of “Mr. Lonely.”

Vinton was also closely associated with the man that some claim broke up The Beatles, Allen Klein, who managed Vinton and The Rolling Stones. After Brian Epstein died, Klein took over the management of The Beatles.

“Allen and I were best friends at the time, and he was making good decisions and I was making good money. When The Beatles came over here they saw I was making money and they were making a penny an album and splitting it five ways between them and Epstein, so they went to Allen. He saved them a lot of money and at the time I thought he was doing them a lot of good.”

Vinton earned the nickname The Polish Prince after the song “My Melody of Love,” was released. The song, which contains lyrics in Polish, was initially a hit in Buffalo because of the area’s large Polish population. Nonetheless, his nickname came after a performance in another part of the country with a large Polish population.

“I was performing in Chicago, and they have a larger Polish population than Buffalo, and it was an election year so the late Mayor Richard Daley came to see me and he sang it with me and he was supposed to be having dinner with the King of Sweden. At a press conference the next day they asked him why he skipped dinner with the King of Sweden and he said he was with “The Polish Prince.” The next day the quote is on the front page of The Chicago Tribune with my picture underneath it. The name stuck.”

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.