The career of Frank Sinatra Jr. has never been easy.
His appearance at Harrah's on Saturday night will mark the fourth time he's performed "Sinatra Sings Sinatra," but he's quick to point out that this is not a simple undertaking. Nor is it a gimmick.
"It dates back to 1998 when Frank Sinatra died," Sinatra said. "At the end of that year, I decided I would do a show that celebrates his music. It was when he was very fresh in people's minds, and I thought a testament show would be the right way to pay tribute. My original idea was to do it for a year and a half to two years.
"It has been very successful, which is unusual for me, and we've been traveling around the world."
In his early years, the younger Sinatra would open acts for big stars, play the small lounges, occasionally hit the headlines (like with the famous 1963 kidnapping, which happened while he was playing the cabaret at Harrah's Tahoe), and endure the inevitable comparisons, usually to his detriment, with his famous father.
During the latter years of the elder Sinatra's life, however, the son embraced the relationship.
"For the last seven years he worked, I had the experience of being his conductor," Sinatra said. "This gave me a chance to go through all the music and learn all the charts. I did not allow him to do the same music performance after performance. I wanted to keep him frosty.
"It is certainly no secret that, in those late years as he was approaching 80, he was slowing down. I wanted to keep him on his toes."
Those charts inevitably necessitated a live orchestra. Sinatra would perform in front of 30 musicians. The younger Sinatra will use even more.
"In order to make the music of Frank Sinatra authentic, you need the whole deal brass, violas, celli, violins, harp, and so forth. I use between 38 and 40 musicians," Sinatra said. "It's really a small symphony.
"I employ basically the same size orchestra as you hear on most Sinatra recordings. This is necessary to perform it accurately. The original arrangements are there, the famous ones by Don Costa, Billy May, Nelson Riddle."
When Frank Sinatra Jr. first played Harrah's, it was in the same South Shore Room where he'll be Saturday. He was the opening act for Jack Benny in 1964. It wasn't the first time he'd appeared at the lake, however. That was at Harveys.
"It was called Harvey's Wagon Wheel at the time, and it was a little lounge. I remember the logo with the ox skull and a broken wheel, Sinatra said. "Harry James used to call those lounges 'nice comfortable little rooms' where there was excitement. They are no more, and it is much to our loss."
Sinatra connections with Nevada have been extensive. He grew up in and became comfortable with the gambling atmosphere. He was originally a singer with the Sam Donahue Orchestra, and Donahue became the leader of the house band at John Ascuaga's Nugget.
"I have always loved that part of the world," Sinatra said of Lake Tahoe.
He also had a special relationship with Harrah's and remembers Bill Harrah as "very, very kind to me, bless his heart. You don't see his like anymore. The organization was considerably smaller than it is now, of course, with only the hotels in Reno and at Lake Tahoe, but he knew every person who worked for him, usually by their first name."
In 1992, Sinatra appeared with an 18-piece big band for the reopening of the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Showroom at the Cal-Neva Lodge at North Lake Tahoe. The room had been constructed when his father owned the hotel-casino, before he lost his Nevada gaming license. He had, indeed, personally overseen the design and construction. When the re-christening of the showroom took place, hopes were high.
"That property has always been a problem," Sinatra said. "It seems nobody ever owns it for very long. But it has its famous history. Of course, there are the inevitable legends about the tunnels leading from the casino to the cabins and all the secret meetings, which are why people think they existed. What people don't remember is that it was Lake Tahoe in the winter and there was no universal snow removal equipment."
The name of Frank Sinatra has always had a special value on the marquee. Add "Jr." and there's an equally inevitable skepticism. But Frank Sinatra Jr. has always been a better vocalist than he's usually given credit for. Now, he seems to have found the perfect vehicle for both his name and his voice.
"The first time we did this show at Harrah's Tahoe, it was Labor Day weekend in 1995. All the women showed up in long gowns with their hair up. All the men were in suits and ties. I am not kidding. They dressed that way without any prompting or dress code. It was amazing.
"It's like a different life now, but I remember those old days very fondly."
FRANK SINATRA JR.
What: As Frank Sinatra aged, his son embraced a professional relationship with his dad. The younger Sinatra acted as the conductor, going through all the music and learning all the charts. Now he marries his voice with the music his dad made famous.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Harrah's Lake Tahoe, 15 Highway 50, Stateline, Nev.
Information: (800) 427-7247, SouthShoreRoom.com