Tony Bennett turned 87 today, Aug 3. I sat in a crowd of 10,000+ people who sang Happy Birthday to him at the Hollywood Bowl. Pretty cool. Even cooler? At 87, he still (pretty much) has the same chops as when I saw him 10+ years ago when he was still a punk 75 years old.
Last night he told the story of how record executives were gonna tie him to a tree unless he recorded a country crossover. Tie him to a tree they did and he recorded Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold heart. It didn’t sound like this though. His band was very jazz combo-y.
Williams subsequently telephoned Bennett to say, “Tony, why did you ruin my song?” But that was a prank – in fact, Williams liked Bennett’s version and played it on jukeboxes whenever he could. In his autobiography The Good Life, Bennett described playing “Cold, Cold Heart” at the Grand Ole Opry later in the 1950s. He had brought his usual arrangement charts to give to the house musicians who would be backing him, but their instrumentation was different and they declined the charts. “You sing and we’ll follow you,” they said, and Bennett says they did so beautifully, once again recreating an unlikely artistic merger.
Back in the day, Mr. Bennett made an appearance at a record store in Madison, WI, when such things still existed. He was very pleasant as he signed my ticket stub, which my friend and I still joke about it because he made it out to “Don”, in actual quotes like I was in the witness protection program. Still have it in a box somewhere.