Ron Onesti: Neil Sedaka … A multi-platinum legend

Posted10/8/2015 5:01 PM
  • Neil Sedaka recently performed at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles.

    Neil Sedaka recently performed at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Daily Herald File Photo, 2008

What a cool job I have! Not only do I get to meet great music lovers such as those who frequent our Arcada Theatre, but I also get to share with them the music I love! And it just so happens that a whole lot of people share in this love of music from the Fifties and Sixties through the Seventies and Eighties.

That is why I am so passionate about the theater … I am a HUGE fan of the music myself!

To hear the hits I grew up with being sung by the vocalists who made them famous, or performed by the band that originally took those songs to the top of the charts, is for me something incredible.

It is during these performances that I truly realize just how accomplished most of these singer/songwriters are. You think you know a song or two from them, but then all of a sudden, you hear hit after hit, familiar song after familiar song. Realizing that the group or individual performing is responsible for many of these songs is part of the fun of these concerts for me, and I get to sit front and center.

Last week's concert with Neil Sedaka was one of those nights. I had the privilege of working with this icon a few years back when we hosted him at The Arcada in 2008. He was amazing then, a virtual jukebox of singalong songs. And at 76 years young, the superstar singer/songwriter has still "got it."

After our day of stage setup, piano tuning and sound checks, the master made his grand entrance through our backstage door about 30 minutes before showtime. He does no warm-ups, no vocalizations, no meditating. He is a music-making machine and humble storyteller with a fatherly presence.

As I approached his dressing room, I was welcomed with a soft-spoken, silky "How ahhh you," in a familiar, "Borscht-Belt" New York accent (Borscht Belt refers to the string of resorts in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, populated predominantly by Jewish vacationers and entertainers). He looked great, very relaxed yet with an excitement to go on stage rarely exhibited today by someone with more than 57 years in the biz.

Although he is known for writing more than 700 songs including chart-toppers "Stupid Cupid," "Oh! Carol," "Calendar Girl," "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen," "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," "Love Will Keep Us Together," "Laughter in the Rain," "The Immigrant" (about John Lennon) and "Bad Blood," his songs have been covered by an incredible list of vocalists including Frank Sinatra, Cher, Elton John, The Captain & Tenille, Olivia Newton John … even the Monkees!

However, as much as he is known for the songs he wrote that were recorded by other artists, he said the only song he actually wrote for someone else was "Where The Boys Are" for Connie Francis.

"A lot of people think I wrote all those songs for others, but the truth is I wrote them all for me to record. Other people then picked them up and recorded them themselves. Connie was the only one I was actually contracted for," Sedaka said.

But as much as those songs were a part of pop-rock history, what really intrigued me were his international recordings. "I recorded in six languages," he said. "Chinese was the easiest!"

"What about in Italian," I asked.

"Are you kidding? 'Oh Carol' (his song written about his then girlfriend, Carol King) went to No. 1 in Italy!" Sedaka actually put out a couple of albums completely in Italian.

I brought my in-laws into the dressing room for a meet-and-greet since they are such big fans. They are from Italy and I didn't realize until that moment they were fans of his Italian songs! When I introduced them to Neil, he immediately broke out into an Italian version of one of his hits, to which my father in-law joined him in song. It was a magical moment I never could have imagined.

Sedaka did a straight 90-minute set with hit after hit, memory after memory, peppered with classical piano and a little soft-shoe. He told stories about his experiences with Elvis and that his record label selected him as the sex-symbol answer to Elvis! But it was the Beatles that caused his rocketing career to come to a halt during the British Invasion of 1963. It was so bad he decided to hang it up and move to England with his family for the next 12 years.

The irony here is that the mop-topped foursome that caused him to move to England were also remotely responsible for Neil's comeback, as Elton John heard Sedaka in England and wanted to record "Bad Blood" with him. That song gave Neil the newfound stardom he needed to get back into the limelight. So without the Beatles causing him to move to England, where would he be today?

Is it a coincidence that the name of the song is "Bad Blood?" I don't think so.

Neil Sedaka is another gem in our rock 'n' roll history overlooked by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Just think of the music he has produced and the careers his songs have catapulted. He has a new album out, is as spry as ever and is still an incredible performer.

As he left the stage after his performance, I hugged him backstage and thanked him for a great night. "Thank you for an incredible evening, and thank you for the music, especially the Italian stuff," I kidded.

"You are my new favorite Italian guy; you call me Papa Neil," he said. With all the memorabilia I have collected over the years, that is one trophy I am truly proud to hold in my heart.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email