An Interview With Legendary Singer and Rat Pack Member Dean Martin’s Entertainer Daughter, DEANA MARTIN!
Posted On 21 Nov 2016
With a growing discography of hit albums, and standing room only concerts, Deana Martin has proven herself as a world-class entertainer. Deana’s success as a hit recording artist is best illustrated by her chart achievements. Her 2006 debut album, Memories Are Made of This, stayed in the Top 10 for 40 consecutive weeks. In 2009, Volare, debuted on two Billboard charts; at No. 7 on the Top Heatseekers and No. 22 on the Top Jazz Album chart. White Christmas, released in 2011, was another chart-buster and Deana was joined on the title track with singing legend Andy Williams. 2013 saw the release of Destination Moon, Deana’s fourth studio album; a musical rocket ride featuring 14 seminal performances, 10 classics plus four new songs written especially for her, each interpreted with Deana’s trademark elegance and charm.
Music is just one facet of Deana—she is also an accomplished author. In 2004, Deana broke new ground as a New York Times best-selling author with her first book, Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes. In the book, Deana delights in sharing wonderful, never-before-told stories about her father and his “Pallies,” known as the Rat Pack.
World-class entertainer, vocalist, and New York Times best-selling author Deana Martin shows why she reigns as the Queen of Cool with her 5th musical album, Swing Street, available now via Big Fish Records. It is the follow-up to Martin’s 2013 top selling album, Destination Moon, a compilation of her favorite jazz and pop songs, plus a duet with her father, Dean Martin, on True Love.
Swing Street features several covers of swinging classics as well as five new songs by Patrick Williams. Among the classic tunes are Bye Bye Blackbird, Georgia On My Mind, Quando, Quando, Quando, and Who’s Got The Action made famous by her father. Newfound tunes by Martin include Bellissima and Spooky. Produced by John Griffeth, and arranged and conducted by Patrick Williams and Chris Walden, the album features a host of A-list session players, Grammy© winning arrangers, composers and engineers, all recorded at the famous Capitol Records Studio A in Hollywood, California.
Learn more about Deana and her incredible career in the following All Access interview:
Let’s get started! Now that we’re just about finished with 2016, what are some words that you think you would use to describe it?
For me, it was jam-packed full of working and getting this new album together, but as far as people are concerned, I think it’s a time of change and learning. It was an amazing year to me.
What are you most excited for next year?
I’m most excited for the 100th birthday of the king of cool, my handsome dad, Dean Martin, because he was born June 7th, 1917, and so this will be his centennial year. We have a documentary that’s coming out. I will have another album coming out, Deana Sings Deano. This one just came out, Swing Street, which is fantastic, and of course, working on my book, making it into a movie. I’m looking towards a lot of work again in 2017.
I’d love to know if you remember the moment where you thought, “Wow, I could follow in his footsteps,” so to speak. “I could be an entertainer. I could do this, too, for a living.”
There were a couple moments. There were two times specifically. When I was very little, I went to Capitol Records with my mom, and walked down that legendary hallway into the legendary Studio A at Capitol Studios, and I sat in a little chair. My feet didn’t even reach the floor, and my dad recorded his first number one hit, Memories are Made of This. I was there, and I watched him sing that song, and he had three backup singers, he had the 42 piece orchestra. I thought, “Oh, my gosh. This is what I … I would love to do this.”
Of course, years later, we just recorded this gorgeous album, Swing Street, in that very studio with some of the same musicians. It was at Capitol Records. That was the first time that I really realized, “Gosh, this is something that I would like to do.” Then, of course, when I was nine years old in Las Vegas, sitting in the Copa Room and watching my dad walk out on stage for the first time, and the audience around me went, “Ah, there he is.” I thought, “Oh, my.” He looked gorgeous. He was cool. He sang. He was funny. I said, “You know what? It was magic.” I said, “I want to do that.”
I knew that I wanted to do that as I watched him. I grew up around all of this, and I grew up around these incredible entertainers that I learned so much from. I started in country music.
My first hit was Girl of the Month Club. I went to Nashville and sang on Music City USA. 10 years later, I got a rock and roll band. We were called the Chromium Plated Streamlined Baby. I played at the Whisky a Go Go. It really wasn’t until after my dad passed away that I started listening to his music more, because I missed him. I thought, “Gosh, this Great American Songbook, all this music, gosh, I love this.” It was just so much a part of my life, and I realized these were timeless classic songs that I really wanted to perform, and it was right there in my DNA. I loved the Great American Songbook, and the rat-pack music, all that swing music. It’s part of me, so the most fun for me to do is to get up on stage and sing these songs.
What was it like having your husband produce Swing Street? How did that all happen?
He’s produced all my albums. This is my fifth, and he was the producer of all them. This one is so special, because we recorded it at Capitol. I have recorded at Capitol before, but this was the whole album, with the musicians and everybody there. When we spoke to Patrick Williams, who is the most unbelievable, probably the best arranger/conductor alive today, and we were so thrilled to work with him. And of course, the amazing Al Schmidt, who I’ve worked with many times before. In fact, Al Schmidt, the engineer at Capitol is the one who put together my True Love duet with my dad. He’s also the one who recorded Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” duet.
There’s so many parts of all of this that comes around full circle, but having John as my producer, and as the director of my shows, and a manager. He’s the person who makes it all happen. We’re on the road 280 days out of the year. We are 24/7, and it’s an unbelievable life. I couldn’t do it without him. He’s the one who has such incredible ideas, and insight, and instincts. I’m so lucky to have him as my husband, and as my best friend and producer.
Sitting down and figuring out what songs to put Swing Street was probably the toughest thing. There are so many songs that I want to record. I had a wish list of about 200 songs, narrowed it down to 50, then we went to see Patrick Williams at his office in Los Angeles, and then we narrowed it down, and narrowed it down.
Then, of course, John says to Patrick, “Well, Patrick, you write songs. Do you have anything that you think would be great for Deana?” Patrick says, “Well, as a matter of fact, I do.” Five more songs came out, and they were incredible. He’s written them. When I think about 52nd and Broadway, which is so fantastic, and I’ve Been Around, Hearing Ella Sing, Good Things Grow, I Know What You Are, these are all just gorgeous, gorgeous, incredibly written arrangements and songs. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work, but all the people involved in this were incredible. I think John put together an A-Team that is phenomenal.
I was particularly going to ask about your version of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind. Your arrangement is a lot more upbeat then his original song which is interesting. How did that all happen?
Yes, it is. The arranger of that, and I just adore him, Chris Walden, he arranged it and conducted it. We spoke about doing the song, and I said, “I’ve always wanted to record New York State of Mind, but I don’t want to do it, of course.” What could be better than Billy Joel’s? Chris and I talked about it, and he came up with this fabulous arrangement, and the minute I heard it, I said, “Well, that’s it.” It is upbeat, and for me, it’s fun to sing. I was born in New York. I do have this … I get in the New York state of mind very often. This song just lifts you up, and it’s beautifully arranged the way he did that, and it has that little Latin verse in there, which changes the tempo a little bit, but I think it’s just a fabulous arrangement. Chris Walden is a genius.
I love that it’s very unexpected. It’s, “Oh, this is New York State of Mind. That’s different.”
Yes, I wanted to do that on this album. Like with Georgia, Georgia on My Mind. It’s upbeat. Again, I have loved that song all my life. My dad recorded it. Of course, we know, I can’t tell you how many times it’s been recorded, and Ray Charles, but I’ve loved the song, and I didn’t want to do the same thing. You can’t compete with all of that. Since I wanted to have a swinging, upbeat album this time, when I heard Dave Walby’s arrangement, it wasn’t this upbeat, but it was such a great arrangement. We spoke to him, and he flew out. He lives in Florida, and he flew to Capitol Records, and we changed the tempo, of course, to make it something for me, and it’s just excellent. It’s choosing these songs that I love.
Having the backup singers The Waters on our song ‘That’s Life” is just a fabulous story for me. I have done That’s Life on stage for a year, and usually my band is the backup singers. I go, “That’s life.” They go, “That’s life.” It just didn’t come out right when we were recording it at Capitol. John said, “You know, I don’t like the band singing That’s Life. It just doesn’t sound right. I think we need some professional singers.”
Steve said, “Oh, I think The Waters are in Studio A right now.” We were just setting up things in Studio B. I said, “The Waters are here?” He said, “Yes.” He ran next door, they had just left, but he called them, and they turned around, and they came back. They listened to the song, and they figured out their harmonies, and they sang the backup on That’s Life. I think it’s spectacular. It’s things that happen at Capitol Records that are amazing. Being in the right place at the right time, and then The Waters coming in and just doing that great backup vocals. It’s very, very special. This is a very special album.
Certainly. How do you think that your next album will be different or similar to Swing Street?
The quality of the arranging and the quality of the musicians and the sound and everything, that will be very similar. It will be different songs, because the album for 2017 is Deana Sings Deano. We’ll have some fabulous arrangements of Dean Martin songs. He had I don’t know how many songs. I’m trying to think of how many songs he recorded, but I don’t want it to be the usual way. I want it to be, first of all, a great tribute to him because he was amazing, and that gorgeous voice that he had. It also has to be me. It has to be my style. I think it will be fabulous, but it’s hard to even think about that one now, because I’m so excited about Swing Street.
What do you think has surprised you about the music industry? You’ve been around, you’ve made several albums. Has there been something challenging, or in particular, something that’s come natural to you in the music industry?
Of course, I grew up in the business, and it is totally different. I think it’s in some ways, a lot easier for people now to get a recording contract to be heard. They can do YouTube, with social media, people can get out there and sing their songs, and it can be seen by millions of people in a minute. They can do that, so it’s easier, I think, right now, for people to be discovered. The voices, the people who are singing now on The Voice, or America’s Got Talent, the range that people have now is quite astonishing to me. It’s absolutely spectacular, these voices that we hear from the young people, which is very, very special.
As far as the business changing, it changes all the time. CD sales, now with everything digital, it’s great, but for me, I love to look at a CD or an album. I put all of my CDs out on vinyl also, because there’s something about having it in your hand, and reading the liner notes, and looking at the photographs, but seeing who all of the musicians are, and who the songs are written by. When you just have the digital download, you just hear the song, which is great. You can have it on your little iPhone, and have it anywhere you want.
The world really is changing.
Who would’ve thought yesterday that now, today, we’ll have a President Trump. Gosh, let’s see. Let’s hope and pray that this all comes together. We’re all Americans. Hopefully, it all turns out just great.
I’ve read that you’re working on, perhaps, a movie that’s based on your memoir. Can you talk about that at all? Has a script been put together?
That keeps changing also. We got some great ideas, then we have writers and Joe Mantegna who wants to produce it and direct it. Then, Bonnie Hunt is going to write the screenplay, but she’s been so busy lately. I love Bonnie. Then, other people have come to me, and they of course want to do it, because everybody loved Dean Mabrtin. For me, it changes. Is it going to be a feature length movie, or is there such an incredible story that it should be a mini-series? It’s gone through a few different stages, and I still don’t know what would be the best, and the best representation, and the respect, and what he deserves. We’re just trying to figure out what would be just the right direction. I’ve got many people who are involved in it. In fact, next week when we’re in LA, we will have another meeting, and I’m excited about that.
What’s next up for you this year?
All right. I’m trying to think. Next week, it might be the 11th, I’ll be on Home and Family. I’ll be singing a couple songs, and making pasta vongole. Tune in. My grandmother taught me the recipe for my father. He loved pasta vongole. She taught me how to make it when I was nine or 10 years old, and she wouldn’t let me teach anyone. She said, “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell your sisters how to make it. Don’t write down the recipe. It’ll be your surprise, your secret, so it will be your connection with your dad.” So, I will be cooking that on Home and Family next week. I’m excited about that.
Just a couple more questions. If you could pick members of a rat-pack right now, today, of young singers and songwriters, who do you think you would choose? Is that difficult?
Gosh. It does change every day. For one thing, I adore Bruno Mars. He’s so cool. What a great voice. Of course, Justin Timberlake is wonderful. I’m trying to think of who else has that coolness and the classic style. Of course, I love Michael Buble, but he’s not one of the young kids anymore either but he still has it.
Is there someone that you’d love to work with? A duet, or just partner with on a song?
There have been many people. Of course, Bruno, I’d love to sing with. Yes. Let’s see. I’m thinking of Steve Tyrell, I adore him. I think he’s an excellent singer. I’m trying to think of who else, who’s out there right now that … There’s so many great singers. I would love to do a duet with Tony Bennett. That would be something fantastic, but Lady Gaga already got that.
My final question is at the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope that your father’s fans take away from listening to your music?
I want to bring back some old memories, but I want them to have new memories, and to have a smile in their heart, and to have a joyful experience. This music is going to last forever.
There was really a joyfulness about my dad’s singing. I can hear the smile on his face when he sings. For me, personally, that’s what I want, because this is going to last forever. I am leaving something in the world that is beautiful, and touching, and joyful, just like my dad did. For me, I want people to walk away with great memories, and looking forward to new memories. That’s what I do with my shows. It’s a part of me to just bring happiness and some fun, and love to people in the world. Sometimes, it’s a really tough place.