Paul Anka brings his show to the Silver Legacy Resort Casino on Oct. 10. His career includes hits “Puppy Love" and the chart-topping “Lonely Boy.”
Paul Anka shot to rock ‘n’ roll fame when he was just a kid, wooing audiences with earnest songs of love and longing. But he was no flash in the pan.
Through a combination of talent and savvy, he’s weathered nearly six decades in the music industry, remaining in top form and right where he wants -- no, needs -- to be. Onstage.
Anka will take to the mic on Oct. 10 at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, lighting up the place with the joy of someone who loves what he’s doing.
The singer/songwriter is 74 now, but don’t expect him to trot out his AARP card as an excuse for slowing down. His shows are more action-packed than ever.
“I couldn’t cut it, when I was much younger. I was only doing two to three songs because of the venue,” Anka said. “I didn’t have the tools to relax and the repertoire to perform a body of work.”
What he did have was a handful of winning material right out of the gate, beginning with “Diana.” Released in 1957, just before his 16th birthday, the keening ode to an older woman hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. The tune was followed that same year by “You Are My Destiny” and “Crazy Love,” which peaked at No. 7 and No. 15, respectively.
In his 2013 autobiography “My Way,” Anka shared his recipe for creating an infectious melody. He said you need a hook or chorus that’s simple enough to be played with one hand. Would-be songwriters also need to put their heart into their lyrics, and be persistent.
“You’re not going to hit it out of the box the first time,” he said.
Along with talent, the teenaged Anka had a burning ambition that helped propel him from his home in Ottawa, Canada to a spot on the bus touring with the Biggest Show of Stars for 1957.
“It was part of my whole being. All I had to do is refine it,” he said of his precocious desire to perform. “I’ve never figured it out. I’ve never got my head around why I was focused on success at a young age.”
While his parents tried not to worry, Anka crossed the country with a cavalcade of performers like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers, braving a grueling schedule and the racial tensions of the segregated south.
The teen became particular friends with Buddy Holly, who was ready to move onto a fuller, more orchestrated sound. He asked Anka to write a song for him and the result was “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” The song was released in 1959, shortly after Holly’s death in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of rockers like The Big Bopper and Richie Valens.
The accident was devastating for Anka, who donated the song’s royalties to Holly’s widow. But there is little time to mourn when you are on a roller-coaster ride to international fame.
Anka garnered further hits in 1958 and 1959, songs like “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” “Puppy Love” and the chart-topping “Lonely Boy.”
He headed for Hollywood, lending his face and music to frothy teen flicks like “Let’s Rock,” and in 1962 got a bit more serious for the war film “The Longest Day.” At 19, Anka also heeded the siren call of Sin City, becoming one of the first pop acts to headline there. The setting gave Anka -- who came out swinging with crooner-friendly standards as well as his pop hits -- the chance to win over a more adult crowd, and to mingle with his idols, the Rat Pack.
“I was this kid in this grown-up business. Being in the midst of people like that, I learned so much, from craft to presentation,” Anka said. “We did two shows in Vegas, seven days a week. There were no tricks, no auto-tune. You had to sing.”
He also learned more than a bit about the mobsters who were the wizards behind the curtain in Vegas entertainment. Say what you will, they were men of their word. “If you shook their hand, you knew you had a deal,” Anka said.
At first, he was like a kid brother to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest of the crew.
His musical chops, charisma and unshakable work ethic won the pack over, however, so much so that in 1969 Sinatra recorded a song Anka wrote for him, a little ditty called “My Way” that went on to become the his signature song. It is uncommon knowledge that Anka also wrote Tom Jones’ musical calling card, “She’s a Lady.”
Each move in Anka’s career has been made to one end: to be heard long and loud and clear. Considering that he wrote the theme to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” an exuberant number played each night for three decades, he has managed to remain in constant earshot.
In the years since he first stepped on the stage, “all the dynamics have changed,” Anka said. He is unlikely to write a song today about the perils of puppy love or his desire for an older woman. He still sings his oldies but goodies, though, often in medley form.
“It’s very important for me to get down with people who loved the song. It takes them back,” Anka said. “If I didn’t write it, I couldn’t sing it. But I can’t retire songs, because that would be egotistically remote.”
On the flip-side, when he sings “My Way,” the ultimate swan song, it resonates more clearly nowadays. After all, Anka can now say with greater conviction that he’s “traveled each and every highway.”