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10 Secrets of a Frank Sinatra Impersonator

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In late January, Las Vegas took a step back in time to its Rat Pack heyday when FRANK The Man. The Music—a supper club-themed musical production showcasing the life and work of Frank Sinatra—made its debut at The Palazzo Theatre. Playing the role of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself is Bob Anderson, a longtime Vegas headliner whom Merv Griffin dubbed “The Singing Impressionist.” 

While Anderson’s act typically features a handful of musical impressions—from Frank to Dean Martin to Sammy Davis Jr. to Tom Jones—for FRANK, it’s all Sinatra all the time, a changeup that requires Anderson to act as both impersonator and impressionist. Here, he shares some of his trade secrets. 

1. START EARLY.

“I lived on a farm in Michigan and there was always a lot of music going on with my mom and dad,” Anderson says of his childhood. “I wanted to learn to sing and I thought that the best way for me to do that without taking lessons was to listen to the greatest singers and sing along with them. So I would put their music on and try to sing to as close as I could to whichever singer I was listening to. I thought that if I could sound even a little bit like these guys I’d do well, because they were the best. Little did I know that I was really learning how to do impressions of each one of these people.” 

2. FIND YOUR NICHE.

“At the time that I started nobody was doing singing impressions, they were usually doing big actors or political figures,” Anderson recalls. “I never planned on being a singing impressionist; I wanted to be a singer and that’s what I was doing. But this was in the 1970s and everyone was losing their record contracts, so you had to produce your own music and hope to get a distribution deal.” 

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE A CHANCE.

Anderson was just 20 when he arrived in Las Vegas. “I had no money, long hair, a peace sign for a belt buckle, and all that stuff," he says. "I got to Las Vegas and, after sleeping in my car, I walked into the Sahara Hotel and just started walking around. I saw the show room, opened the door, and a guy asked, ‘Can I help you, kid?’ I said I was just looking around and he asked if I’d ever seen a rehearsal. I said no, that I didn’t even know what that was. He said, ‘Why don’t you sit in that booth over there. Don’t make any noise and you can watch this.’ It was about three o’clock in the afternoon and Nancy Sinatra was up there rehearsing with a full orchestra.”

Though the Everly Brothers were scheduled as her opening act, an incident during rehearsal found Ms. Sinatra scrambling for a replacement. Call it being in the right place at the right time or simply a moment of serendipity. “She was going to open in four hours and she was stuck,” says Anderson. “She was calling everybody and nobody could get there in time. I was sitting there and realized, ‘I can do whatever she needs.’ I don’t know where I got the whatever to get up there and do it, but I walked up to the stage and—with everybody looking at me like, ‘How did this guy get in here?’—I said, ‘Hey, Nancy. I’m a singer. And I can do whatever you need.’ Everybody laughed except for the conductor. He told her, ‘Nancy, we are stuck. See if this kid can sing. It might be funny.’ I told her I knew all her duets. Her conductor, Billy Strange, started playing the song ‘Something Stupid,’ which she did with her dad. So I sang this song with her. She came off the stage, hugged me, and I opened that evening in the Sahara Hotel.” 

4. IT’S WHO YOU KNOW.

After that fortuitous afternoon at the Sahara Hotel, Anderson continued working with Nancy Sinatra for the next year. And she began introducing him to some of her friends and colleagues. Just days after Sinatra took him on The Merv Griffin Show, Anderson got a call from Paul Anka, who had seen his performance and asked him to come back on Merv’s show with him a week later. “After the show Merv Griffin came up to me and said, ‘You know Bob, you have to have a reason for being on the show. You have to have a hit record or be in the movies or have a TV show or something. We can’t just keep having you back here on the show,’ and I told him that I totally understood,” says Anderson. “About a year later I was working in L.A. and Merv came into the club where I was and told me that he was having a party at his house and wanted me to come.’ 

“It was Merv’s 50th birthday and everybody in Hollywood was there—and I mean everybody: Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, and Elizabeth Taylor. The Beach Boys were sitting in the front room and Mama Cass, who had a cast on her foot, was resting it on Brian Wilson’s lap. Goldie Hawn was walking around. I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden, Merv started playing the piano and asked me to come up and sing something. And out of nowhere I started singing the songs just like the people who made the famous: If he played ‘Misty,’ I did Johnny Mathis. If he played ‘If Ever I Would Leave You,’ I was Robert Goulet. If he did ‘Delilah,’ I was Tom Jones. Within five minutes you could hear a pin drop in Merv’s house and I will never forget that Cary Grant was sitting on the floor, about 10 feet away from me, and said, ‘This is amazing. I have never seen anything like this.’ And it was amazing. So Merv Griffin made me ‘The Singing Impressionist.’” 

5. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

Anderson’s role in FRANK just might be the part he was born to play. “I watched Frank Sinatra my whole life,” Anderson admits. “If you are a singer, and you are serious about it, you are going to watch Frank Sinatra and you are going to like Frank Sinatra. You have to. He is just that good. So I used to watch him and sing along to him all the time and I just really felt at home doing Frank Sinatra songs. I knew his gestures and all that stuff. But when I started to work on FRANK, I spent two years getting up at 6 a.m., four days a week, and practicing two hours a day. I had a great big 10-foot by 12-foot video screen with mirrors all around the room and a great sound system and I would get up in the morning, put on a tuxedo, and study every move. I sang along with him and watched every gesture—the way he cocks his head, the way he points, the way he snaps his fingers, the way he walks, everything.” 

6. MAKEUP MAKES THE MAN.

To get completely into character, FRANK enlisted the help of two-time Oscar-nominated makeup artist Kazu Tsuji (Looper, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Planet of the Apes) in order to turn Anderson into the legendary showman. And that’s when the character really clicked for Anderson. “Certainly when I have the makeup on and the wig and the whole thing, that makes me feel the part,” says Anderson. “Kazu told me that when he works with movie stars, ‘Once they put this makeup on, they feel the role and it helps them to be the person.’ Well that is exactly what it does to me.” 

7. YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE BLUE EYES TO PLAY OL’ BLUE EYES.

One physical feature that Anderson does not have in common with his on-stage alter ego is those famously blue eyes. “No, I have contacts in,” Anderson says, laughing. 

8. MAKE IT AUTHENTIC.

As if Anderson’s spot-on Sinatra impression weren’t enough to put audiences in the mood, he also recruited Sinatra’s former musical director, Vincent Falcone, to conduct the 32-piece orchestra that performs throughout the 90-minute production. “Vince was with Sinatra for more than a decade and has the original arrangements that Sinatra gave him,” Anderson says. “I am singing the original arrangements, and 16 players in my orchestra were with Frank Sinatra. I’ve got the real thing.” 

9. SET THE SCENE.

In order to fully immerse his audience in Sinatra’s world, Anderson asked the production team “to design me a set that would be reminiscent of the old Persian Room of The Plaza Hotel. I wanted to go back to circa 1965 and go into a supper club when they had their heyday. And so my stage is a supper club; in front of the stage, down in the orchestra seating, we put beautiful tables and lamps on the tabletops and really comfortable chairs and stuff for people to come in. So people who are sitting in the theater seating are looking forward at the stage and they are just looking in on a nightclub … It’s the quintessential reenactment of Sinatra.”

10. KNOW WHEN TO TURN IT OFF.

“I have been in the business for a long time, almost 40 years, and I am very comfortable with what I do at this point,” says Anderson when asked about whether it’s easy for him to shed Sinatra’s persona when he’s not on stage. “I am the last of the singers that have touched that Golden Age of music. I became friends with all those people; I have done all the television things and stuff and I think I grew up quite a few years ago. I am here because I really enjoy it. I enjoy what we are doing … and I am really just having a great time with it. I have surrounded myself with the best of the best and that is what we are doing.”

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Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
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Pop Culture
Take a Sneak Peek at the Brooklyn Museum's Upcoming David Bowie Exhibition
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Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands

David Bowie was born in London, and spent his final years in New York. Which makes it fitting that an acclaimed traveling retrospective of the rocker’s career will end at the Brooklyn Museum in 2018, five years after it first kicked off at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Following a whirlwind global tour, “David Bowie is” will debut at the Brooklyn Museum on March 2, 2018, and run until July 15, 2018. Curated by the V&A, it features around 400 objects from the singer’s archives, including stage costumes, handwritten lyrics, photographs, set designs, and Bowie’s very own instruments.

Together, these items trace Bowie’s evolution as a performer, and provide new insights into “the creative process of an artist whose sustained reinventions, innovative collaborations, and bold characterizations revolutionized the way we see music, inspiring people to shape their own identities while challenging social traditions,” according to the Brooklyn Museum.

“David Bowie is” has received nearly 2 million visitors since it left the V&A in 2013. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the show is a timed ticketed exhibition, with priority access reserved for Brooklyn Museum members and certain ticket holders.

Tickets are on sale now, but you can take a sneak peek at some artifacts from "David Bowie is" below.

Photograph from the David Bowie album cover shoot for "Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph from the album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph by Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

Striped body suit worn by David Bowie during his "Aladdin Sane" tour in 1973

Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design by Kansai Yamamoto 

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from David Bowie's album Heroes, 1977

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from Heroes, 1977

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

A 1974 Terry O'Neill photograph of musician David Bowie with William Burroughs.
David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974. Photograph by Terry O'Neill with color by David Bowie.
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original photography for David Bowie's 1997 "Earthling" album cover

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997

Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3. © Frank W Ockenfels 3

Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

One of David Bowie's acoustic guitars from the “Space Oddity” era, 1969

Acoustic guitar from the Space Oddity era, 1969

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

An asymmetric knitted bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for musician David Bowie's 1973 "Aladdin Sane" tour.

Asymmetric knitted bodysuit, 1973. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour.

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum
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entertainment
8 Musicians With Incredibly Brainy Side Gigs
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The Pink Floyd line “we don’t need no education” might hold true for some musicians, but for others that couldn’t be further from the truth. The musicians highlighted below didn’t just swing by a university to pick up an honorary diploma only after finding musical success. Nope, they put in the long hours to earn doctoral degrees and then picked up jobs with outfits such as NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. Because as cool as having “rock star” on your Wikipedia page is, having “rocket scientist” follow it is just that much cooler.

1. BRIAN MAY

British guitarist Brian May could have easily called it a day when Queen’s recording career came to an end following the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991. While May continues to play live with his remaining bandmates, he has also embraced his interest in astrophysics.

May had abandoned his doctoral studies at the Imperial College of London in the mid-1970s to live the rock star life, but returned to complete his PhD in 2007. Since then, May has co-authored two books on the cosmos, and in 2015 collaborated with NASA as the New Horizons space probe passed by Pluto. If that weren’t impressive enough, May can lay claim to compiling the first high-quality stereo image of the dwarf planet. Not too shabby for a guy who had already made his mark with arena rock staples like “We Will Rock You” and “Stone Cold Crazy.”

2. MILO AUKERMAN

Punk rockers the Descendents weren’t joking around when they named their first album: 1982’s Milo Goes To College. Frontman Milo Aukerman put all those punk rock lyrics about binging on coffee to serious use, earning a doctorate in biology from UC San Diego and a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For many years, Aukerman split his time, leading the Descendents while working as an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware and plant researcher with chemical company DuPont. The two chosen fields of study, punk rock and biochemistry, might not seem to have much in common, but Aukerman found many similarities. In 2011, he told The Scientist that in both fields, he was “always looking for discoveries that challenge current thinking.” Fans shouldn’t expect Aukerman to get too geeky with his lyrics though: “I will probably never ever write a song about DNA,” he said. In a 2016 interview with Spin, Aukerman shared that he's now dedicating his full-time life to music. “[Science has] gotten less and less interesting to me,” he said. “Also, working in a corporation has become a misery of sorts. As I was discovering this and realizing maybe I should just do music full-time, lo and behold, [my job] laid me off anyway.”

3. DEXTER HOLLAND


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Orange County, California punk rockers The Offspring have been regularly touring and putting out albums since the mid-1980s. What fans might be surprised to learn though is that in between writing songs like “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy),” the band's lyricist and frontman Dexter Holland was working on HIV research.

In May 2017, Holland earned his PhD in molecular biology from the University of Southern California, completing a 175-page dissertation titled Discovery of Mature MicroRNA Sequences within the Protein-Coding Regions of Global HIV-1 Genomes: Predictions of Novel Mechanisms for Viral Infection and Pathogenicity. Lengthy scientific jargon thesis titles aside, Holland told Rolling Stone his focus was on the molecular dynamics of the HIV virus. "I am interested in virology and wanted to contribute in some small way to the knowledge which has been learned about HIV and AIDS,” Holland said.

4. JEFF “SKUNK” BAXTER

People fall into side gigs like dog-walking or crafting all the time. Finding yourself unexpectedly taking on a second job as a consultant in missile defense systems, on the other hand, is a little more out of the norm. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter spent much of the 1970s and '80s playing guitar with acts like the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and Elton John. Since the mid-1990s though, Baxter has had a second job working with the Congressional Advisory Board on Missile Defense and consulting for General Atomics. And he landed those gigs almost entirely out of sheer luck.

Baxter credits his natural curiosity to look at technologies and how they can be improved upon as his springboard into the field of missile defense. The guitarist would regularly pick the brain of his next door neighbor, a retired engineer who had worked on the Pentagon's Sidewinder missile program. Baxter spent the next several years doing his own research and learning everything he could about the hardware developed for missile use. He would eventually submit his own proposal on how to improve the ship-based Aegis missile system to California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher and the rest is history.

5. GREG GRAFFIN


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For more than three decades, Bad Religion has held a spot as one of the most respected punk bands in the genre, with vocalist Greg Graffin commanding the stage. Graffin’s politically-charged lyrics have helped the band maintain a healthy following, but music isn’t Graffin’s only passion.

Since 2008, Graffin has split his time between playing with Bad Religion and teaching evolutionary biology at several universities. Graffin earned a PhD in zoology from Cornell University and has returned to his alma mater to teach courses on the subject. The punk rocker has co-authored three books on the subject of evolution and religion and taught life science courses at the University of California Los Angeles. Like other musicians who dabble in the sciences, Graffin has found parallels in the two. “If I’m behind a lectern or onstage, I’m just trying to provoke people to use and expand their minds a little,” Graffin told the San Diego Tribune.

6. PHILIP TAYLOR KRAMER

The life of Philip Taylor Kramer was one filled with both exceptional success and horrific tragedy. Kramer first made a name for himself in the 1970s playing bass with psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly. He went on to play with other groups into the early 1980s, but would later leave music and find success in the field of computer engineering.

The musician’s father was a professor of electrical engineering and after a career in music, Kramer co-founded a company that produced significant work in missile guidance systems as well as computerized facial reconstruction models. Tragically, Kramer’s life was mysteriously cut short in 1995 when he disappeared after making a frantic call to his wife from the Los Angeles International Airport and telling her to meet him at a hotel.

The musician/computer engineer then called the police and said he was going to kill himself before abruptly hanging up. He wasn’t heard from again until his burned-out van was discovered in the bottom of a ravine four years later. The death was ruled a probable suicide, though some of Kramer’s closest family and friends suspected foul play.

7. JOHN PERRY BARLOW


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Deadheads will probably best know the name John Perry Barlow from the liner notes of Grateful Dead albums as a co-writer on a number of classics like “Mexicali Blues” and “Cassidy.” Further exploration would reveal that there are many sides to John Perry Barlow besides Grateful Dead lyricist. Barlow can be credited as a pioneer in the digital revolution, leading the way to preserve and protect internet freedoms as a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1990.

These days Barlow has shifted his focus to a new calling—pond scum. More specifically: algae. He is the vice president of Algae Systems, a company working to grow microalgae as a biofuel and convert sewage into a fertilizer.

8. TOM SCHOLZ

Rock band Boston had one of the best-selling debut albums in music history with their 1976 self-titled debut selling 17 million copies. Almost all of that success can be attributed to guitarist Tom Scholz’s background as a mechanical engineer.

Scholz had received both his bachelor's (1969) and master's degrees (1970) in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but he had dreams of rock n’ roll stardom. To pay the bills, Scholz took a job as a senior product design engineer at Polaroid. The young guitarist and engineer spent his paychecks and nights building his own basement recording studio and creating nearly every sound, except for the vocals and drums, of what would be Boston’s debut album. The DIY process was unheard of at the time and Epic, the band's record company, demanded that the demos be redone in a proper studio. Scholz refused to budge with nearly all of his original recordings eventually making it onto the highly-successful album.

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