A talk with Paul Anka is about the songwriting

Published on March 22nd, 2021

By Jim Dail

Legendary Paul Anka has achieved enormous fame with classic songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s, such as “Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Lonely Boy” and “(You’re) Having My Baby,” But he’s also a hugely successful songwriter, having written his hits as well as “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, “My Way” for Frank Sinatra, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” for Buddy Holly and “This is It” with Michael Jackson.

And it is the songwriting that Anka, who will perform September 19 at The Pechanga Showroom, credits with his success, along with sheer dedication and perseverance.

 “No question about it, if I didn’t have ‘Diana,’ I don’t think all this would have happen,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “The industry was in its infancy stage and there were only about six record companies and no Beatles.”

He knew he wanted to write songs, something that not a lot of recording artists did on a regular level.

“Who would write for me at that time,” he said. “I wrote for myself. I worked at a local newspaper and my dad wanted me to be a journalist. I took shorthand, typing, and got thrown out of shorthand. I hated it. I had a lot of drive and good supportive parents and a work ethic. I had a paper route, borrowed money and was lucky to meet up with Don Costa [the A&R man for ABC-Paramount] who took me under his wing and saw my potential.”

He learned that by writing, he could make it in the business.

“I knew at an early age that I could sings and I was willing to do anything I had to do to get there,” he said. “I was imitating Elvis and Johnny Ray, but I knew all the hurdles. No one was going to listen to me doing an Elvis song. I loved Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, and they were writers. I learned to write and be tenacious with it.”

In fact, he credits his songwriting to surviving the music that wiped out so many others, the Beatles and the British Invasion.

“Because I wrote songs for myself and others, I was able to survive,” he said.

He wrote “Diana” about a crush on an older woman. It quickly went to Number Two in 1957, and Number One in the United Kingdom.

Within the next two years he had more top ten hits such as “You Are My Destiny,” “Lonely Boy,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “It’s Time to Cry,” “Puppy Love” and “My Home Town.”

Of course, that also meant a lot of time on caravan-style tours and great memories of fellow legends.

“Buddy and I were dear friends, and I was responsible for putting that tour together,” he said of the fateful tour. “Irv Feld was my partner and Buddy and I were forming a music company together and I convinced Irv to do the tour. The irony of the song is it is the only one he didn’t write and being at the studio he wanted emulate the songs that I was doing with strings.”

With Sinatra it was making sure he came up with the right song for his friend.

“It took all the years knowing him, and I knew with Sinatra I wasn’t ready yet,” he said. “What was I going to give h

im, ‘Puppy Love?’ He joked about what I was going to write for him, but hanging out with him and being motivated at age 28, out comes ‘My Way’. I had full knowledge of how he spoke and that’s why I used the grammar that I did.”

Of course, there have been a lot of experiences in the business to shape him as well.

“In the beginning, I was on those tours and traveling around the country in just terrible buses,” he said, “There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears when you toured and sang live.  Now, you don’t know who is singing live or on records because now you just need a producer who is good. Back in the early days though, you rehearsed in the studio and then had to go for it. It was all monorail and you had one piece of tape and listened to it. Everything was live and there wasn’t all this multi-racking stuff.”

But it’s also about his sheer ability to work the audience, which comes from the early days but also plenty of time in Las Vegas and around the world.

“When I wound up in the Rat Pack in Vegas I learned what to do and what not to do.,” he said. “It was the boiler plate and I learned how to work with an audience.”

And he’s sure not looking to wrap his career up any time soon.

“How do I turn down all these countries and 10,000 people in a venue,” he said. No, I’ll stop when I don’t want to do it anymore and can’t do it anymore.”


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