Paul Anka: Still doing it his way

Despite the fact that he will turn 70 years young next year, there is still no stopping Ottawa native Paul Anka.

His career to date is truly the stuff that legends are be made of:

By the time he turned 17 years old, Anka already had five Top 20 hits under his belt, including Diana and Put Your Head On My Shoulder. The former track sold upwards of 9 million copies worldwide, making it one of the Top 10 best-selling singles of all time.

Since his recording debut in 1957, Anka has sold more than 65 million records, toured with the likes of Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers and wrote signature tracks like My Way for Frank Sinatra and She’s a Lady for Tom Jones.

The former teen idol will make his sole scheduled Canadian appearances this year at Casino New Brunswick in Moncton on Wednesday and Thursday.

Throughout his career, many artists and genres have influenced Anka which has allowed him, musically speaking, the opportunity to leave few stones unturned. Anka says that he knew music would be a passion from the very first time he heard it and has taken musical influences from those artists and bands that he was fortunate enough to encounter.

“I’ve taken inspiration from so many different people throughout my career,” he says. “I was inspired to get into music from the early beginnings of rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

“In the 1960s, Frank Sinatra and the guys in the Rat Pack were very inspirational to guys like Bobby Darin and me. And then you’ve got artists like Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and Michael McDonald who, while they may not have directly influenced me, achieved a level of success that I really admired and could appreciate.”

Clearly, Anka has arrived at this point in his career thanks to a lot of blood, sweat and hard work. In today’s day and age, he is the first to admit that the music industry is not grooming people for Sinatra-sized success and longevity with their careers anymore.

“I don’t think that there is the infrastructure in place to really allow musicians the opportunity to flourish. If you are going into the music business, you really have to be willing and able to put in the extra hours and allow yourself time to develop your art.

“Let’s face it though, you’ve got people who are celebrities today for doing absolutely nothing and I think the public is used to a certain level of quality with their celebrities, like Frank Sinatra. And I think if you don’t have something of quality to offer, the public is going to see through it. Consumers recognize the difference between quality and quantity.”

There is no question that Anka has put in the work to be able to reap the rewards of what he sowed so many decades ago. But even in the earliest days of his touring career there was a certain amount of built-in downtime, something he feels that today’s stars do not afford themselves.

“Touring with guys like The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly in the ’50s, all you had was time to get to know one another. You’d sit on the bus together, trade stories and bond with each other. The show was such a small part of your day. Touring was more like hanging out with a bunch of your pals.

“Today though, the entertainment world is vastly different and if you are a big star within the industry, you are seemingly stuck in this loop of continual work. There’s no time just to kick back and really get to know your peers.”

With the incessant days of touring long behind Anka, he is still playing anywhere from 75 to 125 shows a year, a mix of both private corporate shows and public performances, such as the ones he is performing at Casino NB.

As far as he is concerned, the question of continuing to perform and maintain some kind of active live show schedule is a key part of his life.

“I’m fortunate that I can pick and choose the shows I want to play but, at the end of the day, it’s just crucial that I keep my chops up,” Anka says. “I’ve seen it with guys in the past where they base their lives on money and don’t put enough work into their craft.

“Music is an incredible calling card and by playing live, you get the best sense of how your music has affected and touched people’s lives. You can’t get a sense of that with album sales alone; you need to see the people’s faces looking back at you and that’s only going to happen one way, by performing live.”

Just because he might not fill his calendar with shows does not mean that Anka is resting on his laurels, however.

In addition to a book he is working on with the editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, he also tells the Times & Transcript that he is in talks with his record label about a making a new album.

Playing live will always hold a place dear to his heart, however.

“I always like working new places; I rarely make it out to the Atlantic provinces and am really looking forward to my time there. I’ve got a really hot band and the show is a great production. It should make for a great evening of music. ”

Article published in August 23, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript