Tony Orlando celebrates 50 years in music

In the rough and tough entertainment business, stars aren’t often given second chances. But every once in a blue moon, it happens.

Need living proof of the above statement? Look at pop star Tony Orlando, who is celebrating his 50th year in show business.

At the age of 16, Orlando scored a pair of hits, Halfway To Paradise and Bless You, songs that were both written by songwriter Carole King. After a third song somewhat stalled on the charts, Orlando turned his energies to publishing music for Clive Davis’ April-Blackwood Music, where he signed a then unknown singer-songwriter named James Taylor.

While still gainfully employed with April-Blackwood, Orlando received a telephone call from record producer Hank Medress who was working with a new group named Dawn. Worried about the potential conflict of interest that the recording could cause to his full-time job, Orlando agreed to cut the vocal tracks to the song Candida but wished to receive no credit so as to not draw attention to himself.

Ironically, the song that Orlando was so reluctant to sing upon, Candida, became his biggest hit to date, rising to the number three position on the singles charts. Orlando tells The Times & Transcript that he had “backed into Candida” as an accident. Mind you, it was an accident of the very best kind.

“I agreed to lay down the vocal tracks to Candida as a favour to the producer,” an extremely friendly Orlando says. “The song sounded like an old Carole King song and he says he knew that he wanted my vocals over top of Dawn’s. But I had only agreed to it never thinking the record would ever see the light of day. It was nothing that I had shared with Clive (Davis – Orlando’s boss at the time) or anybody else for that matter.

“Then when Candida became a hit, Hank calls me back to record the follow-up to the song, a track called Knock Three Times. But again, I was so concerned about my day job, I wanted to keep my name off the record again.”

Buoyed by the 6 million singles sold between Candida and Knock Three Times, Orlando says he was forced to take a serious step back and consider returning to being a performer again. He says that when he approached his boss Davis about the possibility of leaving his position with April-Blackwood, Davis was nothing but supportive.

“Funny enough, Clive knew that it was my vocals on those two singles. He said it was the worst kept secret in the music business,” Orlando laughs. “But I sat down with Clive and said that I couldn’t ignore two Top 5 records and that I felt it was time to do something about my dream of being a performer. Luckily for me, Clive assured me that should things not pan out the way I hoped they would, I was always welcome to come back to work for him.”

It should be no surprise that Orlando knows his way around a good pop song. For a period of time before he worked under Clive Davis, he worked under the direction of Don Kirschner, a songwriter, record producer and artist manager who Orlando says was attempting to do for music what MGM did to revolutionize the movie business in the early part of the 20th Century. While Orlando worked with many of the pop song writers who came from New York’s famous Brill Building, Orlando insists that many of the young, contemporary hits of the ’60s and ’70s came from 1650 Broadway, just down the road from the Brill Building.

“If you go to 51st Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue in New York, the building is still there,” Orlando says. “The 7th floor of that building at 1650 Broadway is where the young writers of the ’60s were. Don Kirshner was 26 years old and his office consisted of a number of cubicles that each contained a piano, a phone and a chair. And in those cubicles were people like Neil Sedaka, James Taylor, Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond and Tom & Jerry before they became Simon & Garfunkel. All these kids that were virtual unknowns to the rest of the world were earning $50 a week as an advance against future royalties on the songs they were writing. It was like we won the lottery.”

At almost a full two years younger than Sir Paul McCartney, the 68 year-old Orlando is showing no signs of slowing down. In addition to maintaining a live schedule of approximately 135 shows per year, Orlando is also featured along side Adam Sandler and Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg in the upcoming film That’s My Boy, slated for release on June 15.

“We just closed a show in Las Vegas and also just got back from a run of shows in Asia,” Orlando says. “I’m fortunate that my performances are still very well attended all over the world. We are all very much looking forward to coming to Moncton to perform!”

Article published in May 5, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript