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MORE MO: SINATRA STORIES

Here's another excerpt from "Mo Ostin, for Real," Bud Scoppa's conversation with the great record man, which appears in HITS’ newly published 31st Anniversary Issue—meaning this year’s anni is more than a doorstop. 


When Jimmy Bowen came to work for us, he was involved in contemporary music. He recorded Kenny Rogers and the First Edition and Jack Nitzsche, but he also recorded Dean Martin, and he cut a record with Dean using the kinds of sounds Sinatra couldn’t abide. That song, “Everybody Loves Somebody,” turned out to be a #1 record. And then Jimmy had a host of big hits with Dean, so Sinatra decided he’d also like to take a shot at Jimmy, because he hadn’t had a hit in a long time. And Jimmy brought in the song “Strangers in the Night.” Frank didn’t particularly like it. In fact, when he recorded it, he made fun of it at the end of the recording—the “doobie-doobie-doo” part. But it turned out to be a worldwide hit, #1 in many countries, and it was Sinatra’s first hit in a long time, so even though he may not have liked the song, he was thrilled by the fact that it was so well-received. 

And then he was watching television one day and he saw this guy, I think it was Jimmy Komack, doing a recitation of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Gunga Din,” where the guy blows the bugle at the end and the shots kill him, and the bugle whimpers away. He got such a kick out of it, he decided he wanted to make a record of it. So I said to him, “Frank, you can’t follow up ‘Strangers in the Night’ with ‘Gunga Din.’ He said, “Mo, I think it’s fun and I want it out. Get it out.” So I started preparing for the release, but I told our head of manufacturing that he should sit on it, not rush it out. Sinatra got word of that. I’m playing golf with Bob Cavallo and another couple of guys on the El Caballero Golf Course. We’re on the eighth hole, and some guy comes running out on the golf course and says, “Mr. Ostin, Mr. Ostin, Frank Sinatra is calling you. It’s urgent.” There was a phone on a tree, so I went over to the tree and picked up the phone, and he blasted me. He said, “How dare you hold up my release! I told you to get it out immediately. You countermanded my instructions; I want it out.” He really laid into me. I didn’t want to show that I was shook up. So I went back and took an eight on a par three. When we got back to the clubhouse, I called the head of manufacturing and I said, “Get this out immediately.” So we sent out the record, and I get all these phone calls from distributors, promotion men and radio people, saying, “What is this? What is he doing? This is terrible.” Fortunately, the record had not yet shipped from the distribution point, so it was still not out to retail, and I called Sinatra and I told him that we were getting all of these negative responses to it. And he said to me, “Maybe you’d better call it back”—after all that. So we called it back [laughs]. 

Then what happened was, Bert Kaempfert, who was the writer of “Strangers in the Night,” came with his publisher Hal Fein to Las Vegas to a Sinatra opening, and I happened to be there too. Kaempfert was a German guy. He flew from Hamburg on a red-eye without any sleep to come to Vegas to see Sinatra, and then he had difficulty hooking up with him. The publisher came over to me and said, “We’ve been trying to get hold of Sinatra, and he won’t return our calls. What shall we do?” I said, “Let me see if I can help.” So I called Frank and he says, “OK, bring him to the dressing room.” So I brought Kaempfert to the dressing room, and it turned out that Dean had closed the night before, and Frank opened that night. So Dean and Frank were both there, and Dean was going to perform on Sinatra’s first night. And when we walked into the dressing room, they were both watching something on television, and I told Sinatra, “Frank, this is Bert Kaempfert.” And he didn’t even take his eyes off the television set; he merely said, “Nice song you wrote, kid.” 

But after the show, Sinatra usually has a table and a lot of his friends at the table, and I took Kaempfert with me to Sinatra’s table. Sinatra sat right next to him and could not have been nicer. Charmed the pants of him.

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