The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sammy Davis Jr.

12-17-07 Sammy Davis Jr.

(re-run from Aug. ’02)


LP 1965 11 TRKS stereo


What can I say about Mr. Entertainment that hasn’t already been said a million times before? Sammy was the consummate performer, in the ‘old school’ sense of the term. He sang, danced, did impersonations, cavorted, acted – everything. And he was amazingly good at some of it.

In the personal decision department, Sammy may have been a few sandwiches short of a picnic at times. But some of his records!! Some of his TV / films!! What a man! If you’ve never seen his performance in The Name of The Game’s “Billy Baker” episode (1969? 1970?), you have a treat in store!

A few years back, I got his Rhino Records 4CD box set (pictured) – a truly amazing piece. I was surprised that it was as listenable as it was – why shouldn’t it have been? If you’re skimming the ‘Sammy cream’, there’s some damn good stuff on record. This LP, “If I Ruled The World” (not pictured) is no exception. Sammy at the height of his powers? Some would argue, but in my humble opinion, at this time (1965) he was still riding the crest of the wave that started with “The Shelter of Your Arms”. “I’ve Gotta Be Me” was a few years away. With his autobiography, he had already said, “Yes I Can”. A true ‘man of music, man of words’.

I remember going to see Sammy live, sometime in the mid-80’s in L.A. – my crew and I were the youngest people there. The event prompted me to draw a panel cartoon “This is Young America – Sammy Davis Jr.”, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Sadly, the ‘lounge nation’ that would eventually embrace Sammy wasn’t going to emerge until after he passed away.

That’s another thing that bugs me to this day – I was out of the country, living in England, when Sammy died in 1990. It made the TV news there, but Jim Henson (the ‘Muppet guy’) died on the same day and, as Jim D. would say, “stole some of Sammy’s thunder”. Thanx to Warren B for taping me some real L.A. TV news about Sammy’s death.

Not that long ago (2001?), Warren called me and said he’d spotted ‘something interesting’ – a junk shop on Abbot Kenney in Venice had Sammy’s record collection for sale (!). We went to take a look – as I sifted past Michel Polnareff and Mamas & Papas records, we heard some talking in the front of the shop – it was Sammy’s widow Altovise and someone who looked / acted like a lawyer. It kind of freaked us out, so we left in a hurry before we could go through anything else really closely.


Anonymous Jim Donato said...

Re: Jim Henson

Damn right, brother! That foamf*cker Henson buys the farm on the same day that the consummate professional of the 20th century passes on and the loving, over the top media tributes I was anticipating were sadly non-events!

Jim Henson made his fortune with his hand up a frog's rear end!!! People...get real!!!

And Ron! You were in a "junk shop" and could touch Sammy's record collection? You SAW Altovise and her mouthpiece there... AND YOU LEFT??!!

I only saw him perform his guts out once but if I had the chance to buy some of his record albums and SAW Altovise there, you'd better believe I wouldn't cut and run! Unless she was looking reaaal scary and nervous. As in selling Sammy's albums to cop! Then I can see your point.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...


It was a scary scenario - the collection was for sale as a "lot", and the price-tag was hefty. She shot us a "How dare you be looking through Sammy's records?" look. The lawyer was getting mouthy with the antique shop owner, and we split because I was literally afraid that the lawyer was going to produce some 'heat'. Worth lookin' thru, not worth dyin' for!

- RK

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Jim Donato said...

I figgered it would be a "lot." You have to watch out for lawyers. You never know when you're going to run across one inspired by Hunter S. Thompson writings! But in a perfect world one would buy Sammy's Record Collection [sounds like a Letterman bit] and turn it into the shrine that it should be, scary Altovise or no.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...

It was a dis-jointed collection, pretty much like it's owner. Lots of other 'vocalists' (Frank, Dean et al), and some rock music too - I was shocked to find Michel Polnareff records - but I guess Sam was always "looking for songs". There was evidence of some of the partying that took place in the presence of the record collection - cigarette burns on record covers etc., things written on record covers while 'fully refreshed' etc.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Jim Donato said...

"Lived-in records" of the celebrities RULE! The book "Vinyl Junkies" interviews someone who ended up with an actual record from the Jimi Hendrix collection and it was trashed.

8:59 AM  
Blogger chas_m said...

My first awareness of SDJr was on the Mike Douglas show -- he was always showing up there, it seemed to me at the time. Consequently, my first memory of one of his songs was "Candyman." Not the best introduction.

Later I saw him in a few things (I was a "Name of the Game" fan but don't really recall if I saw that episode -- I'll need a memory refresher someday!) that grew my respect, and then later of course I met Jim who led me into the world of the Rat Pack movies.

I remember how thrilled I was to see that "lost" Vegas show (on PBS) with Frank/Sammy/Dean and Johnny Carson. Now THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!!!, and yes Sammy was the best singer that night.

1:14 AM  

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