How Elvis was influenced by Dean Martin

by Nigel Patterson, 2002

Born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 6, 1916, Dean Martin would later become one of the entertainment world's biggest superstars and a major influence on a teenaged Elvis Aaron Presley. Many biographers have written about Elvis' admiration and idolisation of Dean Martin but unfortunately their reviews are often prematurely brief and light on detail.

It is in the few biographies on 'Dino' that this influence is best covered. I also recall an article in Elvis Monthly some years ago, although on going through back issues I was unable to find it.

Before Elvis assaulted the senses of 1950s culture, Dean Martin had enjoyed incredible success as a singer and actor. As an indication of his popularity, when Martin and his then partner, Jerry Lewis appeared at the 4,000 seat Paramount Theatre in New York in 1952, 75,000 fans created pandemonium in an attempt to get to their heroes. Such adulation had only previously been seen following the death of Rudolph Valentino.

As a singer Dino recorded countless hits including Come Back To Sorrento and Memories Are Made Of This and released more than 60 albums during his lifetime. He enjoyed considerable success on the charts between the late 1940s and the early 1970s with 17 top 40 hits on the Billboard Pop Chart and many more on the Country and Easy Listening charts.

As an actor Dino played straight man to comic genius Jerry Lewis in a highly successful series of films commencing with My Friend Irma and later became an impressive dramatic actor. For almost ten years from the mid 1960s Dean hosted one of the most successful television shows of all time The Dean Martin Show (in which his theme song was the incomparable Everybody Loves Somebody) and also featured in a series of successful musical specials.

In Dean Martin Elvis found a singer who flawlessly exhibited the ability to sell a song with an easy-going, ultra smooth delivery and a hint of the mischievous, traits Elvis would adopt in many of his own recordings and live performances. For like Dean, Elvis too knew that the secret to enjoying his craft was to have fun with what he was doing.

During his lifetime Dino was heard to comment on how much he disliked artists who sung too seriously. If you listen to Dean Martin singles over the period 1949 to the early 1950s you will find unmistakable similarities in the 'ballad' vocal style later adopted by Elvis. Dino's nonchalent way of twisting syllables and slurring notes became very much part of the Elvis style.

The most obvious examples are in the songs recorded by Dino which were later covered by Elvis. I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine (originally written for - but not used in - the Walt Disney production Cinderella) was recorded by both Patti Page and Dean Martin around 1950 (Dino's version was recycled in 1953 in the Martin/Lewis hit movie The Caddy). Their renditions are dramatically different and when Elvis cut his recording of the song in 1954 it was patterned on the vocal delivery and pacing of Dino's version.

Similarly, Elvis' renditions of Write To Me From Naples and My Heart Cries For You are almost a mirror image of Dean's much earlier plaintive versions. Compare also Dino's I'd Cry Like A Baby with Elvis' Love Me. Peter Guralnick in his superb Elvis biography Last Train To Memphis notes the major influence of Dino on Elvis, including referencing the time Elvis bought his single Return To Me.

It has also been noted by other biographers that the first Dean Martin song to affect Elvis was his 1949 single Just For Fun. Elvis recorded many other songs earlier sung by Dino. I'll Hold You In My Heart, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and Welcome To My World are several. Crying Time was a Dino song Elvis often sang while relaxing with his band and singers while both men would later record classics including Tom Jones' Green Green Grass Of Home, Engelbert Humperdink's Release Me and Glen Campbell's Gentle On My Mind.

And if only Elvis had recorded a number of other Dino hits, such as Sway, Return To Me and Basin Street Blues. It has also been claimed, although dubiously, that in October 1953 Elvis appeared at the Eagles Nest nightclub in Memphis and one of the songs included in his set was Dean's huge hit That's Amore. Considering Dean did not chart with this song until November 1953 (although it was released in August 1953) this is either wishful thinking or an error in time (Elvis is known to have appeared on numerous occasions at The Eagles Nest following the release of his first Sun single That's All Right, Mama in July 1954).

Dino's influence on Elvis extended past music. When he became famous Elvis also bought his britches from Dino's tailor, Sy Devore, although in defference to Elvis he wore his differently. The paths of Elvis and Dino crossed several times from the 1950s to the 1970s. In their 1956 buddy movie Hollywood or Bust Martin and Jerry Lewis are seen driving into Las Vegas with a large sign indicating Elvis' appearance at The Frontier Hotel.

A year or so later the first Dean Martin Show TV Special went to air. Dean had wanted Elvis to guest star but not surprisingly baulked at the Colonel's asking price of $75,000 - a veritable fortune in the 1950s!

According to Nick Tosches in his seminal work 'Dino', during Elvis' hibernation from live performing in the 60s Elvis apparently used to skulk past Dino's Bel Air mansion on his motorcycle, never summoning up the courage to go in. On 26 January 1970, Dino was a guest in Elvis' Vegas audience and in tribute to his teenage idol Elvis sang Everybody Loves Somebody.

Another connection between the two involved the ex-wife of Dean Martin Jr, ice skater Dorothy Hamill. It has been reported that Elvis expressed a great desire to date her in 1977. Tosches also notes in his biography on Dino that it was the arrrival and success of Elvis which caused Dean to become a serious actor - Elvis had replaced him as the "affable leading man" who had "an easy way with a song". For Dean to survive in Hollywood he had to change - the change being incredibly successful for him and ushering in a series of movie hits such as The Young Lions, Rio Bravo, Robin and the Seven Hoods and Airport.

For trivia buffs, in 1956 Dean recorded two sets of Children's Songs from Italy while RCA later released the conceptually poor album Elvis Sings For Children and Grownups Too. More recently, two unofficial Elvis CD releases bore the name of a Dino hit From The Bottom Of My Heart, although an Elvis version of the song was nowhere to be found on either CD.

Sadly, Dean Martin passed away on Christmas Day in 1995 following a long battle with emphysema. Like Elvis he has left a vast legacy through his many recordings, television specials/series and movies.

References:

  • Dean Martin, All The Hits 1948-1963 (CD)
  • The Very Best of Dean Martin (CD)
  • A Tribute to Dean Martin, TV Documentary
  • Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows
  • Peter Guralnick, Last Train To Memphis (The Rise of Elvis Presley)
  • Jerry Hopkins, Elvis
  • Nick Tosches, Dino (Living High In The Dirty Business Of Dreams)
  • Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of US Top 40 Hits
  • Fred L. Worth and Steven D. Tamerius, Elvis: His Life From A To Z

This article was prepared by Nigel Patterson and first appeared in 'Elvis Monthly' as part of the author's fourteen part series, Influences On A Legend. 1998, 2002

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