As I do everyday, I logged on to the internet and checked the latest news. AOL this AM had a story that said “Godfather Star Dead at 82.” I have to be honest. My first thought was that the character actor, Abe Vigoda, who played “Tessio,” in The Godfather had died. I clicked on the link and was absolutely stunned to see Italian Singer Al Martino had died the night before. My Grandmother Aurora came right into my mind because not only was she a huge fan of Al’s, but he was kind enough to send her an autographed picture a few months back for her 90th birthday. She was thrilled to get it and actually had seen him perform at the Westchester Theater in Elmsford, New York, this past June. Like the years before, she talked my head off about how great he was and how gracious he was to his legion of fans who packed the place as I did, in June of 08, with my Grandmother and Aunt Grace as well.
I called my Grandmother around 9 AM today and like I figured, she was very sad to hear Al had passed away. In fact, she had just marked on her calendar that he was coming back to the Westchester Theater next May, which was just posted on his official website.
She will never see Al again in the physical, but I have made her many CD’s which she plays daily with sheer enjoyment as he belts out every note with a clarity that you no longer for the most part, hear in the music business today. His body of work in the music industry will outlive us all and stand the test of time.
But to stop here, would only be half of my Al Martino Story…. In 2000, I was knocking out interviews left and right with one in the can that I conducted with another Legendary Italian Singer named “Jerry Vale.” Well, Jerry enjoyed it so much, he passed my number on to Al who was a friend of his. Al called my home while I was cutting the grass in the front yard and I was called to the phone. When I picked up, I hear: “Brad, Jerry Vale gave me your phone number after you did the interview with him on boxing. I am a big boxing fan and wondered if you would be interested in doing an interview with me?”
Interested in doing an interview with Al Martino? That’s like asking me do I like a Filet Mignon? You bet I do, and that I did want that interview under my belt. We conducted that interview and to this day, it was one of my very favorites out of hundreds I have done. Since that time, we have spoken once or twice on the phone about a gig in Atlantic City that, at that time, the President of the now torn down Sands Hotel wanted him to play at. In addition, and so relevant to this tribute is his dear wife, Judi Martino, who ensured that Al signed the picture for my Grandmother and others over the years for me, from folks who also liked him and read the interview back many years ago. I am not claiming to be a close friend of his, but just an acquaintance that respected the man. In 2002, when my first boxing book “Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime” was published, Al was gracious enough to write one of the Forewords that really humbled me to read. On my wall in my home office today, I sadly, but proudly looked at the picture he signed to me after our interview some nine years ago that says: “Brad, It was great talking to you about the boxing legends of our time.”– Al Martino.
Al, it was not only great, but an honor to have talked with a man with such class, an amazing voice and for you boxing fans out there, he was our brother in boxing because he loved the warriors in the ring along with the entire sport of boxing. It’s amazing that just a few days ago, I put comments on a page they had for him on Face Book and had just told my lady Valarie that I wanted to bring her next time he performed in New York so she could see what so many of his legions of fans knew about his wonderful voice.
Sadly, that will never happen, but like my Grandmother Aurora, I have countless CD’s that I will cherish and play for a lifetime. So Al, you really did make your fans an offer they couldn’t refuse. That offer was your wonderful body of music that will live on forever.
In closing, I want to pass on to the Martino Family, my deepest condolences in your time of grief and Ringside Report rings the honorary “Ten Count” for our lost brother in boxing, Al Martino….
Up Close and Personal With Legendary Italian Singer Al Martino
Interview conducted and copyrighted by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt (Boxing Book: Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime 2002)
When I was called to my house phone and was told Al Martino wanted to speak with me, I had no clue what it could be about. Well, I was delighted when he said, “Brad, Jerry Vale gave me your phone number after you did the interview with him on boxing. I am a big boxing fan and wondered if you would be interested in doing an interview with me?” I told Al it would be an honor, and this turned out to be a very special interview.
While conducting our interview, I discovered that in addition to music, Al had a totally different love, and that was his love of the sport of boxing. This love materialized from his following the sport over many years, some of those during “The Golden Era” of boxing.
Martino, being in show business for more than fifty years, has met and been involved with some great fighters, which has given him tremendous insight into the sport.
As a result of having numerous hits throughout his legendary career, such as Here In My Heart, Spanish Eyes, and Daddy’s Little Girl, to name just a few, Al was afforded the opportunity to travel the world and see many great fights. For the younger generation, you may remember Martino as singer Johnny Fontane, in this writer’s personal favorite movie of all-time, The Godfather.
BB: Tell me about the fighters you knew over the years and how you were involved with them?
I go back a long ways with boxing. I can remember when I was a young boy I used to listen to all of Joe Louis’ fights on the radio and especially remember the one with Max Schmeling.
Later when TV came out and was just in its infancy, I was glued to it, watching the fights as well. My family would look forward to all the boxing matches and boy did we watch them. I distinctly remember watching the Rocky Graziano Vs Tony Zale fight. Rocky was a close friend of mine for many years. Rocky and I used to see each other in New York and in fact, we did a couple of shows together.
Brad, let me tell you, to be friends with these fighters was to me, one of the most gratifying and exciting ventures in my life. I was friendly with Joe Louis and of course, Rocky Marciano. Rocky and I were very close and used to room in the same hotel together in Boston called the Logan Motel. Rocky and I used to get together in Boston and talk boxing over dinner on many a night at Mother Anna’s where I used to see the Kennedy’s as well. As you grow in this business you have the opportunity to meet so many of the wonderful fighters.
I have to tell you a story about Muhammad Ali who is a fan of mine. Muhammad almost bought my house in Cherry Hill, New Jersey back in about 1964 – 65. I had just built the house because as you may know, construction is my hobby which started when I was a young boy. My father, brother, and I, used to build houses. I built this wonderful house in Cherry Hill which was not a big home but was completely surrounded by a big seven foot high wall and iron gates.
Well, one day I looked out the window and there was Muhammad Ali sitting in a car right in front of my house. He had someone knock on my door. He said “We would like to buy your house”. Seconds later the big man walked in. He then said to me “I like your house a lot and I have been watching you build it. Is it for sale”? I told him that I would love to sell it to you, but it took me almost a year to build it with my own hands and sweat so I really can’t sell it.
Muhammad said, “If I offer you twice as much as you paid for it will you sell it?” I said “no I just can’t.” What finally happened is they pulled away and I only got one more call from them. I told them I was still thinking about it. Ali eventually moved to another area close by in New Jersey where he bought a house. The funny thing now is I should have sold it to him because when I did sell it, I didn’t get very much for it.
BB: Who, in your lifetime, do you feel is the greatest fighter of all-time?
Well, that’s like asking me what’s my favorite finger? When these guys become champions it’s because they are the best out there. If they are the best then they have to be your favorite, in my opinion. Fighters such as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Rocky Marciano. I just can’t say one is better than the other unless you put them all in the ring and the best man wins.
Thinking about these guys makes me think of another funny story I would like to tell you. When I first starting singing in New York City, I wanted a job at the Copacabana nightclub. I didn’t know how to go about getting it and back then, I had no one representing me.
I met this guy who really looked like a wiseguy. He told me that he could get me a job at the Copa. At that time, Jack Entratter owned the Copa and later on became famous with the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. This is around the late 40’s say 1948 or 49. He took me over to the Copa. Jack said, “Let him get up and sing a song”. I did and the wiseguy asked Jack, “what did you think about my singer?”
Jack replied, “I didn’t like him.” So the wiseguy said, “you don’t like him as a singer we will make him a fighter.” Of course I couldn’t fight and that never happened. That’s a true story.
BB: What is the nicest venue you have ever seen a fight at?
I would have to say Madison Square Garden. You know it hasn’t been that long since big fights went on at other places like they used to have at the Garden. You always can look back and say I saw those fights at Madison Square Garden.
BB: What era do you feel had the best fighters and why?
Well, first of all, I will answer the why. The why is television. Television was so important to boxing because it brought it forward the same way it has brought golf forward. If Tiger Woods played back in the days when Ben Hogan played, he would not have been as known. Now, the era would be the late 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s when I really went out of my way to see the fights.
BB: Who are you top three favorite fighters of all-time and why?
Well Ali is on top. He was the most exciting, charismatic, articulate, and funny. He could come up with some of the funniest lines. Next, Rocky Marciano. Rocky was just so tough. Finally, Sugar Ray Robinson who was a good friend of mine. He got into show business and we worked the room together at the Latin Quarter up in Boston. He really was a great fighter and had a good act.
BB: Are there any fighters today who remind you of the old days?
I would say Oscar De La Hoya a little bit. You see what it is television is so different today than when it came out of its infancy. When I watched Rocky Graziano fight Tony Zale, that was the first time I saw a live fight. It left an impression that you never forget. Now, TV is different today, because you don’t see many fights on it like in the old days.
Everything is Pay Per View. This really makes a difference. I wish they would show the old fights here like they do in Germany. Once a week, they show the old fights and it’s exciting to see them. They need to show them in the states and I am sure they can, because the networks own fight films.
BB: What is the greatest fight you have ever seen and why?
Well, the greatest fight I saw, and it’s not because of the fight, but because it involved two great champions, one ex-champion and one soon-to-be champion, was Rocky Marciano Vs Joe Louis. I was glued to the TV set. In my heart and believe it, I wanted Joe to win. I didn’t want Joe to lose, even though I liked Rocky and we were friends. In my mind I said “Hey Rocky pass this one up or let Joe win.” It broke my heart to see Joe lose.
If I was Rocky, I would not have taken the fight. Here, I will give you an idea. I made a record called Here in My Heart back in the early 50’s. I recorded the song, produced it, and paid for it myself. It went on the air in Philadelphia and started to become a big hit.
Well, RCA Records heard about it and called Mario Lanza. At that time, Mario was the biggest star in the world and they told him to cover my record. They told him I was going to have a big hit with it but if he did it, it would knock me right out of the box.
When I heard about that, I called Mario and told him this was my big opportunity to break into show business with a hit record. I asked him would he consider passing on covering Here in My Heart? You know what he said? He said, “Well why not? You’re from Philadelphia and I am too. I will tell RCA that I will not do it.” That was real CLASS! That’s what I wish happened in the Louis fight.
BB: Finally, in all your years as a boxing fan, what is the most brutal knockout you have ever seen?
I would say Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott I. That was some punch Rocky landed and those close ups were something else. I remember pictures of Walcott’s face being distorted.