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"As Long As I'm Singing The Music of Bobby Darin," by Gisele F. Dubson
The Raue Center for the Arts, Crystal Lake, Ill.
September 18, 2010

A couple of summers ago, a friend of mine in Denver was happily making plans to attend a Bruce Springsteen concert.  She had traveled far on many occasions to see him perform, and now here he was, coming to our part of Colorado!  She was very excited.  We were discussing our favorite singers, and I popped a Bobby Darin CD into the player by my side as I congratulated my friend on her good fortune to be the fan of a singer who was still alive, vibrant and performing for happy audiences.  We Darin fans have to console ourselves with CDs, DVDs, videos and memories.  The recorded performances we happily hunt down and trade amongst ourselves, but the object of our devotion left the stage 37 years ago.  It is hard to realize that he is no longer alive, dazzling audiences in person.  As my friend was enthusing about The Boss, I couldn’t let an educational moment pass, and I played her a little-heard song written and performed by my particular idol.  She cocked her head as she listened and asked, astonished, “That’s Bobby Darin?”  I wish I had a nickel for every time a person has asked that question in just that tone of incredulity. 

Last May I was able to see Dennis Tufano for the first time (pardon me, I don’t get out much) in Las Vegas where he appeared in a fundraising concert for the Children’s Heart Foundation of Nevada.  The concert was put together by musicians who had worked with Darin to raise money for this charity in his name.  There were several other singers who appeared that evening and helped to make a great show, but I must say, Tufano was the standout to the Bobby Darin fans in attendance.  His mastery of the songs was complete, his timing impeccable, his energy without limits.  I remember saying to my companion at the show, “He’s got the moves!”  We could hardly believe it.  We felt very lucky to have this entertainer who was equal to doing justice to the work of Bobby Darin.  Understand, we are not in the market for Bobby Darin imitators in the mold of Sinatra or Elvis clones.  Bobby Darin had a style of singing uniquely his own, and no one can duplicate it.  We cannot hear such imitation being discussed without threats of violence.  But when a seasoned performer like Dennis Tufano takes this music into his heart and makes it his own, there are going to be happy Bobby Darin fans in the house, indeed. 

And so, when I heard that Dennis Tufano would be appearing in Crystal Lake, one of my Darin buddies asked if I would consider flying to Chicago from my home in Boulder, Colorado, to see him again.  I don’t do a lot of traveling, but I was tempted, because I had learned that Tufano had his own Bobby Darin tribute show, and he had done just a portion of that at the charity event.  So I made the plans to go and blasted myself out of my home office which I rarely can be induced to leave.  I’m so glad I made the effort on this occasion.  The Raue Center is a charming old movie/vaudeville house that was restored 10 years ago and which now provides Crystal Lake with a venue for live performances.  I already knew what lay in store for us, and I was glad to see the lobby packed with people attending the concert.  It was going to be a full house, and then some. 

We made our way to the second row of the center section, brimming with anticipation.  Tufano also performs a Classic Rock show, and I wondered if many people if this audience knew of him more from those performances than the Darin show.  Would the Darin contingent and the Classic Rock cognoscenti agree to form one audience willing to be entertained?  I forgot my worry on this point as the musicians onstage welcomed comedian Tim Walkoe to warm up the house.  He is a Chicago-born entertainer, and the local audience laughed heartily about his encounters with law enforcement in the Great State of Wisconsin.  The musicians behind him forgot to look serious for a moment here and there and joined the audience in laughter.

Then Dennis Tufano hit the stage with a crackling, rollicking medley of early Darin hits.  From the first note that he sang, from the first spreading of his arms to the audience, I could see that Darin was in good hands with Dennis Tufano, and I could just relax and enjoy the show. 

As for the possibly volatile mixture of Darin followers and Classic Rockers, I needn’t have worried, however, because both styles of music were actually a good fit for Darin.  Dennis Tufano in concert demonstrated this by taking us on a historical journey through Bobby Darin’s musical career from raucous rocker, to crooner of standards, singer of country and folk, and writer of protest songs.  He introduced several of the songs to give the context of Darin’s career (This song he wrote for his son Dodd.  This song he gave to Tim Hardin to make a hit with.)  It was just enough background for anyone in the audience who did not already know a lot about Darin.  It was a beautiful show with Tufano (immaculate in tux!)  backed by Michael Acosta and his band (great sound, soulful sax, wailing horns, drumming to drive the beat).  In about a dozen tunes, Tufano did an excellent job of encapsulating Bobby Darin’s diverse career in pop music.  He sang his heart out, strutted the stage and ruled that audience.  It was a privilege for me to see this music being done live, and being done right.  It is something I will never forget. 

To demonstrate Darin’s versatility, Tufano performed one of my favorites, a little-heard blues song written by Darin, accompanied by harmonica, called Funny What Love Can Do.  That was the song I played for my friend the night she was carrying on about the Boss.  “That’s Bobby Darin?”  Yes, it was.  It is.  And thanks to Dennis Tufano, another 500 people know it.  I also especially enjoyed Tufano’s delivery of Up A Lazy River, which is clearly Darin’s version, but which Tufano also makes his own.  The Darin portion of the show closed with a clever segue from That’s All (sung delightfully uptempo by Darin and Tufano, done as a ballad by just about everyone else) into Darin’s most famous tune, Mack the Knife.  Talk about going out on a high note!  This Darin fan could not have been more delighted.  It was a magical evening, and it ended with a short set of Buckingham hits.  I thought this fit in well with the Darin material, and Tufano sang them beautifully.  Revisiting those tunes made me think that my childhood, when I first heard them, was perhaps not so long ago as it seems on most days.  As a songwriter and producer of records himself, I feel sure that Darin would have been familiar with these songs.  I can almost hear him singing Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.  It would have been a natural. 

My Darin buddy and I left the Raue Center two contented gals.  I would have liked to have congratulated Tufano on this stunning performance, but I heard later that he was occupied with well wishers for quite some time after the show, and I don’t think I could have added anything to their obvious appreciation.  Thank you, Mr. Tufano, for finding this music and presenting it to a new generation of listeners.  We are in your debt. 

While charging up my cell phone, waiting for my flight back home at Midway, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman of a certain age who asked what had brought me to the area.  I related that I had gone to see Dennis Tufano do a Bobby Darin concert in Crystal Lake.  He clearly recognized both names, but he hesitated.  Finally I said, “Buckinghams.”  His face brightened with pleasure, and he instantly regaled me with an a capella rendition of the Buckinghams hits.  “Don’t you care,” he sang to me.  And when I didn’t respond, he stopped and asked, “Don’t you care?”

“Yes,” I told him, “I do care.” 

Thanks, Dennis, for a wonderful show!

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