FRANKIE SCINTA - THE SOUL OF “THE SCINTAS”
HE’LL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN, TOO!
BY MARLA SANTOS
With much anticipation, I went Downtown to see The Scintas. I’d read the articles about their return to Las Vegas to headline the show at The D, and about vocalist Janien Valentine filling in for The Scintas sister, Chrissi Scinta, while her vocal cords healed. I wondered how much their show had changed since the last time I had seen them, whether I’d still get to see brother Joey’s hilarious impersonations, and if I would once again be brought to tears by Frankie’s performance of Love Theme from The Godfather, which he dedicated to his father at the end of each show. To my absolute delight, those great things were still in the show, as was the comical brotherly banter between Frankie and Joey.
Some new songs were added, creating a younger vibe to the show, with the addition of Janien, who brings a fresh, new feel to the performance. The showroom at The D can seat about 250 people and the stage was not large, but big enough to hold a piano, Pete’s drum kit and the band. Believe me, there was a lot of music coming from that small stage! Their show continues to be a combination of talent, magnetism and showmanship – the perfect blend that most performers would die for.
Respect for family, friends and country is really the theme of The Scintas show. With life changing so much in the last few years through the advent of technology and social media creating new forms of communication, a new form of isolation from people and a distance in families has occurred. People yearn for traditions from the past, when times were simpler, and families were closer and ate dinner together. Frankie talks about their Sicilian family throughout the show, and makes everyone in the audience wish they belonged to an Italian family, too. People in the crowd appear to be starved for this kind of emotion and they laugh and applaud and practically jump out of their seats at the end of the performance, giving the whole ensemble a standing O.
Frankie, the soul of The Scintas, performs every night like it’s his last. He knows instinctively how to reach out and touch the hearts of the people in his audience and give them goose bumps. During their finale, Frankie talks about his father being in heaven, and adds (pointing his finger upward): “He was a firefighter, and that’s where firefighters go.” He tells a story about his dad wanting to hear him play The Love Theme from The Godfather years ago, and in this interview explains how it came to be a part of the show.
“It was for me to pay homage to him. That’s why I first did it. We used to do a whole Billy Joel medley, and one night I decided to tell the story and played the song, and there was a hush over the crowd. As soon as I hit the notes, Pete and Joe knew what I was doing and we were like a three-piece orchestra. I had a rack of keyboards, so I played all the violins and horns with my right hand. That night we knew it was very special. I’m doing it so the crowd can feel my father and me. When I look up at that light, it’s like he’s looking down on me saying: ‘I knew you’d play it for me.’”
So with Frankie’s exuberance and his theory of “Live each day like it’s your last, because one day you’ll be right,” he gives us a glimpse into his personal life and tells us how happy he is to be here in Vegas at The D.
STRIPLV: When did you realize that you could touch people with your music?
FRANKIE: I was a 9 year-old cute kid with a banjo and I knew that they were smiling and laughing and that they loved it. I played with the Guy Lombardo Orchestra on TV. A string broke on the banjo, and they said: “Give a nice hand for…” and I said: “No, no hold on, if you folks want me back, I’ll be right back.” I fixed that string and came right back and didn’t even listen to what anybody said. I was back on that stage in three minutes and I finished my set. I knew then! When I could touch their hearts… probably when I was about thirteen or fourteen, when I picked up the piano. By seventeen, I started playing in bars, and man, the girls would all gather around the piano. I could see it in their eyes, because I was never really such a good-looking guy where the girls would go: “Oh my God, look at him.” It was the music, the feel of the music, it was the way I played the piano. But I figured in those days, it was a good way to get a girl. (laughter) It was great, but it was the men, too. These old, colorful characters that would come in and go: “Do Mama the Italian song, it always makes me cry.” They’d put a $100 on the piano and I’d sing it like I’d never done it before. It was always the attention and I guess I’m a glutton for it. When people recognize me in Home Depot, Walmart, wherever I go, whether they’re white, black, Muslim, they all know me and it feels so good. Now, I’m the voice and face for the new Findlay KIA commercials.
I knew at a young age that this is what I wanted to do until I die.
STRIPLV: The people in Detroit and the Midwest have gravitated to your show and become enormous fans of the Scintas for years. What do you attribute that to?
FRANKIE: They are Middle America, blue collar – the pro-family, pro-faith part of the country. There was nothing else, not like the sun of California or Florida or the glimmer of Vegas. They are an eclectic group; the breadwinners, the ones that drive the big rig, the postmen, firemen, and policemen on patrol…that’s our audience, and they’re starving to feel. You lived and worked every day and it was all about the family. Dinners were eaten together. I always say, when you’re at the dinner table the next time, take the iPod out of your ear and look around the table. One day, one of those seats is going to be empty and you don’t know which one it’s going to be, but guaranteed, one will be empty. I get so many e-mails and Facebook messages from kids that ask: “Can I add you, Mr. Scinta?” I always tell them to tell their parents, and I communicate with the parents too, just because we live in a crazy world. There are kids that tell me that they never felt that way before. There’s this young girl from England that saw us perform on a cruise ship three years ago. To this day, she remembers everything I said in that show. She said it brought her so much closer to her family. Today everything is so whitewashed and politically correct. In my show, I break everybody’s oranges, whether they’re white, black, Muslim or Jewish. Everyone’s a target, but everybody feels part of this family that is created that night. We’ve given guys nicknames that have them 20 years later. One guy was “arms foldie” and his family came up to me after the show and said: “That’s all he does is sit with his arms folded.” After that night he realized it and they said he’s more alive now. It’s amazing the feedback we hear.
STRIPLV: What do you like most about the music business?
FRANKIE: I just love to perform. I love to get up there. It’s a new adventure every night. We’ve never looked at an audience like you’re looking at a wall. We’re looking at their faces, and it’s a challenge to see someone leaning on their face or with a puss on their face that’s probably had a rough day and get that person to turn around. That’s the magic! That’s the joy of it all – a guy who just doesn’t want to be there at all because his wife said she wanted to go see these guys. Then after the show, he’ll tell me that he’ll be back. Some say it’s their 30th time. It’s unbelievable! Then they bring their grandkids and the kids bring their family and friends. We have four generations at one given time at one table. Little kids walk up to us like we’re Bruno Mars and they’re so excited to say “Hello.” I ask: “Did you know who Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were?” They say: “No, but they were really funny.” That’s the beauty of doing what we do. We bring back to life some of the entertainment that’s gone.
STRIPLV: What don’t you like about the business?
FRANKIE: I currently handle all my family’s business and that’s a chore. Managing your own business and being on stage and making sure everything is right, is a hard job. I know when I sit down with somebody, I speak from my heart and I will get the most that anybody can get out of that and the most for them. I do most of my contracts with a handshake and a lot of people really appreciate that.
My word is gold — better than black and white.
STRIPLV: The D seems like a perfect fit for you and your fans. Are you getting good feedback?
FRANKIE: It’s perfect. It’s intimate and it’s what Vegas was built on. A lot of people call it old Vegas, but old Vegas is gone, and it’s “new Vegas.” I believe in my heart that this is the precedence for what’s coming to Vegas. This is the catalyst for Vegas five to 10 years from now. The days of the 1,200 to 1,500-seat showrooms will still be there for the Cirque shows or Celine, but there’s so much gifted talent out there, like Clint Holmes. He should be in a showroom right now – not 500-800 seats – but 270 seats, like our room. That’s where the Rat Pack played. Louis Prima and all the biggest stars we grew up with played 200-300 seat shows. I’m honored that Derek Stevens believed in us enough to say: “I want the Scintas!” We’re here at The D as long as they want us. It’s a marriage between the entertainer and the hotel. Our show is fresher now. With Janien in the show, we draw a younger crowd, plus our regular people. If you go see Justin Timberlake, you’re going to hear that genre of music for an hour and a half. If you come see The Scintas, you’re going to experience a genre of music that you couldn’t afford to see in one night. You see Dean Martin and then Michael Bublé, Joe Cocker, Mick Jagger, Lou Rawls, and all these things that happen on our stage. We somehow know what people like. Nothing in our show is too long. It’s like a prizefight…bang, bang, bang. It’s like: “Oh my God, I’m laughing, or now I’m going to cry…I feel…” That’s what I live to do with an audience.
STRIPLV: Your voice is a strong Italian voice that seems inexhaustible. Do you ever have problems with it?
FRANKIE: Once in a blue moon, I’ll get a little hoarse from the weather. I’ve never smoked in my life and I never drink prior to a performance, and when I do, I pay for it, because I can’t hit those falsetto notes. I do tea, honey, lemon… and Tom Jones once told me about some throat lozenges out of England that are like a thick licorice, and I use them.
STRIPLV: How’s Chrissi?
FRANKIE: Chrissi is distraught over the loss of her voice. Her vocal cords were hemorrhaging for a long time, and every doctor she went to, said to just do this or that, and then she would sing. The more she sang, the more damage that was done. Now they’ve fixed the hemorrhaging, but it’s a long road. We decided to let Chrissi semi-retire right now, but the door is always open and the door belongs to her. If she wants to come back, she can come back.
STRIPLV: Janien Valentine had some pretty big shoes to fill didn’t she?
FRANKIE: She certainly did. She’s an actress, a comedian, a singer and a Sicilian from our hometown of Buffalo, New York. Unbelievable!
STRIPLV: Tell me about meeting your wife and married life?
FRANKIE: I’ve been married for 32 years to a wonderful woman. We met at a bar and we were drunk (all the wrong things) and I was dating her girlfriend. (laughter) Jackie and I had way more fun than the girl I was dating, who was kind of quiet. Six months later we got married, and then had a son and two little girls. My son is a perfect gentleman and a supervisor for Avis. One daughter is a teacher here in Vegas and the other daughter is a cosmetologist and lives in Buffalo. Jackie’s mom and grandpa live there. He is going blind and deaf at the same time, and my daughter gives him pedicures, manicures, cuts his hair and makes him feel so special. She’s just amazing at stuff like that and has such a big heart. Now I have two grandsons that I’m so in love with. If I’d known they’d be so great, I’d have skipped over the kids. (laughter)
STRIPLV: Is Joey married with children? How about Pete or Janien?
FRANKIE: Joe is happily married. It’s his second marriage and he’s got a whole new set of kids, two boys and a girl. His daughter Lisa has over 40 million hits on Youtube. She was on The Voice and is currently getting ready to release a CD nationwide. She is quite unbelievable! Her genre is a lot different than ours. We have a lot of power singing. Lisa’s kind of laidback, but extremely talented. Pete’s daughter just graduated high school and went to college in Reno. I remember when she was born, and of course, there were a lot of tears watching her go away to college. She’s not into music, but she’s very smart and very beautiful, just stunning! Janien has two children, a boy and a girl.
STRIPLV: Your group has traveled all over the world, so there must have been times that it was hard to keep the family together.
FRANKIE: When we went on the road, it was like Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so we’d only be gone from Thursday through Sunday. Sometimes we’d be gone for ten days, but that was it. The cruises were only for a week at a time. The big, new ships like the Oasis or the Freedom of the Seas are like cities on the ocean. I love them.
STRIPLV: Did you enjoy performing on the cruise ships? I guess that’s a silly question, since it’s plain to see you just love to perform.
FRANKIE: It was an intermittent thing, between gigs. It was a lot of money and a paid vacation. We had a 98 rating out of 100. Passengers raved about us. There were little kids, to old people with walkers. One elderly man said he hadn’t laughed like that since he was a kid. When you can touch a young child and an elderly man with the same material, oh my God, it’s just amazing. We’re so blessed.
STRIPLV: When you talk at the end of the show about family, which is such a highlight, are you taking after your dad or grandfather?
FRANKIE: My father was my inspiration – because of the way his father was with him. My father taught me there was nothing more important than family, right down to the money that you make. We’ve had offers over the years to come to Vegas many years ago, with guys that, if they wanted 40% and later said they needed 60%, you couldn’t take them to court. In those days we would have been on Carson and all those shows and been Vegas headliners then. But my father said: “If God wants this, it will happen without anybody’s help.” I said: “Dad, they offered us $20,000 a week,” and anything above that, they would get a percentage of. Imagine $20,000 back then…but my father told me right. My dad could cook or fix anything. The mayor, the police chief, the fire chief, when they had a car problem, or TV or anything… bring it to Buffalo. The motto at the Buffalo Fire Department was: “If Dad Scinta can’t fix it, throw it away.” I can do my own brakes today if I had to, in an hour. My dad passed away when he was 68 years old.
STRIPLV: What’s your favorite pasta sauce?
FRANKIE: My mother’s. It’s a sweet Sicilian sauce with a little olive oil, some onions, a handful of sugar in the big pot, salt, pepper and fresh sweet basil. Oh my God, you’re making me drool! There are meatballs made with pork and beef, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan cheese.
STRIPLV: What’s your favorite way to spend a Sunday?
FRANKIE: Football, pasta and family.
STRIPLV: Your favorite curse word?
FRANKIE: The “F” word. I say it a lot, but not in public. I’m a little bit Joe Pesci when it’s: “This ‘f…ing’ thing and that ‘f…ing’ thing.” My brother asked me one day: “What would you do if they took that word out of the English language?” I said: “I’d be ‘f…ed.’” (laughter)
STRIPLV: What turns you on?
FRANKIE: What turns me on? Wow, am I turning red? I think what turns me on is life. Life is so beautiful. I take it all in and people-watch all the time. What turns me on, too, is knowing I got a standing ovation in that crowd. That’s huge!
STRIPLV: What turns you off?
FRANKIE: Nasty people, irrespective of their race, religion or nationality, because I love everybody. I have no tolerance for nasty people, and people that lie.
STRIPLV: To quote my favorite interviewer, James Lipton of Bravo TV’s Inside The Actors Studio: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
FRANKIE: “How the hell did you get in here?” (laughter) I really would like him to say: “Come with me, your dad’s been waiting for you.” Then I’d go and hug him.
STRIPLV: If you hadn’t been a performer, what would you have been?
FRANKIE: A policeman. But I live to be on stage and I’ll do that until I die. Whether it’s in a 270-seat room, a 10,000-seat auditorium, or in a piano bar with one little old drunk lady watching me sing.
The D at 301 Fremont St. Las Vegas, NV 89101
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