It’s been some time since Paul Anka was a Las Vegas resident.
To give you some idea of how long, Anka’s Tropicana Avenue abode is now part of the MGM Grand, which opened in 1993.
But, somehow, Las Vegas still feels like home to the singer and songwriter, who makes his Smith Center debut Friday in Reynolds Hall.
“It’s kind of like coming home,” Anka says in a recent telephone interview from the place he now calls home, Southern California.
“I’ve worked casinos all my life,” but it’s “a great statement” for Las Vegas to have a performing arts center,” he says — one that people “are now raving about,” at that.
“You have to play the right place,” says Anka, who’s on an extended tour that will also take him to the East Coast, Europe and Asia.
For a long time, Las Vegas was that “right place,” he recalls. It “used to be the end-all — and it really isn’t anymore.”
He’s “gotten offers to go sit there for 13 weeks,” he notes, but not from anywhere he’d want to stay for that long.
Maybe his memories get in the way.
When Anka first came to town, in 1960, Las Vegas was “all desert and six hotels.”
The Rat Pack ruled the Strip — and teen idol Anka was hanging with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. (He writes about their adventures in his 2013 autobiography, “My Way.”)
“Growing up,” he says, “I was the first kid at the Sands.”
Anka had his own hits, of course. He was 15 when his 1957 breakthrough “Diana” charted, followed by (among others) “Lonely Boy,” “Puppy Love,” “You Are My Destiny,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” and more.
By the time Anka came to Las Vegas, he had performed alongside such rock ‘n’ roll icons as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. (Anka wrote the latter’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” which became Holly’s last top 20 hit after the singer was killed in a 1959 plane crash.)
Remembering the Vegas times of his life (to borrow a line from Anka’s 1975 “Times of Your Life,” which started as an advertising jingle for Kodak — remember film?), “there are moments that take me back to beautiful times,” Anka says. “I can see the Sands nightclub, with Frank singing ‘One For My Baby’ or Sammy singing ‘Bojangles.’ “
Both Rat Pack legends figure in Anka’s Smith Center show.
“I’m going to do ‘My Way,’ ” which Anka wrote for Sinatra (more about that later) and “a tribute to Sammy Davis, a beautiful moment from my new CD,” titled “I’m Not Anyone.”
In concert, “I’m constantly rearranging those songs,” Anka explains. Adding “something new — that’s motivating to me.”
And while “there’s certain music my demographic likes to hear,” Anka says, “I can’t do it all.”
Not with a discography that stretches from “Puppy Love” through “(You’re) Having My Baby.”
To say nothing of the songs Anka’s written for, and with, others, from Tom Jones’ hit “She’s a Lady” to the late Michael Jackson’s “This Is It.” (And, lest we forget, there’s “Johnny’s Theme,” which opened the “Tonight Show” for the 30 years Johnny Carson hosted it.)
Indeed, being a writer has always set Anka apart — and saved his musical career after the Beatles-led “British Invasion” of 1964 wiped his fellow teen idols off the charts.
“I was a strange little kid, writing and singing,” Anka recalls. His father suggested that “maybe you should be a journalist” — leading to a cub reporting stint at his hometown paper, Canada’s Ottawa Citizen.
That is, until “I started taking piano lessons,” after which “it was ‘bye-bye, journalism’ and ‘hello, music,” Anka says. “My whole thing was writing, writing these songs.”
Especially “My Way.”
The melody came from a 1967 French song, “Comme d’habitude,” which Anka heard and bought the rights to.
When his pal Sinatra told him, ” ‘I’m quitting,’ ” Anka said to himself, ” ‘This is your last shot’ ” to write something for the singer, who’d been teasing Anka about recording one of his songs for years.
“At the time, I was old enough to write it, but not old enough to sing it,” Anka says of the song that begins “And now, the end is near … “
Now that he’s 74, Anka doesn’t have that problem.
Yet the end is far from near — on or off stage.
“Two separate worlds, two separate passions” is how Anka characterizes writing songs and performing them.
Writing represents “isolation,” he explains.
But “I love performing,” Anka adds. “It’s like a love fest out there.” And “what I represent as a performer is the moment … leaving it all on stage.”
As for leaving the stage, that’s one thing that holds no interest for him.
“I watched all my buddies try to retire — Sinatra, Presley,” Anka explains. “If you’re thinking of retiring, you have retired.”
Besides, if he did retire, he admits, “I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with myself.”
— Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at email@example.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.