Gary James' Interview With Nat King Cole's Brother
Nat King Cole was truly one of the most popular singers of all time. Capitol Records has released on both CD and cassette a collection of 22 of Nat King cole's greatest hits. The package is simply titled "Nat King Cole :The Greatest Hits".
In this interview with Nat's brother, Freddie, we take a look back at what made Nat King cole so popular and why that popularity continues to this day.
Q - Freddie, are you surprised that there's still a very strong interest in your brother's music?
A - No. I'm not surprised at all. His music covered all age spans. He grew up with so many people that he became almost like an institution when you talk about that kind of music. There will never be another Nat Cole or Frank Sinatra, or Perry Como, or people like that. There's a certain era that they came up in and their music has transcended everything.
Q - With all the changes in popular music over the years, aren't you just a little surprised that young people have picked up on Nat King Cole's music?
A - No, not really. Like I said, once they hear it, it's something new to them and it's very interesting because it touches people. It gets right to the heart of the matter in the subject of love. He truly was the minister of music. You can feel it.
Q - Nat did't start off as a singer, but as a piano player in an instrumental trio. Is that correct?
A - Yeah, that's right.
Q - Then a drunk happened along and insisted he sing 'Sweet Lorraine', and the rest as they say is history. What do you think would have happened to Nat if that drunk hadn't come by?
A - I have no idea. He was a very proficient piano player. He won polls as one of the great jazz piano players. So, I have no doubt that he would've gone on to be every bit as great as an instrumentalist.
Q - Where did Capitol Records discover Nat?
A - I guess you'll have to ask Capital Records about that. He and John Mercer were friends, so I imagine it was somewhere out in California, I'm sure.
Q - Since Nat was on the same label as the Beatles, I'm just curious, did he ever meet the group?
A - That, I don't know. I couldn't be sure. He may have met them.
Q - Nat's wife said he was a very humble man.
A - Very, very humble man.
Q - And she didn't think he ever realized what a great international talent he had become. He did tour all over the world, so he must have known people liked him?
A - Of course. He knew they liked his music. He used to come up to Syracuse quite often. He used to play up there every year at Three Rivers. It was a great club up there.
Q - And didn't he play at the Dinkler
A - Oh yeah. I used to play the Dinkler Hotel. I have lots of friends and fans up that way. I have a lot of fond memories from Upstate New York.
Q - Do you still tour?
A - Oh yeah. In fact I'm doing a date with Grover Washington at the Beacon Theatre. We have a CD out together. Well it's Grover's CD called, All My Tomorrow' which is running number 2 on the charts. I'm singing 3 songs on it. I have some other projects I do. I travel all the time, so that's why Capitol asked me to help do some promo on this thing.
Q - I'm surprised you would bring up Three Rivers Inn after all this time.
A - It was a great joint. I remember going out there a couple of times when Nat was there. He would always pack it. That was a big place too.
Q - When did Nat perform there?
A - Late 50's, early 60's. I know one of the last times he played there was about 1964, I guess. He always had a ball up that way. He had a lot of fans. We always enjoyed coming to Syracuse.
Q - It must be you didn't come when it was 40 below zero.
A - Yes I have. I've been up there when the snow was as high as this building. Going down the street was like a tunnel. I've been there summer and winter.
Q - How many records did Nat sell?
A - It has to be millions, 'cause he sold all over the world. That's an interesting question.
Q - Do you know if he won a Grammy?
A - I'm sure he did. At that particular time, I don't know if they made such a big deal about it like they do now. They have awards for everything you do. They've over done that as far as I'm concerned. Some of these people who win awards, I've never even heard of. They're basically company made awards. I call 'em home made awards.
Q - When was the last time you were in Syracuse?
A - 1977 or 1978...somewhere around in there.
Q - I don't think you'd recognize the city.
A - I probably wouldn't, cause the Carrier dome wasn't even built. I really would love to come up there, 'cause I have some very dear friends up there. Vinnie Paratore and I are very dear friends. I see his son. I knew him when he was a little boy, 3 or 4 years old. I used to work for him out at the Lindoven Restaurant, right by Northern Lights. I remember one night when Carol was going to school at Cazenovia and Nat and Jimmy VanHeusen who's from up that way, came up for Father and Daughter Weekend and Nat came over to the Lindoven and the place was packed. He came and we hung out. He sat and played a little bit with us. I had my group there. He had a ball. He really had a good time up there that night. Then I played the Syracuse Hotel. That was a great room. They used to have Jazz there every week. Used to be a good Jazz town, Syracuse did. I used to play another joint up there on Butternut Street...Bell Moran.
Q - Was that a club?
A - No, it was a restaurant that served food, but they had music in there all the time. Jackie Davis used to play there, and myself. Tell me, is that bakery still there as you turn off of Butternut onto Genesee? It used to be called Columbus Bakery.