Cardella: South Philly Singers

By Tom Cardella

I’m singing in the frozen food aisle at our local supermarket. The James Taylor version of HANDYMAN. I often sing in the supermarket. And I must say I nail the James Taylor version. It’s not that I’m not allowed to sing at home. But, to be honest, my wife Fran doesn’t really appreciate my remarkable vocal talent. Fran is a great wife. So I accept this one missing piece in her character. She turns on the radio whenever I begin singing. I never get past the intro. Like Sinatra, I always sing the entire intro. Not to boast, but I also do spot-on impersonations of singers from Al Jolson to Dylan. Fran tends to confuse my Jolson impersonation with Dylan. Tin ear, obviously. I’ve told my wife that Dylan never sang APRIL SHOWERS, but for some strange reason she still gets confused.

When I do Dylan, I accompany myself on the “harmonica.” Not really. But I make all the right motions using an adenoidal tone to mimic the harmonica interludes. You haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard me perform KNOCKIN’ ON HEAVENS DOOR. Apparently, Fran doesn’t agree (“He’s doing Jolson again”). So, I sing in the supermarket in the frozen food section, where for some reason the acoustics are better. Customers love me. At least no one’s complained.

I don’t mean to get nasty, but I think Fran is jealous of my singing talent. Maybe I ought to remind her that when she and her friend Barbara were in the chorus at Southern High, the teacher pleaded with both of them to lip synch the words. I’m too much of a gentleman to remind her of all the times she faked singing SILENT NIGHT. I also don’t like sleeping on the couch.

If you are a female intending to marry a guy from South Philly, beware. All South Philly males think they’re singers. Music is in our genes. Or is it jeans? I think most of us once listened to a Fabian record and figured if that guy could get a recording contract, I ought to give it a go. At least that’s what I thought. Understand, this is not boasting. I’m that good. The shower and the kitchen are my favorite venues. I like to sing while unloading the dishwasher. Funny how my wife insists on unloading the dishwasher herself these days.

I hear myself singing and I sound exactly like the singer I’m trying to impersonate. I mean, note for note. And I’m not a guy who hears what he wants to hear.

I probably inherited my fantastic singing ability from my father. Ironically, Mom didn’t appreciate Dad’s singing either. Dad’s signature song was THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE. But Mom thought he sounded like George Burns. If you aspire to be a singer, do not make George Burns your touchstone.

My Uncle Chibby did a great Buddy Greco. Uncle Sam got up at my cousin Theresa’s wedding and wowed us with a tender ballad. Surprised the hell out of us. My cousin Ange and I do great duets. Two-part harmony. We call ourselves “The Jazz Brothers,” but, of course, we’re not limited to that genre. Incredibly, Ange’s wife is no more appreciative of our singing than Fran.

I amaze myself with my range of voices. I even do a duet with myself on GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY just like Dylan and Johnny Cash on the NASHVILLE SKYLINE album. Yes, I know this hard to believe, but I do BOTH Dylan and Cash on that song. Fran thought I was doing Jolson doing a duet with himself on that one. C’mon girl, everyone knows that Jolson died long before GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY was ever written. It may sound egotistical, but I think Dylan wrote that song with me in mind.

Singing in the shower has its advantages. I’ve discovered that I can reproduce an echo chamber effect if I sing in the corner of the shower with the shower door closed and the bathroom door open an eighth of an inch. You remember when recording studios used the echo chamber effect on those 50s Rock and Roll tunes, don’t you? Brenda Lee would’ve been nowhere without echo. Singing through a roll of toilet paper has the same dynamic effect. You don’t need the toilet paper. An empty cardboard tube does just fine. How did Phil Spector never discover me? Might be a more puzzling question than, why did Phil shoot his girlfriend?

I know what you’re saying, dear reader. If I have such a great way with a song, why haven’t you heard of me by now? Simple. South Philly talent has glutted the market. We’re our own worst enemies. We’ve given the world Lanza, Chubby, Rydell, Frankie Avalon, and Eddie Fisher. And don’t forget the doo-wop groups. The rest of us are obligated to step aside. Give the rest of America a chance to make it too.

Besides Uncle Nunzi says I might attract groupies. Yeah, some of these groupies might be using walkers. Nevertheless, I don’t want to put my marriage to the test after all these happy years. And even though my testosterone level is admittedly on the low side, I’m afraid that I could be tempted to become a man of easy virtue.

Did I tell you that I do a mean version of MY FUNNY VALENTINE?