Someday, Robert Davi’s going to walk into a restaurant with that famous tough guy mug of his and people aren’t going to whisper to friends, “Isn’t that the actor who plays the bad guy in movies?”
They’re going to whisper, “Hey, isn’t that Robert Davi, the singer?”
That would make his late bootlegging, opera-loving grandfather, Stephano, and his parents, Sal and Mary of Queens, N.Y., by way of Sicily, proud.
When you have a son born into an Italian family where the only music played in the house all day was 78 rpm records of Enrico Caruso and Frank Sinatra, you hope some of that immense talent rubs off.
It rubbed off on Davi – rubbed off good.
The music world is full of guys doing knockoff Sinatra albums. Guys trying to get Frank’s phrasing and pacing down (good luck) – straining to hit high notes Frank hit so strong and beautifully in his prime they made you want to cry.
Nobody has ever pulled it off and no one will. But Davi – down to the forceps scars from birth he has on his face just as Frank did – is the closest you’re going to find.
He’s got the voice – opera trained as a kid – the “I’ve been around” experience, and Sinatra’s mannerisms down pat on stage.
His CD “Davi Sings Sinatra – On the Road to Romance” is being released on Monday. Listening to it, you just know Sinatra would have smiled, given Davi a light tap on the cheek, and said, “Nice job, kid.”
Just like Ol’ Blue Eyes did when he first met a 25-year-old Davi in 1977 on the set of a made-for-TV movie “Contract on Cherry Street.”
“Frank cast me in the role. I always thought he liked me because we shared the scars,” Davi said Tuesday, grabbing lunch at Fab’s in Sherman Oaks.
“He never told me so, but I could tell. He always had time for me, just to talk. He wanted to know about my family, my parents. He cared.”
Sinatra kept on acting and singing, while Davi and his tough-guy looks made a great living for the next 30 years mainly playing drug lords, terrorists and other assorted heavies.
But never an Italian Mafiosa. Those stereotypical roles Davi wanted nothing to do with. When you’ve been raised on Caruso and Sinatra as your heroes, let someone else play Capone.
It was a couple of years ago that Davi, who lives in Northridge, decided to start singing again and performing American standards on stage.
In a way he was paying homage to the man who sang the songs that “made the world fall in love with our country,” he says.
“I’m not trying to impersonate him. I’m not a poser. I’m just trying to recapture the feeling Sinatra’s music gave us.
“During my parents’ time, while our country faced many difficulties, his music helped it glow with promise and optimism.
“We could use some of that promise and optimism today. I want people to feel good about our country again.”
So the bad guy becomes the good guy at age 60.
He puts on a tux, walks out on stage in front of a 20-piece band, and picks up the microphone.
He starts singing “I’ve Got the World on a String.”
Out in the audience jaws drop.