Luck's Been A Lady For Sinatra Impersonator

PAYSON PEOPLE

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Jim Speiser has been a Frank Sinatra fan for most of his life.

"Sinatra's voice was not of this Earth. He sculpted every syllable," Speiser said. "When I was dating, there was nothing but Sinatra on the radio. That's how it worked back then.

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Jim Speiser

"But before I was dating, when I was a kid of 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 years old, Sinatra was part of the tapestry of life."

Sinatra was on the cover of magazines and in jukeboxes everywhere at the height of his career in the early 1950s.

Being a big fan of Sinatra dovetailed with Speiser's gift for impersonations.

Speiser hammed it up at King School in Stanford, Conn., parodying cartoon characters. And teacher impersonations were fair game during the "Day in the Life" school play at the end of the year.

Speiser spent much of his adult life at various jobs in the computer industry, then, about 13 years ago, when Speiser and his wife were at a bar mitzvah, she had the karaoke DJ hand him a microphone.

He sang "My Way" to screaming, yelling, 10, 11 and 12-year-old girls who loved the song.

"I thought, gee, maybe I can make a living at this," he said.

It was the 180-degree career change Speiser said he had been looking for all of his life.

He and a friend, who impersonated Dean Martin, started doing shows at the Sinatra Lounge in Phoenix and the Riviera Casino in Las Vegas.

They started talking to other talented people who were mostly working for gas money, got in touch with the National Association of Tribute Artists and Crooners Unlimited was born.

As Sinatra, Speiser sings Sinatra hits like "New York, New York," and the challenging subtle key changes of "Luck Be a Lady."

His specialty is lesser-known songs, such as "How Deep is the Ocean," and the hopeful "All My Tomorrows" -- the theme song from the film "Hole in the Head."

"I am trying to spark something in people when I sing a beautiful song no one has heard of," Speiser said.

He loves to sing the dirge, "I'm A Fool to Want You."

"It is not a big number for shows, but any Sinatra fan knows that it is his greatest recording of all time," Speiser said. "Sinatra had just broken up with Ava Gardner and you can tell it is just killing him. It is one of two songs Sinatra wrote the lyrics to."

Locals who did not get a chance to see Speiser as Sinatra a few years ago at the casino's tsunami relief benefit, can catch him in June on an episode of the new series on the CW Television Network, "Hidden Palms."

The series revolves around a troubled teen who moves with his mother to Palm Springs.

The series premiered May 30. Speiser plays a Sinatra impersonator in the third or fourth episode.

When Speiser got the casting call in 2006 to come to Avondale with other Rat Pack tribute artists, he was performing in Palm Springs. Instead, Speiser sent his friend of 20 years who impersonates Dean Martin to the audition.

A couple of days later, the casting director called and said the part had been cut to just Sinatra.

"They hired me without an audition," Speiser said.

Speiser had to call Dean and say, "Remember that part you auditioned for and I didn't? Well, I got it and you didn't. That was the kindest way I could put it."

Although the 14-hour episode shoot in Avondale was long and interrupted by a monsoon storm, Speiser counts the experience as memorable, if one he probably will not repeat.

Live shows are his forte, he said.

Profile

Hometown: Stanford, Conn.

Occupation: Frank Sinatra impersonator. www.croonersunlimited.com.

What is the biggest risk you have taken recently? Starting my business, Crooners Unlimited, because when I am onstage, I am in the public eye.

Three things you want people to know about you: I am happily married, I am patriotic and I love doggies.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? When I was 5, an astronaut. Later, as a teen, I wanted to be successful in business.

Favorites

Author: As a kid, Isaac Asimov. Now, my dad -- Stuart Speiser.

Sinatra songs: "I'm A Fool to Want You," "You Are There" (that's buried treasure that few Sinatra fans know) and "Birth of the Blues." He saw Sinatra live at his 79th birthday at America West Arena. His voice was gone, but he was great.

Food: Pasta

Dream Vacation Spot: Bora Bora - one of those thatched hut suites on the clear green water.

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