Orlando has fond memories of Hawaii
BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
The first time Tony Orlando & Dawn performed in Hawaii, they were the opening act for Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose.
Remember Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose? No matter. It was during a return engagement — this time as headliners at the Sheraton Waikiki — that Orlando gave one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen in more than 40 years as a reviewer.
Presented by Tom Moffatt
» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall, 777 Ward Ave.
Orlando and Dawn — Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson — did maybe 15 minutes performing as the trio everyone knows for their million-seller hits and mid-’70s variety show. Then Dawn took a break and Orlando entertained the crowd solo.
He went out into the audience, going from table to table, singing, talking, doing the whole greet-and-meet thing, working without a net. At one point he climbed up on a table and made it his stage.
Eventually, he’d pretty much covered the entire ballroom.
After about half an hour, Orlando rejoined the musicians who’d been playing all along. Dawn came back out. Tony Orlando & Dawn finished the show.
“That was a comeback show for us; I remember that one,” Orlando reminisced last week, calling “from right outside my backyard” in Branson, Mo.
“I first saw someone (go out into the audience) at the Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem,” he reminisced. “I went to see the Isley Brothers, and on the bill were Jackie Wilson and the Isley Brothers. Both of them incredible show people. I remember Jackie on his knees, and taking off his jacket, which I used to do as a youngster, and then I remember the Isleys going out in the audience.”
A third entertainer Orlando credits as early inspiration for him is “Jerry Lewis on his telethons, roaming the audience doing comedy.”
Orlando is back in Hawaii this weekend for a one-nighter in the Blaisdell Concert Hall. It’s the first time that his band has been here, and Orlando has scheduled a couple of extra days here so the musicians will be able to get a taste of one of his all-time favorite destinations.
“Your city and that state has treated me over 50 years of show business like no other,” he said. “‘Halfway to Paradise,’ my first hit record, was in 1961, and so was my first trip to Honolulu as Tony Orlando. Then I came back with Dawn in the ’70s. I remember the New Year’s Eves I had at the Hilton for Tom Moffatt and all the shows and the concerts over the years.”
ORLANDO’S YEARS with Hopkins and Wilson are a high-profile chapter in a colorful and diverse career. Born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis, he broke into entertainment as a member of a doo-wop group and reached the Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist, Tony Orlando, in 1961 with “Halfway to Paradise” and “Bless You.”
“The girl who wrote ‘Halfway to Paradise’ was Carole King,” Orlando said. “Gerry Goffin (her writing partner and husband) was there the first time I ever opened my mouth in a recording studio. I was 16 years old. She was 18, and she was conducting the (New York) Philharmonic string section in that studio.”
Of course, not everything becomes a hit. Orlando’s third single stalled at No. 82. Several others didn’t reach the Hot 100 at all. Orlando’s recording career went into suspended animation, but he got a job on the “business” side of the record business.
“The period of my life as a record executive with Clive Davis was (from) ’66 to ’70. I was 23 years old and a vice president of CBS already — which was really, when I look back on it now, I think ‘Boy, did I get lucky!’ Those years were a real big learning curve for me.”
“When I was signing writers, I represented James Taylor (and) Blood Sweat & Tears, and I signed Barry Manilow. There were writers that would come to me that I would have to turn down, not because they weren’t talented but because it wasn’t the direction the company was going. …”
“I always give that advice to young people starting out: Being turned down in our business is 99 percent of the game,” Orlando said. As long as you know that, you can do nothing but learn and get better.”
Orlando’s return to the stage began in 1970 when he was asked to do a demo recording of a song titled “Candida.” Concerned about a possible conflict with his record label responsibilities, he agreed to do it on condition that his name not be on it.
“Candida,” credited to a nonexistent group named Dawn, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold more than 1 million copies. The record label asked Orlando to do it again. “Knock Three Times,” Dawn’s second million-selling single, and a bigger hit than the first, was the result.
At that point Orlando decided it was time to start performing again. He recruited Hopkins and Wilson. Within a year Dawn had become “Dawn featuring Tony Orlando.” Two years after that it was “Tony Orlando & Dawn.”
The Tony Orlando and Dawn TV show ran for four years in the mid-70s. The group’s signature hits — “Candida,” “Knock Three Times” and “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” — are still popular.
Orlando is almost as busy.
“I’m still on the road doing 130 dates a year,” Orlando said. “Two years ago I did a full-length film with Adam Sandler called ‘That’s My Boy.’ I’m enjoying my life, and here I am coming to my love land of Hawaii.”