US singer-songwriter Paul Anka has been a friend and confidant to music’s finest ever talents – and now you too can meet the man behind the legends
Singer Paul Anka – he wrote My Way, one of the most famous and most covered songs in pop – will never forget his first trip to Australia. It was early in 1958 and he was on the bill of legendary promoter Lee Gordon’s The Big Show with Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
“I met a guy called Johnny O’Keefe,” Anka recalls.
“A rock ’n’ roll guy – we were drunk every night!”
They drove O’Keefe’s car from Sydney to Melbourne for four dates at Festival Hall.
“I remember getting stuck with him, Jerry Lee and Buddy Holly. We were driving ... and the damn car ran out of gas,” Anka says with a laugh.
“We were siphoning gas out of these homes we stopped at in the middle of the night. We were never sober!
“I’ll never forget Johnny O’Keefe – that was rock ’n’ roll. It was a whole different time.”
Anka is returning to perform in Australia for the first time in 40 years.
Anka, 71, has more than 900 songs to his credit, including definitive hits for Frank Sinatra ( My Way), Tom Jones ( She’s a Lady) and Buddy Holly, whose last recording was Anka’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.
Holly was killed in a plane crash weeks later and the song became the first posthumous No.1 hit of the rock era.
“We were going to start a music company together,” Anka says of Holly. “I was very close to him.”
Holly asked his friend for a song, and gave him an outline of it. “He told me the feelings he wanted in the song right down to the violins.
“(The song is) important to me because of my friend Buddy and how big that song was for him. He had his incredible style that put a stamp on that song.”
Anka was 17, but was already a pop star himself after writing and recording the single Diana two years earlier.
He was also responsible for Michael Jackson’s final hit, This Is It, after the Thriller star’s death in 2009.
“Michael (Jackson) used to come to our shows in Vegas – I watched the kid grow up.”
In 1980, Anka learned Jackson wanted to write with him. “He came and stayed at my guesthouse for a couple of weeks and we started writing together,” Anka says.
They finished two songs, but Jackson had begun working on what would become Thriller and the Anka project stalled, “but he stole the tapes out of the studio”.
Lawyers got involved: “I got my tapes back four weeks later. He went in to crazyland.”
Unknown to Anka, Jackson had copied the tapes.
Shortly before Jackson’s death a friend of Anka’s called to say Jackson’s new single was one of those ideas from those 1980 sessions.
“Sure enough it was the song we wrote, the idea I had called I Never Heard. They took the first line of the lyric, ‘This is it, here I stand.’ I said, ‘That’s the same song! Give me half of everything and you’ve got no problem!’ ”
But Anka knows he will forever be inextricably linked to My Way, the melody of which is from a minor French hit he heard while on holiday in 1967. Paul Anka plays Jupiters Theatre on Saturday.
Paul Anka is a showbiz icon in his own right.