This is the fourth in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.
WHO WAS HE?
If Michael Jackson was the King of Pop (which I doubt) then Dean Martin was the King of Cool, a suave urbane singer and actor, one of the two leaders (Frank Sinatra was the other) of the “Rat Pack” . Born in Steubenville, Ohio in 1917 as Dino Crocetti, Dean Martin was about as famous as is humanly possible.
Dean’s career in show business was delayed by a stint in the US Army during WW2. After being released from the US Army (he was drafted in 1944), Dean became a lounge singer on the east coast. At some point he met up with Jerry Lewis and the pair became a duo singing (mostly Dean) and comedy (mostly Jerry) for sellout crowds across the nation. The Martin-Lewis duo also made several successful motion pictures. During this period Dean had a number of hit records as a solo performer including “That’s Amore” (#2 – 1953) and “Memories Are Made of This (#1 – 1955)
Going solo in 1956, Dean recorded a number of successful records. Although rock and roll had largely wiped out the market for classic pop, Martin persevered. “Volare” went to #12 in 1958; then after a dry spell, Dean signed with his pal Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label in 1961. A few singles had minor success; then someone had the notion to recast a song on the acoustic Dream With Dean album using a big band arrangement. To the surprise of everyone, “Everybody Loves Somebody“ nudged The Beatles out of the #1 slot on August 15, 1964. The song stayed at #1 for one week on the pop chart and eight weeks on the adult contemporary chart. While Dean never again had another #1 pop hit, his songs continued to chart on the pop charts and five more reached #1 on the adult contemporary charts (“The Door Is Still Open To My Heart”, “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You”, “In The Chapel In The Moonlight” and “In The Misty Moonlight”). Another fifteen songs reached the top ten on the adult contemporary charts after 1964, including his 1969 recording of “Gentle On My Mind” which reached #2 on the British pop charts and stayed in the top ten there for many weeks.
In 1965 NBC TV launched The Dean Martin Show, a musical variety show which ran for nine seasons and 264 episodes. Although the genre was already largely dead, Dean’s show was in the top twenty-five shows for five of its nine seasons and in the top ten for two of those seasons. After this show was off the air, NBC ran occasional celebrity roasts under the title The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast for another ten years, approximately three times per year.
Dean also had great success in motion pictures appearing in a number of successful westerns and starring in the Matt Helms series of spy movie spoofs.
WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?
Although Dean only had one recording chart on Billboard’s country charts, a 1983 recording of “My First Country Song” which was written by Conway Twitty and featured a guest vocal by Twitty on the last chorus, Dean Martin recorded many country songs, introducing them to audiences which would otherwise been unaware of them. Reprise albums such as Dean “Tex” Martin: Country Style, and Dean “Tex” Martin Rides Again were at least 50% country songs, and most subsequent albums prominently featured country songs, with six straight albums being named for a country song contained within the album. Many of Dean’s recordings were covered by country singers, Charlie Walker enjoying a big hit with “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me”.
Dean’s son Dino (of Dino, Desi & Billy fame) died in a plane crash in 1987, completely killing off Dean’s interest in performing, and life in general. Dean died in 1995. All of his Capitol and Reprise recordings have been in print at some time during the last fifteen years. Nearly eighteen years after his death, he is still the King of Cool.
There is an official website but for more than anybody would likely ever want to know about Dean check out ilovedinomartin.