If you have Canadian rapper and composer Drake’s latest album “Scorpion,” give a very close listen to the track titled “Don’t Matter to Me.”
Besides Drake, recognize anyone familiar lending some vocals on the song? You say it sounds like the late Michael Jackson?
You’re a winner. Too bad we don’t have a prize to give away, like a pair of tickets to see another fairly famous Canadian singer and songwriter named Paul Anka.
It would be a very complimentary and appropriate prize. Just as sharp listeners can hear the King of Pop singing on Drake’s song, others who know the style of certain writers might also recognize Anka’s fingerprints all over that recording.
Anka plays some piano on the number, too, and is credited as the song’s co-writer, along with the Gloved One.
The collaboration with Drake began after the younger musician visited his fellow countryman at his home. Anka has had a long history of mentoring younger artists, especially songwriters and even more especially if they’re Canadian.
Most music insiders believe that were it not for Anka’s tutelage, Canadian singer Michael Bublé might still be a commercial salmon fisherman like he was in his early years like his relatives before him.
“My 13-year-old son (Ethan) was going nuts and his friends were showing up outside and looking through the windows when Drake came to the house,” Anka recalls with a laugh during a recent conversation from his California home.
Anka played Drake the 1983 Jackson song, and he immediately knew the young entertainer was entranced by the tune.
“After the first time he heard it, he said, ‘Wow, I can really do something with that,’” Anka recalls. They decided to work out “the legalities and all that other crap” later and just let Drake focus on taking an unreleased, 34-year-old song and making it marketable.
“So he took the song it and he tried to ‘break the code,’ meaning finding a way to really step up to what was there,” Anka remembers. “So he breaks it and within three or four weeks, he comes up with something. And I listen and we all like it. We wrote a contract, everyone got all excited and out it comes (on the ‘Scorpion’ album and as a single).”
The single scored well on the charts, hitting No. 9 on Billboard’s U.S. Hot 100 and reaching No. 8 on the Billboard R & B chart.
As he mused about recording with Drake and his writing and recording sessions with Jackson in 1983 — the year before Drake was born — Anka couldn’t help but weave into the conversation his own personal story about his biggest influences in the business.
None was bigger, of course, than Frank Sinatra, for whom Anka framed his false-start retirement with a pair of songs: “My Way,” which he initially sang in the late 1960s as he announced his retirement from show business, and “Let Me Try Again,” the song Sinatra used in 1973 as his comeback music when he decided to un-retire.
That’s why Anka is particularly excited about his latest tour, which he’s titled “Anka Sings Sinatra: His Songs, My Songs, My Way!” He’ll bring the show — 50 percent Sinatra hits, 50 percent Anka’s — to Golden Nugget Atlantic City for a performance 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10.
The genesis of “Anka Sings Sinatra” was when Anka began thinking about performing in the same places for so many years, singing familiar songs to the loyal fan base that’s been following him for 60 years, when he was writing and scoring teeny bopper hits like “Diana,” “Put Your Head on my Shoulder” and “Lonely Boy.”
By the time he was 21, he had matured artistically beyond the teen idol days and was writing more sophisticated tunes for other artists and for TV shows. Perhaps his most successful composition — financially, anyway — came in 1962, when late-night TV host Johnny Carson wanted a new theme for “The Tonight Show.”
Carson, who was an ersatz musician, had a few ideas in his head. So did Anka, who was barely old enough to order a beer. They put their fragments together, developed one of the most recognizable 30 seconds of music in TV history and the rest became the stuff of late-night legend.
They wrote up a contract that said he and Carson would split the royalties — Anka once said he got $200 each time the song played — and, if you do the math over 30 years, you get the guesstimate of $1.6 million each for Anka and Carson.
Because his audience has followed him for six decades, Anka wanted to put together a show he could take to the places he and Sinatra played separately on a fairly regular basis.
“I’ve got all of the arrangements that (Sinatra) gave me, so I do 45 minutes of Frank’s stuff — a third of which is mine anyway — and then 45 minutes of my stuff. And we’ll just roll the dice and see what happens,” Anka says.
Last month he tried the show out in Cleveland and Buffalo and the reaction “was though the roof.”
“We’re already booking next year with it because there’s such an interest in him, and it’s a change for my audience (so) thank God they’ve embraced it,” he adds. “But it’s exciting and it’s different. It’s something I’ve never really done, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do because all of the (music) is so close to me.
As far as giving any thought to retirement, Anka has a hard time letting the word come out of his mouth. At 77, he’s cut back on his routine of performing 250 nights a year.
But he still takes his show all over the world, and thinks of his performing life in five-year increments.
“Right now, I’m planning to do another five years, all predicated on health,” he says. “I don’t work as much as I used to because I don’t want to. I have a family, I have a life, I have other things.”
If Anka can impart one piece of advice or wisdom as he closes in on his eighth decade, it’s this: “Positive cash flow, baby! You need to have positive cash flow today because you never know what’s around the corner.”
That doesn’t mean Anka’s trying to paper his walls with $100 bills. Between his income from entertainment and some shrewd investments over the years, he’s done very well financially. But he isn’t trying to become the richest person in the business.
“I’m happy with what I’ve got. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wanna be the richest guy in the graveyard,” he says.