Why Creed’s Mark Tremonti Loves Frank Sinatra
Mark Tremonti’s guitar work powered a steady string of radio hits with Creed in the late ’90s, before he shifted to harder-edged rock with Alter Bridge and the self-titled Tremonti band. Few probably expected him to cut an entire album of Frank Sinatra songs.
But Tremonti has done exactly that, working in secret for the past year on Tremonti Sings Sinatra. The LP arrives on May 27 as the flagship project for a new Take a Chance for Charity initiative. Proceeds from album sales benefit the National Down Syndrome Society.
His daughter Stella was born with Down Syndrome in March 2021 and Tremonti saw an opportunity to do something positive with the newly created charity. He’s also challenging his fellow musical peers to take similar risks, all in the name of raising money for a good cause.
Tremonti spoke with UCR to share the story behind Tremonti Sings Sinatra while preparing to celebrate its release with a special benefit concert. Turns out, his passion for the crooner goes way back.
What are your first memories of hearing Frank’s music?
When I was a kid, during Christmas time, I always remember hearing Sinatra songs – just through the years and throughout my life. I just loved Sinatra, in general. I thought the music was fantastic and his voice was just about the best there ever was to me. As I grew older, I realized his vocal range was right where mine is, so it was good for me to be able to learn his approach and not have to strain. With other singers, it would probably be impossible to do this, but his range just suited me very well.
How did you decide to take a shot at recording a full album of Sinatra songs?
The funny thing is, my manager Tim Tournier, when I told him I wanted to do something with this project – I think I was talking about it for a year or two before this project happened. There was really no place for it. I didn’t know if my fans would appreciate it or not, but I wanted to do it so bad because I was just so into it. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. Tim told me his guitar teacher was Stan McEntire, one of Frank Sinatra’s touring guitar players. What a strange coincidence it was for him to be able to get in touch with all of the guys. So he was the one who connected us with Mike Smith. But this was after, you know, I’d been talking to Tim for a while about the Sinatra thing. Like I said, we didn’t know if there was a place for it anywhere but you know, some things happen for a reason. You might believe that or not, but when me and my wife went to the doctor’s office and got the diagnosis that our daughter had Down Syndrome, it almost immediately told me, “That’s why I’ve been chasing this down. I’m going to do this Sinatra record, I’m going to do it for charity and raise money for Down Syndrome awareness and help these folks out that are in the same situation.” From there, you know, he just got the wheels turning. I was like, “You know what, I want to start an organization called Take a Chance for Charity. This Sinatra thing is something that nobody’s going to see coming. I’m going to take that and use it as a platform to ask other people to do the same thing. Let’s do something that nobody would see coming.”
The slogan could be, “The most fun you ever had raising money for charity.” You know, get a football player to sing a song or get a boxer to do a magic trick. Whatever it is, [do something] to raise money for charity, under the Take a Chance for Charity thing. This will be the first project that gets out there. I’m as proud of this as I’ve ever been of anything in my life. It was such an incredible experience for me. I hope I can do this again because it was just the ultimate experience in the studio.
It’s pretty incredible hearing how you were able to find the right voice for this. What were the keys from your perspective, as far as getting it right?
I had a ton of time to work on it. My youngest son, Pearson, he plays on two soccer teams so sometimes he’d have three-hour practices, four or five nights a week. They were about a 45-minute drive to get there. So I’d put the poor kid through having to listen to that every time we went back and forth. Then, I’d sit there during soccer practices, I’d break out my laptop and I would type in the lyrics, move them around to how he phrased them. If he came in late, I’d have to scoot it to the right. I would spell the words the way [Sinatra] pronounced them. You know, when he’d say “appealed,” he’d say it almost like he was saying it with a “uld.” So I would spell it like he pronounced it, then I’d make notes on the exact moments he’d add vibrato or not, where he would take breaths – every little nuance I could think of that could help me get closer to being able to sing like him. At first, I didn’t have any project in mind. I was just doing it as a fan.
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I went down the rabbit hole. I remember this one night in particular. I just had the chills watching all of these old videos. I think it was a video I saw of the song, “It’s You.” He played it back in 1944. It was like a switch went off. I was like, “You know, I want to do this.” I’m singing along and going, “I think I can pull this off.” I just dove deep. From that moment on, I was obsessed. You know, my wife and kids were like, “How many of these movies are you going to watch? How many books are you going to read? How many times are you going to listen to these songs?” I wasn’t listening to rock, metal, nothing. This was all I was listening to; this was all I was reading about. This was all I was obsessing about for a couple of years.
He had a very specific approach to his craft. Even with people like Dean Martin and any of his peers you might want to mention, Frank made what he did all of his own.
Until I really did my research, I didn’t know that he didn’t write his lyrics, he didn’t write his songs. You know, a lot of these old guys, it was just these great songwriters that wrote for most of them. But his take on them, to me, is the best. You know, you see all of these different people singing these songs, to me, I don’t know if I’ve ever found another version of one of these songs done better than Frank Sinatra did it. To me, he’s the benchmark, the guy to go to and the guy that you say, “How should I sing this song? Listen to Frank.” He’s the one that did it, in my opinion, the best. You know, one thing he was born with is this great voice. You know it and you can hear it. I think he was never a musician, per se. He didn’t play an instrument. So I think he always tried to just keep up with these guys. These guys were masters of their craft and he was just a vocalist. I think he tried to impress the band guys by messing with his time, his phrasing and what he did with changing lyrics in a song from night to night or just scatting. That’s one of the toughest things when you’re learning some of his stuff. He’s a master of using that space. Like, if you listen to “Send In the Clowns,” that’s such a sparse song. There’s so much space in there. He fills it so perfectly. That was one of the songs I wanted to do, but it would be very, very difficult to do that song because it’s not on a click track and you’re in dead space. The vocals pretty much dictate the pace of that song. The closest we came on this record was “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).” That song was tough because there’s a lot of space, there’s a lot of tempo changes within the song. But like I said, “Send In the Clowns” would have even been harder. A song like that just shows you how much of a master at creating these ebbs and flows throughout the songs with the vocal, he was just a master of that.
I love that the challenge aspect of all of this is right there in the name of the charity. What do you hope that your peers and also the people who hear this album will take away from what you’re doing here?
I just hope they enjoy the record. I hope it inspires them to donate to help raise money for a good cause. I hope they see how much it means to me and my family and how much the process means to everybody involved in this, and how we’re all in. The fuel that kept us going was the fact that we wanted to do this for a good cause. It just feels good all around. So I hope people take away the passion behind it and spread the word. In a perfect world, I want to get the Take a Chance for Charity thing rolling. You know, get people tagging it and people asking their friends – anybody with a platform to do this. It could be a weatherman at a local news station. It could be an actor; it could be an athlete. It could be anybody. I want people to get in there and feel the passion hopefully they see that I had, and the people surrounding me that helped me see this through. Feel that passion themselves to help us keep pushing it.
Was there anybody who tried to talk you out of doing this?
You know, it’s the exact opposite. I thought I’d be thinking like you’re thinking now. I thought maybe people would be like, “Ah, just stop doing the Sinatra thing, I’m not into it. Get back to the rock and the metal stuff.” But I remember getting on Don Jamieson’s show during COVID. He asked, “During COVID, have you gotten into anything different?” – because Rob Halford was getting into painting paintings and stuff. I was like, “Well, to be honest with you, I’ve really been diving into Frank Sinatra. It’s just something I’m pretty keyed into that right now.” He’s like, “Wow, we need a Tremonti Does Sinatra record,” and I’m like, “Wow, if you only knew!” So you have this metal guy who is saying, “Yes, do the Sinatra thing.” I think the big band thing, you know, a metal fan might not like a pop song, they might not like it if I did pop stuff but I think the big-band thing and the Sinatra thing is accepted and loved by everybody – because it’s everybody’s childhood. It’s everybody’s grandparents’ childhood. It’s part of our culture. Anytime I’ve said it to somebody, they’ve been like, “What, wow, that’s great!” It’s never been, “Why are you going to do that?”
What can people expect from the live show that you’ve got coming up?
Every time we put out an album with my other bands, we do a listening party where people will fly in from around the world and hear the record before it comes out, and then we’ll do a performance. We’re already putting [that] together. The key guys from the band that recorded the record, not all of them can make it down from Chicago. You know, some of these guys are in their late 70s and it’s tough to have them [travel]. But you know, Mike Smith will come down and Stan McEntire will come down. Roger Ingram is going to come down … a lot of the key guys. Then we’ll get some of Frank Sinatra’s Southeast band members to come in and fill in. The rest that aren’t from Sinatra’s band, I think we’re going to get from some of the guys who play for Disney World. We’ll have some top-notch musicians in there. I’ve never done this. You know, I did it live with them in the room, but I’ve never done it in front of an audience. My biggest silly fear in the whole thing is not the singing. It’s what to do in those bridge breaks when there’s about 30 or 40 seconds of just somebody doing a trombone solo or something else, where I’m just standing there without a guitar on. [Laughs.] I’m not trying to be Frank Sinatra’s persona. I’m trying to be myself and sing, you know, pay my respects to Frank Sinatra and his vocal approach. But I’m not putting on the hat and rolling the dice on stage and pretending to be Frank Sinatra. I just don’t think I could pull that off. I’d look silly doing it.
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