Benny Jay: Sammy Davis, Jr.

March 28th, 2010

Heading north on Ashland, listening to the oldies station on the car radio, when on comes The Candyman by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Right away, I turn the station. There’s no one else in the car, but it’s like I’m embarrassed to be caught listening to the song.

I move the dial to hard rock, NPR, all-sports and then, sigh, back to The Candyman.

“Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy rainbow pie….”

I stop at a red light at Lawrence and turn it louder. Who am I kidding?  I love  Sammy Davis, Jr.

Way, way, way long ago — when I was a wee lad — I thought he was just about the world’s coolest guy. I loved the way he wore his clothes, his cool easy patter, the graceful ease with which he moved across a stage. He could sing and dance. Check this out, if you don’t believe me. He was Michael Jackson before there was Michael Jackson.

Plus he was Jewish. Not a whole lot of black guys being Jewish back then.  It always pissed  me off that Don Rickles wouldn’t respect the fact that Sammy was every bit as Jewish as he was.  At the roasts, Rickles used to make fun of Sammy for being black — overlooking the Jewish part like it didn’t exist.

I bought his book — Yes, I Can.  (He had the phrase long before President Obama.) I read it once, then I read it again. Read about how he lost his eye in a car accident and then some mobster threatened to take out the other eye cause he was dating white women. White women loved Sammy. Black women too. All the women loved Sammy — that just made him even cooler.

It didn’t bother me that he endorsed Richard Nixon for president. Well, it did a little. But I got over it. It was a crazy time — people were doing all sorts of nutty things. Besides, Sammy Davis was never ashamed of being black.  Way back in the 1970s, he performed at the Black Expo Jesse Jackson put together in Gary, Indiana. For all I know, Milo and Monroe were there….

I used to love him in those Rat Pack movies.  Pissed me off the way they treated him. Like he was a mascot. Probably cause they were jealous cause they knew he had more talent than all of them put together — yes, Sinatra too — though they’d never admit it….

Anyway, one time I was sitting at the nerds table in the Evanston High School cafeteria, must have been around 1972. And this boy — call him Greg — was going on and on about Elvis. He loved Elvis the way I loved Sammy Davis. Matter of fact, he’d just seen Elvis at the old Chicago Stadium and he was talking about about the white suit Elvis wore and the songs he sang and how he came on the stage to the sounds of the theme song from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said that as good as Elvis was — and I conceded that he was good — he wasn’t nearly as good as the great Sammy Davis Jr.  Greg said are you kidding me? And we went at it — right there at the nerds table in the Evanston High School cafeteria.

I don’t want to brag, but — I was whooping Greg’s butt. I might not know how to put pictures on a computer, but no one can out talk me, that’s for sure.

But then, old Greg, played the ultimate trump card. He started singing The Candyman. Only he changed the lyrics to something along the lines of — who can give a blow job….

What could I say? The song was considered lame even then. All the guys at the nerd table were was cracking up. And let me tell you, it’s a rough day when the lames are laughing at you for being lame.

And now I’m sitting here almost forty years later, at the corner of Lawrence and Ashland waiting for the light to change, and the song doesn’t sound so bad. It carries a pretty little sadness, like Sammy knows life really isn’t so sweet.

“Who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream, separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream….”

I’m singing along, got my head bopping to the melody, when I look to my right and see a woman in the car staring at me. I get all red. Try to cover it up, pretend to yawn, like I really wasn’t singing.

Then I figure — what the hell. Turn it up even louder. Who am I kidding? I love Sammy Davis, Jr. Always have, always will….

4 Responses to “Benny Jay: Sammy Davis, Jr.”

  1. [...] back on March 28th, Benny wrote the following about Sammy Davis, Jr. vis à vis the Rat Pack: “… “[H]e had more talent than all [...]

  2. [...] a tribute to the great Sammy Davis, Jr., I mentioned that I thought he was the Rat Pack’s most talented [...]

  3. [...] Barn Boss: And you better not include Sammy Davis Jr. [...]

  4. [...] “He was Michael Jackson before there was Michael Jackson. Plus he was Jewish. Not a whole lot of black guys being Jewish back then. It always pissed me off that Don Rickles wouldn’t respect the fact that Sammy was every bit as Jewish as he was. At the roasts, Rickles used to make fun of Sammy for being black — overlooking the Jewish part like it didn’t exist…” READ MORE [...]

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