Frank Jr., the Unsung Sinatra

By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006

ATLANTIC CITY He loves the ghosts.

They can be standing, or sitting. They can be tucked away in vaults. Sometimes he'll just veer off a road, and there he stands, surrounded. Green trees and clear air.

"I went to visit my father's grave when I was in Rancho Mirage recently," Frank Sinatra Jr. is saying. "And as I was stepping away, I noticed the grave of Jimmy Van Heusen, who was buried a couple graves away from Frederick Loewe. I met Loewe once. Caesars Palace. Vegas. I was over there watching Sinatra do his show."

That's how he talks sometimes. As if the father were a whole other entity. Which is kind of sweet. And kind of tangled.

"Jimmy Van Heusen was a top security test pilot in World War II as well as being a great songwriter. He was absolutely incredible. Van Heusen inspired me to write music."

His band members refer to the father as Big Frank.

Junior is Frank.

And between those two singers, those two men, father and son, lies a mountain. One on one side because he's unreachable, the other on a lifetime climb because all he wants to do is sing, be respected, get another gig.

And the man throwing the shadow is always there.

Big Frank's crowd still calls him Frank's boy even if he's 62 now. The more he sings -- and legions will tell you he's hugely gifted in his own right -- the more it seems as if the ghost is tiptoeing from around the mountain, out of the shadows in his patent leather slip-ons -- right toward him.

Big Frank's been dead since 1998, yet still he's everywhere -- weddings, cocktail soirees, movie soundtracks, TV commercials, elevators. All Frank is trying to do is carve a niche into the rock of legend and fame and history.

Maybe in a more just world this Frank would have a bigger audience. His new CD, titled "That Face" -- his first studio album in a decade -- might have been released with more noise.

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