Vegas to Sacramento

Rudy Valentino

Photo By Larry Dalton

Rudy Valentino grew up on stage and was in movies and on TV before he had finished grade school. Along the way, he learned the art of vocal impressions, imitating some of the stars he met as a kid: Elvis, Sinatra and ol’ Dino. The Camden, N.J., native moved to Tinseltown as a boy and worked in Las Vegas before coming to Sacramento. Today, Valentino, 45, lives in Midtown and spends his days running a video-production company. But several nights a week, he’s on stage, singing in the guise of his childhood icons. Valentino plays the Back Door Lounge, 1112 Firehouse Alley in Old Sacramento, this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On June 14, he moves to O’Mally’s Irish Pub, 1109 Second Street.

What’s your act?

It’s Rudy Remembers because I met all those people—Sinatra, Elvis, Dean Martin—so it’s my kind of memoirs about them. … I stick with that kind of a theme where I’m doing some kind of a Rat Pack thing, but Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis are in just about every show.

How did you get started?

My dad. He just was determined that I was going to be in show business. I started when I was 2 and have been professional since I was 5. When you grow up like I did, it’s just something you do. It had nothing to do with fame or money or girls or drugs.

Was your dad a performer?

He wanted to be, yeah, but he ended up having eight kids, so he was working most of his life.

What was your first gig?

The first professional one was on Steve Allen’s show, The Tonight Show. I did impressions on that. I did Elvis, Al Jolson, Jimmy Cagney.

How did you learn how to do voices?

The very first thing I remember is a Sammy Davis record called Because of You. And on that record was a hit, a 45, and he did about six or seven voices on it. So, my father would play that over and over again. So, that’s the first thing I learned. Then, my father would teach me to look for minute details … how Sinatra’s got a thing with his lip that he does kind of like he’s chewing on something. But it’s really just studying it over and over again almost to the point where it would drive somebody nuts.

How’d you come to Sacramento?

One of my brothers—I have five—wanted to produce a TV show he was doing for Access Sacramento, so I went and fleshed out one of his ideas as a producer and a writer. And I just kind of liked it, and I made some good friends.

So you grew up in Los Angeles?

Originally Hollywood, then Burbank, then all over.

Who sees your shows?

Normally, I have an audience from early 20s all the way to 80s, and they’re all having a good time. … I love the idea that young people are into this. My biggest compliment I’ve had is I’ve had four different young people bring in their parents.

How’d you meet Elvis?

He was going to the studio, and he was late, but he was just so kind to me and nice to me. It was fairly quick: met him, said hi, did the [impression], he laughed, then he took off for the studio. When I saw him about three or four years later … he remembered my sisters’ names, and he called my father “Sir.” It was like right out of an Elvis movie.

What about Sinatra?

I met him when he was recording at Capitol Records, and we were waiting for him … the red light was on like the studio doors were closed. Then, he comes out, and it was like something out of a movie. He had two showgirls on his arm, he had the hat and the tie—looked like you always see him—and he came up to me and said, “Hey, sonny. How you doin?”

And Dean Martin?

My dad, he always had contacts with people. That’s how I remember getting on the set. [Martin] was making [The Wrecking Crew], and he was sitting reading the newspaper, and he had white socks on and glasses. He looked like Cary Grant, you know? … And I remember him being very kind to me and kind of smiling, saying, "Hi, kid." He looked kind of astute reading the newspaper with glasses on. So, it wasn’t like the Dean Martin you think of.