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    A metalhead takes on Sinatra

    THE WASHINGTON POST – There he was, sitting in his wife’s Escalade at his son’s football practice, singing Luck Be a Lady at concert volume. Mark Tremonti, the metal hero proclaimed “Riff Lord” and co-founder of Creed, had the windows rolled up, but that didn’t seem to help. After practice, his teenage son, Pearson, walked over with a report.

    “Dad, I can hear you across the street,” he said.

    “So from that point on, I had to park across the street at another parking lot,” Tremonti said.

    “I don’t want to embarrass my kid.”

    But now, three years later, Tremonti isn’t keeping Frank Sinatra to himself. The guitarist, considered one of the few modern day-guitar heroes, has released an album of Sinatra covers – and he’s not playing a single monster lick. Instead, he’s at the mic to sing 14 Sinatra standards, including Luck Be a Lady, My Way and Fly Me to the Moon.

    What’s more, Tremonti is backed by several members of Sinatra’s final band. The album, Mark Tremonti Sings Frank Sinatra, surprised those who have heard him shredding on his PRS guitar.

    “It blew my mind,” said Slash, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist. “It just sounded so authentic. And it’s Mark from Alter Bridge, a metal guy, so I’m not expecting it at all. But all the vocal inflections, the personality, the Frank-centric feel of it, went way beyond any expectations I had.”

    Guitarist Mark Tremonti, best known as a metal hero who co-founded Creed, also has a soft spot for Ol’ Blue Eyes. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
    ‘It blew my mind,’ said Slash, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist

    Genre-bending records can, of course, go terribly wrong, whether it’s Pat Boone doing metal or the Beach Boys trying country.

    But Tremonti never saw Sinatra as a marketing opportunity.

    The new record emerged as a series of chance conversations, life circumstances – and connections. There also was his genuine love for the music.

    Before the pandemic, Tremonti and his wife, Victoria, decided to have a third child. There was a miscarriage and then, in 2020, Victoria got pregnant again. This time, the doctor determined the baby had Down syndrome, which occurs in about 6,000 newborns in the United States each year.

    At first, Tremonti, 48, fell into a funk. He wondered how the diagnosis would affect his family and work. That’s when he talked to his manager, Tim Tournier, whose older brother has Down syndrome and is high-functioning, with a job and girlfriend.

    “Breathe,” Tournier recalled telling Tremonti. “I know it’s scary, but it’s going to be awesome. And I remember telling him that, and he was just kind of like, ‘You know, I believe it.’”

    Stella Tremonti was born in March 2021.

    “After she was born, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’ve never smiled this much in my life,’” Tremonti said, pointing to a photo of Stella in his studio as he talks over Zoom. “This little thing, this little girl, makes me smile still.”

    Before Stella’s birth, there were other anxieties as well. The pandemic had shut down touring, and Tremonti, a prolific performer, was antsy.

    Hearing this, Tournier thought of one of the guitarist’s great loves, the music of Sinatra.

    Tournier has a personal connection to the crooner: As a young guitarist in Chicago, he was mentored by guitarist Dan McIntyre, who had been in Frank Sinatra Jr’s band. So, wanting to cheer up his friend, Tournier called McIntrye to ask whether it might be possible to round up some musicians to do a few Sinatra songs with Tremonti.

    Saxophonist Mike Smith, who toured with Sinatra from 1981 to 1994, got the call and went on YouTube to check out Tremonti.

    “I could tell right away that he was a phenomenal musician, even though the genre and everything was different,” Smith said. “And like Duke Ellington said, there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad.”

    Carey Deadman, who worked on Sinatra’s tours as an arranger, was more skeptical.

    He figured he had heard this tune before: Someone wants to live out his fantasy through Frank.

    “We’re all kind of rolling our eyes like, ‘Oh, another Sinatra wannabe,’” Deadman said. “Like, ‘How many are there? When will the stream end?’”

    Tremonti decided to play guitar after hearing the powerful barre chords that drove the J Geils Band’s Love Stinks.

    He got into harder stuff through his Black Flag and Metallica tapes. At Florida State University, he got to know singer Scott Stapp and they formed Creed, a partnership that led to four albums that sold more than 50 million copies.

    Creed eventually dissolved over tensions with Stapp, but Tremonti and his other bandmates, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips, went on to form Alter Bridge with singer Myles Kennedy.

    Tremonti was never known as a singer, serving on backup vocals with Creed and Alter Bridge before taking lead for his namesake band’s records. (He has made five Tremonti albums since 2012.)

    “Initially, when we started working together, he seemed strangely hesitant to sing when we would write together,” Kennedy says. “And I thought, ‘Well, he’s got a wonderful voice, a rich baritone.’”

    Tremonti has a habit of getting into mini-obsessions, whether pinball or science fiction.

    He remembers stumbling across Sinatra YouTube clips about four years ago and being mesmerised.

    He bought a plastic binder like a star-struck schoolkid and slid a photo of Frank from a recording session on the cover. He put song lyrics inside and marked up the sheets. The scribbles told him when there was a drop in pitch or a dose of vibrato, a pause or a snap of the fingers.

    “I think one of the cool things about Sinatra is he didn’t just sing it straight on the beat,” Tremonti said. “And he never sang the same song the same way twice. I picked my favourite version and tried to sing it as close to that and then naturally put my own thing on it. A lot of people are like, ‘Yeah, it’s great how you took Frank Sinatra and made it your own’. I’m like, ‘The only way I made it my own is because I couldn’t make it exactly like Frank Sinatra.’”

    In Chicago in May 2021, the musicians gathered for the cheer-up jam session. It went well. Tremonti showed up with his notebook, and the others in the room, including Smith and Deadman, were impressed.

    “He came early and I said, ‘Let’s go upstairs, just you and me,’ and so he started singing and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you did a lot of homework here,’” Smith said. “I thought it was going to be good, but not as good as it was.”

    “He went to school on Sinatra,” said Deadman. “You can tell he listened to him a lot, but he is singing it in his own voice. And he’s bringing in his own phrasing. But he particularly seemed to listen to the earlier crooner days. And you know, I think that’s the vibe he was going for. It’s a really beautiful sound.”

    After those sessions, Tremonti and Tournier talked about Sinatra – the musician and the man.

    They knew he had raised millions for charity. Then the idea came to Tremonti. What if he put out a Sinatra album and donated the proceeds to the National Down Syndrome Society? Medical procedures are often required – Stella had a heart operation just nine months after her birth – and there is a constant need for physical therapy.

    And more than a one-time fundraiser, Tremonti also decided to launch Take a Chance for Charity, a venture meant to inspire others. He’s already heard of interest from a couple of buddies, comedian Larry the Cable Guy and the wrestler Edge.

    But Tremonti isn’t ready to give up Frank. In May, he performed with a 17-piece band that included Smith, Deadman and McIntyre in Orlando, Florida, where he lives, to launch the album.

    The show raised USD150,000. He’s hoping to take it on tour later in the year.

    “It was good to see these people that I’ve seen for 20-plus years coming to rock concerts and black T-shirts in their suits and cocktail dresses,” he says. “Except for one guy. He was like, ‘You’ll never see me dressed up like this again.’”

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