|0ne of the defining
concert moments of my life was seeing
Sammy Davis Jr. dance to "Mr.
Bojangles" in 1987 under a faithful
spotlight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
I rank it up with Bruce Springsteen and
the E-Street Band at the Uptown Theater
and watching the Who with a beady-eyed
Keith Moon on drums in March, 1976, from
the first row at Dane County Coliseum in
It was wintertime on the strip,
and Davis was recovering from major hip
reconstruction surgery. Before the show
we spent an hour talking about the Rat
Pack. Davis limped around his dressing
room. He was 61 years old. He was in
pain. But when Davis went on stage, the
hurt went somewhere else, to a place
where the songs are forever sweet and the
steps are always soft.
is one of the closest things to getting
there," said Lonnie Parlor, who
portrays Sammy straight ahead in
"The Pack is Back"
musical-comedy at Piper's Alley.
"You almost feel you are the
individual. Bojangles is something
everybody in' entertainment goes through.
If you don't get to that certain spot,
you starve. That's what Bojangles is
saying. When I'm doing that song, it's
not so much I'm singing Sammy. I'm
The Jerry Jeff
Walker ballad has profound meaning for
Parlor nearly died in 1991
after suffering a stroke in Lake Tahoe,
Nev. He was impersonating Sammy in a
"Legends in Concert" revue.
Between shows, Parlor was preparing for
his show-closer, the sterling Sammy
send-up of Bing Crosby's "Birth of
"During the first show, I
was doing a spin - I felt strange and I
almost fell over," said Parlor, 46.
He tried to regroup between shows.
"But after a trip to the bathroom,
it was like someone plugged me into 220
(volts)," Parlor said. "It was
muscle in my body would not respond, down
to my ability to speak. I had a silk suit
on. You would have thought someone had
dipped me in a pool, I was sweating that
much. Everything shorted out."
Parlor was airlifted to a San
Francisco hospital where it was
determined he had an artery vessel
malfunction, a serious stroke caused from
a birth defect. His right side was
paralyzed. "They said I'd never walk
again," Parlor recalled. "And
it would be unlikely Id be able to
speak correctly again. I went down from.
145 to 110 pounds."
scheduled to go on a rehabilitation
program at the hospital, but with an
independent spirit befitting Sammy, he
telling me what I couldnt do,"
Parlor said. "I was taught. as a
child that so much of what happens to you
is mental. It's your attitude, what you
can and cannot do."
Parlor was discharged from the
hospital and returned to Lake Tahoe. He
developed his own program largely based
on mental healing.
He had to be him.
Parlor was bom
on a ranch in Ft. Gibson; Okla. At 13 he
began singing rhythm and blues in nearby
Muskogee, small town of Okies made famous
by Merle Haggard. Parlor has worked in
Vegas and Puerto Rico, and spent a couple
years on the road with the DeCastro
Sisters of "Teach Me Tonight"
fame. Parlor has the will of a cowboy.
back to Tahoe and ripped the [tracheotomy
tube) out of my neck," Parlor said.
"I slowly started to talk again. I
began to jog." Parlor faithfully
commuted to San Francisco for Gamma
"They shot about 200
laser beams on to where the rupture
occurred," he said. "Over a
five-year period of time it was supposed
to dissipate the blood near my brain. It
didnt quite happen that way, but I
compensate for it. Everything's worked
Five years later, Parlor is
brilliantly recreating Sammy as part of
the fantasy Dean Martin/Frank Sinatra
reunion at the "Phantom Sands"
at Piper's Alley. His right side remains
stiff, and sometimes Parlor feels
unbalanced. "My dance movements are
maybe a fifth of what I was doing
before," said Parlor.
"Sammy had a certain
spark," he continued. "I try to
be very authentic and respectful. It's
hard to not slip over into that Billy
Crystal thing and fall into exaggeration.
And the first thing to remember is