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Paul Anka tribute singer records all the hits (and runs and outs) at spring training in Jupiter

Updated: Feb 24, 2023



WITH ALL DUE respect to the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins, no one at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium turns a spring training double play quite like “Sweet Lou” Villano.


The ballpark’s undisputed two-tool All-Star, Villano is a singing scorekeeper who never misses a pitch, be it a Sandy Alcantara fastball or the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’


As Roger Dean’s official scorekeeper since 2006, Villano records every play for every Marlins and Cardinals spring training game and for every Palm Beach Cardinals Florida State League game during the summer.


He also happens to be a talented vocalist who not only can carry a tune but absolutely knock it out of the park, as he does with ease whether it’s “God Bless America" at Roger Dean or “Mack The Knife” at regular gigs around South Florida, New York and New England.


But the demands for Villano’s singing and scorekeeping talents can make for a hectic schedule, and there are some days the Palm Beach Gardens crooner is asked to turn two.


Lou Villano singing the national anthem in spring training.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, he is scheduled to record all nine innings of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Grapefruit League opener against the Washington Nationals, then race his white Audi Q3 down Interstate 95 in time to belt out the classics at his 7 p.m. “Let The Good Times Roll Variety Show’’ at a Boynton Beach community stage.


On Sunday, Feb. 26, and again on March 17, he will take the field to sing the national anthem, then sprint upstairs to the press box to score the Cardinals-Marlins games.


On March 23, he’ll score a sold-out game between the Cardinals and New York Yankees at 1:05 p.m., then race to Pompano Beach (with his black tux in the back seat) in time for his signature Paul Anka tribute show at 7 p.m.


“Sweet Lou,’’ as he’s known around the ballpark, doesn’t perform the anthem at every Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium game. But if a scheduled singer calls in sick or doesn’t show up, he is only too happy to run down from the press box to pinch hit with a microphone behind home plate.


“I’ve been told Adam Wainwright loves it when I do the anthem,’’ Villano said, referring to the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher.


 

Teenage Lou Villano at Flatbush Terrace in Brooklyn.

Baseball and singing have been in Villano’s blood since his earliest days in Brooklyn. If he wasn’t watching the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, he was listening to his mother, an amateur singer, belt out her favorite Frank Sinatra songs.


Lou’s parents ran a popular diner, Nick & Lil’s Luncheonette, at East Third Street and Church Avenue west of Flatbush. When things got too busy, they’d enlist teenagers around the neighborhood to look after Lou and his two younger sisters. One babysitter was a kid named Harvey Keitel, who would grow up to become a successful actor known for roles in classics like “Taxi Driver” and “Reservoir Dogs.’’


Lou’s mother Lillian wasted little time sharing her passions with her children. He was 6 when she signed him up for singing and tap dancing lessons at the Little Theater School in Brooklyn.


Ten years later he joined a neighborhood rock band, playing keyboard and singing hits by bands like The Rascals, The Association and The Beatles. By 1970, after a short stint in the Naval Reserves, he was performing at the bungalow colonies in the Catskills.


Lou Villano and actor Harvey Keitel, a family friend, in 1999 in the Brooklyn home of Villano's parents.

He joined music companies that performed at weddings and bar mitzvahs around the five boroughs and in Long Island and New Jersey, a gig he would enjoy so much over the next 30 or so years that he earned the nickname “King of the Bar Mitzvahs.”


He became a partner with two of those companies, including Barry Sands Music, which helped supply director Martin Scorsese with musicians for the wedding and Copacabana scenes in the movie “Goodfellas.”

He moved to Palm Beach Gardens in late 2005. A few months later, his niece, Nicole, who works for Major League Baseball in New York City, turned him on to a job scoring games in the press box at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.


Around the same time, he was scoring regular singing gigs in upscale South Florida communities and theaters, including the Hallandale Symphony Orchestra, performing tried-and-true classics like Anka’s “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” and Tom Jones' “Delilah,” to name a few.


It wasn’t long before audiences began noticing an uncanny resemblance to one crooner in particular: Not only does Villano sing like Paul Anka, he looks like Paul Anka, right down to their heights, facial structures and stylish receding hairlines!


Paul Anka and Lou Villano in 2016 in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Villano immersed himself in Anka research, studying concert videos and noting the singer’s wardrobe, mannerisms, pre-song dialogue and interactions with the audience.


He read the singer’s autobiography, My Way, named after the song made famous by Sinatra and whose lyrics Anka wrote. Before long, Villano became a self-taught Ankaologist. He meticulously planned, independently produced and happily delivered a tribute show that would have audiences doing double takes.


“I even wear the same shoes (as Anka), boots with a high Cuban heel,’’ he says.


His Anka tribute show hit the road for the first time in 2016. More than six years later, he’s still having the time of his life.



“It’s a really well thought-out show. He talks in the first person and truly makes you believe he is Paul Anka,’’ said Tony Nicolosi, who plays guitar in the Anka tribute show’s backup band.


Nicolosi knows a thing or two about tribute gigs. He performs as Sinatra as one-third of The Ultimate Tribute Show alongside a Barbra Streisand tribute performer and a Tony Bennett tribute performer.


It’s one of dozens of Sinatra tribute shows around the world, but Nicolosi likes to think his Chairman of the Board rendition is among the better ones, even if he has brown eyes, not blue.

While there are hundreds of tribute acts across the world paying homage to performers of all genres — from Elvis, Eric Clapton and Electric Light Orchestra to Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd — some have their flaws. Sure, they may do a decent job replicating the sound, but some may not look or act on stage quite like the real musical McCoys.


Lou Villano as Paul Anka at the Boca Black Box on Feb. 5, 2023 (Joe Capozzi)

That is not the case with Villano, who is believed to be the only Paul Anka tribute performer, a niche uniquely suited for Sweet Lou’s talents.


At the Sunburst Convention for Tribute Acts & Impersonators in Orlando in 2018, he received "The Agents Best Impressed Award" for his Anka performance.

“He's got quite a resemblance to him,’’ Nicolosi said. “He has come a long way since I started playing for him. He just gets better and better.’’


When his shows end with his customary punchline “Just so you know, folks, you do realize I am not Paul Anka,’’ smiling audience members, some in their 70s and 80s, surge toward the stage to shake his hand.


“It feels so gratifying to know that these people were able to experience the music of a great singer songwriter musician and that I was able to duplicate and give them a sense that they were really seeing the real Paul Anka,’’ he says.


Villano also performs other shows featuring songs by Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin and others, but he said his “Paul Anka Songbook” tribute show “took on a life of its own” and has blown up into his most popular gig.


Lou Villano (far left) earlier in his career in the 1980s.

“I take great pride in the fact that I not only do the show but I produce and arrange it as well. This is with no manager or production people,’’ he said.


He credits his wife Louise, “my biggest critic,’’ with keeping his show in line.


Louise always sits in the front row. In the first year Lou did the Anka shows, she wasn’t shy post-performance about suggesting ways to improve the next one.


Louise and Lou Villano in 2014.

“Everything was great, but you talked too much.” Or, “you repeated too many stories.’’


As Villano got in the car to drive home after a performance at The Boca Black Box earlier this month, he looked at his wife. “I’ve got nothing to say,'' she said, "except that was great!’’


As for the real Paul Anka, Villano said he doubts the singer, who’s still making music at age 81, has seen his tribute show. Villano, however, has seen Anka perform three times.


The most memorable show Villano attended was in 2016 at the Sunrise Theater in Fort Pierce, where a friend working for Treasure Coast Radio surprised him with a backstage pass: Lou got to meet Paul Anka.


Paul Anka on stage (Photo by Lou Villano)

“Paul and Lou really hit it off,’’ said the friend, Gloria Corsoro, who met Villano in 2012 when she saw him performing at the Port St. Lucie Italian Festival.


Backstage at that Fort Pierce show, Anka noted his resemblance to Villano.


“He said, ‘We’re about the same size. Give your information to my associate. I’m going to send you a tux,'’’ Villano recalled.


Days, weeks and months went by. Before long, the thrill Villano felt when Anka offered him the tux deflated into a disappointing reality.


“He never sent it,’’ said Villano, who prefers to assume Anka’s associate forgot or misplaced his address.


Now, it’s an inside joke he shares every time he sees Corsoro: “Hey, I‘m still waiting for my tux!’’



Villano employs the same sense of humor around Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, where he’s not only a fan favorite when he sings but also widely respected by his colleagues in the press box.

“Lou is a breath of fresh air,’’ said Andrew Seymore, the stadium’s director of operations. “His attention to detail is great. He’s energetic and professional and always comes to work looking sharp.’’

Sweet Lou sets a tone as the official scorer for the Palm Beach Cardinals during the Florida State League season, meticulously recording every hit, run, out and error for the team’s official record.


Fans around the world who follow the Marlins and Cardinals on MLB.com’s popular GameDay app during spring training can thank Villano: He’s the guy who transmits every pitch, hit, out and run.

As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he’ll sing the anthem when needed.


Lou Villano (bottom) in the press box at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in 2015.

“If a singer is running late or the rain messes up the schedule, Lou goes jogging onto the field and all the players yell, ‘Lou!’” said Seymore. “After he sings the anthem, he puts his hand out and runs down the dugout and high-fives the players.’’

Villano smiles when he recalls the first time he reached out to the ballpark in 2006 about singing the “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ He was told he had to audition.


Of course, he knocked it out of the park.


Now, he’s something of a cult hero to the players, who can be tough critics after hearing so many anthem singers over the course of a season, including some who are not ready for prime time.

In 2008, Marlins coach Andy Fox had a playful pregame gag involving a stopwatch. As each day’s singer walked onto the field to perform the anthem, Fox took friendly bets from players in the dugout about how long it would take for the singer to perform the song.


Lou Villano performing "God Bless America" at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on the Fourth of July

Lou Villano performing the national anthem before a spring training game in 2013.

One day it was Villano’s turn, and he was wise to Fox’s gag.


“I went over to Andy in the dugout. I said, ‘Listen, I’ve done this before here. I guarantee you I’ll be between 1:20 (a minute and 20 seconds) and 1:25.’’’


Two minutes later, as Villano walked off the field after singing, Fox called him over and showed him the stopwatch: 1:23.


“He said, ‘You made me look good!’’’


Xavier Scruggs of the Cardinals chats with Lou Villano just before Lou sang the anthem before a spring game in 2015.

One dream has eluded Villano, who has two sons from a previous marriage and lives in Palm Beach Gardens with Louise.


“I would love to perform the anthem at a major league stadium,’’ he said.


Although Villano’s playing career never blossomed beyond the sandlot leagues, he sees similarities between baseball and singing, especially in the moments before he walks on stage.

“I love the competitiveness of singing and being better and always striving to be perfect. You get motivated, like a ballplayer,’’ he said.

“When the band’s introducing me, I say to myself, ‘OK, people, I’m here. I’m going to make you like me.’ And they do.’’



© 2023 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.


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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.








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