Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Wayne Newton has seen his fair share of controversy and financial problems over his nearly six-decade career. However, Mr. Las Vegas is still standing—and will be bringing his Vegas swagger to Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Friday, Dec. 2.

During a recent phone interview, I asked him what makes him still love singing.

“I think it’s the fact I’ve done it my whole life,” Newton said. “When I was 4 years old, my parents took me to see a Grand Ole Opry roadshow that had come to Norfolk, Va., which is where I’m from originally. On the show was Hank Williams and many of the other greats of country music. We were way up in the nosebleed section, given my father was an auto mechanic, and we couldn’t afford better seats than that. I couldn’t even see the performers. I found myself looking around at the faces of the audience, and I saw the happiness that they were deriving from those performers and those songs. I turned to my mother and said, ‘That’s what I want to do!’ I wanted to bring that kind of happiness to people myself. I think that’s what’s always been my motivating force.”

What about days when Wayne Newton feels under the weather? He said experience helps him pull through.

“I think that from the work ethic that I had to develop at such a young age, singing in the lounges in Vegas at the age of 15—six shows a day, six days a week—I kept learning different instruments to provide me with some vocal relief,” he said. “The one thing I learned is that’s when you earn your money—when you go onstage, and you’re not feeling good. I’ve always had a rule with my musicians: Being sick is OK, but if you’re not in the hospital, you’d better be onstage. There’s no question that it’s taxing when you don’t feel well.”

Newton has been revered as a singer and entertainer, but he’s never been known for songwriting and putting out original material—and he’s OK with that. He mentioned a song that he did about Elvis, based on a letter written by Elvis that Newton bought through a Sotheby’s auction.

“That’s never been something that’s motivated me as much as doing songs that I love to sing, and songs that bring happiness to the people,” he said about songwriting. “I am not one of those performers who would be happy walking out on stage and going, ‘And then I wrote, and then I wrote, and then I wrote.’ I have always wanted to do what people wanted to hear. I wrote a song called ‘The Letter’ which went No. 1 on the country chart, and that was fun, and I still get requests to do that song, but it’s such a downer, because I wrote it after Elvis Presley died.”

Speaking of Elvis: Newton was not only a fan, but a close friend.

“When I met him, he was so unassuming and the first one to find humor in what people thought of him,” Newton said. “He never took himself seriously in any way. We became really good friends and remained friends until the day he passed away. His father called me the night that he did pass and told me when I was working at the Frontier in Vegas.”

There’s no doubt that Newton still loves Las Vegas, even with all of the changes the city has gone through.

“I think it will continue to change. It certainly has changed in the years I’ve been here since I came here in 1959,” he said. “When I came here, it was Frank, Sammy, Dean and Elvis. I got put into the mix somewhere in there. Then as some years passed, and those people passed, there were fewer real stars who could fill the showrooms. The shows and the management of the hotels turned to a different idea. The first idea was the magicians; that went on for about 10 years. Then it went through the impressionist stage with Danny Gans, Rich Little and people like that who were doing impressions of other performers. Now we’re going through the Cirque faze. But in the last four or five years, it has started to go back to star policy again. … Now we have Celine Dion, J-Lo, Britney Spears, Elton John and all of them are doing two weeks and coming back a year later doing another two weeks. They’re doing permanent stays in the hotels they’re in. The star performer is coming back, and it’s full circle. It’ll probably last five to 10 years, and they’ll move on to something else.

“Thank god there’s always been room for me! The thing I love about Vegas is that there’s room for every kind of show. It doesn’t matter what it is. Where else could you go around the world and find that many shows and that many stars on one street on any given night? The sound systems are great; the show rooms are great; and the lighting is great.”

Regarding his problems in the business and financial world, he offered some perspective.

“As I was coming up in the business and working as many nights as I worked, we had to depend on managers and business managers,” he said. “Those people took great advantage of the performers, including myself. There’s no one to blame but yourself in so many ways. On the other hand, when you are a performer who is recording, doing television and motion pictures, and performing in nightclubs, you don’t have the time to consider the true business end of it, and you have to turn it over to someone to trust—and finding people to trust when it comes to money is a very difficult thing to do.”

Wayne Newton will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 2 at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $55 to $65. For more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit

Published in Previews

It’s February, and you know what that means: Love is in the air for Valentine’s Day, and it’s also the month of Modernism Week.

Here are some local events during our shortest month.

The McCallum Theatre is booked solid through February with a ton of events. Cesar Millan will be stopping by the McCallum at 3 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 9. Although his famous show on the National Geographic Channel, Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan, has ended, Millan is still sharing his techniques and wisdom in the field of dog-training; this live show should be a real treat (no pun intended) for dog-owners. Tickets are $45 to $75. Frank Sinatra Jr. (right) will be stopping by post Valentine’s Day, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15. Although the younger Frank may be best known as the victim of a famous kidnapping, he is a talented performer in his own right, and has also branched out into acting over the years. Tickets are $45 to $85. Boz Scaggs will be at the McCallum at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 18. The sometimes-lead singer of the Steve Miller Band was a songwriting powerhouse in the ’70s and continues to put on a great show. Tickets are $55 to $95. Roberta Flack will be appearing at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 22. Flack had a No. 1 hit in with “Killing Me Softly With His Song”; The Fugees would return the song to the top of the charts in 1996. Tickets are $35 to $85. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787;

After a slower January, Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has some fantastic events in the second half of February. If you’re a fan of soft rock, Air Supply (bottom of page) will be softly rocking for a special performance on Valentine’s Day, at 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14. Tickets are $35 to $55. The great Johnny Mathis will be appearing at 6 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 16. The romantic-ballads singer has been performing since 1956 and was one of a handful of crooners from his era who survived the wave of rock ’n’ roll. Tickets are $60 to $100. For fans of Jeff Dunham, you’ll be pleased to know that he will be joined by Walter, Peanut, Achmed the Dead Terrorist and the rest of the puppet gang at Agua Caliente at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 22. Tickets are $85 to $135. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

Spotlight 29 Casino doesn’t have a lot of events in February, but there are a couple worth noting. Kenny “Babyface” Edwards will be performing on Valentine’s Day, at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14. The ’80s R&B star has had a long and successful career; not bad for a guy who originally started playing with Bootsy Collins—the man who gave Edwards his famous “Babyface” moniker. Tickets are $55 to $75. There will also be a tribute to Creedence Clearwater Revival at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 21. Attendance is free. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566;

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a spectacular list of events for February. Chicago will be appearing at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 7. The band has been around since 1967, and still features four of the founding members. Since Terry Kath’s unintentional self-inflicted shooting death in 1978, the band has experienced a series of ups and downs, but they are survivors and have continued to make great music. Also: In Little Nicky, Adam Sandler discovered a rather hilarious subliminal message if you play their self-titled debut album backward during “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” If you haven’t seen it, YouTube it! It’ll blow your mind. Tickets are $39 to $69. CeeLo Green will be performing at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15. The singer of “F**k You” (or “Forget You,” whichever version you prefer) has managed to escape the potential one-hit wonder status used to describe his former project, Gnarls Barkley. While Danger Mouse swears that he and CeeLo will make another Gnarls Barkley album, Green’s success as a solo artist seems to throw that into question. Tickets are $39 to $69. Rick Springfield will be performing the following evening, at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 16. The soap opera actor and “Jessie’s Girl” hit-maker has a fanatical, mostly female following. He’s still wildly popular and is the subject of a recent documentary, An Affair of the Heart, currently available via Netflix. Tickets are $29 to $49. Fresh out of bankruptcy court, Wayne Newton will be performing at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 23. While Newton was the king of Vegas and has remained a music icon, recent photos of him seem to prove that age and plastic surgery don’t always go hand in hand. Tickets are $29 to $49. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway; 760-342-5000;

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, per usual, has some good shows booked for February. At 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 2, Futurebirds will be performing. The experimental indie band recently released a new album, Baba Yaga. They have been described as a “psychedelic country” band and have toured with the likes of the Drive-By Truckers, Widespread Panic and others. Admission is free. At 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14, Pappy’s will host a Valentine’s Day show with Ferraby Lionheart. Lionheart is an indie-rock performer out of Los Angeles. He has some very catchy tunes that will make for a non-traditional Valentine’s Day show. Take your sweetheart to Pappy’s for some pre-show barbecue and then enjoy the show; you won’t be disappointed—plus admission is free. There will be a show not to miss from Moistboyz (right) at 8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 27. Moistboyz is a project that includes Dean Ween, formerly of Ween; Nick Oliveri, formerly of Queens of the Stone Age; and vocalist Guy Heller. The project has been around since 1994, when they released their debut album on the Beastie Boys’ now-defunct Grand Royal label. After the breakup of Dean and Gene Ween, it’s not a surprise Dean Ween has resurrected Moistboyz. The current touring lineup also includes Hoss Wright of Oliveri’s Mondo Generator. Tickets are $15. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

After requesting a list of events from The Date Shed, I was informed that the venue is now heading in a direction toward more private events. However, the venue still hosts shows from time to time. Along with the Tribal Seeds show, The Date Shed has Ozzmania booked at 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 7. Ozzmania, a local Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute band, has received acclaim for excellent covers. A true metal fan wouldn’t miss it—plus it’s a free show, so there’s no excuse for not attending. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699;

The Hood Bar and Pizza has some great local shows going on. At 10 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 6, The Hoodwill host the second monthly Industry Night, featuring DJ Angelique. Attendance is free. At 10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 7, Mikey Raines Acoustic Movement will be performing, with The Hive Minds opening. Derek Gregg and Sean Poe of the Hive Minds are starting to sound tighter and tighter as they keep playing regularly. Since they parted ways with bassist Patrick “Tricky” Mitchem, they have yet to find a permanent replacement, but have brought in friends on occasion. Attendance is free. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 8, the aforementioned Mondo Generator will take the stage. While Nick Oliveri and some of the members of Mondo Generator are playing with Moistboyz at Pappy and Harriet’s later in the month, this is another not-to-miss show featuring Oliveri. At 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14, Long Duk Dong will be returning for a Valentine’s Day Show that will be themed like a 1980s prom. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220;

The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs will be hosting Haunted Summer at 10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 21. After a successful show at Pappy and Harriet’s in January, the Los Angeles dream-pop duo is happy to be doing a performance for us here in the low desert. The Ace Hotel, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-325-9900;

Published in Previews