"Live from the world famous Las Vegas Strip and the Michael Gaughan South Point Casino and Spa, in the entertainment capital of the world, it's The Dennis Bono Show!"
Dennis Bono is introduced and out he comes in his relaxed dress attire with the open collar dress shirt and tailored suit, and his band is playing along with a Las Vegas Showgirl to greet him and hand him his microphone, and he begins the show with one of his standards.
While Dennis is smoothly singing his song, and then doing his monologue welcoming the audience, I am immediately struck with images of Frank Sinatra's cool singing delivery and the wit and humor of Johnny Carson. And that is very appropriate as those two legends have been huge influences on Bono both directly and indirectly. Dennis was discovered by Frank Sinatra while as a young singer finding his path in the music business, and he would later fashion his radio show after Carson's 'Tonight Show'.
I could just imagine what it must have been like to see Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, or Joey Bishop performing for audiences, and how wonderful it is that Dennis keeps that type of showmanship alive through his performance. The Dennis Bono Show is truly the next best thing to those golden times of the live stage variety show.
I had a chance to catch up with Dennis at his beautiful Bootleggers Italian Bistro on the famed Las Vegas Boulevard Strip to talk about his life as a kid growing up in Bloomfield, CT. (which happens to be my hometown as well); how he met Frank Sinatra who changed the trajectory of his life and career; his beautiful wife - Lorraine; and living the good life in Las Vegas.
Q&A with Dennis Bono
Dennis, first I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to let our readers in the HubPages Universe know about your work and accomplishments as a singer and entertainer here in beautiful Las Vegas.
RW) Like me, you are from the great state of Connecticut. What was it like for you growing up there, and when did you know you wanted a career in show business?
DB) I grew up in Bloomfield, CT. a wonderful suburban town of Hartford where kids really were nurtured and allowed to explore their talents. I had a great interest in music and there were so many people there who encouraged me to pursue music.
However, I was actually expelled from kindergarten for doing an impression of Johnny Ray. Not sure your readers would know who Johnny Ray was, but long before Elvis, there was Johnny, and I decided to do one of his routines during show and tell and I ripped my shirt off. Well, I was thrown out of class for that performance, but that was my first foray into getting into show business. I loved it. You know, it was the values I got growing up in that town is what ultimately got me on that long journey to here and now.
RW) I recently did a feature article on the late CT. State Senator, Lewis "Lew" Rome, and then shortly after publishing that article, Bloomfield High school principle, Lou Schiavone, passed away. These were two great Bloomfield guys. How did these two gentleman impact your life?
DB) Well, my ex in-laws knew Lew Rome, and I knew Lew Rome. He is part of a great history in Bloomfield. He would become a state senator and very important to the political community of the state, but - he was a hometown guy, and he never lost sight of that.
And when you talk about Lou Schiavone (big smile comes across his face), I knew Lou Schiavone - he was the assistant basketball coach when Bloomfield High became the state champions. I was still in Jr. High at the time. By the time I got to high school, Schiavone was the vice principle, and he "scorched" me pretty good (with a chuckle). But, he eventually took a liking to me. He was a "straight-shooter" and just a good guy. I got to know him and his family over the years. I remember him and his wife, a lovely family. Great sense of humor. You know, I was one of those guys in high school that was constantly looking for a laugh and trying to get people to laugh, and I got Lou Schiavone and his wife to laugh. Great memories of wonderful people in Bloomfield. This was a town where people had great values that stuck with me 'til this day.
RW) Connecticut is a small state, were you able to find much work as a singer, and what was your big break to tour and perform at some of the bigger professional venues?
DB) Well, I did weddings, and of course had a band in high school. You know, looking for attention. If you had a band you got to meet girls (big chuckle). There wasn't a lot of work, but we worked on weekends, and that was better than pumping gas. A lot of the guys were like "look at this guy Dennis, we're doing this work and he's out singing making twice as much money, (laughs) but you know - I didn't even think about that. I was having fun and it was the process that groomed me for what would later come in my career.
RW) It is my understanding that it was the chairman of the board himself, Frank Sinatra, who played a pivotal role in your career trajectory. How did you come to meet him, and what was the break in your career he set up for you?
DB) Well, you know it was a long journey before my name and voice came to the attention of Frank Sinatra. I did two years in the army, and when I got out of the army, rather than becoming a teacher, which is what I studied to become, I decided I was going to really give this singing a professional try.
I did my due diligence, taking gigs from Poughkeepsie, NY to Toledo, OH. There was always a nightclub somewhere where you could get a gig, and of course, the music at that time lent itself for the "American Songbook" singers. I mean - you know, we did rock-n-roll of course and were listening and playing the Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons, but quietly, I was a closet Sinatra guy. I'd be listening and singing Sinatra wishing I could be that cool (he says while snapping his fingers to a tune in his head).
There was an entire circuit of nightclubs, like the Playboy clubs, all across the country and I became a regular act on that circuit and really learned my craft as a professional singer. So, I decided to record an album in Los Angeles, and ran across a guy who was a kid at the time who became my dearest friend, and would go on to become one of the great record producers who produced my first album that Sinatra heard. But, by this time I had grown weary of the constant travel and not really sure where my career was going, so I went back to Hartford, CT. where I took on a job as the entertainment director for the Sonesta Hotel.
I get a call from Sinatra's people saying they heard my album and would I come to New York to meet with them. I did, and my life changed from that moment. They wanted me to work with them, and Frank's guy, Jilley Rizzo, became my manager.
They flew me out to Vegas and my career path now had a direction. And, here I am all these years later.
RW) Would you say Frank Sinatra is still the "gold standard" when it comes to being a crooner of pop standards and jazz classics?
DB) For me, yes - Sinatra would be the standard. But Frank sang from the great American Songbook which includes some really great and timeless music, and so if you are gifted with a good voice, and have a style along with great song interpretation, you can find an audience with this music.
You find today these young pop singers who are doing songs from the great American Songbook that were written in the 40's and 50's, and this tells you how great this music is, and how well written the songs are. I liken it to say Shakespeare in literature. They will be doing Hamlet 100 years after you and I are gone, and do you know why? Because it was so well done that every actor will be able to interpret Hamlet, but it will still always be Shakespeare. I feel this is true of the American Songbook.
RW) How would you describe who you are as a singer, and who were some of your big influences coming up in the music world?
DB) You know, Frank Sinatra once told me, "don't do songs you don't believe in". Now, of course - when you are young and starting out you might do songs that are famous because you are not famous, and so you do songs you have to in order to work.
What happens over time, as you get older and wiser, you start putting your own identity and interpretation into the music and that's when you really develop your style. In my life, Frank is the one who taught me that.
If you look at Frank Sinatra as a young singer, he was the crooner. It was about the sound and style. But then, Frank - as he got older - he was singing about what he believed in and about his lifestyle or life. Whether it was happy go-lucky, or melancholy and broken-heartedness. He decided to become the consummate actor in the material that he was singing.
Listen, I am 71 years old now. I graduated from Bloomfield High school in 1965, and I have done all the styles of music there is. At this stage of my life, I have been influenced by so many wonderful singers, who have become friends of mine, but Frank was the one who taught me the life lesson on remaining true in song to who you are. And so I try to approach it as the actor would in making you believe in what I am singing about.
RW) Who are some of the young crooners out there today that you like as singers?
DB) Well, you know in Vegas there is a ton of them and I try to bring them on my show. And you know many of them are understanding what I have just shared with you and that is most gratifying. To pick just one or two of the young singers today would be unfair because there are so many good, good singers that your readers probably wouldn't know them by name, and if they do - then that singer is achieving what they set out to do (Big smile).
I remember this kid, Daniel Emmett, who was on America's Got Talent, and he's doing the cocktail cabaret circuit now. I brought him on my show when he was 17 years old and I remember saying then if this kid stays focused, he's going to be a star, and he is well on his way to becoming that.
It's a matter of learning your craft. If you can learn your craft - I could say that to you because I know that you aspire to become a film producer - if you learn your craft, you can become very successful.
Frank use to say that the problem today is that no one has learned how to fail. Failure can teach you how to be successful. Finding out what works, what doesn't work, and as you get older, you start to understand that. Know your audience and what they want, and when you give it to them, you'll have real success. But, it's a process and it takes time.
RW) I know your career has taken you to some of the best known performance venues around the world, including here in Vegas where you decided to settle. Why did you choose to settle here in Vegas, what year did you come and how has Vegas changed over the years since you first started performing here?
DB) Vegas was always the goal, this is the entertainment capitol of the world. Like I have said, I think I have performed in just about every city in the United States at clubs, and Vegas is where everyone is trying to get to. Still, to this day. I mean, Lady Gaga has started a residency here - why? Because it is the entertainment capitol.
RW) We have been talking about our hometown of Bloomfield, CT. I heard from a former classmate of yours, Pauline Mumford, that you had a group of them come out for a visit. How many came and what was that like?
DB) Pauline - what a dear heart she has always been. It was like 30 classmates came, and I put them up in the hotel, and we went to shows. I mean it was just a blast. We had so much fun, and you know, that is because of the bond we all made going back to 1965. What's funny is, when people are special in each other's lives, you pick up right where you left off with the friendship. Doesn't matter who I am, or who they are in business or with accomplishments, we were those kids again who bonded all those years ago. A very special and fun time we shared.
RW) We have talked about your life as a singer and how you got here to Vegas, but you are also a well-known variety radio show host of "The Dennis Bono Show", and I just learned from you before we started this conversation, of another show. Tell me about them and how they came about for you.
DB) Yes, well the other show is, "Breaking Bread with Dennis Bono", and about 20 years ago I had just come off a tour in Japan, and I could see how much Vegas was changing with how it was booking entertainers, and as we have discussed, I am from the great American Songbook genre, but could see a shift more towards Pop and the contemporary music of the day.
I felt that I needed to find another outlet for what I do and remain relevant. So, I thought of this idea of doing a Johnny Carson type of variety show where I would come out on stage, do a song and a monologue, and have the artists who were being booked here at the various Casino showrooms, come on to my show, sing a song, have a little chat about their shows and have some real fun chats about what's going on in their lives. So, I went into a radio station that was housed at one of the casinos here, and they gave me a shot, and it was a huge success.
This year marks 19 years that we have been doing these shows, I just signed for another year, and I am thrilled. We have interviewed over the years, just about every big name act that has performed here from Celine Dione, Wayne Newton, Tony Orlando, The Righteous Brothers, Crystal Gayle...Jerry Lewis, Steve Lawrence you name them. I mean, I can't even reflect upon it, the list is so long. And, like Carson did for up-start comics, I try to always have young and talented lesser known names on the show because this town has so many gifted artists, and many of those will become the headliners at some point.
We tape the show live in the Showroom at South Point Hotel and Casino every Thursday, and it goes out live across America on 191 radio stations on every Friday.
I have found my niche. I tell you - I thought if I got 6 years out of it, that would be a good thing. And now, here we are 19 years later.
RW) Can you share what is one of the craziest things a celebrity has ever done on your show that actually had you speechless?
DB) (Long pause with a big smile and then he chuckles), well I don't know if I can share some of the antics of some of my celebrity guest artists. There was a famed actor of the 40's and 50's named Mickey Rooney and - well, I can't share it...but it was something else. Then you had people like Jerry Lewis, and you never knew what Jerry was going to do - but it was always such great fun to just go along for the ride.
RW) I believe that about Jerry Lewis. Maybe once this interview is over you can tell me what Mickey Rooney said or did...?
DB) Sure, yeah, yeah - after the interview, I'll tell you (with a big devilish grin).
RW) That is great. Speaking of finding something special in your life, like most of us fortunate to find the loves of our lives, you found yours and "married up". Who is your special lady for whom I understand is the former Lieutenant Governor of Nevada - so, I know she keeps you on point.
DB) I did indeed marry up. No one could ask for a better friend and life partner than Lorraine Hunt-Bono. Yes, she was Lieutenant Governor and ran for Governor, and I tell her this all the time, she did not win the Governor seat because nobody in Nevada wanted me as the first lady of the state (chuckle).
We run Bootleggers Italian Bistro - it's our restaurant. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week. To all of your readers, come on out and see us here, you'll have some great food and drink in a great social atmosphere with live music. Lorraine and I work very hard to make sure of that for all of our guests.
RW) If you were asked to give the commencement speech for the 2019 graduating class at the University of Las Vegas, what would you say to those young people facing the start of their adult lives?
DB) Keep your sense of humor! Don't take everything so seriously that you lose your joy. Everything has become so serious that we have an entire generation of people walking on egg-shells now. So much is about doing what is "politically correct" that we have lost our sense of what is really important.
This country has been through so much where our parents, many of whom were immigrants and could not even speak English, maintained their sense of humor to get through the hard times, and were able to even laugh at themselves, and our idiosyncrasies, and accept every one else's, and if we keep that sense of humor, this country will head in the right direction again. If we don't, and we keep picking things a part, I'm afraid we are doomed. Keep Your Sense of Humor!
Thank you Dennis Bono for this interview. You have a remarkable career and I know the readers of this article will follow your radio show as you continue to share good humor and great talents from Las Vegas. You are indeed, Livin' La Vida Las Vegas!
Dennis Bono, the consummate interpreter of the Great American Songbook, was proclaimed by the Chicago Tribune as a “thoroughbred singer, born and bred to sing.” Dennis started out in the ‘70s and was discovered by Jilly Rizzo, a close friend and confidant to Frank Sinatra who helped guide his career. Now, celebrating 17 years starring as the host of his own successful musical/variety/talk show broadcast featuring performers and celebrities in the famous 'City of Entertainment,' Las Vegas!"
— CD Baby
Dennis Bono Website & Music Discography
Dennis Bono Radio Show Photo Gallery
Other Notable Celebrities From Hartford, CT. (to name a few)
Who's Who of Celebrities Who Grew Up in Connecticut
A Clip of the Opening of The Dennis Bono Show as it is taped Live
Dennis Discussing What He Hopes His Audience Takes With Them After Seeing His Show
Dennis Bono - This Is What Makes Him A Favorite With Audiences In Las Vegas.
Dennis & Lorraine's World Famous, Bootleggers Italian Bistro
The Bootleggers Italian Bistro is World Famous for Great Food and History
Follow Dennis on Facedbook
Dennis Bono Show "Official Fan Page". 594 likes · 29 talking about this. Every Thursday at 2PM at Michael Gaughan's South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa
- #dennisbonoshow hashtag on Twitter
On 21 Mar 2013 @LydiaAnsel tweeted: "@BarrStarr @BBRlasvegas @tarapalsha @sav.." - read what others are saying and join the conversation.
Sharon Callahan from South Carolina ladson on May 14, 2020:
wow you look so handsome on here
Lisa Barall on January 22, 2019:
Ah Dennis, we do go back a long way from life in Laurel Park. While we have a few years between us I believe we were connected because of my dad Stan Barall. All the best to you and keep on singing and having fun!
Joan Perkell Zieky on January 21, 2019:
Didn’t you hang out at our house with my brother Mark? BHS ‘63.
Good old Laurel Park!
Debbi Stroll Freedman on January 21, 2019:
I haven’t seen you since you used to come to our house on Filley Street with Liz! I am glad to see that your career took off in the direction you wanted it to. In case you have forgotten who I am, I am Louis Ferri‘s stepdaughter, Debbi! By the way my sister Robin now lives in Vegas. I would love to come and see one of your shows sometime!!!
TLC on January 19, 2019:
Nice article. I’ld Love to see his show!
Robert Walker (author) from Atlanta, GA. on January 18, 2019:
What fun it was to visit Dennis Bono at Bootleggers Italian Bistro and chat about his life experiences as a kid growing up in Connecticut and his career as a entertainer. And I gotta tell you - the man doesn't look a day past 50, so people in Las Vegas and tourists who go to his show, or to his restaurant, are in for a real treat for many years to come. ;-)
Thank you Dennis!