Unbelievable. That word keeps coming to mind anytime the subject of Jimmy Angel arises. A vigorous, rafter-raising showman with steely tenor pipes and wild stage moves copped from James Brown and Jackie Wilson, Angel looks nothing like a man who has spent the last 60 years shouting the big beat gospel and he sure as hell doesn’t look 84, yet he is.
His career path is equally improbable yet all verifiably true: plucked from obscurity circa '59 to become the teen idol protégé of infamous Mafia Don Joe Colombo (who took control of the Profaci Family in 1963), Angel was a fixture at the Copacabana, Peppermint Lounge and a million other joints. One of them, Fun City, was where he opened for Jimi Hendrix but save the disbelief, because that night Colombo rival Crazy Joey Gallo dispatched a couple of goons who opened fire on him from the audience. They missed him, killed an innocent bystander and got away clean — just another day at the office for Jimmy.
After Colombo was gunned down in Columbus Circle on live TV at one of his notorious Italian American Civil Rights League events — featuring Angel, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tom Jones — the singer did time in Nashville and Hollywood and spent decades in Tokyo, where he worked at Yakuza afterhours clubs, did halftime shows at Tokyo Dome and sang ballads at Tokyo Disneyland while Mickey and Minnie skated together.
But the most unbelievable of all is his brand new Love Fever album, as potent a dose of Angel’s thunderingly old school rock & roll as humankind can bear.
An all-original set equally split between numbers Angel wrote years ago and some strikingly fresh new compositions, it showcases both the singer’s category 5 vocals and his brilliant producer-guitarist Jason Gutierrez’s dynamic playing.
“Jason did a great job, he gets Triple A’s,” Angel says. “This album is very important — I’m gonna be 84 on May 16 and I’m pretty sure I won’t be around to do says one.”
The long-standing Angel agenda is as simple and direct as the man himself:
“My dream is to bring the '50s back. That’s what Pops [Colombo] wanted too, but he got shot before we could do it.”
That alliance remains ever present for Angel: “I can never repay the Colombo family for what they did. I’d be washing dishes if it wasn’t for them, my readin’ and writin’ ain’t too good, but when those guys found me in a record store, it was fate.”
His live shows are chronically electrifying, particularly his every first Saturday residency at Burbank movie star hang the Smoke House:
“The Smoke House is the closest thing to the Copa,” Angel says. “We just broke the Captain and Tennile’s attendance record there — when we play it’s boob to boob and booty to booty by 8 p.m. — there’s no place to sit or even dance. I’m just trying to survive — I want go out rockin’, not on my knees.”