Oleg Frish: The Russian Immigrant Who Achieved His Weird and Wonderful American Dream - and How!

Oleg Frish: The Russian Immigrant Who Achieved His Weird and Wonderful American Dream - and How!
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I met Oleg Frish about 8 years ago, when I was doing double duty as the sub rosa producer (unpaid, naturally) and sidekick (ditto) of Joey Reynolds, a popular late night national radio talk show host on Monday-Friday, 1 to 4 am. Phone interviews? Nah! Joey told everybody never to call him at work! If you wanted to be on Joey's show you sat your ass on a chair facing Joey wherever he faced a microphone.

How often were Nathan Lane, Gwyneth Paltrow and Helen Mirren Joey's guests? Nevah! So who shlepped downtown to lower Broadway? Friends of Joey's from his #1 US DJ days -- Rock 'n Rollers who, in their fifties, were still warbling the tunes they'd recorded during the '50's. Especially when they needed free promotion for an upcoming appearance or CD.

Otherwise we filled the nights with ambitious, quirky wannabees who arrived with their starving posses on nights when friendly restaurants, like Little Italy's Cha-Cha's in Bocca Al Lupo or Third Avenue's Sarge's Deli sent over enough vittels for everyone to Mangia! Mangia! or Ess! Ess! till the dawn's early light.

One of my favorite wannabes was Oleg Frish, a Russian émigré who moved to the U.S. in 1992 for the best of all possible reasons. WMNB, an international Russian language radio station in New York offered him a paying job. Oleg was hardly a shlepper in the old country. He held degrees in languages, literature and cultural arts, came from a musical family and loved performing. His first job? A singing psychic who first guessed which song an audience member was thinking about, then turned into a human jukebox -- he knew 12 thousand songs in 24 languages -- and sang that entire song to him/her/them. Oleg also hosted a popular radio show in the USSR on which he interviewed both Russian performers as well as every American singer who toured Russia. A perfect fan, Oleg attended their performances, bought their CDs and knew more about them and their careers than they knew themselves. James Brown swore that Oleg remembered every song he'd had ever recorded, including many that Brown had forgotten singing. Oleg felt his mission was keeping American popular music - from swing to pop rock - alive in Russia, a daunting task.

In the U.S., on the radio and TV shows he hosted, Oleg continued to promote the music of his American idols. These relationships blossomed into friendships which have bloomed into his latest CD: Oleg Frish, Duets with My American Idols. The idea for the duets came from the CD's producer, Allan Schwartzberg, the legendary drummer who's played with performers in every genre from A (Alice Cooper) to Z (Zoot Sims.)

Connie Frances recorded the introduction to Oleg's CD which consists of twosomes with iconic American singers -- Bobby Rydell, Lou Christie, Gary U.S. Bonds, Chris Montez, Melissa Manchester, Tony Orlando, the late Ben E. King, Peggy March, Lainie Kazan, Tony Orlando and B.J. Thomas plus pop classics that Oleg sings on his own.

The intercultural launch of Oleg's CD was роскошный, pronounced roskoshnyy, meaning sumptuous. The party was held in the gold leafed, Baccarat chandeliered grand formal salons of the Russian Consulate, a musically connected mansion once owned by Benny Goodman's father-in-law. The Russian caterer Tatiana, who owns restaurants/nightclubs in New York and Florida, packed a zakuski appetizer buffet with smoked fish and meat canapés, pickled vegetables, cheeses, salads and crudités. The bar flowed with vodka and wines. Fortunately, I nibbled these tidbits with restraint, because on my way to the music salon through a giant foyer, I was waylaid by the irresistibly mouthwateringly scrumptious, perfectly rare, prime- ribless Delmonico roast sliced to order for me ... several times ... along with freshly cooked to order sheer blinis dotted with Russian jam and whipped cream. Those Russians know how to get through a tough winter...or any other season.

Oleg's introductions and the performances were friendly, happy and relaxed. He spoke about his dream, and how making this CD had fulfilled it. The band with Kenny Asher at the keys and Allan Schwartzberg on drums was wonderful. The Bob Mann arrangements were good as gold. One by one, three of Oleg's friends, Lou Christie, Gary U.S. Bonds and Bobby Rydell joined him at the microphone and respectively sang When You're Smiling, You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You and Volare with Oleg. They looked a bit older, still handsome and sexy as ever. Oleg looked wonderful! Younger, slimmer, cuter and totally relaxed vocally. What can I say! A great time was had by all!

As I was leaving I noticed a familiar face. Could it be Marty Berman, the producer who handled me when I flew out to LA several times a year to cook and wisecrack on a national TV show? It was! He's now in New York and the Executive Producer of Geraldo Rivera Radio and obviously a friend of Oleg's! Wow!

Oleg Frish: Duets with My American Idols is available from Amazon, ITunes, Spotify, and Barnes and Noble. To see him, check out his weekly talk show with celebrities and musicians broadcast on RTVI (Russian Television International) Fridays at 4 PM and 11PM and Monday Mornings at 7:30 am.

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