The Music Stylings of James 'Sinatra' Hitchcock
Apr 27, 2015 10:46AM
● By Brandi Barnett
Being FrankMay 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Christy Canafax
Jamie Hitchcock says he’s shy, but that could be an act, a front for one of his many personas. There’s Jamie the family man, then Jamie the handyman, and the more formal James “Sinatra” Hitchcock, so who can really say?
Shy or not, one thing is obvious – Hitchcock likes to laugh. Like, a lot. The laughter seems inseparable from Hitchcock – until he dons the tux, because then it’s all business.
“It’s kind of cool,” he says. “People do look at you a little different once you get that tux on.”
That’s when he becomes James “Sinatra” Hitchcock. And the gig is serious business. It’s hard enough to sing in front of people, but to croon like Ol’ Blue Eyes himself? Definitely not a gig Hitchcock would have predicted. “I loved all kinds of music growing up,” he says – Dean Martin, Sinatra – but Hitchcock never so much as sang in choir, and he hated standing in front of classmates in high school. Impersonating Sinatra in front of strangers? Unthinkable.
“I was a closet singer,” says Hitchcock. But when he became a father, everything changed.
“Some of my shyness started going away after I had kids, almost like my mission in life was to embarrass them,” he says with a laugh. If he could embarrass himself to embarrass his kids, then logically, “ I could get up in front of people and not care if they laugh.”
In the late ‘90s, Hitchcock put his newfound confidence to the test. He sang karaoke at the Visalia Depot, though he admits he never looked up from the screen. And though Hitchcock couldn’t see the crowd, the crowd saw him. A friend asked if he’d perform at a vintage fashion show. They had the garb, they just needed a voice, and Hitchcock agreed.
For the next couple years, Hitchcock performed at the fashion show, but otherwise only “once in a blue moon.” People would ask him, “Where do you sing regularly?” And Hitchcock just laughed, “Well, I don’t.”
Then in 2011, Visalia’s Ice House held auditions for the musical My Way. Hitchcock had never acted before, but he already knew Sinatra’s lyrics by heart, so he thought, “You know, maybe I’ll try out.” He got the lead role.
Ice House lit a fire for Hitchcock, after which his career “just sort of snowballed.” He has since performed regularly for the Visalia Republican Women Federated, the Visalia County Club’s 3rd of July event, and Tulare County’s Family Services Guest Chef Series.
And though Hitchcock now regularly books larger events, he doesn’t shy from backyard parties. No gig is too small, “unless I just can’t get into the room,” he says.
“But my big dream right now,” he says, “is to have a live orchestra behind me one day.” Hitchcock currently performs with backing tracks, and well enough that more than a few event-goers have failed to realize they were listening to a live performance. With the Tulare County Symphony at his back, none could make that mistake. “Wouldn’t that be so cool? Just to be able to get in a sing one song, as they’re rehearsing, even from the back,” says Hitchcock. “I don’t even have to be on stage. I would just love to sing with them.”
The symphony hasn’t approached him – yet. In the meantime, Visalia Holiday Inn has. “They called me,” he says with a laugh, saying they wanted to class the place up. “Me,” he says again, incredulously. “I never though I’d be a lounge singer.” Now Hitchcock performs every other Saturday night at the Mahogany Lounge.
“Actually, I was worried people would get tired of it,” says Hitchcock. But regulars keep coming. That shouldn’t surprise Hitchcock. Long ago, he shed whatever shyness stood between just singing Sinatra and performing Sinatra. The regulars come for the show.
“I can walk out into the crowd, grab somebody up to dance, bring somebody into the song,” says Hitchcock. And whether he’s passing out roses or singing with the audience, “it’s just a kick, just a kick and a half.”
With his recent success, perhaps Hitchcock will follow in Sinatra’s footsteps? Dabble in acting? “Unless I can sing the whole thing, I don’t think there will be an acting career.” Or perhaps there’s a solo career on the horizon? Unlikely. Hitchcock still has his day job: a handyman, “a local man about town,” he says. Which actually sounds an awful lot like something Sinatra would say.
So if you don’t catch him at the Mahogany Lounge on a weekend night or someday singing on stage at the Fox, you might just hear him humming a tune, doing it his way, while painting the walls of your house. Because whether he’s in overalls or a tux, Hitchcock says “there’s always an occasion” for Sinatra.
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