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Steve Lawrence brings lifetime of experience to new album

Steve LawrenceEydie GormeThe Tonight ShowTwo and a Half Men (tv program)Tim Conway

Steve Lawrence loved to talk music with Frank Sinatra. During one of their chats, the Chairman of the Board asked Lawrence to name his favorite song.

"I said, there are a lot of wonderful songs out there," Lawrence, 78, recalled in a recent interview. "He said, 'Name one.' I said OK, 'Moonlight in Vermont.' He said 'Why?' I said well to be honest it's the only American popular song I can think of that doesn't have a rhyme."

Sinatra was taken aback. "He said, 'Really? I recorded that song.' And he starts to sing it to me across the table."

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Then Lawrence starts softly singing the standard at a corner table in a small restaurant at a Beverly Hills hotel.

"Pennies in a stream

Fallen leaves of sycamore

Moonlight in Vermont"

Lawrence is pitch perfect, and sounds just as he did more than 50 years ago when he topped the charts with "Portrait of My Love" and "Go Away Little Girl."

"I never really abused my voice," noted Lawrence. "When I was a kid I smoked and then stopped maybe 30 years ago. I drink — socially." 

Ron Dante, who produced Lawrence's new album, "When You Come Back to Me Again," which Curb Records released this month exclusively on Amazon, said Lawrence "sounds like a young man. When we would turn on the microphone I became a fan again."

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The album is dedicated to Lawrence's late wife and singing partner, Eydie Gorme, who died in August in Las Vegas, at the age of 84. The couple, who were often referred to as the Lunts of Las Vegas, had been married for more than 55 years.

The album, which features songs by such composers as Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow and Neil Sedaka, as well as such standards as "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "That Sunday, That Summer," was completed before Gorme's death.

"Eydie heard that album and she thought it was terrific," Lawrence said softly. When Gorme died, the release date was put on hold. When Lawrence was approached recently about the release, he told them, "Let's put it out for Valentine's Day."

Lawrence couldn't recall the last time he recorded a new studio album. Then Dante called out of the blue a few years ago. The producer and his girlfriend had seen Lawrence and Gorme perform at the Stardust in Las Vegas right before the hotel closed in 2006.

"He just stunned me with his voice, so a little time later, I finally got his number and called him and said what are you doing?" said Dante. "I would love to produce you."

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Lawrence and Dante picked out songs for the album. "What a joyous experience it was," said Dante. "I could see his mind working as he sang the songs. I could see him digesting what does [this lyric] really mean. He is a legendary talent."

Lawrence also recently did an episode of "Two and a Half Men" with pals Carl Reiner, Tim Conway and Garry Marshall. "It was fun to be with those guys," said Lawrence, who showed his comedic side on countless comedy-variety shows over the years, as well as playing Maury Sline, the fast-talking, gold-chain wearing agent in the 1980 comedy "The Blues Brothers" and in 1998's "Blues Brothers 2000."

Earlier in the week, Lawrence and Carol Burnett, whom he has known for nearly six decades, recorded a "Conversation With" for Sirius' Siriusly Sinatra channel. Conway, who worked with Lawrence several times on "The Carol Burnett Show," was also on hand. Conway first met Lawrence and Gorme more than 50 years ago, while appearing on  "The Steve Allen Plymouth Show."

"They were kind of starting out in the business as I was and we were all in the same boat," said Conway. "He was just a charming guy to be around. He still is."

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Conway paused. "Losing Eydie... I mean they were one word."

Lawrence was 17 when he met Gorme. Lawrence was going into the famed Brill Building in New York where music industry offices and studios were located. Gorme, and a mutual friend, singer Bob Manning, were leaving the building.

"Bob said, "I want you to meet Eydie Gorme.' She had her hair in a ponytail and her ponytail hit me in my face."

They became friends while performing on "The Tonight Show," with host Steve Allen beginning in 1953 before it went national. Four years later, they married.

 Though they found success as solo artists — Gorme's biggest hit was "Blame It on the Bossa Nova" — their work as a duo was their calling card. Their first album together, "We Got Us,"  won a Grammy. They toured together in concerts and were regulars in Las Vegas, co-starred in numerous TV shows and appeared on Broadway together in 1968 in the musical "Golden Rainbow."

"Her range was better than three octaves," said Lawrence. "She could sing with almost anybody. But she enjoyed singing with me.

"We were attached at the hip — Steve-and-Eydie," said Lawrence, emotion welling up in his voice. "It was like we were one person — to be married that long."

susan.king@latimes.com

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Steve LawrenceEydie GormeThe Tonight ShowTwo and a Half Men (tv program)Tim Conway
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