Dean Martin was just one of those amazing guys an entertainer who transcended genre, an icon whose work spanned decades, quintessentially cool before cool was even hip.
But to young Ricci (pronounced "Ricky") the second son with Martin's second wife, Jeanne, and the sixth of Martin's eight children Dean Martin was just Dad.
"There's this concept that he was wild," says Ricci, "that you could walk into his house and see Frank (Sinatra) swinging from the chandelier or Frank and Sammy (Davis, Jr.) hanging out at the bar. But it wasn't like that at all."
When he wasn't working several weeks in Las Vegas and maybe a movie once a year "He was a very simple man, very home-oriented.
"He always made it a point to be home at 5, and we always had dinner at 6 seven children, my parents and my grandmother. After dinner we might go into the family room to watch TV; there were only about nine channels in those days. But my dad did not like parties. He did not like going out."
In fact, says Ricci who now lives in Utah, in the Kamas area it wasn't until his dad started hosting his TV variety show that Ricci really noticed he was a star. "Before that, the movies he did, the shows at Las Vegas, were all for a more mature audience. My peers didn't pay much attention. But once he started coming into their living rooms once a week, that's when he took a huge quantum leap in awareness."
Although Martin died in 1995 (he would have been 90 on June 7) and had retired from show business several years before that, people are still paying attention. His songs, his movies, his whole persona, still attract followers.
Which is one reason Ricci has developed a show called "DINO: A Son Remembers" that he's been taking on the road for more than three years now. "I hesitate to call it a tribute, because that word is so overdone. But I've been asked for years to sing some of Dad's songs."
The show features not only the songs but glimpses into Dean Martin's public and private life, through stories and film clips. Ricci also invites the audience to participate in a question-and-answer session.
He'll be performing the show at Westminster College's Summer Benefit Gala on Friday, June 22. The event will include a reception and pre-show dinner, as well as a meet-and-greet session with Ricci following the concert. Proceeds from the $200-a-seat gala will help fund student scholarships at Westminster.
Ricci will also be doing a second Westminster performance this one simply a concert for the general public the next day, Saturday, June 23. Tickets are $50 for general admission and $40 for students and seniors, also to benefit the college.
"I'm very excited to be doing this for the home crowd," says Ricci. This is the first time he has performed in Salt Lake City, "and that's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I'm also happy that it is going to help a good cause."
The show has been well-received around the country and in Canada, he says. "Dad's fan base is all there." Yes, he says, the audience skews to the white-haired set, and there have been a few minor incidents, such as the exploding oxygen-tank hose. "But, really, we see people of all ages. We see a lot of young people whose parents have turned them on to Dean Martin."
Choosing which songs to sing was not easy, says Ricci. Of course, there are "That's Amore," "Sway," "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" (the song that knocked the Beatles off the No. 1 spot on the charts in 1964) and "Memories Are Made of This."
"But I also want to include some of the more difficult, more esoteric songs that include some of the Italian." And he also adds some country-western songs. "That's what Dad really liked to sing; just like Westerns were his favorite movies."
It is not surprising that Ricci has followed his father into the entertainment business. "I grew up with it. Not that we would ever walk into the house and hear Dad's songs playing on the stereo. Or even Frank's. It was always someone else. But there was always music."
In his 20s, Ricci hooked up with the Beach Boys' producer, "and I participated in that magical, intangible quest for hit records."
But Ricci is also into record producing, and when he built his log home in Utah, he added a recording studio. He was mostly working there until he and Billy Hinsche got talking. "Billy had been in my brother's band, and we got talking about doing a show of Dad's music. He thought it was a no-brainer. We spent three weeks putting it together, tried it out in a small lounge in Las Vegas performing between a fake Neil Diamond and a fake Elvis and found it worked. We started touring nationwide."
His show and his life incorporate lessons he learned from his father. "He was not afraid to fail. I think that came across in his TV show. I think that's why women and men loved him. He never seemed like a threat. He never let superstardom affect him."
At the same time, "he did what he wanted to do. And he made it look so easy that he convinced people he was a natural. But he was an incredible craftsman, an incredible technician. He had a career in music and movies and television when a career in any one of those fields would be a major accomplishment. He had them all, which was hard enough, let alone be funny."
He always "kept it real," says Ricci. "He was a man of few words and would not sit down and talk a lot, but he figured everyone knew right from wrong."
Ricci remembers a time when he did something that was bad enough that his mother, who usually took care of discipline, told his dad he had to talk to the boy. "Dad took me into the den and said, 'What you did was wrong. Don't do it again.' I said OK and got up to leave, and he said, 'Wait a minute, we've only been in here two minutes, and your mother is expecting us to be here at least 10 minutes, so you better stay awhile.' So we did."
His dad always treated everyone the same, says Ricci. "Whether it was the shoeshine man or the studio VIP, they were the same to him. And he was absolutely color-blind. That's another thing I learned from him."And Ricci has passed many of the lessons he learned on to his own children three girls, age 10-14. "I used to do this for me. Now I do it for their braces," he jokes. "But they are the love of my life. They are what it's all about."
If you go
What: "DINO: His Son Remembers," Ricci Martin
Where: Vieve Gore Concert Hall, Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory, Westminster College
When: benefit gala, June 22, 6 p.m.; concert, June 23, 7 p.m.
How much: benefit gala, $200; concert, $40-$50.Phone: 832-2457