When the future Christian evangelist changed his name from Bernie Lazar Hoffman decades ago, he wanted an Italian-sounding name to replace it. He was inspired, he explained recently, by the success at the time of singers Dean Martin and Al Martino.
The young man, who had been born Jewish in Joplin, Mo., and raised in Montana, picked the name Tony Alamo and set out to become a singer himself. Entertainment was in his blood, with both his father, a Romanian emigre, and mother having been dancers.
Even after he was long established as a religious leader, he did not give up his old passion.
Two years ago, the morning disc jockey of a Fort Smith, Ark., radio station got an invitation to vote for the nation's top male vocalist.
The contest pitted recording giants such as Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers and Julio Iglesias against an unknown singer named Tony Alamo.
Alamo, who has recorded some "easy listening" albums, won. The disc jockey decided to investigate the American D.J. Assn., sponsor of the contest.
He traced the association phone number to Alamo of Nashville, a clothing store. After he reported his detective work over the air, listeners urged him to play an Alamo song. When he did, listeners flooded the switchboard asking him to break the record.
"The American D.J. Assn. was an absolute farce," the Fort Smith disc jockey, Fred Baker, said. "What can you say about this man? He is so bizarre."
"I'm really a pretty good singer," said Alamo, now 53. "The Lord, he gave me that old voice."