After 32 years of building what is arguably one of the world's largest collections of Frank Sinatra records, tapes and memorabilia, pop music fanatic Ric Ross finally got the one item money can't buy--a pat on the back from the man himself.
"I'm certain that Ric Ross knows more about me than I do myself," the 72-year-old Sinatra said last week through a spokesman when asked about the man who professes to be his No. 1 fan. "I'm flattered by the attention he's shown my career."
When told of Sinatra's remarks, Ross, a Newbury Park financial consultant, swooned just like the bobby-soxers who first propelled Sinatra to fame during the 1940s. "He said that?" Ross asked.
The comments of Sinatra, whose 52 years of performing have earned him millions of fans worldwide, should come as no surprise to Ross. Record companies, Sinatra publicists and even Nancy Sinatra consult Ross, whether to check the date of a particular performance or to borrow some of his one-of-a-kind memorabilia.
"He's more than a fan; he's a Sinatra historian," said Dorothy Uhlemann, Sinatra's personal assistant of 21 years. "When we have a question we just call Ric, and most of the time he can just rattle off the answer."
What Ross can't recall by memory he can check through the intricate file system that fills one bedroom of his home and spills out into his garage. His collection includes floor-to-ceiling shelves containing records, tapes and books, as well as 4-drawer file cabinets bulging with movie magazines, performance programs, photographs and newspaper articles.
On one wall of the converted bedroom, there is a poster announcing the Aug. 14, 1943, West Coast premiere of Sinatra at the Hollywood Bowl. Typical of the scope of his collection, Ross also has the event's original program, photographs of the performance and a tape-recording of the show, the highlight, Ross said, being the song "Night and Day."
There are in Ross' collection every foreign and domestic album and single recorded by Sinatra--more than 2,000 discs, including rare 33 r.p.m. singles. In addition, Ross has about 600 reel-to-reel tape recordings of live performances and radio shows, and at least 400 videotapes of performances and Sinatra movies.
Ross said he has spent tens of thousands of dollars on the collection that he estimates is, if not priceless, now worth in the neighborhood of a quarter to a half a million dollars.
At the heart of Ross' collection is a diary, a binder of 8 1/2x11-inch sheets of paper for every month since January, 1935, the year Sinatra began his professional singing career with the Hoboken Four. Each sheet is divided into 31 squares, and in each square are codes that designate performances, recording dates and any other Sinatra event that Ross deems historically significant.
For example, a square that shows "R/S" corresponds to still another notebook of Sinatra recording sessions that list the songs, the musicians and the time and place the recording was made. That kind of record-keeping prompted Nancy Sinatra to consult and give credit to Ross for information used in her book "My Father."
When Sinatra announced his retirement in 1971, he called Ross to ask him to compile on tape all of the songs he had done, in chronological order. Ross delivered the package less than a month later.
So why Frank Sinatra? Ross, who has seen Sinatra perform about 1,000 times but has spoken with him only sporadically over the years, says simply, "I just never get tired of listening to him.
"The man is a gifted performer with a God-given talent," the 50-year-old Ross said. "But he's a human being, he has frailties, he's not perfect. . . . I'm a popular music archivist in general, but Sinatra is the only one I have really gone crazy with."
His Sinatra craze began soon after Ross graduated from Los Angeles High School in January, 1956, and received his first record player as a graduation present. A month later Sinatra released the album "Songs for Swingin' Lovers," which Ross bought and played over and over again.
"I started buying some of his earlier records when he was with Tommy Dorsey and getting into his earlier material of the 1940s," said Ross, who as a youngster collected super-hero comic books.
"A short time after that, I joined the Coast Guard, and because I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to get one version of every song that he had done. A friend joked that maybe I should just get everything he had done. That guy never realized the effect that statement had on me."
Ross then began scouring record stores. What he couldn't find he sought directly from the record companies that released Sinatra's work. He made friends easily with other Sinatra fans, and with the advent of reel-to-reel tape recording, he obtained performances not found on albums.
By 1965, Ross had collected about 1,600 titles and was asked by Sinatra's recording label to compile the discography for a commemorative two-record release, "Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music."