Brian Evans insists he’s never been a get-the-last-laugh kind of guy.
“No anger in me, no sir,” he says solemnly. But just before the first inning of a recent Red Sox home game — against the New York Yankees, no less — the in your face! ear-to-ear grin was unmistakable, as Evans, in the bleachers surrounded by friends, heard his own voice on the loudspeakers crooning “At Fenway,” his tribute tune to Fenway Park in its 100th year.
The catchy melody that Frank Sinatra might have sung if he’d been a Sox fan, was offered by Evans to the Red Sox last fall. It was lost in the quagmire of administrative vetting and paperwork for months, but has been blasted by stadium workers during Red Sox home games for about a month now.
But in spite of its long journey from studio to stereo, when “At Fenway” got to the plate, it hit in a big way.
The Sox love it. “It seems really fitting as we celebrate Fenway Park’s centennial,” says Zineb Curran, Red Sox director of corporate communications. “We appreciate the different ways all our fans try to honor the club. So it’s a great year for the song.”
The National Baseball Hall of Fame has added it to its library. And Major League Baseball licensed the song for game use — a first for the league.
“That part of it has been surreal,” Evans says. “Them making it an ‘official’ song is really very cool, and c’mon, it would be for any Red Sox fan. I’d say it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened for my career.”
That career? If you haven’t guessed: big band singer. Think Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington. And if you get those voices, then you get the music that the 42-year-old Brian Evans makes.
But in order to get why Evans — whose biggest fans call “The Croonerman” — would declare a locally popular baseball tribute his best professional moment on the same day he released a full-length album that was a hit on two continents, you have to understand his roots.
The short of the story: Evans loves the Sox and has loved them since he was a kid, when only the most faithful loved the Sox and their then-losing ways. He loved the Sox, because like himself, he felt the team was sort of outcast. It was a perceived kinship that helped him get through a very tough childhood.
“Lots of people had tough childhoods,” Evans says. “For me, mine was issues between my parents, who ended up divorcing when I was pretty young. But the upside — I guess there were a few, really — was that my mother and my grandmother who raised me always played big band music. And I fell in love with it pretty early. Also, even though I was definitely not a popular kid, I found comfort at school in a teacher who became a father figure to me.”
That teacher was Frank Delaney, Evans’s now-retired 6th-grade teacher at Nettle Middle School in Haverhill, where Evans grew up.
Delaney says that Evans was a bit of a loner in elementary school but found in big band a musical match for his old soul.
“Brian was a lonely kid,” Delaney says. “He had a lot of things on his mind. Other kids took comfort in light things — games, toys, pop junk, Brian loved good music. And he didn’t love big band just because it involved loud instruments. He appreciated the quality of the music and the soulfulness of the singing. He fully embraced it. And he sang those songs. And many kids didn’t like it. You know how kids can be.”
But by 16, Evans had shed the sadness and moved to Hollywood, where he spent nearly a decade appearing on some of the most popular TV shows of the 1980s and ’90s, including “Full House” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” He costarred in “Book of Love,” a feature film directed by Robert Shaye, founder of New Line Cinema. And according to best-selling author Andrew Morton’s biography of Angelina Jolie, she and Evans dated during his Hollywood swing. A coy Evans will only say, “She’s a great lady. And we were close for a short while.”
“I’ve been proud no matter what he’s done. But all the while though, Brian had his music on his mind,” his mother, Helen Bousquet, says, adding that pining for his music forced Evans to a “sort of crossroads.”
Evans says he attended a charity event featuring Frank Sinatra in 1991. And it was the first and only time he’d meet his childhood idol.
“I told him I was frustrated. I wanted to get back to my roots and pursue big band but that I’d never really been appreciated for it, not by my peers,” Evans says. “You know what he told me? “‘Kid, if everyone says you’re crazy, then you’re doing the right thing.’ Stick with it. That’s what he told me.”
And so Evans began carving a niche not from acting but for singing as an opening act for musicians and comics, including Lou Rawls, Better Than Ezra, Dionne Warwick, and Jay Leno.
In the mid ’90s, Evans spent time in Vancouver and took a Saturday gig singing standards at Babalu Lounge — which, days later, hired a young Canadian crooner, Michael Buble, to sing on Sundays. As Buble went on to make waves in the US, Evans quietly scored a hit in Canada with his album, “Quite Frankly,” which sat atop Canada’s album charts for several weeks — despite being made from instrumental karaoke tracks Evans had purchased for $30. “It’s a humbling way to make a record,” he says.
“Quite Frankly” did well and Evans was booked for a 377-show run at the old Desert Inn in Las Vegas.
Felix Rappaport, president and COO of The Mirage in Las Vegas, recalls Evans fondly.
“Brian is a hugely talented singer who really embodies the Boston spirit – loyal, feisty, a fighter, sports fan . . . whose faith, family, and friends come first,” Rappaport says. “He’s developed a loyal following across the USA, from coast to coast and all the way to Hawaii. Performing means more to him than simply making money. He is also a craftsman who is great at his craft.”
When The Desert Inn was demolished and replaced with The Wynn, Evans briefly returned to Los Angeles and began making music for use in TV and film. And he was performing regularly across Southeast Asia, where big band and swing are popular.
With fingers crossed, Evans approached producer Narada Michael Walden, who has collaborated with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Elton John, and Aretha Franklin.
Walden would be tied up on another album for a year.
So while he waited, Evans moved to Hawaii and produced the Maui Celebrity Series, serving as opening act for some of the same stars he’d worked with in Hollywood, and a few more, including William Shatner, Mick Fleetwood, Charlie Sheen, David Spade, and rapper/actor Mos Def.
“I made a lot of good friends,” Evans says of the Maui concerts.
By the time he returned to Los Angeles in early 2011, he and Walden were ready to work.
“It is a great album,” Walden says of “My Time,” which he and Evans recently finished. “I think that’s an appropriate title because Brian certainly put in his time . . . before making it to this point. But then that baseball song came up!”
Walden admits that when Evans approached him last summer and said he had a song — “At Fenway” — in mind to honor the park’s centennial, he balked.
“I didn’t want to make a song about a stadium, but Brian convinced me. I love his passion. He’s passionate about everything and loyal to home. It was clear that the Red Sox really meant a lot to him. And he’s earned his stripes, so we did it,” Walden says.
“My Turn,” original songs from Evans, debuted in Southeast Asia to rave reviews last week, Walden says.
Meanwhile, Evans, who moved back to Boston late last year, says he feels fulfilled.
He’s postponed till December a concert at the Wilbur Theatre, featuring Walden and Red Sox legend Jim Rice, so he, Rice, and old friend William Shatner can shoot a music video at Fenway, for “At Fenway.”
“The thing is I’m thrilled with ‘My Turn’,” he says. “It’s doing great. But ‘At Fenway’ is different, because it represents my hometown or home area accepting me finally. And you know what? I reached this point without ever compromising who I am. Like I say on my website, when I was singing ‘My Way’ at 21, no one believed it from a baby-faced kid. When I sing it today, they believe it.”