Rat Packers be warned, the F(rank) word, does not appear in this article. And there’s a reason for that. Nancy Sinatra was always more than her father’s daughter. Far before Debbie Harry was storming CBGBs, and before Cher had ripped open the fishnets, Nancy Sinatra was the female artist. And she remains an icon today, not just because of anthems like ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’, but also because of her longevity, her charity work and her humbleness in a world of Divas and wannabe-divas. In other words, Nancy is the woman.
Today, following a hectic Memorial weekend (more about that later), she’s at home in LA, hoarse and reflective. So, in her opinion, what made her the icon she has become? “The fashion angle is always there. I think I was perhaps the first person to wear the mini skirt and the boots – in this country (the US) anyway. Until Twiggy came along I suppose! I brought the mini skirts home from London. There was no one else doing that, although Europe was way ahead of us as usual. Musically, I wasn’t the first female to do what I did, but I was the first white female. The people who were doing what I ended up doing were in RnB. They had the attitude. People like Ruth Brown. And the guys I liked; Elvis and The Everly Brothers influenced me too. I grew up with the great American songbook of course and I learnt from that.”
No one could have foreseen the success that these factors brought, although there was a fair amount of hard work involved too, “there were four years when I was recording and releasing single after single and nothing was happening. When he first song that really worked, ‘So Long Babe’, hit the US and I was asked to be on every TV show and called for interviews, I knew things were going to change. My Dad would walk out on stage and introduce himself saying, ‘I’m Nancy’s father’.”
So, back to the surname. When Nancy started out, the cynics rushed to slam her for trading on a family name. “It was kind of funny being compared to a male singer”, she laughs, “It’s pretty absurd when you think about it. They used to say, ‘Nancy will never be the man her father is’ – a lot of people didn’t even see the irony in that!” She was just trying to make it on her own, and a famous Pop help in some ways, but also demanded that she worked even harder to carve out her individuality, which she did with style. By the time the album ‘Boots’ had arrived, Nancy was a superstar across the globe. She pioneered fashion statements, and even photographic stances that still remain to this day, “sometimes I see Britney dressed in something, or Mariah posing in a certain way and I think, ‘I did that in ‘71!’ It’s flattering when people say they look up to you, or that you influenced them, although it did take me a long time to believe that I could be so powerful as to influence somebody”.
“Excuse my voice”, she continues, slightly embarrassed, “it’s just after memorial weekend here, and I don’t know if you know about ‘Rolling Thunder’, but at the weekend, there were 400,000 of us on motorcycles in Washington. We actually managed to get an audience with the president. So some of us went into the Oval Office and addressed him about the issues of war veterans. There is a struggle in the US with veterans. They’re just brushed under the carpet. We ride to call attention to that and to rally round. It’s not an easy task.” Committed to causes outside of music set Nancy Sinatra apart from the beginning of her career. “ Serving people is part of my upbringing - my father was the same. My grandmother invited in people off the street for meals. When we’d go to her house for dinner, you never knew who you’d be sitting next to at the table.”
In a career spanning decades, with hundreds of parties, hit singles, movies and a life in an ultra-famous family, one would expect a memory in that vein to have remained with Nancy until now. But when I ask her what times and what memories she would not part with for the world, I’m met with a charitable answer, “my USO work, because those images are still as vivid and real as when I was experiencing them. I met two people this weekend who saw me during that time and thanked me for bringing a smile to them. People are always thanking me, but I have to tell them not to, because it’s not me who should be thanked. In those memories, I found a brotherhood I can rely on. There are happier memories too, of course. I mean I made some of the worst movies!” I interrupt Nancy to remind her that she was to top female box office draw for two years in a row. “Yeah, well, the movies were with Elvis and Peter Fonda I guess! Y’know, It was a ride.” And it still is? “Yeah, and it still is!”
Nancy: Rock star