John Papadakis is best known on the Palos Verdes Peninsula as the Papadakis Taverna owner, who along with his brother Tommy, for nearly four decades greeted each customer—male or female—with a big kiss on the cheek.
Now the Rancho Palos Verdes resident is reinventing himself as “The Singing Linebacker.”
Papadakis is marrying the two things he loves most besides his wife Donna and their children: music and football, he said.
The former USC football player recorded the CD “Play Day," inspired by happy childhood memories of watching his parents, Tom and Angie Papadakis sing and dance around the house to 1950s romantic melodies.
“All of 2018, I worked with Lou Forestieri recording the 18 songs on the album,” Papadakis said from his San Pedro office. “In 2019 we were ready for a show.
Papadakis’ first nightclub gig was in April at Upstairs at Vitello’s Supper Club in Studio City.
The gig sold out and the 1968 Rolling Hills High School graduate said he went in “cold turkey.”
His CD, with original and tribute songs, has been played on Dodger Radio with the help of friend and broadcast engineer Dave Magdaleno and his son Petros Papadakis, who hosts the talk show Petros and Money on Fox Sports Radio.
Petros, also a former USC football player who shares his family's love of jazz, said his dad is a positive influence.
“He found another outlet for his passion," said Petros of his father. "He’s a pretty remarkable guy. To see him onstage being vulnerable while singing jazz ballads—it’s fun to see what a versatile person he is."
During his nightclub act, the elder Papadakis said his glory days as a USC linebacker in the early 1970s inspired his latest singing endeavor.
Papadakis first cut his show biz teeth bursting out in song, dancing, breaking glasses—a Greek tradition—and telling jokes at his beloved Taverna from 1973 to 2010.
That was great, but performing live, serious music in front of a crowded room was euphoric, he said.
“I felt like I was running out onto the Coliseum football field for the first time,” said Papadakis about his about his April nightclub debut.
“Sure, I was worked up, but once I got into the notes, and sang the first line, I was in the show and the show was in me," he said.
"These are perfect songs for men my age to sing meaningfully.”
Entertainer at heart
Papadakis grew up in an uproariously manic household with three boys and parents with big, fat, passionate Greek personalities.
Listening to the sentimental tunes of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra had a sanguine effect on him and his boisterous brothers.
Booking agent for Vitello’s, Denisse Cruz, said she was blown away when she first met Papadakis.
“John brought me a loaf of bread and three of his CDs,” Cruz said, about Papadakis’ unique audition. “He’s been through a lot in his life and has so many stories that connect with people. He couldn’t have picked a better person to work with than Lou Forestieri.”
Papadakis, an entertainer at heart, has two goals for his singing career: to perform his act at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City and to sing his “favorite fourth stanza of the Star Spangled Banner at Dodger Stadium.”
Additionally, the multi-faceted Papadakis co-authored the book “Turning of the Tide” about breaking down the last racial division in college football, with best selling author Don Yaeger and Sam Cunningham. The book has recently been optioned for a movie, he said.
So to him, success is just a matter of getting the word out.
Papadakis is neither reticent nor seldom guarded, and may questionably possess a photographic memory. He is capable of breaking out in any of the 18 songs on his CD and crooning them aloud to anyone within hearing distance.
Composer Forestieri said Papadakis is a walking encyclopedia of music.
“If you ask John about any song, he can tell you the lyrics and the era, Forestieri said.” He did a really amazing job at Vitello’s. He has approached this endeavor like he approaches everything else, and puts his all into it.”
“Pap,” as his closest friends call him, said he didn’t even know he could sing. Much of his time in the last 20 years has been occupied spearheading the San Pedro waterfront promenade, a “bridge-to-breakwater” waterside pedestrian walkway.
“About four or five years ago, my youngest son Demetrius told me to join the choir with him at church,” said Papadakis who grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church in Redondo Beach.
“Being in the choir really opened up my voice," he said. "I started to write jazz tunes with my friend Richie Cole and Lou Forestieri. They loved what I was doing with their music, so we started recording in Lou’s studio in Studio City.”
Papadakis said he has always been into Tony Bennett’s music, and wanted to bring back to life some of the famous entertainer’s classic albums made with pianist Bill Evans.
Forestieri, who has been performing publicly since age 9, has his own list of versatile credits.
The music arranger has collaborated with stars such as Jeff Bridges in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and Angelina Jolie in the movie “Beyond Borders.” He’s worked on Aaron Spelling shows and was the composer on “Diagnosis Murder” starring legendary Dick Van Dyke, he said.
“John and I have expertise in different areas, with no egos involved,” Forestieri said, who like Papadakis, isn’t afraid of a challenge.
"We allow each other to fulfill those things in our respective areas. Mostly, I take care of the music thing, and he takes care of the business. We get along well and we understand each other.”
Want to go?
May 23 at 8:30 p.m.
Catalina Bar & Grill
6725 West Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
For reservations call (323) 466-2210.