Pat Boone: Boone In The USA
LET'S PLAY the numbers game. According to Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1986, Pat Boone is the fifth highest-ranking artist in the history of theBillboard singles charts. Only Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown and Stevie Wonder were more successful (based on the number of singles charting and their positions). In the '50s, only Elvis was more popular, chart-wise, than Boone.
Pat Boone reached the singles charts 60 times, putting him at #8 on that list. Six of those chart singles reached #1, spending a total of 21 weeks in that position, putting Boone in two more Top 10 lists.
So much for the numbers. Throw in the movies, the television appearances, the fan magazines and the collective screams of millions of once-teenaged females and it all adds up to this: Pat Boone was very, very popular in the '50s and the early '60s. It would not be an understatement to say that only Elvis had him licked.
And so, more than three decades later, Pat Boone is wondering why so many have forgotten. The folks behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in particular. Boone thinks he deserves, atleast, to be considered for nomination to be inducted into that elite club. Perhaps more so, he thinks, than some of the artists already inducted.
Which is why Boone wrote a letter that was published in the Nov. 30, 1990 issue ofGoldmine and why he now wants to set a few records straight in an interview. "I don't really expect ever to be nominated or elected into that select company," Boone wrote about the Hall of Fame in the published letter. He went on to explain why he didn't think he would be nominated. Chances are he's probably right.
"The 'purists'," he wrote, "the folks who really like the down and dirty, real and raunchy, original R&B/R&R, are not likely to appreciate my records or the part they played in the whole evolution of music." But, he wanted to make clear, his music was rock 'n' roll – by '50s standards, anyway – and it did play a role. Perhaps a very significant role. Perhaps without the likes of Pat Boone some of those artists who currently are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame never would have been heard by those who voted them in. That is Boone's gripe, and he makes a convincing case.
Still, he's not unaware of how he is viewed by some in retrospect, or that he's got an uphill battle on his hands if he wants to see that reputation changed. "I wasn't Screamin' Jay Hawkins or even Elvis," he wrote, "but I was a gentle rocker."
In a 1976 Rolling Stone article, he put it more bluntly. "You know," he told that magazine, "there's something about me that makes a lot of people want to throw up. And I think I know what it is…In some cases, it may be a reaction to my music. In most cases, I think it's a reaction to my lifestyle and the things that I stand for."
Pat Boone's greatest sin, it seems, and the one that has most hurt his rock 'n' roll credibility with the hindsight of a few decades of considerably un-gentle rock 'n' roll, is that he was, and still is, clean-cut. Still, while he understands that cleanliness is not always next to godliness in rock 'n' roll, he blanches when told by this interviewer that even some music encyclopedias use less-than-savory words to describe his early recordings. "Like what?!" he asks, relieved only when told those words aren't necessarily obscene so much as unflattering.
Making his splash initially with "cover" versions of black rhythm 'n' blues records – he himself called his early hits "admittedly…sanitized" and "vanilla" in his letter – Boone was the first acceptable face of rock 'n' roll. He was religious, a family man, a college student even at the height of his success.
Most of all, he was white, and unlike other white rockers of the day, he was never portrayed as wild, didn't sneer or dress like a juvenile delinquent. He smiled a lot and popularized clean white buck shoes. He seemed like a genuine Mr. Nice Guy, sensible, well-groomed, well-reared. He knew where he was going in life and wrote books and magazine articles to help others find their way. Parents liked him. They wanted their kids to listen to Pat Boone's records. No, he wasn't Screamin' Jay Hawkins or even Elvis. Bad kids liked Elvis, good kids liked Boone. If anything, Pat Boone was the original anti-Elvis.
Even today, more than 35 years after he found his first taste of fame, Pat Boone comes off as too good to be true. He's still married to the same woman, he's still a practicing Christian and that college education paid off – he's an intelligent, well-informed, well-spoken man. He doesn't make the gossip pages with a drug or alcohol problem, never is seen with a questionably dressed babe, never utters a "dirty" word in public. There were some trying times, to be sure, but Boone came out a winner.
Even his kids – four daughters, the best-known of which, Debby, had her own brush with success with the 1977 smash 'You Light Up My Life', a #1 single for 10 weeks – are clean-cut, Christian, family-oriented. For years they toured with mom and pop as the Boone Family Singers. Pat Boone is a grandfather now, the kind one imagines driving around with a bumper sticker reading "Ask me about my grandkids." Or who'll tell you about them anyway.
To some, Pat Boone has come to represent everything rock 'n' roll isn't, which is why it may surprise that this grandpa has begun vying for his place in the music's history. Staunchly moralistic and politically conservative, Boone's views on many topics subscribe to those of the so-called religious right. Pick a controversial subject, and it's usually easy to figure out his position on it. Abortion? He's against it. Censorship? Thinks we need some. Madonna? A "talented tart." The rap group 2 Live Crew? "Criminals." He's nothing if not consistent. The Pat Boone of 1957 is largely the Pat Boone of 1991. He even looks like him.
Charles Eugene Boone was born June 1, 1934 in Jacksonville, Florida. His father, Archie, a descendant of the pioneer woodsman Daniel Boone, was a building contractor and his mother, Margaret, a registered nurse. Having hoped for a girl, who they planned to name Patricia, they nicknamed him Pat. A younger brother, Nick (who would go on to hit the charts twice himself in 1957, as Nick Todd), and two sisters, Margie and Judy, completed the family.
In 1936, the Boone family moved to Donelson, Tennessee and, four years later, to Nashville. Boone began singing in public at age 10 and by his teens was entering – and winning – local talent contests. At 13, while in the family barn, just he and the family cow Rosemary, Pat Boone found religion. "I realized that for me the Bible had the answers, that the teachings of Jesus answered all the questions I was asking," he later said. He was baptized that year, but, "I didn't become a good Christian overnight. In fact, I got my last spanking when I was 17."
By the time the spankings stopped, while attending David Lipscomb High School, Boone was on the baseball, basketball and track teams and was a reporter-cartoonist for the school paper. He acted and sang in school plays and was elected not only "most popular boy" but president of the student body. In his junior year he met Shirley Foley, daughter of country-western singer Red Foley. When they were both 19, on November 7, 1953, the couple eloped.
By that time Boone had his own radio program, Youth On Parade, on Nashville station WSIX and had appeared on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour on TV (he won top honors for all three of his appearances). In 1954, he also won on The Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show in New York. That year, Boone recorded his first sides, four pop-style singles issued on the small Republic label in Nashville. They went nowhere and Pat and Shirley Boone moved to Denton, Texas later that year.
Boone landed a job on Fort Worth TV station WBAP, for which he was paid $44.50 a week plus ice cream and cottage cheese from the program's sponsor. "We owned a Bible, a pair of chinchillas and a 1949 Chevy," Shirley told McCall's magazine in 1958. They also added to that collection the first of four daughters, Cheryl (Cherry) Lynn, who would be followed in quick succession by Linda (Lindy) Lee, Deborah (Debby) Ann and Laura (Laury) Gene.
Boone, still planning to teach school and having no plans to become a show business giant, enrolled at North Texas State College in Denton. But his rising regional popularity was difficult to ignore, especially for Randy Wood, owner of Dot Records.
Boone had been introduced to Wood in Gallatin, Tennessee – the label had offices both there and in Chicago – before his move to Texas. At that time, Wood and Boone had a "handshake agreement" to record Boone as soon as appropriate song material came along. Boone expected that would take a few weeks. Wood called eight months later, in February 1955, asking Boone to come north to Chicago to cut a record.
What Boone didn't expect was the kind of material Wood had selected for him: a rhythm 'n' blues song, 'Two Hearts', written by Jesse Stone and Otis Williams and originally recorded by the latter's group, the Charms. With that first session, Pat Boone joined the burgeoning ranks of white pop singers covering black R&B or rock 'n' roll songs. He entered into a world with which he was admittedly unfamiliar.
Boone was no R&B fan when Wood called him to Chicago; he was only vaguely familiar with this new style that was beginning to catch on. He'd heard 'Sh-Boom', a 1954 hit for the white Canadian group the Crew-Cuts, covering the Chords, a black R&B group. But that wasn't enough to make Boone understand what he was supposed to do. This music wasn't smooth, the lyrics were barely intelligible. Some of the other rhythm 'n' blues songs that were popular supposedly had dirty words in them. Not that he could tell.
Boone studied the Charms' record for hours, getting a feel for the beat and smoothing out the edges. When released on Dot in early 1955, it reached #16, setting off one of the most successful recording careers of the rock era.
But was it rock? To record buyers at the time, Boone says today, it certainly was. His detractors disagree. "He lacked all the essential rawness that characterizes rock 'n' roll and he was essentially an antidote to it," wrote Colin Escott in the liner notes of Jivin' Pat, a 1986 Bear Family collection from Germany. "No one bop-talked in a Pat Boone movie, no tenor sax teetered on the border of atonality on his records and he never looked to be living life close to the edge."
But whatever it was, it was popular. His next single, 'Ain't That A Shame', a cover of the Fats Domino hit, went to #1. The El Dorados' 'At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)' followed, making #7. In 1956, the Flamingos' 'I'll Be Home' received the Boone treatment, going to #4; its B-side, Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti', was toned down (some might say emasculated) and hit #12 itself, followed by 'Long Tall Sally', another Top 10. Ivory Joe Hunter's 'I Almost Lost My Mind' became Boone's second #1 that same year.
Today, Boone – as well as some R&B aficionados – says that the white covers of black R&B records helped introduce those originators to an audience beyond the black record-buying listenership. While some white disc jockeys, most notably Alan Freed, preferred to play only the original black recordings on the air, most avoided them. (Georgia Gibbs, Teresa Brewer, the Diamonds and the Crew-Cuts were some other white cover artists. What's often unmentioned is that numerous black acts, including the Flamingos and the Moonglows, among many others, were covering songs first recorded by mainstream white pop singers during the same period.)
The covers opened up the airwaves to rhythm 'n' blues songs that otherwise would never have been heard by white listeners, says Boone. And, once those white cover records were heard, he adds, curious listeners sought out the originals, making it possible for the likes of Little Richard and Fats Domino to cross over to the white teenaged audience. Eventually, white radio had no choice but to play the rock 'n' roll originals.
That's one opinion. Another is that the white cover artists, led by Boone, shut out the blacks. With the well-produced, whitewashed cover versions available for airplay, jittery DJs could supply their audience with currently popular tunes without having to resort to playing the raunchier black originals. The cover records sold millions of copies and earned millions of dollars that would otherwise have gone to the black artists (or at least their record labels). It's a debate that has never been settled.
How did the black artists feel about it? That depends on who's being asked, and when. Boone says that Domino and Little Richard, at least, were thankful. Not entirely true, according to Little Richard. At least not at the time.
In the Chuck Berry documentary film, Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll!, Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley are sitting around discussing the early days. Diddley is recalling that the black stations played R&B while the white stations played pop.
"There was a bad omen hanging there when the thing became separated," says Diddley. "R&B became what we were doing, and rock 'n' roll became what the white kids were doing."
"When I started with the 'wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom,' and Pat Boone covered it," says Little Richard, "I was 'woo, wop-boppin'' all over the place, and so I remember [Specialty Records owner] Art Rupe says he would put my record on the top stations, and then here come Pat Boone. The white kids wanted mine, 'cause it was real rough and raw, and Pat Boone had this smooth version [imitates Boone's version]. And so the white kids would take mine and put it in the drawer and put his on top of the dresser…I was mad. When Pat Boone covered my record, I was mad, I wanted to get him. I said I'm goin' to Nashville to find him.
"I wanted to get him at that time because to me he was stoppin' my progress. I wanted to be famous and here's this man that came and took my song. And not only did he take 'Tutti Frutti' but he took 'Long Tall Sally'. I wanted to do somethin' about it. Now, in later years, I thought about that and said it was good. But back then I couldn't stand it."
Perception is, perhaps, one reason why Boone's hits aren't remembered as fondly by hard-core rockers today as those by the pioneers who've already been elected to the Hall of Fame. It is largely true, as Boone wrote in the letter published in Goldmine, that he and the other "vanilla" cover artists "introduced the whole idea of this music to a larger audience, and in palatable and acceptable music garb…[They] played a very significant catalyst role in easing the fears across the country and making this music acceptable to mainstream America."
But another reason is that Boone didn't stay with rock 'n' roll very long. After the initial flurry of hits in 1955-56, he more or less got out. The next hits, and all of those which followed, were ballads, movie themes, standards. Although he recorded other rock 'n' roll songs, including Roy Brown's 'Good Rockin' Tonight' and Big Joe Turner's 'Honey Hush', they weren't hits for him. Only one of Boone's subsequent Top 10 hits, 1962's 'Speedy Gonzales', can be considered rock 'n' roll, and even he admits it was more of a novelty record.
Whether Boone wanted to continue recording rock 'n' roll after those initial hits is moot. The reason he didn't is simply because by then the black artists were breaking out: Berry, Richard, Diddley, Domino and dozens of others were finally breaking through to the white audience. In Escott's liner notes, Boone is quoted: "Eventually, in fact pretty quickly, the Top 40 stations began to play the original versions so that little avenue to hitdom vanished."
There was also a little problem called Elvis. Boone had had a head start, charting for the first time in April 1955. By the time Elvis hit with 'Heartbreak Hotel' in March 1956, Boone had been established, with three Top 10 records to his name. When Elvis arrived, there was no longer any doubt about what white rock 'n' roll sounded like. And it wasn't Pat Boone.
Perhaps the opportunity to change musical streams was to Boone's relief, anyway, because he proved to be much better suited to the crooning ballad style that marked his later hits. And they were no less successful than the rockers. 'Friendly Persuasion', from the Gary Cooper film of the same name, hit #5 in the fall of 1956. 'Don't Forbid Me', written by Charlie Singleton, became the next #1 in early 1957.
There were two final #1 records that year: 'Love Letters In The Sand', sung by Boone in the film Bernardine, stayed on top for seven weeks and remains his best-known record, while 'April Love', also from a Boone film vehicle (co-starring Shirley Jones, who Boone refused to kiss on-screen lest his wife be upset), with six weeks at the top, is probably a close second. No mistaking these for rock 'n' roll; if anything, they reminded of one of Boone's other singing idols, Bing Crosby.
By 1957 Boone was easily the second most popular young entertainer in America. Both he and Presley had staked out their distinct turf and neither was hurt by the other's success. Boone was cutting records, appearing in films and on television, touring, his picture was in all of the fan mags – and he was still going to school. Boone moved his young family to suburban New Jersey and enrolled at New York's Columbia University. His greatest regret at the time was that he was unable to go out for the football team because his career commitments wouldn't have allowed him time to practice. (He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in English and speech, in 1958.)
There were also the unavoidable by-products of celebrity. Fans quickly found out where the Boones lived and rang their doorbell day and night, hoping for an autograph or a quick hello from the star. "It's like living in a fishbowl," said Shirley Boone at the time, complaining that their children were often awakened, and Pat lamented that he could no longer go for a stroll without being mobbed. "I sometimes think we were happier when we were in Texas and I was going to college and making $50 a week," he said.
Boone continued to rack up chart singles steadily through 1962, at one point staying on the charts for four years without a break. 'Moody River' was the last of his chart-toppers, in 1961, and by the British Invasion he had ceased to be a threat on the charts. In addition to the 60 singles, there were 16 charting albums through 1962, three of them reaching the Top 10. (One that didn't chart, the following year, was Pat Sings Guess Who, a tribute to Elvis.)
Record charts don't tell the whole story though, and it's difficult to imagine today just how popular Boone was at the peak of his career. He appeared in over a dozen films, wrote advice books for teens (Twixt Twelve And Twenty, Between You, Me & The Gatepost, The Care And Feeding Of Parents, etc.) and was a constant presence in teen magazines – many a Pat Boone pinup graced a pubescent girl's wall.
Not only was he featured in magazines for teens, there were magazines devoted exclusively to him, as well as Pat Boone comic books, and, not surprisingly, more than a handful of "adult" magazine and newspaper articles focusing on the young entertainer's wholesome qualities and church-going lifestyle. He was the good example personified, and that made good copy in the early years of the youth rebellion.
From October 1957 to June 1960, Boone even hosted his own ABC-TV show, The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom, which TV Guide called "about as exciting as a milkshake with two straws." Similarly-inclined innocuous pop stars – Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, the Four Lads, etc. – shared the spotlight (and trivia buffs might want to know that Woody Allen was one of the show's writers). He had earlier turned down another television offer when he learned that its sponsor would be a cigarette company – Boone didn't smoke and didn't want to give the impression he condoned the habit.
What pervaded everything bearing the name Boone was that feeling of constant goodness. In a world where you don't have to be a born cynic to distrust religious and political zealots who feign such purity, Boone appeared to be the real item. Dig as one might through the old news clippings, there just isn't much dirt. The closest this digger came was a brief item about some questionable tax problems in the mid-'60s (quickly resolved), a well-publicized near-breakup of the Boones' marriage (also resolved) and some shaky business investments, starting in the late '60s, that nearly forced him into bankruptcy by 1973.
There was also a low period in the '60s (when everybody was having a low period), according to a 1976 Rolling Stone article, when Boone "was working the hotel circuit in Las Vegas, wearing a Nehru jacket and love beads, drinking, telling lewd jokes to handsome young ladies and losing money at the tables."
Only once, in the 1963 film The Main Attraction, did he publicly break the goody two (white buck) shoes mold, smoking cigarettes, doing a love scene and even wearing a leather jacket. An excusable anomaly, one supposes, given the waning status of his popularity at the time. The film didn't help revive his fortunes and Boone quickly retired his short-lived rebel image. Today, all of those strayings are behind him. Jesus came to his (and his family's) rescue.
Just as well, because without having gone the way of many Bible-thumping loonies, Boone simply seems more comfortable living by the Good Book. Talk to him and he won't try to convert you, but try to get him to admit he likes to swig on scotch rather than the belts of milk he's known for and you're going to be disappointed: Pat Boone is that milk-drinking, clean-living Ward Cleaver type he's always represented himself to be. No less than the Vatican magazine L'Osservatore Della Domenica praised Boone, saying, in 1985, that it was rare the magazine found a singer it had no complaints about. "It even pleased us the way you sing…no shouting, no facial gestures, no contortions…a gentleman."
Their religion has been a constant source of strength and inspiration for the Boone family – headquartered in Los Angeles since Boone finished school – and it was in religious music that Pat Boone found a second calling after the hits stopped. When the Dot contract ended in 1968 – his last hit for the label was the 1966 'Wish You Were Here, Buddy', a pro-Vietnam War rocker – Boone signed with Tetragrammaton, Bill Cosby's label. One chart single, 'July, You're A Woman', resulted, but it was his final one.
That alliance lasted only several months. Capitol was next, in 1970, and a series of brief associations with such companies as MGM, the Disney-operated Buena Vista, Melodyland, Motown (for which he recorded a cover of the Supremes' 'When The Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes'), Hitsville and Warner/Curb marked the '70s for Boone. By then he'd switched primarily to country music, and five of those singles made the country charts between 1975-80.
Boone had been recording Christian music as early as 1960 for Dot, and it was natural and inevitable that he return to it as his pop recording career faded (although, to be fair, he has remained a popular live attraction throughout his career). For the gospel labels Light, Word, Lamb And Lion and others he, often with his family, cut albums with such titles as The New Songs Of The Jesus People, Pat Boone And The First Nashville Jesus Band, S-A-V-E-D andMiracle Merry-Go-Round. He continues to perform his brand of gospel today.
Boone has also cut a series of privately-produced cassettes featuring more topical material, including an album of patriotic songs, appropriately titled The Star Spangled Banner, because, as he told this writer, "People want to hear these songs but they can't get them anymore."
At the other end of the spectrum, he's also recorded new versions of Little Richard's 'Rip It Up' and Buddy Holly's 'Oh Boy' as well as his own early hits, 'Fool's Hall Of Fame' and 'Don't Forbid Me'. He's hoping to shop them around to an interested label. And if that seems to offer a hint that Pat Boone is thinking about rock 'n' roll music again, his revelation in the following interview that he'd like to cut an album with Fats Domino and Little Richard (Boone-suggested title: Oreo), and to headline a giant '50s revival benefit concert, should confirm it.
Whether or not Pat Boone is ever elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there's no denying that his presence during the music's birth was a formidable one, his contribution undeniably significant. And whether or not one agrees with his opinions or desires to subscribe to his way of life, or whether he does make one want to throw up, there's no doubt he's a stand-up kinda guy who means what he says and says what he means. Even if he scares the you-know-what out of you, you might find yourself liking him. Hear him out.
Goldmine: Why, after being away from rock 'n' roll music for so many years, have you recently begun giving interviews and writing letters to publications such as ours in which you express concern that your early recordings aren't getting more recognition? You've said that you think you deserve to be considered by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Why does it bother you that you haven't been?
Pat Boone: I suppose it'd be like anyone who played baseball or football or did anything that has a hall of fame. If you know you made a considerable impact, in fact in some ways more of an impact than some of the people that are already inducted or are being seriously considered, it certainly does run through your mind and it comes up from time to time. Somebody will ask or make a suggestion or a prediction and I've been almost forced to consider it.
I'm looking at a picture of me and Little Richard, a wild, wild Little Richard and me looking, in contrast, very vanilla, but both of us looking pretty good. He's already in there [R&R Hall of Fame], deservedly, and I got to thinking, I sold 10 times more records during that period, and a lot of them rock 'n' roll records.
Goldmine: I did a little calculating and you had more records on the pop charts than Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry combined.
Pat Boone: That's wild. It's not that I would ever stump for it [the Hall of Fame] but if you've been a part of the music business, which I love, and I did play a part that I think is significant, then obviously you'd like to see that considered or acknowledged. I don't ever bring it up; if there's ever any mention of the Hall of Fame it's because somebody else brought it up.
Goldmine: The problem seems to be not that you were so successful then but how those records are perceived now. Even music encyclopedias use words like "saccharine" and "watered-down" to describe your style.
Pat Boone: It's not only pejorative, but obviously comparing me to the originals and other people who made an impact in rock music, I thoroughly understand it, and I refer to myself as vanilla, which is about the same thing (laughs). What people miss is that if I hadn't been I would've had no better chance of getting my records played than the originals did.
That music, R&B, had been around a long time, and it's still around, and there is still a gulf between R&B and pop music and even between just R&B and rock. It [R&B] is a distinctive kind of music and it doesn't appeal to everybody. So, if it hadn't been for the vanilla versions of the R&B songs in the '50s, I think you could certainly imagine that rock 'n' roll, as we think of it, would never have happened.
I don't think it was inevitable that R&B phased into rock 'n' roll, and that rock 'n' roll became the music of not only a generation but several generations. I don't think it was inevitable. There were other kinds of music and there still are; it could've been country. Pop music could have veered into country rather than R&B, in fact, much more logically perhaps.
Goldmine: A lot of the early rockers, like Jerry Lee Lewis, did go into country.
Pat Boone: Yeah, Conway Twitty, the Everlys. Lots of guys. So, there wasn't a conscious effort, a lot of suits in suites, trying to orchestrate this thing; everybody was just trying to get a hit record. It's always a chicken and egg with these things; you can't always tell who caused what.
It worked together, is what happened. When two or three of these records were covered and did happen there was a demand created for more. Then others jumped on the bandwagon and consciously, then, promoted and drummed and tried to create or foster a demand for music they knew they could supply.
Goldmine: In your opinion, the white cover records created a demand and an interest in the original black artists. A lot of people see it the other way, that the white artists shut out the blacks, made it more difficult for the original recordings to be heard as long as the cleaned-up white versions were available.
Pat Boone: You can look at the R&B charts of the'50s…
Goldmine: Which, incidentally, included four Pat Boone records…
Pat Boone: On the R&B charts? I didn't know that. That's thrilling to me. Which ones?
Goldmine: 'Ain't That A Shame', 'At My Front Door', 'Don't Forbid Me', which made the Top 10, and 'Love Letters In The Sand'.
Pat Boone: (incredulously) 'Love Letters' made the R&B charts?
Goldmine: Number 12 in 1957.
Pat Boone: Isn't that incredible because 20 years later Debby [Boone, one of his daughters] did the same thing with 'You Light Up My Life'. [Author's note: According to the Billboard R&B chart book, that record did not make the R&B charts.]
Well, isn't that surprising? What makes you an R&B artist is not whether people consider you an R&B artist but whether R&B fans like your music and buy it. And sure, R&B fans knew about Fats and those records 'cause they've already been on those charts, and here comes mine and they not only like it but buy it. That is as much a compliment, if not more, than for the first few months of my career, until I began to make some TV appearances, there were many DJs and record fans who thought I was black.
Now you might not think I sound black but back then people just didn't know R&B music. That's a good illustration of the function I and others served. We were making a whole other kind of music known to a blissfully ignorant majority of the public. The artists themselves, particularly those who wrote their own songs, were thrilled. I've got tapes of them saying it themselves to prove it.
When Fats and Little Richard or Chuck Berry knew their songs were gonna be covered, it was like Billy Joel or James Taylor or somebody whose songs today are picked up and recorded by others. Ray Parker, Lionel Richie – don't tell me he wasn't thrilled when Kenny Rogers did some of his songs. As a writer or publisher or both you know your songs have been paid the supreme compliment. It's gonna get so much more exposure.
But what I started to say was if you look at those R&B charts of the '50s you'll see many names of artists who had several big hit records and they've never been heard from since. What makes you remember them is that their records were covered by other artists. Those records first became big pop hits and eventually focused attention on the originals; people like Alan Freed and others were insistent on playing the originals. Then the fans began to demand and there was a certain retroactive thing where they might not have known Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' to start with or Fats Domino's 'Ain't That A Shame' and then they heard mine.
Goldmine: Do you think the same people who bought your versions then went back and bought the originals?
Pat Boone: Yeah, eventually my record was played and played and DJs would say, "Here's the record that started this; here's the original record of 'Ain't That A Shame' by Fats Domino." It did happen more and more. It took a period of several years but I don't think it was inevitable. It certainly wasn't inevitable for a lot of the other R&B performers who weren't covered. They've unfortunately, perhaps – these good talented singers and songwriters – phased out. Hardly anybody remembers them today except dyed-in-the-wool R&B fans. We did serve a very useful function and, for better or worse, made a huge contribution to this juggernaut that became rock 'n' roll.
There's a progression and at any point along the line you interrupt the progression and maybe the final result just won't be there.
Goldmine: In your letter to Goldmine you said that all of the "vanilla" artists weren't white. Who would you consider a black vanilla artist, someone like Johnny Mathis?
Pat Boone: Yeah, Nat King Cole. Maybe the Mills Brothers. There weren't that many black pop artists, but the ones that were did R&B cover records because it was suddenly the rage. It became the in thing. Elvis did it, Frank Sinatra did it.
Remember, there was this big TV show, The Lucky Strike Hit Parade, and it was just hilarious to see how they'd take these songs – they had to do them if they were in the Top 10 – and they'd have to find ways to produce songs like 'Tutti Frutti' and 'Ain't That A Shame'. So that was also introducing it to this wide audience that up until then didn't know anything about R&B.
I think the Crew-Cuts may have started it, then Bill Haley and most artists were trying to find an R&B song they could cover. I had to turn down a few because even though I would change some lyrics of a Little Richard song I couldn't think of what to do with this song called 'Roll With Me Henry', by Etta James. There was no way I could do that song even though Randy Wood at Dot [Records] wanted me to because he knew it would be a hit. So Georgia Gibbs changed it to 'Dance With Me Henry' and had a big hit.
I had to be selective and change some lyrics but nobody seemed to care. It made it more vanilla, particularly 20-30 years later when you say, "That was so innocuous, why did he care?" Back then there was a hue and cry, not just on the part of ministers but even DJs and some of the kids themselves. We were living in Happy Days society then and it was pretty innocent by comparison. The only things that kids got into then was beer and cigarettes, and some heavy necking.
But for songs on the radio to refer even to those things was taboo. To refer to anything beyond that was scandalous and forbidden.
Goldmine: You must be absolutely appalled by what's going on today, then.
Pat Boone: Well, I did an interview recently for the Washington Times and it went out over the wire service, and I just gave the writer some comments off the top of my head. He asked me what I thought about Madonna and I said, "Well, she's a talented tart." That's what she portrays herself to be and that's what she is.
In every possible way she sells her own body, she sells sex, she sells total abandonment and promiscuity and even sacrilege. This is her very carefully cultivated and orchestrated image. Even the name Madonna. [Author's note: Madonna's name at birth was Madonna Louise Ciccone.] Her greatest hits package is called The Immaculate Collection. Well, what's that, an accident, that it compares her to the virgin Mary? Her records are 'Like A Virgin' and 'Like A Prayer'. She's obviously going on and on giving a total anti-Christ counterpoint to anything religious, which she despises, and anything moral, which she sees no use for. She's talented, no question about that, but there's a moral vacuum and a numbness that to me is horrifying.
The 2 Live Crew, again, talented guys, I'm sure, but they're criminals.
Goldmine: How are they criminals?
Pat Boone: They knowingly broke laws. Others that have been caught selling the product have agreed to take them off the shelves, because of laws that exist. It's one thing to try to get a law changed, it's another to willfully break it. The worst part to me about 2 Live Crew is not only that they wrap themselves in the flag and proclaim the First Amendment, as if the First Amendment was meant to defend obscenity – not just freedom of speech but absolute raunchy obscenity – but they say they're expressing their blackness. I know lots of black people across the country that were offended by that.
These poor chubby girls, [presumably 2 Live Crew's dancers], all they do onstage is bump and grind while the guys rant on, not even singing, of course. Since all they do is talk or yell or rap, they had a girl come on and sing with them when they were on Rick Dees [TV show]. She was singing largely in Spanish, to reach out to the Spanish population and sell even bigger. She was rubbing up against the various members of 2 Live Crew to the obvious delight of the audience. And they're [the group] just acting like she can't help it, we're so sexy. She's gonna be as nasty as she wants to be, too.
It's an animal act onstage, like dogs humping, and many black people are offended by [the group saying] this expresses their blackness, as well they should be.
Then, the heavy metal groups like Judas Priest and AC/DC and Guns N' Roses; they've gone beyond degradation and depravity to inhumanity. The very name heavy metal – there's nothing human about that. There was a review of a Judas Priest concert here [in the L.A. area] and the writer said he couldn't figure out if they were for evil or against it, but only because they weren't very good songwriters. They don't know how to say whatever they want to say, if there is anything they even want to say.
Goldmine: A lot of the songwriters in those groups will say that they're not really writing their own opinions, but rather reporting and observing, telling what they see out there in the world.
Pat Boone: Right, like Ozzy Osbourne. They say, "Oh, we're not promoting these things, we're reflecting society." But that's that chicken and egg thing again about what causes what. Obviously it might be triggered by something that exists. People do defecate; most everybody I know does. But not onstage. I just think there are things that, even though they're common to humanity, are not fit subjects for art.
And even though a Rembrandt or a Picasso or somebody might do that – and there are artists who do sheer pornography and it is art therefore because it's artists who did it – the subject is not worthy of the artistry. And great artists through the centuries have taken that into account. There are some things they can do, because they are artists – they can depict anything – and there will be some interest in it, but that would be sort of under the counter. Maybe permissible legally but not promoted openly and even attached to their names, because they don't necessarily want to be thought of through the ages as creators of this kind of thing, even though they might do it privately.
I just try to use the analogy that if Rembrandt did something on a bathroom wall, something pornographic, someone would want to have it because it's Rembrandt.
Goldmine: You appeared in a number of movies and then abruptly stopped working in film. Was that because you thought the scripts being offered were too risqué?
Pat Boone: Well, no, I didn't really get out. Two things happened. Scripts were being offered but they wanted to use my personal reputation and my public image and wanted to do twists on it. They wanted me to play a minister or a family man who got involved in a hopeless, seamy affair. Dick Van Dyke and others had done things like that but what the movie industry, and TV as well, loves to do is put an evangelist or a moral person in a compromising situation and then show he's got feet of clay, he's just like anybody else, only he's a bigger hypocrite.
Or they like to show the inability of a person to live up to his own standards and the tragedy of it. They just love to do Jim Bakker, many variations on him both fictional and factual.
So they wanted me to do that. This goes back maybe 15-20 years. In fact, I risked suspension from 20th Century Fox. I'd have to make the same decision today but it was very difficult then to turn down a movie with Marilyn Monroe. I would've loved doing something with Marilyn Monroe. I said I couldn't do it because the young guy, who they wanted me to play, had an affair. The script showed it as a bittersweet, romantic interlude; she goes on with her life, he goes on with his, no harm done.
Today, with teenage suicides, and women having breakdowns, things like Fatal Attraction are far more prevalent than affairs that just happen and nobody seems to get hurt. I turned down other parts too.
Goldmine: Did you ever have any offers to make a film with Elvis?
Pat Boone: No, and that's a shame. I did a tribute album to Elvis; this is a mighty good story. In the early '60s I decided I wanted to do an album of Elvis's songs, my way but definitely as a tribute to his success.
I'd become very friendly with Colonel Tom Parker, as well as with Elvis. So I told Randy Wood at Dot Records and he thought it was a good idea. We put together the list of records, including 'Hound Dog', 'Don't Be Cruel', 'Heartbreak Hotel', 'Love Me Tender', 'All Shook Up', 'Teddy Bear', 'Wear My Ring Around Your Neck'. And we got a great jazz quintet with Paul Smith arranging and conducting. We had a great little band.
We were in the studio doing these things and I saw Tom Parker and I happened to tell him about it. He said, "Ah, great, I'll tell the boy about it." Then he said, "Now, we gotta talk about the royalty." I had told him we were gonna call it Pat Sings Elvis. So I said, "Oh, there'll be plenty of royalties," because Elvis was listed as writer on most of these songs. Which was very suspect. He said, "No, I mean the royalties for the use of his name." I said, "Wait a minute, you mean because I'm gonna call it Pat Sings Elvis? I'm honoring him, it's a tribute."
He said, "Yeah, but his name is in the title, it'll help sell albums. You've gotta pay him a royalty." I said, "Colonel, I've never heard of such a thing." He said, "Well, it's just business. I've gotta look out for the boy." Of course he was also 50 percent looking out.
Well, I went back to Randy Wood and we both were angry and then we started laughing. We already had the project in the works and we liked it. I still do 25 years later; it's some of my best singing, most creative arrangements. What I did was I had a painter do a painting of me in an Elvis pose wearing a gold lame suit and holding a guitar. It couldn't be anyone but Elvis. And we put all the titles on the front cover. And then we made the title Pat Sings Guess Who. On the back I did the liners and I referred to my friendship with Guess Whosley.
I guess it was too early for an Elvis tribute. He was still doing great himself and although a lot of my fans bought it not many of his did because they wanted his versions of his songs. Now I think it might make a great TV package. It is obviously a fond and respectful tribute to Elvis. When I did 'Hound Dog' I did the 'Hound Dog Minuet', the 'All Shook Up Merengue'. When I did 'Love Me Tender' and 'Heartbreak Hotel' I did different versions but still as the blues ballads that they are. In fact, I got much more moody in 'Heartbreak Hotel' than he did.
The capper of the story is that Tom Parker, when we put out the album – and of course I didn't have to pay him a royalty because I didn't use Elvis's name – sent me a gold-plated membership card in his very exclusive Snowmen's Club, for people who snow other people.
Goldmine: I guess he was the charter member.
Pat Boone: I've got the card and he's called the High Potentate of the Snowmen's Club. And he certainly was. He was selling ads in his own autobiography. He sold about 250 full-page ads and he hadn't written a word yet. I don't think he ever did.
Goldmine: How did you see the difference between your audience and Elvis's? Were they the same kids?
Pat Boone: A lot of them. Of course, even then, there was a growing subculture, counterculture, and rock 'n' roll, R&B was feeding into that and was fostering that. He was representative – because that's what he actually was – of the sort of outcast kid that, for one reason or another, either economic or because he wasn't on the athletic teams or didn't have the latest clothes, was a minority in a lot of schools.
Elvis was the guy with the longer-than-normal hair and the turned-up collar and broad shoulders on his jackets – that was not the accepted fashion. He had his own hillbilly – I don't know what other phrases you would use – fashion that he adopted and felt comfortable with. The sideburns – most kids in the mid-'50s weren't wearing these long sideburns. In fact, a lot of us couldn't.
He had a look and a certain thumb-to-the-nose kind of attitude. What was so weird about Elvis was that on one hand he was respectful to most adults but defiant to traditions.
Goldmine: But he was still seen as such a threat, even though he was basically a good kid from the South.
Pat Boone: He really was. What he found was in his performing he could wiggle his hips – he said it was almost involuntary and I can believe it, he was a nervous type, he was sort of hyper and twitchy – and he discovered when he lowered his eyelids or winked at a girl or twitched just a little or leered with that sideways smile, that it had an effect on the audience.
Any performer finds that when they do certain things that get an excitement going with the audience they do it more. He loved getting the screams and the whistles and all that. He majored in it. Still, a lot of the fans – and I know because I had a very large, active fan club – bought my records too, and a lot of mine had all of Elvis's records. Some of the radio stations would have contests and try to set up a rivalry but I don't think either Elvis or I felt any particular rivalry. Maybe a certain professional competition, but I knew my success depended on what I did, not on anything Elvis did.
I was grateful that my image was different from his, because if I had tried to be the same as him, who was gonna compete with Elvis on his own terms? Nobody. I was very fortunate, A, that I had a six-month head start, and B, that – and I didn't analyze this till much later – I was seen as the conformist and playing by the rules and winning. There's a lot of that in most American kids; they like to figure out what the rules are and see if they can play by them and win. I did and they identified with that.
But, he was the rebel, he was ignoring and in many cases breaking the rules, and winning. And there's a strain of that in most everybody too. You say I can ignore the conventions and rules and do it my way and win. When Elvis sang 'My Way', I chuckled because I never felt I could do 'My Way'. That's a song for a guy who's been around for a long time and he's looking back now and he's saying, "I took the blows, the record shows I did it my way." I'm thinking, what is it these guys did their way? Their skin hadn't even cleared up yet. Did what?
Most of us like to say I can do it my way and win, and Elvis was the supreme example of the guy who's doing just that. On the other hand, I was going to college, I was married.
Goldmine: How did you balance all that? You were going to school at the peak of your career, making records, movies, doing TV appearances, even writing books and magazine articles. Plus you'd begun raising a family. You were one busy guy.
Pat Boone: I was busy. I was lucky that I had a supportive wife and good people around me to help me take care of the professional requirements. I would somehow manage to juggle taking a full load at Columbia University, making some movies, a weekly television series, always managing to make records and stay in the charts. More than Elvis did; that's one of the records I really cherish: that for over 200 weeks I was never off the charts. That rode through several trends, ups and downs and changes in rock 'n' roll music. That included some pop, some movie themes, rock 'n' roll.
The question you asked [in a response to Boone's letter in an earlier issue of Goldmine], Does Pat consider himself a rock 'n' roll singer? I consider myself an entertainer who sang rock 'n' roll. It was one of the things I did, and I did it well enough to get in the charts and sell millions of records.
At the time, those who really were the experts – the DJs, the record buyers themselves, the trade publications – considered me a bonafide rock 'n' roller. It's only 20 years later that you look back and say, Gee, he doesn't stack up against Screamin' Jay Hawkins or Jerry Lee Lewis or Howlin' Wolf or any of these other guys, even against Little Richard or Fats. He doesn't sound like a rock 'n' roller. Not now, but by hindsight, right.
Goldmine: How did you even come to sing rock 'n' roll? When you came to Dot Records you hadn't planned on singing rock 'n' roll.
Pat Boone: I was on national television, on some talent shows, the Ted Mack Amateur Hourand Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show, which was a professional show, and I won them both. That didn't lead to anything except a handshake agreement to record for Dot Records. I went back to school at North Texas State and was planning to be a school teacher.
Goldmine: You'd done some records before that.
Pat Boone: I'd done three records on a little label in Nashville called Republic, [author's note: actually there were four], and they were all pop, very old-fashioned-sounding records. I'm sure you could play a couple of these records and nobody would recognize me at all, even my own fans. I sounded more like Vaughn Monroe than even Pat Boone.
Goldmine: What kind of music were you listening to at the time?
Pat Boone: I was listening to pop music: Eddie Fisher, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Patti Page. Not only listening to it but singing it because I was doing radio and television as an amateur and then as a local professional regionally in Texas.
Because of the national exposure, which created tremendous excitement in my home states of Tennessee and Texas – I'd grown up in Tennessee and was now living in Texas, going to school – Randy Wood, of Dot Records, based in Gallatin, Tennessee, thought, Gee, this guy's got a lot of national exposure, I think I hear some talent, so I'm gonna sign him.
We didn't actually sign a contract for the first five years of my career; we just had a handshake and agreed verbally that he'd pay me the standard royalty of three percent. I had a number of million-selling records and was still getting three percent. Then he bumped me up to five percent, which was okay with me because money was rolling in from other sources.
But he called me up in Denton, Texas, in March 1955 and said, "I've got a song I want you to record." This was eight months after we'd agreed to record and I thought he'd forgotten all about me. He said he had a song he thought was a hit and wanted me to meet him in Chicago. I asked him what the song was and he said it was called 'Two Hearts', by Otis Williams and the Charms. It was an R&B hit.
I knew that was just starting. I'd been listening to the radio and I knew about the Crew-Cuts, the Penguins – I didn't know much about the original R&B artists except the Penguins. But I knew it was starting to happen and now he wanted me to copy an R&B song and I just assumed 'Two Hearts', it's a ballad, I can do that.
I get to Chicago and find it's a real rhythm 'n' blues jumper. First I said, "I don't know if I can do that." I mean, I could sing it but I didn't think I could make it sound anything like the original. Well, we did it and we came away with a Top 10 hit, eventually a million-seller. And of course Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and others covered that same song. If you think mine sounds vanilla you ought to hear them. My record did capture a lot of the same feeling [of the original]. I tried my best to do it vocally, not having been very familiar with R&B. I tried my best to capture their flavor and feeling, and did.
Then on the other side was a real raunchy little rock 'n' roll song called 'Tra La La'. And that's about all the lyrics. It's only got about eight words besides "Tra la la." It's just blues. I did discover in the early recording days that I did have a curious affinity for blues. I loved doing 'Stormy Monday' and songs like this. I did record songs like 'Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee', 'Money Honey'. I really felt at home with some down and dirty blues. I did some Jimmy Reed songs, songs like 'Going To New York'. I don't think they were ever released but Randy Wood knew he could put a blues song in front of me and something very catchy and tasty would develop out of it. I would settle into this groove and I really loved singing blues.
Now, this is weird for the ultimate WASP who grew up in a happy home in Nashville, Tennessee. But I somehow loved it and that was also true of Elvis; he had a terrific affinity for the blues, and for R&B, as it turned out.
Anyway, Randy Wood sent me all over the country knowing we had competition. He sent me to about 20 cities in 18 days: Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Akron, Canton, Baltimore, Boston. He went to a lot of other cities and went to the radio stations and the dance party TV shows and we established my record as the record of that song, although there were several other cover records.
Then the next record was 'Ain't That A Shame', which went right to number one. I didn't feel like I was a recording artist, I felt like I was a college student who was having a couple of fluke experiences. I didn't expect anything long-lasting to come of this, I was going to become a school teacher.
But in August of '55 I was driving across town in Manhattan and I pulled up to a group of kids in a car. It was hot and the windows were rolled down and they were just bouncing up and down listening to, in my recollection it was Alan Freed, and they were listening to my record of 'Ain't That A Shame'.
Goldmine: I thought Alan Freed never played the white cover records.
Pat Boone: Well, he took that position but not at first. At the very beginning he'd play originals and then play the cover versions and let his fans tell him which record they liked. I think mine was one of those because he played both records. Eventually, his own listeners demanded the originals and he took that position – he didn't arrive at that position himself and say, "I'm going in that direction whether you like it or not." He wasn't an idiot. He had a big black audience in New York City even though he was on a white pop station. He obviously liked the originals better too, so again it was chicken and egg.
Anyway, I was sitting alongside these kids at this traffic light and I wanted to say, "Hey, that's me." I didn't because that would've been pompous but something melted and just flowed into me at that point and I said, "Oh, this is what a recording artist feels like." To that point it seemed to me that it was nothing but hype and promotion and hard work. It had all seemed to me that it was manufactured.
But when I saw these kids, and they had no idea I was anywhere about, I thought, ooh, I've gotta do more of that. That led me to 'Tutti Frutti' and 'Long Tall Sally'. Randy Wood was glued to the R&B charts and whatever was happening…
Goldmine: Dot became known as the premier cover label. Randy Wood built his company on white artists covering black music.
Pat Boone: He jumped on it with a fury. And he had not just me but every other artist on his label doing it. He had the Fontane Sisters doing [the Charms'] 'Hearts Of Stone'. But also, to his credit, we were looking for other songs I could do, and we did some things that weren't cover songs, for B-sides. 'Tutti Frutti' had 'I'll Be Home' [originally by the Flamingos] on the B-side and that led to 'Bernardine', which was Johnny Mercer writing a lyric that was decidedly un-rock 'n' rollish. It was the A-side and we put 'Love Letters In The Sand' on the other side. The B-side eventually took over. 'Love Letters' was number one and went on to sell maybe four million copies as a single.
So I had several two-sided hits and sometimes they were rock 'n' roll and sometimes they weren't. Then I got into other types of songs, my own movie themes and things, that were really original.
Goldmine: At what point did you decide you didn't want to sing rock 'n' roll anymore?
Pat Boone: I never did. In fact, I came back after some years of having nothing that resembled rock 'n' roll, with one of the biggest records I ever had, 'Speedy Gonzales', which was a novelty kind of thing but definitely rock 'n' roll. I think I got a real great feeling on it. It was a song I discovered down in the Philippines in an after-hours spot. It was actually an American record by an artist on RCA called David Dante. It had not been a hit in the States at all but had been a number one record in the Philippines.
Goldmine: Did you ever get any flak from Mexican people who might have thought that record was derogatory?
Pat Boone: Noooo, never. I've had people ask me that before. They might think it was a little denigrating but anyone who knew anything about me knew I wouldn't be looking down my nose at anybody. Certainly this was a colorful, funny record about a fictional person called Speedy Gonzales.
It was a mystery to me why anybody would think otherwise but I guess if you look at it a while and try to read some cultural significance into it, as people did with Beatles records, and say this is a picture of a slothful Mexican and his wife trying to get into being responsible and all he cares about is tequila and all that…nobody saw it that way. It had been a hit in the Philippines – I don't know if you'd call that Hispanic but it was a huge number one down there.
I brought it home and tried to get Randy Wood to record it and he said, "No, your rock 'n' roll days are over. You do movie themes, love ballads, nobody would buy this from you anymore." I said, "Randy, it's just a song. I don't care who does it, I think I can do a good record." It took me a year to get him to let me do it and to get me off his back because I wouldn't give up on it. The high voice on that record was Robin Ward, who had two or three records of her own ['Wonderful Summer', Dot 16530, 1963]. Of course, Elton John copied the same thing later in 'Crocodile Rock'. He covered me.
Goldmine: Would you want to record rock 'n' roll again today?
Pat Boone: I've approached both Fats and Little Richard about doing an album. We have Michael Lloyd, who did Dirty Dancing, who wants to do the album. Warner Brothers is interested. I've got to get Fats and Little Richard nailed down.
I want them to cover me. What I want is for Fats to do 'Love Letters In The Sand'. I can hear him doing it. I can hear those piano triplets. And I can hear Little Richard doing my gospel song 'Wonderful Time'.
I'd also like to get a bunch of these people together – Fats, Little Richard, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Dion, Little Anthony, Frankie and Annette, maybe Kookie Byrnes, Mary Wilson and the Supremes – all arriving in vintage '50s cars and do a benefit. Some performing and some not. We think we can get Ringo to play drums, Jeff Beck – people who are fans of one or more of these artists – and do some things for an MTV special. Viacom/MTV have already said they love it. I'm sort of the instigator.
Most of these guys are friends of mine, even though once in a while you'll hear somebody like Chuck Berry, in his film, act like he was being ripped off. The truth was he and all of them were ecstatic when somebody did one of their songs. Some of the spotlight the cover artists enjoyed spilled over onto the original artist and gave him more exposure and opportunity than he was gonna have otherwise in his field.
I've always been grateful to them and I want to do this album as not only a tribute to them but each of us do one original song and then do something together. I think it would be a real collectors' gem. I think it would be good for them career-wise and good for me; it would bring all of us into the right focus. We were a group of individual artists, everybody struggling for his place in the sun. We helped each other; there was a symbiosis where we were feeding off R&B but R&B was flourishing because of it.
The only ripping off that got done was on the part of some of the R&B record companies that didn't pay the artists. But that also happened in the pop world as well. It was almost a given that you're gonna be taken.
Goldmine: What are you doing today? Are you still recording Christian music? And are you still together with your wife and daughters as the Boone Family Singers?
Pat Boone: The Family Singers was phased out because all of the girls are married now. So Daddy's on his own again. I travel to the Orient and other parts of the world a lot, where record fans are much more loyal.
Goldmine: Why do you think the hits eventually stopped coming for you?
Pat Boone: Because Randy Wood got out of the record business. I went with Mike Curb and then to Capitol for a brief period, then to Bill Cosby's label, Tetragrammaton, for about six months. Then MGM for a while with Mike Curb, then Motown for three years. That's when I got into country, ironically.
Goldmine: You've been doing Christian music ever since?
Pat Boone: Well, gospel music and I go into the studio and do country music, or hopefully crossover, records. But it's just so hard these days.
To answer the question of why the hits stopped, they do stop for everybody; they even stopped for Elvis for a while. He couldn't even get arrested in country; he was getting played but couldn't sell anything until he went to Memphis and took a new approach.
I’ve been trying to convince somebody for some time, particularly MCA, where all my original catalog is, if they would spend a few bucks on a real good country session with a good producer who has songs that are commercial, that would activate the old catalog. I can do most anything Don Williams or Kenny Rogers has.
Goldmine: MCA hasn't released any of your catalog on CD yet, has it?
Pat Boone: Just the same dozen or so gold records. They don't put anything out. I've tried to buy all my catalog out but they won't sell it; they'll lease a cut for about a nickel a cut. It's sort of a dog in the manger approach; they're not doing anything with the six or eight hundred songs I did, they're just sitting on a shelf. Of course, if I went down in a plane or was arrested and sent away then all those things would come cascading out. But as long as I go on living a healthy life they're probably gonna stay on a shelf.
I do go into the studio – I have some very good musicians who tour with me – and we'll do something like Kathy Mattea's 'Come From The Heart' or Neil Diamond's 'Story Of My Life' or 'Wind Beneath My Wings'. I was doing that when Gary Morris's country version had just come out.
Goldmine: Do you still sing the old rock 'n' roll hits in your concerts?
Pat Boone: Oh yeah, every show I do. I told Fats your ears oughta be burning because I'm doing 'Ain't That A Shame' and 'Tutti Frutti' every show. Sometimes I'll do a little of 'Long Tall Sally'. People ask me to do 'Blueberry Hill' and I always say that was Fats, but then they remind me that I recorded it too.
In my concerts I do keep doing the things that were successful and some more current things, including gospel, but I think this record with Richard and Fats would be great for everyone and bring everything full circle. It could be as good for us as the Wilburys were for Roy Orbison.
I really crave seeing the cover. We've even kidded about calling it Oreo.
Goldmine: I saved the most important question for last. Your shoes. Was it your idea to make a trademark out of wearing white buck shoes or was that something you did anyway and the media just picked up on it?
Pat Boone: Do you know that Elvis and I both wore white buck shoes on our first TV appearance? But of course, nobody saw his feet. Mine they did. His were scuffed-up and mine were freshly powdered and white. All high school and college kids were wearing white buck shoes in the '50s but I was the first guy to be associated with them on television.
After appearing on Ed Sullivan's show and Perry Como's show and wearing a sport coat and white bucks, they quickly became part of my persona. I wasn't intending on that being the case; in fact, I tried to work in brown and black suits, with black or brown shoes, but the kids would say, "Where are your white shoes?"
So my agent saw this was something different than other performers. So I kept on wearing them.
© Jeff Tamarkin, 1991