Google Pat Boone – be warned, more than 1.9 million results show up! – and a word picture of an astonishing, long lasting, still thriving career in music and entertainment emerges.
Singer, actor, TV host, producer, songwriter, author, motivational speaker, TV pitchman, radio personality, record company head, TV station owner, sports team owner, family man, humanitarian, a man unafraid to air his views.
A lot of Pat Boones from which to pick and choose.
A lot of Pat Boones to go around.
Right now, Boone – the #10 all time top recording artist, according to music industry bible, Billboard – is the Lion in Winter, five decades of recording history behind him and a busy future ahead. A very active lion…
We start off the interview by me playing his version of “Tutti Frutti” and go from there. I can hear him smiling through the phone at the offset.
Eric: How are you?
Pat: I’m doing great! Thanks for playing that early version of “Tutti Frutti” I almost forget sometimes that that was rock and roll [laughs]. I was right in the heat and the heart of it. I’ve done so many things since then, of course I’m not in the rock and roll hall of fame, because the folks that run that thing decided that I wasn’t really a rock and roller because I also recorded movie themes and gospel, country and most every other kind of music and didn’t just stick to rock and roll. Hearing that record again, not having heard it for a while, I realize – Listen, I was a rock and roller.
Eric: I know you were. I took a class at university all those years ago, “The History Of Rock And Roll.” They started the class off playing Little Richard and Elvis Presley. They were chosen for people to get excited about the class, and it worked. Then they played your version of “Tutti Frutti,” which was designed for people to have a preconceived notion that it wasn’t rock and roll. And people groaned and some booed. But this has always been my contention – You were probably more authentic as an artist than any other person that the class actually saw that day. You were never fooling anyone into what you were. You were always “This is Pat Boone, this is who I am and if I want to cover songs in my own style, I’m going to do it, and by the way, this is what it is.”
Pat: Yeah, and they were very successful. Eric, no one knows this and I didn’t know it myself, until I wrote a book a few years ago and had to do some statistical research. Truthfully, I didn’t know but from March of 1955 to February of 1956 I had six million selling singles, two of them number ones. One of those six was “Tutti Frutti” and then the number one was “Ain’t That A Shame” and another one was “I’ll Be Home.” All of this was Rock n Roll. It was rhythm and blues done my way but introducing it to a far larger pop audience who didn’t know anything about rhythm and blues and we were calling it Rock N Roll, and it was. It had a boldness and an all out rock style. Yeah, I didn’t sound like Fats. I didn’t sound like Little Richard or Chuck Berry, I sounded like Pat Boone. But the records were million sellers, and no one ever touched that record. I didn’t know it myself until many years later that I had six million selling singles, and of course two of those were on the same record but both sides and two number ones in 11 months, just before Elvis hit. That helped me, whether that Elvis avalanche and we were friendly competitors for the next five years.
Eric: When you’re recording all these songs in the beginning, how did you know if a song was right for you? Did the record labels choose for you? Did you have management around? How did you know what song was going to fit your style of voice?
Pat: I’ll tell you, it was exactly how you just described it. I had a recording-head of the company, Randy Wood. A small aggressive record label. He had been in the record selling business, that is finished goods in a record store, he went into the record production business with that same sense of what the public would like. I just sang whatever he put in front of me, in fact, after I had that first hit of “Two Hearts, Two Kisses,” I was competing with Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, two vocal artists who all recorded that same song and they were known and I wasn’t. My record became the #1 record of that song because it captured more of the original flavor. The next record was “Ain’t That A Shame” Fats Domino’s giant hit. But it was not known to the pop audience. I had just switched to Columbia University. I was a college student and I left North Texas State because I was having a few hit records and I moved my wife and our young child to New YOrk and enrolled at Columbia studying English thinking I was going to be an English teacher. I tried to sing “Isn’t That A Shame” instead of “Ain’t” [laughs] it just didn’t work. Randy Wood said, “No, it has to be ‘Ain’t,'” and so of course I did as he directed trusting his judgement and then giving it everything I had and singing until I was hoarse. But, with all the energy with my body I sang those songs and they were hits. It was not my choice. I just did what was put in front of me and gave it the best I had.
Eric: Your audience was white, but for many of them, this wasn’t just the first time they heard Rock N Roll, but you gave black artists their just due. What people forget, is when you had your Pat Boone Chevy Showroom show, you were having a lot of African American artists on your program and battled with the television executives, having people on that couldn’t get on anywhere else.
Pat: You’ve done some homework! That’s something I’m going to tell my audiences that you just mentioned. I’m going to be telling the audience in this show called “Music in Memories.” I’m going to take them along the whole course of my life from babyhood to now and sing live but also playing videos with artists like you’ve just mentioned and telling the story of how rhythm and blues became rock n roll and artists like myself and Elvis and others actually helped birth to rock n roll – we were like midwives at the birth of rock n roll. Of course, I sang a lot of other songs with many other artists and in this show I’m gonna be doing duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole and a lot of great other artists – Johnny Mathis, who came on my show. Many of them black artists. I was criticised and almost had to walk off my own show because the sponsor, Chevrolet was having trouble selling cars in the south because of the number of black artists I had on my show. I’ll tell the story about how Harry Belafonte called and offered to come on my show and the ad agency, the network and the sponsor said “Oh no, we can’t have him. He’s speaking out on civil rights.” I said, “Well, then, you’ll have to get someone else to take this show from here – I’m not calling Harry Belafonte and telling him I can’t host him on my show.”
Eric: Nobody tells Harry Belafonte or Pat Boone what to do.
Pat: No, or Pat Boone for that matter. It’s not my show if I can’t have Harry Belafonte. I’ll talk about that and other things that are climatic moments in my career. It’s a show I really enjoyed doing because I can relive some 60 years, almost, of a career that has broken some barriers, set some standards. I found out just recently that I had one more top 40 hit in the 50s than Elvis. I didn’t know that. But, you do the statistical search and go back and check the records and you find out things that nobody knew. So, I will tell the story how this all came to be but I’ll also show film clips from the movies with Ann Margret, Debbie Reynolds, Barbara Eden and I’ll show some embarrassing moments from my career. I figure it’s only fair if I show some good ones.
Eric: You have to show some bad ones.
Pat: I’ve got to show some bad ones too, yeah.
Eric: When you were telling me about all those stats about music, and hits. Are you as astonished about your career when you look back at the figures?
Pat: I walk around with my mouth hanging open because the things that happened to me, and I reflect on it a good bit now, of a kid growing up in Nashville and no musical training to speak of. No contacts at all. Entering talent contests and almost coming in second because in the talent contests I entered as a highschooler there was always a pianist, opera singer or a dancer – someone who’d taken a lot of lessons, learned a skill and was good at it. I was just a guy singing pop songs, anyone could do that. So I always came in second until I won a contest, set in New York and audition with Ted Mack Amateur hour, which was the American Idol of its day. I want that three weeks in a row, then another talent national show and suddenly I had a recording contract and the career took off in the most unexpected, unpredictable miraculous way. I’ve just tried to hold on for dear life for the last 60 years [laughs].
Eric: You’re in the Gospel Hall of Fame but not the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. There’s a slew of artists that have touched on the musical styling that you have that are in there. Do you care about something like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Do you think you’ve got enough respect in the music world?
Pat: I don’t care about it at all, I’ll tell you why. I’ve seen that it is not based on an artists performance or an artist’s output or even the numbers of records sold or charted records. I did have more honest to goodness Rock and Roll records hits that were million sellers than some of the artists that are in there and they’re artists whom were never rock and rollers. Brenda Lee was never a rock and roller, Gene Pitney, even Paul Simon. Not rock and roll, they were pop! But, because rock and roll fans and the ones who make the decisions at the rock and roll hall of fame – they like these artists. Johnny cash was not a rock and roller, he was a country artist. [laughs] If he had some rock elements in his music, OK. That doesn’t qualify him for the rock and roll hall of fame. I feel you, it’s lost its meaning now and gospel music hall of fame, I treasure that. But the rock and roll hall of fame really is something I don’t care about.
Eric: A bunch of people in a room deciding what is rock and roll and what deserves to be in the hall of fame really isn’t that important to your fans, because you, Pat Boone have millions of fans and you’re still at it doing more at this age than most people at half their age.
Pat: I’m six months older than Elvis would have been and I often wonder: would he still be doing what I’m doing? Which is performing and recording, a lot of business things and still playing singles tennis. He never took up that, he took up karate. I often think, if he had taken up golf or tennis, he might still be with us. There would have been more social interaction and outdoor type sport, I still Elvis still might be performing. Look at Mick Jagger, look at Paul McCartney. Still going strong.
Eric:If Elvis was still around, he might be probably a half a step behind whatever you’re doing, in looking at your full schedule.
Pat: I did have an 11 month head start, thank God for that.