Gary James' Interview With
Donny Osmond

He was a television star at 6. A veteran of Las Vegas by the age of 8. He had 23 Gold records to his name by the time he was 13. In fact, in 1972, the group he was part of received more Gold records than any other act in the world. He had 8 Top 20 hits on his own. He performed for Royalty. By the age of 18, he had four careers going on simultaneously! A member of The Osmond Brothers, a solo artist, half of a duo with his sister Marie (Donny and Marie) and co-host of the late '70's TV variety show, The Donny and Marie Show. His name (as if you don't already know) is Donny Osmond.

Q - Donny, last time I talked to you was 1986. You were playing Miller Court, along with Marie at the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

A - Wow.

Q - So, you know, what can I say? Every nineteen years we have to talk whether you want to or not. It's just the way it is.

A - (laughs) You got it!

Q - I see you're playing The Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York.

A - That's right.

Q - And I also see you'll be in the U.K. Are you touring behind a CD?

A - I am. It's called "What I Meant To Say". This is my 54th album as a matter of fact, and the first one I've actually written and produced.

Q - You're traveling with your band?

A - I do. Although this tour, I've completely whittled it down to four musicians and myself. Kind of like the thing to do. Springsteen just had a big article in USA Today about just going acoustically. I just think there's a whole trend right now where people want to just hear the music.

Q - You're traveling by bus?

A - Yeah. That's the best way to do it.

Q - I believe I saw you in the audience of American Idol a few months back.

A - Yeah.

Q - The format of this show, where each week you'll have different contestants singing a different style of music, is this really a fair way of judging how good a singer you are?

A - No.

Q - That's what I thought you'd say. Maybe if Donny Osmond was starting today and you went on the show, maybe you couldn't pull off singing a jazz song. Maybe you could. I don't know.

A - It's a great opportunity for someone to show versatility. But, it isn't necessarily a great opportunity to create a star in their own right. I don't think Madonna could pull it off. I don't think Springsteen would pull it off.

Q - Or Bob Dylan.

A - Bob Dylan would definitely not be able to pull it off.

Q - Or Jimi Hendrix.

A - Any of these classic guys wouldn't be able to do it. Michael Jackson in his hey-day wouldn't be able to do it.

Q - It is nice to see someone like Bo Bice, who was traveling around the South in a small band, have a place to showcase his talent.

A - Well, you're hitting on the very main reason why there are positives towards that show. And that is - a platform. But, it's a very high pressure platform. You're touching on a subject that's been in the back of my mind now for many, many years, to be able to come up with the right kind of show that presents some great talent, for who they are and what they are, not what everybody else tries to mould them what to become. You talk about Bo. He had everything going against him as far as the typical mould and model of an American Idol. But, he's proved everybody wrong with his good rock 'n roll style.

Q - Bo Bice reminds me of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant. The long hair. The way he holds the microphone stand. America's ready for The South To Do It Again!

A - It comes to mind the story that happened to me. Everybody does not equate Donny Osmond with Rock 'n Roll. When you say rocker and Donny Osmond, it's kind of like oil and water. It just does not mix. When Dweezel Zappa asked me to do a cover of a Bee Gees song, except do it in a real hard rock 'n roll style, on one of his albums, I jumped at the chance. You talk about holding the mic just right and the stand just right, 'cause rock 'n roll is more than just an attitude of music - it's a feeling.

Q - Ever given any thought to an Osmond Brothers reunion tour?

A - Oh, I don't know. I've been asked about it many, many times. We're all so busy in our own careers. I'm working my own album. They've got their own careers. I think it'd be fun, but, not a career move.

Q - In the mid-80s, you worked with Jeff Beck, Boy George and Chicago. In what capacity? As a producer?

A - No. I did the "Ambitious" video with Jeff Beck. I did some writing with Boy George. I sang on 17 (Chicago).

Q - You recounted a story for this book "Who's Your Fave Rave", on the history of 16 Magazine about Michael Jackson inviting you over to his house in Encino. You said "Whenever I'd go over to Michael's house, Joe (Michael's father) gave me the coldest shoulder anyone could ever have." Why do you think that was?

A - I don't know. That's Joe. You gotta know Joe to appreciate it. I remember mentioning that to a few people in interviews. I thought Oh, maybe I better not say this. But you know, he is what he is. And he's a very cold person. I don't like to speak poorly or down about people, but he's an interesting man.

Q - You actually performed on the same bill with The Jackson 5 at the CNE (Canadian Nation Exhibition) in Toronto. You opened the show?

A - No. That's not true. We never performed together. That's when we first met. But, The Jacksons and The Osmonds never performed together. The only time Michael and I were together in public was on the American Music Awards. Dick Clark called us both and we presented an award together on the very first American Music Awards. CNE is where The Jacksons came to watch our show and meet us.

Q - In the show you do today (2005) you're obviously doing songs from the new CD, but how about the songs from the past? Do you sing them as well?

A - Oh, I think you have to , don't you?

Q - You do, but do you tire of it?

A - Well, what I've done is revamped them a bit. Half way through the show, the band walks off stage and I'm there by myself. I sit down at the piano and do a jazz rendition of "Puppy Love". I treat it with a little respect. I used to make fun of it 'cause there was certainly a lot to make fun of. (laughs) That kind of career...that teeny-bopper career.

Q - I actually liked Top 40 radio.

A - Well, it's interesting that you should say that. I was doing an interview this morning and we were talking about how music has changed over the years. Yeah, there's some great artists out there today. You can't say that the music industry today is worse than it used to be in the '70s 'cause there's some really talented people, but we've got more garbage out there. If you analyze the songs of the 70s, at least the good ones, it's all about the music and the melody and the lyric, whereas now you take trash and produce it. Well, it's OK. It'll hit.

Q - I wanted to follow up with a question pertaining to one of your earlier answers. It sounds to me like Donny Osmond would like to put an American Idol type show together.

A - Well, I don't know if it would be along those lines, but I am developing a couple of ideas right now. I don't want it to be a knock-off of American Idol. But, I certainly would love to have the opportunity to introduce some really true musicians, people who really work hard at their craft, who will never see the light of day because they just don't have the right, powerful people behind them or just didn't quite make an audition. It's like we mentioned earlier about Dylan. He would've failed in auditions, but look at his contribution.

Q - When I was reading your autobiography, Life Is Just What You Make It, I came away with the feeling that just maybe you would have preferred not to have joined your brothers as a singer and dancer.

A - Yeah. That really is kind of true. That's a true statement. When I first debuted on The Andy Williams Show when I was about 5, I didn't know how hard the business was. I just thought you learned a song, you go out there and to it and people clap. Then I realized later on when I was pretty much stuck in the band at 7, and traveling the world, it's not as fun as I thought it would be. (laughs) There's a lot more work to this. But, as the years went on, I must've been 12 or 13 when "One Bad Apple" hit, I thought; you know what? I'm gonna keep doing this. When I was 20, that's when I really made the determination to stick with this even though there's so much negativity goin' on at that age of my life. This is what I will do the rest of my life.

Q - Going through what you went through, all of the rehearsals, the striving to get every dance step right - it almost borders on child abuse.

A - (laughs) That's not the first time people have used that term, so don't worry about it. Yeah, you could look at it that way, or you could look at it as an opportunity at such a young age that my parents enabled me to have. Yes, they kept me in a rehearsal studio, but you gotta wear my father's shoes here for a second. Alright, we've got a hit record. We are a family band. There is a demand. Do I shut it down? (laughs), for the sake of me going to a public school? He could've made that decision. But he didn't. And I like the business. I like what I do. Yes, I get frustrated with it sometimes - the political nightmare that it is, particularly nowadays, not to rehash what we talked about already. But, the fact that music isn't music anymore, it's disposable. But having said all of that, I could go on and on. We both could go on and on about the negativities.

Q - Is satellite radio playing your latest material?

A - Do want to hear something amazing?

A - Yeah.

Q - Smooth Jazz is playing me. I'm now a smooth jazz artist. That's when pigs will fly. Well, pigs are flying! We just picked up another station yesterday. We are one spin away from hitting the charts and next week we're gonna be on the charts. So, you know, it's like, yeah, it's tough. It's tough for everybody, particularly older, established artists, because I play that game everyday with radio. But, that's the nature of the beast we live in and I think XM Radio has a tiger by the tail, personally.

Q - In your autobiography you write "No one ever told me how to behave or what should say or should not say." Correct me if I'm wrong here, but going back 33 years, didn't interviewers have to submit their questions to you in advance?

A - I don't know. I never heard that...any pre-screening of questions - maybe (manager) Ed Leffler. (laughs) Maybe it was Ed back in those days, 'cause he was pretty tough. But, I never demanded that. And also that quote you just read me, what context was that in? Because there were times when it was just the exact opposite, later in my life.

Q - This was the early days.

A - Yeah, Ok. Well, that makes more sense.

Q - In 1972, you performed in Syracuse at the War Memorial and stayed at the downtown Holiday Inn.

A - Oh, really?

Q - It was reported in the Syracuse newspapers that when you exited the hotel to go to the concert hall, you were surrounded by like, 8 or 9 bodyguards. Why did you need so many bodyguards?

A - (laughs) I have no idea, because I didn't order them! Those are crazy days, man. There were times when I thought this is really overkill, but, I'm having the time of my life. (laughs) I think what Ed Leffler did is, he created this whole mystique. I mean Elvis Presley didn't need all those bodyguards either. Show business is an interesting monster of perception. If you just do the right gyrations and the right attitude onstage, you can be up there screaming and people would love it, or you can just sit there at a microphone as a folksinger and just wow people with you vocal ability. I mean, it's all down to perception. It's all a show. It's smoke and mirrors with so many people. That's why one of these days I would like to have a show. Get rid of the smoke and mirrors. Sing a song. Bring in a guitar and sing me a song. (laughs) That's what I would love. But, show business is made up of more than that. When I did Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dream, my director told me something that changed my perception of entertaining, and that was back in 1992, and I'd been a veteran up until then. My perception had been to get on stage and please the public, 'cause you know, they paid the money for the ticket. It's my job. He said "no, you got it all wrong. It's your job to go on stage and have a great time in your little world. It's the audience's're allowing the audience to peek into that world and enjoy it vicariously." He also said "the theatre is a place where people come to dream in public, and you're in charge of the dream." So, if that's true, and it is, then show business is all about controlling emotion. And, if Bo holds his mic just right and creates a cool emotion inside you, that's show business! (laughs)

Q - You've been critical of the P.M.R.C. (Parents Music Resource Center). You've called their warning sticker system "A stupid way to go about warning parents about rock lyrics." When Paul McCartney was asked about the P.M.R.C. in a recent Rolling Stone interview, he remarked "I kind of see their point. It's not a bad thing to have watchdog groups; you just mustn't let them get too much power." What's your reaction to Paul's statement?

A - I also agree with Paul. What they've done is accomplish exactly what they set out to do, except the way they wanted to rate the albums is totally backwards. By putting a rating on it, you're saying "Here, buy this, it's R rated". Look what's happened to the film industry.

Q - But does Donny Osmond really have something to worry about?

A - Sure I do. Who's to say that my lyrics wouldn't be looked at...I'll give you a great example. Take any of Maddona's or Prince's songs that may be questionable. If I sang it, it would get an R type rating. I do have to be concerned about it. No teenager in his right mind is going to go out and buy a G rated album. It's just like the film industry.

Q - Was there any truth to the article titled "The Fall of The Osmonds" in the April issue of US Magazine? What's your reaction to that?

A - Immediately, very defensive, because it's a really stupid thing that Rolling Stone (publishers of US Magazine) did to me. They committed a piece to me, my career, what I'm doing now, recording on Epic and everything, and everything that's going on and the article wasn't anything like that. It was very unfair of them to do that. There were some things in there that were factual. You can write anything and make it look dirty.

Q - In that same article, you were quoted as saying "That too good to be true brother and sister act, that was just a facade. I didn't create it and now I'm trying to get over something I wasn't even responsible for." Who was responsible? Your ex-manager Ed Leffler, who is now managing Van Halen?

A - Boy, you did some research didn't you? Is Ed managing Van Halen.

Q - Yes he is.

A - To answer to your question, Ed had nothing to do with that. My statement had to do with, and here again it was blown out of proportion, had to do with the Donny and Marie Show and the lawyers and network dictation, as to certain characters they wanted us to portray. Marie, very confident, and me sticking my foot in my mouth every time. It was the network. I'm not totally blaming the networks, because you know, brother and sister growing up at the same time, there is sibling rivalry there. But, that's a given. It was really in too much with the networks.

Q - Has your record been released yet?

A - No. I'm currently writing it. Some of it will be mine and I'm having lot of writers write for me.

Q - Can you get first shot at the best material the top songwriters have to offer?

A - Sure. You get the best company, Epic, and you ge them behine you, believing in you, sure you can get the best. If you ut enough promotion dollars behind you and you have enough creative people out there, it's going to sell.

Q - Is there any way you can ever top the success you've already achieved, or is that one thought that never enters your mind?

A - In my mind, it's apples and oranges. It doesn't even compare. And, I wouldn't want it to be like it was, with the screeming teenagers and the little teeny bopper stuff. I'm not putting it down, 'cause it was very good to me. But, the music is going to be much more shphisticated. Im doing some variety, the act is going to be different. Even what I'm doing now is going to be different than this.

Q - Did you ever want to forget the performing sied of the business and go behind the scenes?

A - Eventually, I'm doing some television producing.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Donnie Osmond
Donnie Osmond