He recorded 28 albums for R.C.A. He's toured all over the world. He's known some of the biggest names in the entertainment business. And, he can trace his roots right back here to Central New York!!
His name is John Gary and he was born in Watertown, New York. RCA/BMG Records recently released "The Very Best of John Gary" on CD. We sat down for a talk with John Gary about his life in Show Business.
Q - John, what's a guy from Watertown, New York doing in Richardson, Texas?
A - Well, a series of good luck strokes I guess. I ended up in Lowville which is only 40 miles I guess from Watertown. My dad was kind of a sheet metal worker, jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. There was a lot more work prior to the war (World War II) in Lowville. Then Pine Camp was closed there, where a lot of his work would be employed. So, the whole family moved over to Little Philadelphia, not the big one. Then Beavers Falls. Then we ended up in Lowville. That's the longest New York longevity I had anywhere.
Q - How long did you live there?
A - From about the age of 5 to I guess, about 9.
Q - When was the last time you were in Watertown?
A - Oh, it's been years. Probably 20 years.
Q - Was that to visit or perform?
A - To perform. I was in a concert in Watertown in the main hall, wherever community concerts are held.
Q - How about Syracuse? When was the last time you were here?
A - There was a little restaurant. It had a colonial front porch. It was plantation style, very popular and successful restaurant.
Q - Would that have been Three Rivers Inn?
A - Right.
Q - Do you remember the owner Dom Bruno?
A - No. The night I remember the most at Three Rivers Inn, it was a blizzard snow storm outside. There were about 3 people in the audience. Nobody wanted to come out in that storm and I don't blame them. It was just awful outside. Finally, toward the end of our show, and I did a show anyway, this one guy kept clapping and clapping and clapping. I said, 'Sir, you seem to be very enthused about the show, are you just trying to find an excuse to stay late?' He said "No, I was just hoping you'd finish up, so we could get out of here." (Laughs).
Q - You also lived and worked in Binghamton, New York for a while didn't you?
A - That's right. That's many years later. I came back. That would've been around 1960.
Q - Because you've been on stage, TV, in movies and on record, would you be what we call an all around entertainer?
A - Well, your analysis of all-around is completely different from mine. I'd say an all around entertainer is someone who dances, someone who does impressions, someone who does comedy and sings, just everything.
Q - Your career was not based on any gimmicks. It was strictly your voice. How then do you feel when you see a group like Kiss on stage with makeup and all the props? Do you understand that?
A - Oh, I understand where they're going and why they went that route, because it was the commercial thing for them to do at the time. But, it wasn't anything we would do in our era. It was the era that came right after me.
Q - Can you understand the progression?
A - Oh yeah, I understand it. It wasn't musical for me. I wanted to be able to tell a story with a song. I wanted to be able to say something meaningful and try to interpret a songwriter's intention when he wrote a song.
Q - What were some of your hits?
A - "More". When I recorded "More" it was in 1963. It had been recorded like 70 times, and it was a hit for me. I did Carnegie Hall in New York City and that was the song I opened with. That was the most beloved song to the fans.
Q - Would you say that luck plays a big role in any show biz career?
A - Yeah. I would say so. Very much so. Being in the right place at the right time.
Q - You were signed to a New Orleans based record label, Patio Records. After being signed, you moved to Florida where you mowed lawns and sold cars. Why'd you have to do that? Didn't the label have enough money to promote you?
A - Well, I wasn't a known singer. You know, they just didn't pay me every week. I had to make money from the sales of records, and they were just starting a promotional campaign, for me. But, that money was going to people who were going to promote me, not me. So, I had to work. I had to make a living, pay the rent and things like that. I was doing a lot of demo records on the side for people I'd be mowing lawns for. I'd come out of a session, ten songs; with $100 and that was a good days work in those days.
Q - You knew Elvis. What kind of a guy did you find him to be?
A - He was just charming and delightful. He knew every song I recorded. He told me I was one of his favorite singers. He was really special. A very special guy.
Q - You were a boxer in the service. Why didn't you pursue that line of work?
A - I wasn't that good of a boxer. I got into a fight in Boot Camp. The guy had already served a hitch in the
Navy and was pretty well built. A pretty stocky, strong guy. I pretty quickly cleaned his clock. So this drill instructor said I want you to come to my office. He said how'd you like to stay over after boot camp, and join the U.S. Marine Corp. All Navy Boxing Team. I said I'd love it. I had 13 fights, and won all of 'em except the last one.
Q - How did you get to sing for the President and Mrs. Eisenhower and what was that experience like?
A - It was because of the song "Thank The Lord For This Thanksgiving Day". It was one of Mamie Eisenhower's favorite songs. So, they had me sing with The Justin Choir. I was at one end of the hall and the Justin Choir was at the other. It was one of the rare nights of my life where the other people on the show were Mahalia Jackson and the guy who when he first started out did Mark Twain. Oh, what's his name. Well, he was on the bill. I sang at one end of the hall and the Justin Choir at the other end of the hall. The dais was in between us both, where the president was. So, he had "Thank The Lord For This Thanksgiving Day" in stereo!