Gary James' Interview With
Pat Boone

He is the number ten all time top recording artist according to Billboard magazine. From the 1950s forward, he has sold nearly 50 million records and had 38 Top Ten hits, Gold and Platinum records. He rates at number 6 among artists with the most consecutive Top Ten hits, number 10 with the most Top Forty hits and number 16 with the most number 1 hits. He runs his own record company, The Gold Label, which markets singers who have enjoyed million-selling Gold records to their credit. Some of these singers include Glen Campbell, Jack Jones, Roger Williams, Patti Page, Cleo Laine, Sha Na Na and himself!

In 1958, barely out of his teens, he authored the book Twixt Twelve And Twenty, a book that is still in print today! Since then, he's written more than a dozen autobiographical and motivational books. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Columbia University in 1958, and appeared on the cover of TV Guide wearing his cap and gown. Elvis Presley opened for him. He's been married 55 years, has 4 daughters and 15 grandchildren and has lived in the same Beverly Hills home for 48 years. Wow! He starred in 14 movies alongside Ann Margaret, James Mason, Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis.

It's a real honor to present an interview with Mr. Pat Boone.

Q - You've certainly seen the changes that have taken place in Pop music, Rock 'n' Roll and Rock music over the years. When you started, a singer would come on stage in suit and tie, stand in front of a microphone and sing a song.

A - Right.

Q - So, I'm going to ask you to go back in time and tell me what you thought of certain performers, the first time you saw or heard them. Not what you think of them today. What did you think of The Beatles when you saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show?

A - I, like so many, thought they were cute, (laughs) and they were very energetic. I had no idea they were going to become the big mega stars they did become. They were cute. They were clean. Their hair was cut, all of them in these Page Boy haircuts. But they were wearing suits and ties. They had a good sense of humor. They were melodic. They sounded good together and very commercial. But, there was The Dave Clark Five and other groups that we were starting to become aware of. We just thought this is another of those cute English groups. I had heard one of their songs when I was in England before they hit the Unites States. It was a song called "From Me To You". In fact, I think it was their first big hit, and it was a big hit while I was in England. So, I brought a copy of the record home and I told Randy Wood at Dot Records that I wanted to record that song. So, I wanted to record that and he said "Oh no. That record has already been out on the Vee Jay label and it didn't do anything." I said "Well, it's still a hit song Randy." But he wouldn't listen to me. The next thing I knew, The Beatles record had hit the States. They swept the record charts, as you probably know, for at least a couple of years. Everything they put out went right to number one. In fact, I think at one point they had 5 of the top 10 singles. So, where I'd been relying on a lot of record royalty every year, they were suddenly taking it all. They were sweeping the table. I got a painter, I was always proud of this, I had a painter do portraits of The Beatles, took just publicity pictures and did oil portraits and we had prints made. I got a license from Seltaeb, which is Beatles spelled backwards, from Epstein their manager, and we sold Beatle pictures. (laughs)

Q - You were a smart guy!

A - Yeah. When I met The Beatles on their first tour of the States, we ran a contest. Of course I had a partner who was a good merchandiser. I thought of it, but he implemented it all. So, we had a contest running nationally. With every set of Beatle pictures that we sold, and they were really nice, suitable for framing, there was a tag and you kept your part of the tag and mailed the other tag in, and there was a drawing. We brought 30 people from all over the country to their concert in Las Vegas. They did 2 shows, afternoon and evening. So, my wife, family and I were all there for the first show. Then we went back between shows and visited with The Beatles in the Thomas Mark Arena, I think it was. They had a camera store bring in all kinds of cameras for them to look at and they were buying cameras and taking pictures. My little girls sat in Ringo's lap and took pictures with Paul and George and... who am I leaving out?

Q - John.

A - Yeah. (laughs)

Q - Debby was there too?

A - Yeah. Just little girls, 7,8,9 and 10. That's when we met The Beatles and got along great. They said to me "Brian Epstein, our manager, has put our name on a lot of stuff. A lot of it is just junk, but we like these pictures. These are very nice, flattering pictures." Years later I was in England and I went to The Cavern in Liverpool. Of course, it's like a museum to The Beatles now. But sure enough, right in front were these framed portraits of The Beatles that I had commissioned and had done. They have them prominently displayed there at The Cavern. So, that was a very long-winded answer to you question.

Q - But what an interesting story! Now, as time progressed, the music changed. The hair got longer. The music got louder. What did you think of people like Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison?

A - Well, a lot of it I didn't like. Certainly I was opposed to any kind of connection to drugs. I didn't get to know any of those guys. Janis Joplin, Morrison and Jimi Hendrix were all associated with drug abuse, alcohol abuse. Of course, I had no use for that, therefore I didn't really pay much attention to their music. The Rolling Stones, very commercial stuff. I recorded one of their songs. "As Tears Go By", a beautiful ballad. I still like it. It seemed to me where The Beatles in the early days were clean-cut, reasonably well-mannered and had a satirical sense of humor...and polite, The Stones seemed to be the renegades. Much more than The Beatles. I was not drawn nor did I come to appreciate the music. I do understand why it became so popular. It seemed to me they were appealing to and arousing some of the baser instincts in kids, for instance the drug usage. It was pretty well-publicized that at one point their drug use had got out of control and they went to Switzerland and had their blood transfused.

Q - Keith Richards of The Stones was rumored to have had that done.

A - And so, at that time, I was making a movie about Dave Wilkerson, the minister in New York who had gone into those drug-infested gangs and did his best to let them know they didn't have to live like wild animals as they were. It was during that period of time, filming in New York, that I saw what they called "shooting galleries" up in the very poor sections of Harlem and Brooklyn and the Bronx, where guys were totally drugged out of their minds were there trying to get their latest fix. Even guys in 3-piece suits driving up from Manhattan to score whatever drug, paying money for it, and driving away in their nice cars and leaving these people just hopelessly addicted and ruined. I thought The Stones can go to Switzerland and get their blood transfused and all these people that are following their example are dying in the alley-way. They can't escape as The Stones can. Of course it wasn't just The Stones. So many of the groups in the '60s were singing songs that promoted drug usage and making it all seem so glamorous and cool. So, of course being a father of 4 girls growing up at my house, I was not in favor of any of that. But I could appreciate their staying power, their longevity. They all said, The Beatles, The Stones, we don't want to be singing Rock 'n' Roll when we're 40 years old or 50 years old, and now they're 60 and they're still at it. (laughs)

Q - At least Paul McCartney, Ringo and Mick Jagger are.

A - Yeah.

Q - In the '70s, did you understand when guys would come onstage with make-up and put on a theatrical show? I'm talking about a group like KISS, where Gene Simmons is blowing fire out if his mouth and all the pyrotechnics on stage. When someone would come to you and say this is the number one group in the US, did you understand why that is?

A - Well, sure I did. Alice Cooper and I got to be buddies eventually and Christian brothers. I understood it was theatrics. I understood in some cases like with Gene Simmons, he still says that they never drank or did any kind of drugs. He wouldn't allow it. But, they sure acted like they were very much living on the wild side. That's the image they created. In fact, I was horrified. I went into a children's store in Beverly Hills and saw KISS dolls! Who plays with dolls? Three? Four? Five year olds? They were likenesses of all four members of KISS in all their demonic looking outfits. I thought what toy manufacturer would want to make dolls that looked like this, whether it's reality based or not? It seems to symbolize hellish, devilish, demonic activity and imagery. I thought that's some of the most reprehensible stuff I've ever seen. But of course I understand it because, in my study of heavy rock, hard rock and metal music, I hear so many Biblical allusions. I also hear all the dark side allusions and warnings of impending doom of death and destruction in Megadeth, Dave Mustaine's songs. I asked him, "you must read your Bible a lot." He said "Yeah, I do. I get a lot of my imagery right out of the Bible." There's warnings of death, destruction and the end of things. There's a fascination. People are fascinated with the dark side, with the forbidden, with the macabre and now it's suddenly vampires. TV and movies are taken over by vampires. It does appeal to certain instincts in people and kids are more sensitive and things that are scary, dark, ominous, forbidding, there is an attraction to that. I don't think it's a healthy attraction, but sure, I understand why KISS were gonna rock 'n' roll all night long and party all day long...or whatever it is. (laughs) There's a certain hedonistic appeal to it.

Q - Between 1955 and 1962, you charted 54 songs. You became one of the all-time biggest selling Pop singers. In 1970, two guys name of Brown and Friedrich put out a book called The Encyclopedia Of Rock And Roll. Here's what they had to say about you: "There could be a lot of reasons for his demise as a hit-maker, but the most probable is that the kids just couldn't buy him anymore. He was too good to be real."

A - (laughs)

Q - Do you accept that explanation?

A - Yup, I do.

Q - You do?

A - Sure I do, because more and more the popular entertainers were getting picked up on drug busts or their marriages, if they were married, came apart or they were having publicized affairs, first one and another, and some of their songs were risqué or whatever. And so here I was, everybody knew I was married, everybody knew I had 4 little kids, everybody knew I went to church. They might have known that I was conservative politically. I don't think that mattered to the kids and I don't know for sure whether it's the kids that lost interest or the DJs. I have noticed along the way, over the years, with me, with my daughter, with The Osmonds, even John Denver, performers who pretty well keep their noses clean and are not involved in scandalous, Enquirer type activities, the DJs began to turn up their nose at them. They consider them too saccharine. Debby, my daughter..."You Light Up My Life", huge, huge record, Rolling Stone began to run this satirical, snotty, little blurb in their Random Notes, "at last report, Debbie Boone is still a virgin." Here she is, 21, 22 years old, still lives at our house. She's dating the guy she was going to marry, Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney's son Gabriel. They were putting her down, really ridiculing her because she was living a nice, clean, moral life. In my case, it was not that I was too good to be true by any means, but I was certainly not continually front page news. I wasn't getting into fights. I wasn't being arrested. I wasn't being with some other woman. After awhile, the DJs, they find that and I think the human nature of it is boring. So let's skip Pat Boone's new record and play Elvis or play somebody else that we find more titillating. We got more to talk about. I wouldn't have had 54 chart records at that time, it's up to 63 now, and I wouldn't have 220 consecutive weeks on the charts, which is a distinction I still hold. The closest anybody came was not Elvis or The Beatles. Elvis went into the Army after 2 or 3 years of his early career. And there were times when he didn't have a single out. Then The Beatles went to albums after awhile. They weren't putting out singles. I had 220 consecutive weeks almost always with 2 records in the charts at the same time, one going down, one going up. That was our M.O. at Dot Records. Soon as we peaked, or we thought it had, then out came the next and we just tried to keep momentum going. Of course, nobody does that now. They'll milk an album and try to get 2 or 3 singles out of an album over the course of a couple of years maybe before they come out with another album. I was putting out 5 or 6 singles a year and 3 albums. (laughs)

Q - When did you have time to do anything else?

A - Well, it's amazing. I love recording. One of the things I told Chris Isaac, who's a big fan; he couldn't believe that so many of the big hit records that he has and likes to play on his tour bus, that I had recorded them within an hour after I first heard them, and was through and went on to something else, and might have a huge selling single, (laughs) from a song that I learned while the musicians were playing it down and would do 6 or 8 takes, feel like we had it and go on to the next. He just found that so hard to believe that kind of recording could have taken place. There were always a few little imperfections here and there, things I would have changed. We couldn't punch in then. So, I and the musicians and singers were all recording at once and it had to be done simultaneously. You weren't going to go back and do it again if one person hit one sour note or something. Or, if you did, you'd wind up using the take that had the imperfection 'cause over all it was better. So, it was a different time of recording and I just loved it. We'd record in the wee hours of the morning or anytime and would do an album in four, 3-hour sessions. I'd generally do 3 songs. Now I have such a catalog, somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 songs that I recorded of all types, a lot of the Great American Songbook. As I said, I learned it as the musicians were playing the arrangement down and sing it...sing it well and then go to the next and maybe never think of the song again. In subsequent years, I'll be in concerts and women will come up to the front of the stage with an album, 2 or 3 albums in their hands and want me to stop everything and sign their albums. (laughs) I'll say "Can I wait 'til after the show?" And she'll say "would you please sing?" and she'll name a song..."Pictures In The Fire". I said "Wow! I never recorded that." And she said "Well here it is on the album! It's my favorite song you ever did (laughs) and you don't even remember it?" (laughs)

Q - How much of a say did you have in the songs you chose to record and the way you would dress onstage? I never heard of a powerful manager connected with your name.

A - I had one manager for the first 30 years of my career and he was not one to tell me how to dress or even what to sing or how to sing. Jack Spina was his name. He had been the manager of The Fontaine Sisters and of The Hilltoppers, a couple of contemporary acts. They were on Dot Records. When I began to record for Dot, Randy Wood, who was the owner and driving force behind Dot Records, a man with a radar sense of what the public would like, when he knew I needed a manager, he said "Why don't you have Jack Spina manage you?" I didn't know anybody. So, Jack took over my management. Eventually he left The Fontains and The Hilltoppers and became my full-time manager. I had some say in what I recorded. I could of course turn down anything that I felt I didn't want to do. I hardly ever did that. Randy Wood had proven to me from the start that he had a good sense about what might sell, what people might like and he treated me with respect. He learned that I could do not just Rock 'n' Roll, but ballads and movie themes and Gospel. He wanted to utilize all that and treat all the music with taste. He hired good arrangers and lots of musicians. So, I looked forward to every session. There were times, 2 or 3, when I heard a song and I wanted to do it and he would say "no". Well, one of 'em was The Beatles song "From Me To You". He turned me down on that. Later he had to acknowledge that he wished that I had recorded that and had a hit before The Beatles hit with that song in The States. I heard another song in the Philippines. It was a hit there, but not in The States, although it was by an American artist, David Dante on RCA. It was a song called "Speedy Gonzales". I came home from the Philippines and I did my best to get Randy Wood to let me record it. He kept saying 'No, you don't do Rock 'n' Roll anymore. You're doing movie themes and ballads and contemporary stuff and Big Bands." I said "But this is a hit, Randy. I don't care who does it." So finally, just to get me off his back, he let me record it and it went right to number one in a big, big hurry and that was "Speedy Gonzales". Another time I brought a song home from Australia. I said "This is a huge hit down there, Randy. I'd love to record it. It's called 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down' by a guy named Rolf Harris." Randy said "No, that's too identified with Australia. Who knows what wallabies and abbes and all these Australian phrases are? I just don't think it could be a hit here." So, one morning he called me and said "You know that song from Australia you've been wanting to do?" I said "yes." He said "Maybe we should go in and do it!" I said "Why?" He said "I just heard it on the radio and you're right, it does sound good." I said "Who was doing it?" He said "I don't know." I said "Was it Rolf Harris?" "I think it was." I said "Too late Randy! (laughs) If his record is released here, we've had it." I went and recorded it anyway and I did have a hit with it in Asia, South Africa and other countries. But wherever Rolf Harris' record got there first, of course he deservedly had the hit with it. If I got to some country or some other part of the world, it turned out I would have the hit with it. If I really believed in something, I would keep pressing for it. I did my Elvis: "Pat Boone Sings Guess Who?" album, a tribute to Elvis 'cause we had become good friends. He had been my opening act the first time we met. I don't know if you knew that.

Q - I knew that you were friends with Elvis.

A - The first time we met it was in Cleveland, October 22nd, 1955. I don't even know if he had recorded. Maybe he had. RCA had not released "Heartbreak Hotel", his first record. So, he was unknown, at least around the country. I went in to do a sock hop. I came in from New York City. I transferred to Columbia University. I went in to do a sock hop for Bill Randall, who was the nation's number one DJ. He said when he picked me up at the airport, "I'm bringing a kid up from Shreveport, Louisiana. He'll be on before you tonight. The kid is Elvis Presley." I said "Elvis Presley? I saw a record of his on the juke box in Dallas called 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky'. Bill, he's a hillbilly! Do you think he's going to go over tonight?" He grinned and said "Well, RCA Victor thinks he's got something. We'll find out." So, I went backstage in the big Brooklyn High School. Why Brooklyn in Cleveland, I don't know. He (Elvis) came in with his little entourage of buddies. I said "Elvis, I'm Pat Boone." He said "Nice to meet you." I said "Bill Randall thinks you got maybe some big things ahead for you." He said "I don't know about that, but I hope so." He seemed so shy, uncertain kind of. He sort of leaned back against the wall. His buddies sort of closed in around him. I thought, well, he's scared. Well, when he went on he lip-synched "That's Alright Mama" and "Blue Moon Of Kentucky". Even though they didn't know him, he got to them. Later he told me the reason he seemed so shy and nervous was, he said "I don't know how to talk to you, man." I said "What do you mean?" He said "Well, you're a star." I said "a star? I've only been recording since March!" This is October. He said "Yeah, but you're on the charts. I didn't know how to talk to you." So that's just an indication of how nice and how sort of naive we both were, that if a guy had 2 or 3 records on the charts; I'd had a number 1 record, "Ain't That A Shame" and "Two Hearts, Two Kisses". From March of '55 to February of '56, just before Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel" was released, this is a matter or record, it doesn't sound possible, I had 6, million selling singles, 2 of them number 1s. In 11 months, from March '55 to February of '56, "Two Hearts, Two Kisses", "Ain't That A Shame", "At My Front Door", "Crazy Little Mama". "Gee Whitakers" was in December of '55. And then in February was "Tutti Fruiti", "I'll Be Home". "I'll Be Home" went to number one, as had "Ain't That A Shame". Each one of those songs accounted for well over a million sales as a single. (laughs) So, 6, million-selling singles and 2 number 1s in eleven months is never gonna happen again 'cause nobody is ever gonna put out that many records in that space of time. Plus singles...I don't know, singles may be dead on the vine right now. But anyway, those were happy, exciting, exhilarating times.

Q - You got your start in a lot of those talent shows, whether it was Ted Mack or Arthur Godfrey. Before you were on the stage of those shows, were you performing in nightclubs?

A - Oh, no. I was a kid in Nashville, Tennessee, just going through my regular school year, on my way to becoming a school teacher I thought. Even though I harbored the dreams and fantasies of being a singer, a professional singer, I just didn't think that was possible. I didn't have any contacts even though I lived in Nashville with anybody that could help me become a Pop singer. I wasn't interested at that point in Country music. It was Pop music that I was interested in. But, I was 18 when I won a talent scout show in Nashville. I went to New York, got on The Ted Mack Amateur Hour and won three times, came back home and waited 'til they would call me eventually for the finals with other three-time winners. And that didn't happen for about a year and a half. So, I was married and Shirley and I were expecting our first child. We had transferred from Nashville to North Texas State in Denton where they had a great music school. Out of the blue a call came to come back to the Ted Mack finals in New York. While I was there performing, they told me I would have won had I not gone on The Arthur Godfrey Show while I was waiting and that was that. That's a professional show and you can't be declared a professional winner on Monday night and then an amateur winner the following Saturday. So, I blew my chances to have a scholarship and other prizes if I had won the Ted Mack national finals. Instead I won The Arthur Godfrey Show, but that did lead to a recording contract with Dot Records. But, up 'til then I was just a college kid on his way to becoming a teacher, singing on local TV whenever I was asked at functions. But, I never sang in a nightclub or with a big band. I just sang Pop songs with whatever accompaniment there was, piano or guitar.

Q - Did you ever sing at school assemblies?

A - Oh, yeah. I sang in lots of school assembly programs, all over town in Nashville. I sang for businessmen luncheons, ladies Shakespeare clubs, Kiwanis, Elk and Moose and every other livestock that had a club. Then I had my own local radio show called Youth On Parade. It was a Saturday morning show that I hosted, introducing teenage talent around Nashville.

Q - How long of a show was that?

A - It was an hour show. I would listen to the tapes sometimes afterwards and deplore how hickey-Southern I sounded. The first song I recorded in Nashville was "I Just Can't Believe It Dear Until You Tell Me So". It was a song I wrote. I entered local talent contests and often came in second. I would lose out to a pianist or an operatically trained girl singer. I understood. They've worked hard, paid for a lot of lessons. I'm just out singing a Pop song, so I don't expect or deserve to win. But it was fun to be in talent shows and sing the song, because I did have this fantasy, yearning to be a Pop singer, but it just didn't seem possible.

Q - What do you think your contribution has been to Pop music?

A - Well, one, inadvertently and sort of recognized after the fact, because it was not intentional at all, I became like a mid-wife to the birth of Rock 'n' Roll. Elvis recorded several R&B songs that he became aware of. "That's Alright Mama" was one and then of course "Hound Dog". There was a Canadian group, The Crew Cuts that started to record R&B. But even amongst the DJs at the time in Pop radio, Rhythm and Blues music was considered, was called "Race Music", and so there was no acceptance or even awareness of whatever was going on in the Rhythm and Blues field of music. They had their own stations, their own charts, their own artists. The songs sounded un-finished or un-polished and rough. A lot of seemed like it was repetitive to those who weren't listening carefully. So, I didn't know much about Rhythm and Blues music, but when I began to record, Randy Wood put these R&B songs in front of me and I would listen to the original record over and over and try to catch some of the flavor of the original artist, as much as I could actually. My records, 'cause I was a white kid from Nashville and became known pretty quickly as a moral living guy, here I'm singing "Tutti Fruiti" and "Long Tall Sally" and "Ain't That A Shame" and "Crazy Little Mama" and somehow my versions of those songs became palatable and accepted by a big, white audience that didn't think they wanted to hear what they thought was "Race Music." Jesse Jackson said on his daughter's radio show in Chicago that he thought, and these are his words, not mine, "Pat Boone had done more to improve race relations through his music than any other artists, because as a white kid doing Rhythm and Blues songs at a time when not only was the music not accepted, but neither were the performers, or the people that liked their music." And yet, here I was doing the songs, but liking the music and having hits, but of course I also liked and respected the artists. So, therefore as Jesse Jackson was say to people, these folks are good as well as their music and if Pat Boone likes 'em, then a lot of other people throughout the South and across the country thought there must be something to this, maybe we'll take a listen. So as I say, it was inadvertent. It wasn't something I was setting out to do. I think a mid-wife at the birth of Rock 'n' Roll is a pretty apt description of, if you can call it a contribution. Maybe some would say that's not a real contribution. They were afraid at the time that Rock 'n' Roll and Rhythm and Blues was gonna wind up being a bad influence on kids and I guess you could make a case that along the way, the way the music has gone, it hasn't always been a wholesome or good influence. But, back when I was doing it, it was harmless fun. If there was a questionable lyric, I would just change it a little bit. I would tweak it to where it didn't say anything objectionable. But beyond that, I will probably never be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, though I had more actual Rock and Rhythm And Blues chart hits than a lot of the folks that are in The Hall, but I had, in their mind, the poor judgment to record Gospel, Pop and movie themes and all kinds of other music and not live a Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle. To me, I'm most proud of the fact that I've been able to be successful in at least five genres of American music and I can't actually think of anyone else who can make that statement. Ray Charles comes closest, but he never did Gospel oddly enough. I've had success in Country, Rhythm And Blues, Rock, movie themes and just plain Pop music. One voice. One guy. (laughs) To have actual chart and sales success in those various genres is something I'm proud of.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Pat Boone
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection