Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The Legendary JOHNNY MATHIS!
He is truly one of the greatest singers in the world and a living legend. Johnny Mathis has been performimg for over 55 years now and he is still going strong! His unique vocals have captured audiences, young and old, worldwide and he is always in style, regardless of whatever the current popular music may be. Johnny returns once again to Westbury this coming weekend and I had the absolute pleasure to speak with him from his California home...
MICK: How do you like appearing in the round at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury?
JOHNNY: I've been there for so many years and it's one of my favorite venues. You're close to the people, everybody gets a nice view and the acoustics are wonderful. The only problem sometimes is that we have to put the orchestra to one side of the stage. I used to work with the orchestra on the stage with me but it was kind of cumbersome because I couldn't do anything but stand there! Over the years, I've seen the demise of all the other venues with seats in the round across the country. The NYCB Theatre at Westbury is one of the best and I'm glad it's still around.
MICK: Your latest album " Let It Be Me- Mathis In Nashville" sounds fantastic. Is this your first country album?
JOHNNY: That's right. Over the years, I've done a few songs that I guess you could call country. My dad was a wonderful singer and piano player. He's from Texas. Those country songs were the first songs I heard. My dad was my mentor when I started singing. I just love singing them.
MICK: When you record a song, do you ever get that inner feeling that you know it will be a hit?
JOHNNY: Oh no. Over the years, some of my biggest hits I kind of just brushed off and said they weren't dynamic enough or its not this or that. Of course you never never know. The idea is to try to get yourself in position in the business where you can record a lot of stuff and see what happens!
MICK: You've had nine very successful Christmas albums. Is Christmas your favorite holiday?
JOHNNY: Yes it is! My mom and dad raised seven children on domestic wages. Christmas time was very special for us. The mood was already there. The music was a big part of Christmas. I always sang in a lot of choirs. We were always going down to the local department stores singing Christmas carols. My mom and dad were professional cooks so they made Christmas a very special time for us with the foods that they prepared. Over the years, I've sang Christmas music and it's been a very big part of my life. I'm so happy we've had such great success with my Christmas music that I've recorded through the years!
MICK: Are your other siblings in the music industry?
JOHNNY: A couple of my brothers were. My brother Ralph still performs with his wife. They perform all over. My youngest brother Mike is very ill. He was a wonderful musician but he's not able to play anymore. My sisters never got involved. They were great dancers! I can't dance! They were one up on me in that regard. My dad influenced the whole family with his music.
MICK: As an athlete, you've had some great successes in your life including competing in the Olympic trials and in golf, getting six holes in ones! What do you personally consider you're greatest athletic achievement?
JOHNNY: I don't think there's too much athleticism concerned with golf but its a passion for me. It gives me an opportunity to socialize, which sometimes can be very difficult in a business like I am as I'm constantly performing! Golf is my social activity as well as a nice walk in the park. I think my biggest accomplishment was when I was on the track and field team when I was high jumping. I got to participate with some pretty extraordinary athletes. I cut my athletic career short by singing. But one of my best friends is basketball great Bill Russell. Bill and I went to separate universities and we ran track together, worked out together. We are still really good friends! That was really one of the athletic highlights of my career getting to know Bill and follow his career as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
MICK: I guess you still golf a lot?
JOHNNY: I do! I golf at least five times a week and I get a chance to play with a lot of wonderful athletes. I get to reminisce and talk about the old times of running track and field.
MICK: What are your favorite golf courses?
JOHNNY: I play Riviera Golf Course which is quite famous. I some of the other great country clubs throughout Southern California. Of course, right around the corner from Westbury is the famous Black Course at Bethpage. I do go over there and play once in a while!
MICK: What is your favorite song?
JOHNNY: I think "Misty" is about as close as I can come to picking a favorite song.
MICK: Do you play any musical instruments?
JOHNNY: No I don't!
MICK: Besides Westbury, what are your other favorite venues to play?
JOHNNY: Several of my favorite venues are concert halls. I just finished playing a wonderful concert hall called " Davies Symphony Hall" in San Fransisco. Most of these concert halls are named after people who pay the money to build them. I was there for a wonderful concert in my home town a couple of weeks ago. In another month, I will be working in another fabulous concert hall in Dallas "Meyerson Symphony Center". Those places are built for music so the acoustics are extraordinary. Of course being a singer, acoustics is one of the most important things in my life.
MICK: Do you have any fond memories of coming to Long Island?
JOHNNY: When I started singing, I went to New York when I was 19 and started recording. I remember I sang at a place called The Shell House on Long Island many, many years ago. It's probably not there anymore. I remember I was by myself. I had to rehearse the orchestra and work the lights from my microphone at the same time I was singing. That was the most extraordinary experience of my life.
MICK: When you are home, who do you listen to?
JOHNNY: Right now, I'm listening to a group of songs that are all Puccini opera by some of my favorite vocal icons like Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, Richard Tucker, Pavarotti, etc...Of course, I love Brazilian music. I just sat down at my computer last night and ordered some Brazilian music. There's a guy I work out with at the local gym who's from Brazil. His name is Carlinhos Brown. I did not know about him until I started working out with him at the gym. He is one of the most extraordinary musicians in the world. I was so happy to meet him and hear his music. I think he is perhaps the most famous musician in Brazil now.
MICK: So you just came across Carlinhos by accident!
JOHNNY: I came across him in a gym! I saw this extraordinary man on the running machine with dreadlocks down to his ankles! He didn't speak much English but he was recording the soundtrack to the movie called "Rio' which has been out recently. I looked up some of the recordings he had done. He's recorded with people like Sergio Mendes, whom I made a Brazilian album with. I am now fascinated by Calinhos and his Brazilian music. I love to learn songs in different languages, especially in Portuguese- the way the Brazilians sing Portuguese. It goes over well on stage too!
MICK: Are you working on anything new right now?
JOHNNY: As far as my stage performances go, I'm always changing things around. The recordings kind of come when they come. I depend a lot on people in the industry that I've worked with over the years who come in and out of my life on many occasions. They are the ones who call me up and say "Hey John! what do you think about doing this?" and before I know it, I'm hooked up with them and I'm back in the studio making some recordings. That's how the recordings go now these days.
MICK: When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
JOHNNY: I've always thought that if you were a nice person, that was the nicest thing anyone could say about you. Even though you have all these unbelievable opportunities over the years to be heard and be seen, I think it's a wonderful attribute if after all of your successes and extraordinary life that people think of you as a nice person!
Johnny truly is a nice person! You can catch him this weekend at
NYCB Theatre at Westbury NY Saturday 7/30/2011 8:00 PM
and Sunday 7/31/2011 8:00 PM
For more on Johnny Mathis: http://www.johnnymathis.com/