Everybody Loves Pat Boone
Words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT (c)2005
On the first day of Christmas, Pat’s agent gave to me:
An interview with Pat Boone on a silver platter!
Happy New Year, everybody! I had a great Christmas vacation, how about you?
I remember that when I was a kid, after Christmas, the teacher would have us write an essay on what we did over the Christmas vacation. Now, I have always considered myself to be a creative person, and I have fond memories of every single Christmas. But somehow, I always struggled with delivering the goods in a way that would allow my fellow students to understand just how exciting my Christmas was. Somehow, no matter how I tried to dazzle them, my Christmas always seemed to sound more boring than the Christmases of my classmates.
That’s why I wish I could go back and let my childhood classmates know how I spent my Christmas vacation (or, at least 30 of the best moment of it) this time around.
If only I could turn back time and tell them how I spent time in Christmas of ’05. It wouldn’t take much glitter to dazzle them with what I did this time around. I shared over half an hour of my Christmas, chatting with none other than Pat Boone, the artist who was right behind the heels of none other than Elvis in the 50s, while both men were racing up the charts with hit after hit—the artist Billboard magazine puts ahead of Madonna and Billy Joel in terms of his overall career success as a chart-topping artist.
Instead of trying to turn it into a fancy essay to convince you how exciting my time with Pat Boone was, I’m going to step aside and let Pat Boone do the talking.
So pull up a chair, and listen in to our conversation. In the process, you may learn how to be a phenomenal success and not to give up your faith in God, your family, and your moral convictions in the process.
Dr. BLT: Hi, is this Pat Boone?
This is Bruce Thiessen calling. How are you?
Dr. BLT: I first want to say what a pleasure and what an honor it is to interview you today.
Boone: Well thank you. Ed Lubin said that you’d be calling. Unfortunately we have sort of a time constriction, because I’m taking off for concerts, and I’m so swamped with calls and responsibilities, but, anyway, it was set up, and here we are.
Dr. BLT: Well, I appreciate every minute I get to talk with you about your career, and your life. First of all, I want to say that this is part of a series that I do called Rock ‘n’ “role” Models, where I combine the term “rock ‘n’ roll” with “role model,” and I introduce that as a theme. I believe that you’ve been an outstanding role model for many people of all ages, and I know that you’ve always been able to place an emphasis on the importance of family, and family ties.
Boone: Yeah, I have, though I try not to talk about it too much, because if you talk about it, I think it takes away from whatever effectiveness there may be. But, looking back over 50 years, as I’m doing now, from the very start, if God gave me a position of influence I would use it to serve Him. Initially, that position of influence was going to be a position of high school teacher, teaching English, speech and perhaps literature, just so I could be involved in the lives of young people, leading them in the right direction, as my own Christian teachers had done for me. That’s what I thought was going to be my life. When Shirley and I married at 19, my wife thought she was marrying a future teacher, who would lead a tranquil, sort of scholastic life, with a little house and a picket fence, two or three kids, and a dog, and vacations—-that was what we envisioned. Of course, it became something different, as I began to see that I did have influence as a pop singer, and a rock ‘n’ roller, I wanted to make sure it was a good influence, not a bad one.
Dr. BLT : Exactly.
Pat Boone: You know, the word got around, and I was sometimes put down as a “Goodie Two Shoes,” or a “Holy Joe,” or whatever. And I tried to let people know that I was a well-rounded kind of a guy, with a sense of humor, but that I did have a sense of priorities, and that I was not just going to succumb to whatever the trend was in rock ‘n’ roll or pop life just for expediency sake. On the contrary, I was going to try to show that you could live and be a successful entertainer and not sacrifice your principles, and your faith, and your morals.
Dr. BLT: Well, that’s indeed a rare quality, Pat.
Pat Boone: Well, that was the goal, and even though I’ve stubbed my toe and made some pretty serious mistakes along the way, Shirley always wants me to know that whenever I talk about this, that I’m not claiming to have been, in any sense, perfect. None of us is, but I think we need to aim high—have high aspirations, and worthy goals, even when we don’t always meet them.
Dr. BLT: Exactly. Now, what role do you feel your own family played in your development as a person, and, as an artist?
Boone: It was absolutely crucial. I had a mom and dad who felt that doing the right thing was far more important than popularity, or financial success, or anything like that. They knew I loved to sing, and I was singing all over Nashville, a very musical town.
When I was in my mid-teens, I went down and auditioned, (first) for the East Nashville High School Talent Contest, and then for Ted Mac, and they said to me, “What are you doing that for? Because, even if you win something, they will want you to go on the road and tour, and you’re not going!”
And so, I just did it for its own sake, you know, just to see if they’d accept me or what they thought, I don’t know. I always came in second in the talent contests, never first, so I wasn’t really expecting to win, but when I did, win this East Nashville High School Talent Contest, the first prize was a trip to New York and an audition with Ted Mac. I went off to New York just hoping to get on the show. That would justify having won the local show, but I did get on, and it didn’t enter my mind that I might win. So I came back from New York having appeared on the show, and immediately went out into the country, so far out in the country that they didn’t have telephones, singing for extended gospel meetings with a renowned preacher. He was preaching in the country, in a place called Beardstown, and on Thursday of that week, I was having lunch with the preacher and a farm family. Suddenly a truck came rattling up in the yard, scattering chickens and pigs, and a guy came clattering up on the wood porch, and knocked on the screen door and asked, “Is anybody in there named Boone? And the farm family said, “Yeah, he’s sitting here eating his third helping of our food, and he said, “Well, there’s somebody trying to reach him at the switchboard in the next town over. ” There literally were no phones.
Dr. BLT: Oh my goodness.
Boone: And so I was making no provisions to be called back to New York. So I got into his truck and went over to the next town into this lady’s front room where she had a switchboard, and took the call from New York, and they told me I had won.
So I went back to New York and appeared a second and third time. I qualified for the finals the following year, becoming a three-time winner.
Dr. BLT: Wow!
Boone: It was like the original American Idol, but meanwhile, I was always in church, with my family, singing Sunday nights, Wednesday nights—except by now I was leading the singing, so quite often I would be somewhere else at one of those services, leading the congregational singing, and worship, while my folks were still over at the home church.
Dr. BLT: Amazing!
Pat Boone: So life for me, from the early days when I first began to sing, was a healthy mix of school, sports, worship, and music. And so, that’s the way it has remained to this day.
Dr. BLT: Well, that’s really when your career really began taking off. Now I know you’re a descendant of Daniel Boone.
Pat Boone: Yes.
Dr. BLT: I came across a quote from Herbert Humphrey when I was surfing the Internet, and it said this: “There is in every American, I think, something of the old Daniel Boone—who, when he could see the smoke from another chimney, felt himself too crowded and moved further out into the wilderness.”
When I read that, I thought about you and Elvis in the ’50s. In the ’50s, Elvis represented that “smoke from another chimney.” You offered something different than Elvis, and that kind of explained the mass appeal that you had. How would you characterize your music as compared to the music of Elvis Presley, who was really your only rival back then?
Boone: Wee were serious competitors, and friends at the same time. We were two Tennessee boys; him, from Memphis and me, from Nashville, and both from modest circumstances. I’d say we were from lower, middle-class upbringings and economic status, from church-going, Bible-believing families. There was no kind of formal musical training for either of us. So we were almost two peas in a pod, but I’ve often said, he was “The Rebel,” breaking the rules, and getting away with it, getting very successful as a rebel, and I was the guy playing by the rules and also winning big.
Dr. BLT: To me it kind of foreshadowed the contrast between The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.
Boone: Yeah, but even the Beatles, while they were certainly well-mannered, polite gentlemen, were breaking the mold. I was very much the very picture of the mold. People say I was moldy perhaps, but I was the guy playing by the rules, going to college, I was making good grades, got married at a young age, and Shirley and I began to have children, from 19-23 we had 4 kids.
I graduated from Columbia University, cum laude, and appeared on the cover of TV Guide, in my cap and gown. On the inside were pictures of me and my four daughters, and Shirley.
So, we were living in almost the capsule version of the all-American life, within moral guidelines, in church, again, every Sunday morning, and Sunday night…I was leading singing at the little Manhattan Church of Christ, in New York, even as my career was within full flower. While everything was going nuts for me, with records and television, and movies, every Sunday morning, Sunday night and every Wednesday night, was spent with my family in church, leading the singing, taking an active part…sometimes teaching Sunday school. Yet with rock ‘n’ roll records like “Tutti Fruitti” and “Ain’t That a Shame,” you know, R&B hits, and rock ‘n’ roll hits. So Elvis and I were like salt and pepper.
Dr. BLT: Right.
Pat Boone: Most everybody likes a little of both, and I think the kids of the ’50’s, our fans, actually mine and his, some tended most toward Elvis, but still had to admit they liked what I did, and my fans, rabid Boone fans, had to also admit that they liked some of what Elvis did.
So, like I said, we were like salt and pepper. He was the guy breaking all of the rules, and winning big, and single, and dating, and I was the guy married, in college, going to church and living a pretty clean life, like most kids aspire to, like they intended to, and winning big. So, it was like, take your pick, or have a little of both.
Dr. BLT: Well, I know that both of you brought to the forefront, music that might not otherwise have been heard, from African-American artists.
Pat Boone: True, and that’s something that people who didn’t live through the era don’t fully comprehend. When Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, had big hits, they were hits in the rhythm & blues field, or genre. Blues had its own stations, had its own charts, it was almost a segment of American music that was separate from the big pop music.
The big hits of the day, when I first came along, were songs like Patti Page’s “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” and Vic Damone’s “On the Street Where You Live,” from a Broadway play, and Perry Como, having hits from Broadway, and Tin Pan alley. It was pop songwriters just churning out hundreds and thousands of hit songs done by pop artists. One field of music was off on the side, Rhythm and Blues, and it was its own little universe. And there was no crossover to speak of, so, when Elvis did “Hound Dog” and “That’s Alright, Mama,” and songs like that, they had already been Rhythm & Blues hits. I did “Tutti Fruitti,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I’ll Be Home,” “At My Front Door.” Some of those songs had already been big hits by the original artists in the Rhythm & Blues field, but that was as far as they were going to go. And the proof of that is, there were countless big R&B hits and artists during that period, and the only ones anybody knows today are the ones that were covered, not just by white artists, but by pop artists, such as Nat King Cole, The Mills Brothers, Ella Fitzgerald.
A lot of the black pop artists also did their versions of Rhythm & Blues hits. They introduced those songs to a far wider audience than they would have reached otherwise. So anyway, it was sort of a mid-wife function that I served. I think I did more of those R&B covers than anybody.
Dr. BLT: The phenomenon that came about as a result of that was amazing.
Pat Boone: I didn’t know until years later, because I wasn’t keeping up with it, but I had nine hits on the R&B charts at that time, and was accepted and respected as an R&B artist. So when Fats Domino had a number one R&B hit with “Ain’t That a Shame,” but it wasn’t doing anything on the pop charts. Then I recorded it, and it became number one, a multi-million seller in the pop charts, and then it also went to number four in the same Billboard’s R&B chart, where his had been number one.
Dr. BLT: That’s amazing.
Pat Boone: And so, even though my records were admittedly, more vanilla than the originals, there was enough of the flavor, the excitement and the noise level…
Dr. BLT: And you put your own personality into those songs.
Pat Boone: Yeah, and R&B fans accepted that. Then Allan Freed made his famous declaration, “We’re not going to play any cover records,” and, pretty soon, the whole music industry, and the fans were beginning to want to hear the original versions, but there had to be an education process to make them familiar with it.
Dr. BLT: Well I know that you’ve just passed the 50th anniversary of your involvement in show business, and I don’t want to dictate for you what you consider the memorable moments, but I want to address a little bit of what you were doing in the ’60s and ’70s, along with people like Larry Norman, and Andrae Crouch, and Barry McGuire, a good friend of mine.
You were really taking Christian music, and Christianity itself and making it more palatable to the young people of that generation, who were feeling disillusioned, for the most part.
Pat Boone: Yeah, I was deeply concerned during the period of the period of the ’60s when there was a tremendous anti-war, anti-establishment sentiment among college kids. To my absolute disbelief and horror, many were marching into Presidents’ offices in Ivy League schools and around the country, barricading themselves in, hanging flags out of the windows, and just taking over college campuses. They were making all kinds of demands of the administration, and, in many cases, the administration caving in to the demands. It was like an Orwellian kind of collapse of the very structure of society.
And I understand why kids were upset about our being in Vietnam, but somehow it was more than that, it seems like it was a tremendous surge of just rebellion and rejection of authority, and moral guidelines, and of course there were musical performers feeding into that and promoting drugs and promiscuity. They sounded so good-the flower child culture and Jerry Rubin of the Society of Seven’s— “If it feels good, do it!” It was a total abandonment of any kind of guidelines.
When the ’70s began, there was this tremendous Jesus movement that began. And people would ask me, “What is the Jesus movement?” I’d simply say, “It’s Jesus, moving.”
Dr. BLT: Good answer.
Pat Boone: It’s Jesus moving in the lives of young people who are desperately looking for something real, something permanent, something that’s solid, and dependable-something that is worthy of the idealism of young people, and is not going to just leave them drugged out in a back alley somewhere where they thought they were achieving freedom. Instead they had become enslaved, or diseased, or dead, pursuing this absolutely immoral abandon. I saw Jesus music as a great, great breakthrough. I encouraged it. I recorded it.
I started a label called Lamb & Lion. At the very beginning, Larry Norman and I sort of linked up. I was funding the whole thing. It was not going to be a 50-50 situation. He was a control guy, in a successful way for him I suppose. He wanted it to be done exactly his way, even though I was funding it, and had my own gospel recordings, it was not going to work out, because we were not going to be equally yoked.
We were both believers, but he had to go his way, and I went mine. It was like Paul and Mark, they separated. So I kept Lamb & Lion records going, and we introduced people like Steven Chapman and DiGarmo & Key and Dogwood and I did my own recording, and there was Debbie, with her gospel recordings, and I did TV specials.
Dr. BLT: And Debbie had that great big hit in the ’70s, “You Light Up My Life.”
Pat Boone: Yes, for her, that was a gospel song, even though the writer of the song, Joe Brooks, a very profane, non-believing guy, disavowed her intention, when she sang the song. In fact, he didn’t want it to be thought of as a religious song. And she just felt that when she sang those words, “you give me strength to carry on…”
Dr. BLT: Well, it really struck a chord with so many people.
Pat Boone: Well, I think that’s why people got the goose bumps when they heard it. They may not have known exactly why, but they felt something when they heard her sing that song.
Dr. BLT: We’re kind of running out of time here, but first of all, I know that you took some risks in the ’90s, especially with the CD, In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy.
I really admired you for releasing that because it was not only tasteful, but while the critics were complaining that everybody else was starting to sound the same, you stepped up to the plate and experimented a bit.
Pat Boone: I did something totally unprecedented that I was proud of, because, like Daniel Boone, whom you’ve mentioned, I like to go where other people had not gone. Once a place was sort of settled, he felt a little bit stifled and he wanted to move out and explore, and go places where other people hadn’t. So I think I inherited a lot of his DNA, and I’m fascinated with the possibility of doing things that others haven’t.
In this case, my own musicians, out on the road, had suggested we do something-a new album together. They were tired of just playing my gold record hits all the time, and they said, “Why don’t we do something new?” I said, “Guys, what do you think I could do that I haven’t done ten times? And they said, “Well, you never did any heavy metal, and so we joked about it for awhile, and then got serious, because they convinced me there were some songs—quality songs, that we could do in big band jazz arrangements, which, of course, appealed to me greatly.
So, that’s what we did, and it turned out to be tremendous, and went half-way up the Billboard charts, the first week after my appearance on the American Music Awards.
Dr. BLT: I know the college kids were really drawn towards that.
Pat Boone: Yeah, well, it went to #3 on the alternative charts in Rolling Stone magazine, and that’s mainly college—that’s ruled by college radio and fans. They wanted to know immediately: What’s all this about—this excitement we saw at the American Music Awards—this goony guy in leather and tattoos and Lars Ulrich of Metallica saying, “Pat Boone’s our new lead singer!”? What’s this about? And then I had to do countless interviews with college radio all over the country. My agents and managers just didn’t understand it and didn’t put it together in their minds like I did, but I wanted to travel to colleges campuses all over, and perform these arrangements of “Enter Sandman,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Crazy Train,” and “Long Way to the Top” and “Smoke on the Water” with their big bands. And I felt that college kids are into big band jazz.
Dr. BLT: Yeah, that sort of lounge sound was really taking off at that time.
Pat Boone: Yeah, and I went to North Texas State which is, perhaps, the premier big band jazz springboard, across the United States, and many other colleges have terrific big bands, but North Texas State was my alma mater, along with Columbia University, and I wanted to start there. But it wasn’t presented to them by my manager, or my agents, in a way that they understood, and appreciated-you know, their big band was not interested in doing a lot of heavy metal, that sounded just too unworthy, but they hadn’t even heard my album.
So the album continues to sell, I’m very proud of it, because I found something that shook people up, that was unexpected, unprecedented, and yet, something that I felt totally conscience-clean about.
Dr. BLT: You were ahead of your time with that one, and I think a lot of people, without even listening to it, jumped to conclusions about it, which was ridiculous. But I was really impressed when you delivered such a risk-taking album, and yet, at the same time, it was one that was very palatable.
Pat Boone: Yeah, and even today—that was ’97, and so it’s been 8 years, today, everywhere I go, (and I’ll be going into Minnesota, and North Carolina and Virginia for Christmas shows starting the day after tomorrow), I can guarantee that the sound guys, and the lights guys, everywhere I go, will be handing me copies of In a Metal Mood: No More Mister Nice Guy, to sign. I’m telling you that they love it, they play it—I’m talking about the people in the structure of the music business, the people that set it up and make it go, not just the performers, but the people that deal in and create the sounds, and the channels by which we communicate—these people love that album. It’s creative, it involves very tasty arrangements, it involves songs that they might have grown up with and are tickled to hear done a different way.
Dr. BLT: Personally, I loved it.
Pat Boone: Well, good!
Dr. BLT: Now, I know that we’re running out of time, but do you have anything to say about some of the patriotic songs that you’ve done, or your conservative values?
Pat Boone: Yeah, I’ve always been politically conservative, and that’s because I still feel, like our founding fathers, that less government is better and that people in communities ought to be able to govern and to care for their own without looking to a big central government to do it all. Though we have great, great empathy, and compassion for the victims of Katrina and the hurricanes that have swept that region, people have reminded me, as a matter of history, that when the San Francisco earthquake hit, which may have been the worst natural calamity that we’ve ever had, the national government didn’t rush in to rebuild San Francisco. The people of San Francisco, with, I guess some help from somewhere, rallied around to clean up the debris, the dead…to start rebuilding the city. Somewhere, we’ve gotten this idea that the national government has to rush in and solve everybody’s problems, pour billions and billions of dollars of taxpayer money, which is crippling our economy, and strapping the homeowner, and the hard-working family people, with other people’s problems. There’s a blend, which I think has to occur, between a Jesus-type compassion, and people bearing their own burdens.
So anyway, yes, I’m conservative politically. Spiritually/morally, I believe that every word of the Bible, as we’ve received it, is what God want us to have. I just read again this morning, “For you have exalted above all things, your name and your word,” and this is of course David talking to the Lord, so, God says He watches over His word, to perform it, and Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall never pass away,” so I’m conservative in the sense that I believe God hasn’t changed His mind, about anything that He has pronounced, and said, either in the Old or the New Testament. I just believe His word is rock solid and dependable. Jesus said in the last days, “I’m not going to judge you, my word, which you received from God—that is the standard that we’re supposed to adhere to and that we will be judged by.
Dr. BLT: I really respect you, Pat, for standing up for those types of beliefs, and surviving in a popular culture in which you’re surrounded by Hollywood celebrities that, are, for the most part, really antithetical to that.
Pat Boone: I, as an entertainer, have really put my career on the altar a number of times taking positions that are very unpopular in the entertainment business, and, for that matter, almost half of the population, I mean we’ve gotten pretty well divided right down the middle on some of these moral issues. Again, it concerns me greatly because God hasn’t changed His mind, and the word is still His word. We have a reliable guideline and life guide, but, more and more, it’s been explained away and ignored.
I’m writing a memoir, a 50-year retrospective, a memoir of my life, including lots of pictures.
Dr. BLT: Wonderful!
It’s with Broadman/Holeman, publishers out of Nashville. What I want to call it is: Pat Boone’s America: Where Did I Leave It?
Dr. BLT: Great title.
Pat Boone: And so I want to juxtapose my life, and the way we’ve tried to live it, admittedly, with mistakes, we’re not going to sugar-coat that, against the continually shifting sand of today’s culture. American is becoming something that, in the ’50s, we would have never imagined, or wanted to allow.
Dr. BLT: Right, the whole Christmas thing is just one example. I know that I worked for a company a few years back, where I was told, “We’d like you to perform at our holiday dinner, but please don’t sing about Christ or Christmas!
Pat Boone: (Let out a gasp!)
Dr. BLT: Of course when I got up there and got to the name, Christ, I just belted it out.
Pat Boone: Good!
Dr. BLT: Needless to say, I’m no longer working there, but…
Pat Boone: (compassionately delivered laughter). When it comes to Christmas, some people just don’t want to hear the name of Christ.
Pat Boone: Well, a lot of it has to do with the store owners and the retail chain administers, and all of that, they’re afraid they’re going to offend somebody. And we’re becoming so timid in our expressions of what we believe or intimidated that it becomes unclear as to what, if anything, we do believe in or stand for. Well, I’ve got to run.
Dr. BLT: I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Pat Boone: “And same to you!” he proclaimed merrily.
Dr. BLT: Thanks very much, Pat Boone, I appreciate it!
Pat Boone: Thank you! Bye.
I hung up, and said to myself, wow, what a great way to start off the Christmas season! I’m in a Boone mood. I think I’ll put one of my old vinyl Pat Boone Christmas records on the turntable, put on my white bucks and head to the refrigerator for some a tall, cold glass of milk. On second thought, I’ll stray with Pat Boone tradition just a little. Sorry, Pat, but I’m going to opt for eggnog instead of milk.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
From Pat Boone and Dr. BLT!