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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Pat Boone Brings a Light Touch to Heavy Metal

Singer is finishing an album of his renditions of the raucous music. But he'll concentrate on performing his hits at the county fair.

August 15, 1996|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pat Boone is the G-rated soundtrack for milk and cookies, not to mention sugar and spice and everything nice. Boone makes Wally Cleaver seem like a thug by comparison. Also, Boone never seems to age, and the bets are in as to who will be the first man to live forever--Boone, Dick Clark or Jack LaLanne. Boone--he'll be the guy in the white shoes--will be singing songs Tuesday afternoon at the Ventura County Fair.

How many songs? A lot. Boone is among the top three selling artists of the rock 'n' roll era, having sold 45 million records thus far. Sixty of those songs made the charts and 18 of those made it to the Top 10.

Boone first hit it big in the mid-'50s by making squeaky clean covers of raucous R&B songs, which meant that he never had to use the English and Communications degree he earned from Columbia University. In addition to all those hits, Boone has made a number of movies and is heavily involved in religious causes and a variety of charities.

Pat has been married to Shirley for more than 40 years, they have four daughters and 15 grandchildren, "Let It Be" is on his phone message machine, oh, and one last thing: Boone is making a heavy metal album. Other than that, it's blue skies, green lights as Boone and company continue to live happily ever after. He shut off the rainbow momentarily for a brief phone interview.

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You're obviously a busy guy. How often do you perform these days?

Well, I don't tour regularly, but I do make all kinds of personal appearances. I just got back from Washington where I attended a Family Federation for World Peace conference. George Bush, Gerald Ford and Margaret Thatcher were there. On the last day, my daughter Debbie and her daughter Tessa and I sang "Thank Heaven for Little Girls."

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You play a lot of fairs?

Yes, I love playing at county fairs, and I'm playing a number of them this summer in Southern California which are as large as some state fairs. When Tennessee Ernie Ford slowed down playing fairs, I began to play more of them, and for awhile, I was known as "Mr. State Fair." I love the kinds of people that come to fairs, family folks. You know these days, it's difficult to get a family together.

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Once upon a time you sang "Tutti Frutti," but Little Richard never sang "Moody River." How did all that come about?

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard were R&B guys, and pop radio in those days never heard of R&B. There was no chance for an R&B guy to get played on pop radio until pop artists did versions of their R&B songs. It wasn't until deejays demanded the originals that they got played. All those R&B artists were thrilled--and they told me so--because their songs got to a wider audience. I have a taped interview that Little Richard did around 1960, and he was talking about "Tutti-Frutti." He said, "Man, I already had a hit with that song, but I was still washing dishes. When I heard Pat Boone's version, I threw down my towel and walked off the job." He was the writer of that song, so he got more money. The only R&B artists that made any money were the ones that got their songs covered by pop artists.

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Elvis didn't win on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour, but you did. What was that like?

I was the great, great, great grandson of Daniel Boone, so that gave me the extra nudge, and when I went on that show, I never got so many votes as I did from Tennessee. Without them, I would never have gotten a deal with Dot Records. I graduated from Columbia in 1958 magna cum laude and always thought I'd teach school and maybe preach in a little country church, but by then I was on television and recording. I was singing mainstream pop songs just like Nat King Cole, Frankie Laine and Perry Como. I was on the cover of TV Guide wearing my cap and gown, and I was already married with four daughters. Some people thought that was what I was majoring in at Columbia.

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It's true, you're putting out a heavy metal album?

It's just about finished, and it should be out around September. At first, it started out as a joke, but now I think MCA feels it has a real shot at some Grammy nominations. We're doing the final mixes right now. We took some of the great heavy metal songs and made new versions of them. A lot of these songs have sensible and intelligent lyrics, you just can't hear them on the originals. For example, on "Crazy Train," Ozzy is singing about the confusion of today's world. First, we chose this all-star band, and every chair is filled with a champion. For backup singers, we have the Power of Seven, which is like seven Pointer Sisters. Every song has a new arranger, and it's really sort of a big band jazzy album.

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What are some of the songs?

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