Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview with Debby Boone

Triple Grammy Award winner Debby Boone will appear at the Welk Resort in Escondido from June 22 to 25. In 1977 she skyrocketed to fame with "You Light Up My Life" and has never stopped recording since. In the 80s it was gospel and Broadway into the 90s and more recently Reflections of Rosemary, a CD that honors her late mother-in-law all time great singer Rosemary Clooney. Boone has had a varied career, running the gamut from country to Christian to pop - Broadway and standards - and will soon record a Big Band Swing album. In our chat, this talented gal talks about her music and her childrens' books, which she wrote with her husband illustrator, Gabriel Ferrer. 

What is in the show? Primarily songs from your CD Reflections of Rosemary?

That's the focus. I've been out doing it around the country. It's definitely a tribute to my mother-in-law, and I am using a lot of the songs from the CD, but a lot of other things too-on topic but not on the CD. Then we sidetrack a little; it's a well-rounded show.

You're including "You Light Up My Life"?

I think people would be really upset with me if they came to my show and I left that one out. (we laugh)

Tell me what it was like growing up with your dad (Pat Boone) and your mom (Shirley Foley, daughter of Red Foley) and singing as a little girl. You were exposed to such a mix of pop and country music.

I don't know that it's been strategically planned, but the variety has been wonderful. Being in a musical family was the greatest, because I was exposed to wonderful music from as far back as I can remember...and primarily from my mother, because she was in a musical family and loved tight harmonies. As soon as any of us could talk, we were learning four/five part harmony. And traveling around with my dad and seeing him do what he did, going to Vegas and seeing his show, his peers and their shows. It was exciting and wonderful and yet all at the same time I had a really normal home life, a family life that was completely set apart from show business. I had the best of both worlds.

That is unusual. Many performers do not have a family life growing up. You were so lucky.

Exactly right. I'm very fortunate.

And you credit the country side of your career to the influence of your maternal grandfather Red Foley. Tell us about that!

Right, right. It was more natural for me (to sing country) than I even anticipated. I've been having so much fun. I've incorporated some of his music into my Rosemary show. I talk in the show and in the liner notes of the CD that Rosemary and Red Foley had the opportunity to share the same stage, and I have a picture of it in my front hallway... at the Grand Ole Opry, when she recorded "Half As Much", a Hank Williams tune. They had a strong connection. Coming from Maysville, Kentucky she came into contact with a lot of country music. It's kind of a genetic thing for me too when I started to incorporate a few Red Foley things into my show. It just felt so absolutely part of who I am.

What are some of those songs?

I do a huge hit of his called "Tennessee Saturday Night", and I recently added what another huge hit for him and Elvis Presley, "Peace in the Valley".

After your success with country, you segued into gospel in the early 80s, correct?

That's probably a fair estimate of what happened. I was raised in a Christian family, and that's always been an important part of my life. And because I had had success not only with "You Light Up My Life" in the pop field, I had also recorded with my sisters in the contemporary Christian marketplace. A couple of companies approached me about doing some Christian themed music, which I was excited to do. I never looked at it as a career move or career change. I never saw myself leaving secular music, but it kind of looked like that because the music industry was changing rapidly. My music and my image became not that appealing for the programmers of Top 40 stations. Music was changing, and I wasn't getting much air play there. But I was getting a lot of air play on the contemporary Christian stations, and I went out on the road and did tours of that music. I never gave up one for the other; it just evolved that way.

I read somewhere that when you had such tremendous success with "You Light Up My Life" and after they made a movie with the same title, calling the song romantic... you said it was not romantic for you, but you sang it to God. Is that right?

That is the truth. I never did it with any agenda, like "I want people to know this" or that I somehow wanted to evangelize the world with it (she laughs) or anything like that. It was my private interpretation. I never thought the song was going to be a hit. I was just excited somebody wanted me to go into the studio and record it.  So when it did become a massive hit, people started to ask me "Who were you singing to?" I never expected to answer that question, but when it was there, rather than make up some story...the truth was the lyrics lent themselves to a prayer-like quality, and that was my interpretation.

You also did Broadway. You did the musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" on tour. How did all that come to be?

Some regional theatre did it before I got involved. My name got thrown in the hat as somebody who could star in that show. I was then approached about doing a summer stock tour and I had never done any musical theatre, and very little acting. It wasn't an audition; it was an offer, and I ended up having the time of my life. I was very well suited to it, which I had not anticipated. It was very successful, so several producers decided to do a big tour and take it into Broadway. Then the history did not bode well. (she laughs) We landed two weeks on Broadway. We had a very successful cross country tour for a year, and then we got killed in the New York Times so we were shut down. But I so don't regret it. Since then I've done many runs of The Sound of Music, Meet Me in St. Louis, South Pacific, Camelot...

What's your favorite of the shows you've done?

The King and I.


That show of all the ones I mentioned is so well constructed from beginning to end. I loved doing Sound of Music and playing against type as Rizzo in Grease, for the crazy kick of it, but there is something so incredibly beautiful in the arch of the character of Ana and how she evolved and what she learned . It's such a beautiful story with such a beautiful message. It has everything from beautiful costumes, dancing and cultural differences...the King grows and learns, and she grows and learns...everybody makes transformations in that show. It's a huge undertaking to do. When that show starts, from the time you set foot on the stage to the final bow, it's like riding a wave, it's so well written. You go with it.

And that Rodgers and Hammerstein score!


Let's go back to Reflections of Rosemary. When you recorded that in 2005, it was a few years after Rosemary Clooney passed. Why did you wait?

Everybody was too raw when she first died. It was too early. It was a rapid decline, and I'm glad for her that she didn't have to go through years of suffering. To tell the story, to sing the songs, I emotionally couldn't have done it any sooner. Bette Midler came out with one pretty quickly. (she laughs) Hers was of a completely different nature. It was exactly the right tone and only someone like Bette could have done that with a novelty record with a character song like "Mambo Italiano" and "C'Mon a My House". Mine of course is much more personal and intimate.
Rosemary Clooney

So it really was the perfect time for me. It came out just as my youngest daughter went off to college. It was the perfect time for me to hit the road and not feel like I was shirking responsibility or leaving somebody's needs unmet while I did it.

I heard a Big Band Swing album is in the works. Are you in  fact planning that?

I am, and I'm so excited. It's a show and a CD I'm working on simultaneously. Swing This. The basic idea of the show is the throwback to Las Vegas in the 60s with all the great swing music and the glamour and the fun of what it was like to go to Vegas in the glory days when The Rat Pack was there...glamour girl singers like Peggy Lee or Julie London...that kind of music, Louis Prima and Keeley Smith and the fun of the interplay with the band and the audience. I am having a blast!

When can we expect this show?

Even though I'm not finished with the CD or the planning for the show, I'm booked as early as October.

Wonderful! Summing up, what do you now consider your favorite genre of music? Is it what you're doing now?

I really do. I definitely am going into the studio one day and do a Red Foley tribute. Much more country than what I'm doing now but very much infused with a little bit of the jazz field. The arrangements I do now in my show are that, and they're working so beautifully. Musical director John Otto works with me on everything and a musical director will be working with me as well on the next show to make sure all the fat is cut out and everything is working the way it should work.

Tell me about your childrens' books. Your husband Gabriel Ferrer illustrated with you. Are you still writing those?

My kids were the inspiration. We took polaroids of them and that's where all the illustrations came from. Not exclusively...my husband created a few little baby characters, but the kids were pretty much the inspiration and as they got older, we stopped doing the books. When I become a grandmother, I hope we'll reintroduce ourselves to that. The old ones are out of print, but we're looking into buying back rights and reissuing them. Kids and what they love I don't think really changes from generation to generation as long as it's true and honest. Of course, some books are popular at one time and not another, but I think these books have a real ageless quality to them. I'm so proud of them.

Debby Boone is a very talented singer and wholesome human being that you do not want to miss in person. Remember her show will play the Welk Resort in Escondido June 22-25. Matinees every day at 1 pm preceded by a wonderful breakfast/lunch buffet in the Canyon Grille.
for tix and info

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