It’s not often you find originals. Everything seems to be a copy or some kind of transposition from something that has been made or done before. This encompasses careers, culture, and even everyday items.
I find this adage to be true in music today. Now I have to consider that a lot has been said, but nothing new seems to happen anymore. That’s why I collect vinyl and listen to the “original” artists of popular, R&B, and rock and roll today. One of the greatest originals that paved the way for modern music is Pat Boone.
Last week I spoke with Mr. Boone about his career, what he did for music, and where he sees music today. We started out with the basics. How did Boone begin his career and how was his interest in music sparked?
I began to sing in my hometown of Nashville in my family. Mama was not a musician, but she could play some chords on the ukulele. She taught my brother and I those chords and we could sing at our family gatherings. Then in school starting in the 8th grade and into high school, whenever there was a need for a guy who could carry a tune and sing, I would either volunteer or be asked to do it. In high school, I was known as ‘Blue Moon Boone.’ I could sing “Blue Moon” anytime, anywhere.
From there, “Blue Moon Boone” began entering many talent contests, but couldn’t quite get to the top spot, always coming in 2nd. He eventually won a talent contest that sent him to NYC to try out for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, the original American Idol, Boone informed me. Although right before he could have won the show, he went down to CBS and tried out for the Arthur Godfrey show and won! Dot records then contacted Boone and nearly 8 months later he was in the studio cutting his first hit record “Two Hearts, Two Kisses.”
It wasn’t long until Boone was recording million seller after million seller and making nearly three albums a year, not to mention graduating from college getting married, and having 4 children. Needless to say, he had his hands full. This helped lead way to his trademark, family friendly image.
When I graduated in ’58 from Columbia, Magna Cum Laude, I was on the cover of TV Guide in my cap and gown because of the TV show, “The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.” It went out live, it wasn’t pre-taped or anything, it went out cold live every week!…You open up the TV Guide that I’m on the cover of and there is a picture of Shirley, my wife, and our four little girls. I was 23. It was a hectic, hectic time, but I was selling millions of records and during that period I was Elvis’ only competition.
What many people do not realize is that in the latter part of the 1950’s Boone and Presley matched nearly single for single in the charts and in sales. This rivalry was quite friendly though. As Boone later told me, they were “good buddies” and played flag football regularly.
Boone was now on the cusp of the new “rhythmic” music they were calling rock and roll. He had already recorded some R&B covers like Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.” Boone was excited to discuss his records that were rock and roll, but he also wanted to clear up a misconception. Many are quick to say these pop artists “stole” these records from R&B artists, but that simply wasn’t the case with Boone.
Fats Domino’s record of “Ain’t That a Shame” was a rhythm and blues hit on rhythm and blues radio…R&B music was not played on pop radio and the artists were not known on pop radio…when I recorded “Ain’t That a Shame” his [Fats Domino] had been number one on the R&B charts and sold 150,000. I recorded “Ain’t That A Shame” and it went to number one on the Pop Charts and sold 1.5 million copies….he was thrilled, same with Little Richard and “Tutti Frutti”…both said they were making more money off my recording of their songs than they were…
Today, Boone is a music business veteran who keeps on going. To this day, he still performs and is an active political and religious commentator. Boone made his records when the music industry was vastly different then what it is today. What was his take on where the industry had gone and what were the differences?
It’s all suits, programming, and executives running things. It used to be where if a doo-wop group made a demo they could walk into a radio station, give it to the DJ, he could play it, and it would become a hit. Now there is no such thing…That was a time when the public was choosing what they liked. Now they have to take whatever the record companies produce and give them. They will spend a half million on a record that will bomb and go nowhere, where we would spend three or four thousand and sell a million records…It was a time of creativity and innovation…millions are spent on finding the next hit, not something brand new and fresh.
There was once a time when music was organic and innovative. People were not restricted to just “big money” music, anybody could get a record on the air. If it was good, it got played. Sure there must have been some corruption here or there, but it really was that simple.
Boone comes from this era of simple innovation where originals were produced. He was one, if not the, original pop superstar that literally took over the radio and tv air waves. Always keeping his integrity, he paved a way for artists to come from the 1960’s to today. Copies are quickly and rapidly produced, but originals are hard to come by. Pat Boone is an original superstar that many imitate, but can never recreate.
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