A Chat With Johnny Mathis

Posted on: 08 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Still going strong after 50 years, the voice of romance talks to 50connect.

2008 marks the 52nd anniversary of Johnny Mathis as a recording artist, and his voice sounds just as remarkable now as it did in 1956.

During his long career, he has made more than 100 records, of which he's sold almost 400 million copies. He achieved massive success with his hits - Wonderful Wonderful, It's Not For Me To Say, Chances Are and the legendary Misty.

Born in Texas and raised in San Francisco, Johnny gave up competing in the 1956 Olympics in order to record his first album.

He has since become known worldwide as 'the voice of romance'. Somewhat surprisingly, he did not intend to be a romantic singer when he started out.

"I didn't really think about that, my management decided. Someone wrote that I was the voice of romance and it stuck. I couldn't help it, I just opened my mouth and this is the voice that came out!"

It's a voice that has made many listeners happy. Johnny's first Greatest Hits collection, released in 1958, stayed on the Billboard Top Album charts for almost 10 years, and remains one of the most popular albums of all time, a feat noted in the Guinness Book Of World Records. He is one of the only five recording artists to have Top 40 Hits spanning each of the four decades since 1955.

He has been awarded a star on the famous Hollywood Walk Of Fame, performed for Presidents and Heads of State around the world and has been nominated for Grammys - starting in 1960 and as recently as 2006. He has been inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame twice so far.

However, as he gets older awards and other glamorous measures of success mean less to Johnny.

"At the time it was very gratifying, but the years go on and people don't remember how many awards you have or the number of records you've released. That's not what motivates me. The important thing is that I'm still able to carry on singing and performing."

I wondered what keeps him enthusiastic after more than half a century in the business.

"I'm still capable. It's something I want to do for many years to come, for the rest of my life."

So that he can continue to do what he loves, Johnny takes good care of himself. Early in his career Johnny released lots of records and toured constantly, but these days he takes life a little easier.

"I have to look after my voice because as you get older your voice starts weakening. I have to take care of it so I can still carry on doing what I do, so I've cut my touring in half, I go to the gym and watch what I eat."

Ageing is not a problem for Johnny, but an intriguing time.

"It's a mystery, getting older. It happens to us all but nobody really knows what it's all about or how to deal with it."

Remarkably he has stayed with the same record company for most of his 52 year career.

"I've been at Columbia, which is now Sony, for 47 years, with 3 years at Mercury."

He has managed himself since 1984, which has allowed him time to pursue other interests.

"I look after all of it. In the past people taught me how to book concert venues and take care of it all. I always wanted to go off in a different direction and do something completely different."

An example of one of these other interests is golf. In 1985 and 1986 Johnny hosted his own golf tournament, The Johnny Mathis Seniors PGA Classic, in Los Angeles. He has also hosted a charity golf tournament, The Shell / Johnny Mathis Golf Classic, in Belfast.

"I play golf at least 5 or 6 days a week, so that's something."

He also loves cooking. Fans need not worry that he has given up singing, however.

Recently Johnny has been working on a new album, A Night To Remember. It's the follow-up to 2006's The Very Best Of Johnny Mathis which sold over a quarter of a million copies in the UK, and has been produced by Walter Afanasief, who has worked with Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey and recently Leona Lewis.

The album features guest appearances from Dave Koz, Kenny G, Gladys Knight and Yolanda Adams, and includes some of the most well known songs of our time including We're In This Love Together, Just The Two Of Us, Walk On By, You Make Me Feel Brand New, plus the latest hit from Johnny A Night To Remember, with Gladys Knight.

The selection of songs on the album was not entirely Johnny's, although he had some say.

"It's partly me, partly the record company. We look at the kind of songs that will sell."

Johnny is not completely happy about the way the music industry works these days.

"Things have changed and the music business has faded a little bit."

However, despite believing that certain developments in the music industry have not been for the better, he does not think things should stay the same for ever.

"Pop music is about change. There are so many genres now, hip hop, R & B, and so on, that nobody can say what's mainstream anymore."

In fact Johnny has no complaints about modern music. Though the increasing celebrity culture causes him some concern.

"It's not about the music, it's what goes along with that."

Sudden intense scrutiny of his personal life is something Johnny had to cope with after revealing in a 1982 interview that he was homosexual.

"For someone of my age it's a bit embarassing talking about things that are so private, that you think why do people want to know about that? It wasn't anything to do with the music. But apart from a couple of days of embarassment it hasn't been too bad, since I started my job as a teenager."

All in all, he is happy with the way his career has worked out.

"I'm just grateful that I've been able to have such a long career singing. I'm lucky that my career has lasted so long and I have still been able to record for that time."

Let's hope we hear many more years of Mathis magic.

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You can purchase A Night To Remember from all good record stores, or online at Amazon.

By Cherry Butler

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