Johnny Mathis Teams Up with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
MATHIS: Yes, you too! Are you doing alright?
HULICK: Yes, I’m doing well. Happy New Year!
MATHIS: Yes! We made it through another one, thank goodness. (laughs)
HULICK: (laughs) I am so looking forward to you coming this way again.
MATHIS: Me too. I remember years ago I played a venue that was a summer type of venue with a park.
HULICK: There used to be a place called Melody Fair.
MATHIS: That’s it… Melody Fair. They had a park called Wurlitzer Park we used to have a picnic in.
HULICK: I’m sorry to say that Melody Fair is no more.
MATHIS: They finally gave up then? Well it was old when I played there, but I enjoyed it.
HULICK: You will be here January 26th to play Kleinhans Music Hall with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. I know that is one of your favorite places to play.
MATHIS: Yes, absolutely. It is a favorite of mine because the orchestra is so close to you and it’s just a thrill to sing with an orchestra like that.
HULICK: You were originally scheduled to perform this show last fall and had to postpone. Now you will be here in the winter. Have you ever played this area in the winter?
MATHIS: I think so. I remember it being kind of cold (laughs)… and white (laughs). I actually have a nephew in the area, so I will get to see him and his wife, along with some friends I’ve made through the years. I used to play Buffalo all the time. I started my recording career in New York City and it was a close place to play. I remember it fondly.
HULICK: As I am sure everyone here remembers you the same way. I have to tell you something. You were one of the first to be part of my annual “Christmas Greetings from the Stars”, and as I was working on 2012’s, I still had people telling me that nothing will ever top the answer that Johnny Mathis gave for his favorite holiday food or recipe.
MATHIS: (laughs) I remember that.
HULICK: Your answer was fruit cake- explaining that when you were a kid you thought fruit cake was so special because it came out only once a year, so to you it took a whole year to make.
MATHIS: (laughs) Yes, I did. Well I’m glad people recall that and it makes them smile.
HULICK: Your most recent album, “Let It Be Me- Mathis in Nashville”, was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. Will you be doing some of that material in your show at Kleinhans?
MATHIS: Absolutely. My guitar, Gil Reigers, who you know, has been with me now for 43 years… that’s incredible to even think of… but Gil and I went down to Nashville, which for guitar players is kind of their mecca. So he went with me when I recorded and he was a great, great help for me because he introduced me to all the guitar players that he was familiar with. It means a lot when you get a rapport with them before you even start performing. It was a wonderful feeling for me to be there with all these extraordinary guitar players. And they knew every song… we didn’t have to do any arrangements, they played them all from memory. Gil and I perform about three of those songs together in concert now.
HULICK: Well I can’t wait to hear them. There are a number of great classics on the album. Songs like “You Don’t Know Me”, “Make the World Go Away”, “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, and the title song, “Let It Be Me”, featuring the amazing Alison Krauss.
MATHIS: The one that is my favorite is “Shenandoah”. I just love the melody to that one.
HULICK: Will we get to hear that one at your show?
MATHIS: Yes, I am happy to say you will.
HULICK: It’s a great album.
MATHIS: Thank you very much. My dad was a big country and western music lover and from the time I was a little kid he played and introduced me to so many of country and western artists, and I was so happy to finally be able to do some of that wonderful, wonderful music that is the foundation of our American music.
HULICK: There’s such a crossover in music these days, so listing something as country or pop or adult contemporary, is tougher because it’s kind of all mixed any more it seems.
MATHIS: Yep, absolutely. And that’s the way it should be. It reminds me how in the early days of classical music how the ordinary citizen was very familiar with Mozart and Beethoven, and what have you, and that’s the way I think music has finally come around to nowadays. Although I do have to admit I love Brazilian music and I always include two or three songs in Portuguese in my show. Do you know how it is when you’re young and you get involved or fascinated by something or some music?
MATHIS: Well when I was about 22, I went to Brazil and fell in love with the music and came back home and saw a movie called “Black Orpheus”, which had some of the most popular Brazilian songs that were written for that movie. So I always loved the aspect of Brazilian music… they way the Brazilians speak Portuguese. It seems to suit my personality and my musical heritage. It’s very romantic.
HULICK: It really does suit your personality Johnny. The moments in your show when you do those songs, you light up and you can tell how much you love doing those songs. There’s one in particular I know you do, and I won’t give it away, but as soon as the music gets going the audience starts smiling and there’s a sense of almost like all inhibitions are forgotten and the audience goes on this journey with you to Brazil. You truly feel transported to a different place and time. You probably couldn’t pick a better song to do here in Buffalo at the end of January. Incidentally, that is one of my favorites you do. To top it off, it’s a lot of fun for an orchestra to play as well I would imagine.
MATHIS: Yes it is. I was very lucky Henry Mancini did the arrangement for me. He was a good pal of mine and I miss him greatly… all of his beautiful music that he wrote for the movies. Living out here in California and seeing him as often as I did, we finally got a chance to record together. We used to tour together in concert for about 20 years, and then finally I got an opportunity to record with him on an album of movie songs, and it’s my favorite recording that I’ve ever done.
HULICK: You have a busy tour schedule this year.
MATHIS: Yes, I had some surgery on my hip, and fortunately everything turned out great, I’m back in tip top shape now and I’m looking forward to making up some of those shows I had to cancel or postpone last year. I believe there are six of them. You know if the offers came in for a performance, and I’m in the frame of mind, I’d do it. But at this point in my life I have golfing interests… and everybody thinks, oh he likes to play golf on the weekends… no, I like to play golf everyday! (laughs) It’s a very big part of my life and the thing I think the catalyst about the whole thing is that I do get a chance to have some sort of relationships with people on a basis that I’m just out there playing golf with them and nothing about music enters into it.
HULICK: It kind of gives you a whole other level to your life. I’m glad to hear you are doing well since your surgery. So you’re back on the golf course going strong?
MATHIS: Oh, yeah! I do exactly what they say to do as far as the rehab is concerned, so it’s worked out great… I feel one hundred percent!
HULICK: Let’s go back to the holidays for a second, because I just have to say I love the Old Navy Christmas commercial you were in.
MATHIS: (laughs) How about that? (laughs)
HULICK: (laughs) That was so cool! You looked and sounded wonderful! Was that a lot of fun to put together?
MATHIS: Yes, but after I left the studio and being there and waiting and waiting and waiting some more, I thought to myself… I am so glad I sing for a living and not act as a living.
HULICK: (laughs) Acting is a whole other ballgame. You know I was looking through your list of albums, because it always fascinates me, and I was wondering if you have a guess as to how many albums you have released?
MATHIS: Oh, gosh… I know it’s a lot.
HULICK: Well if I counted correctly, it’s 98!
MATHIS: That sounds to me to be about right. Just so you know, they repackaged a lot of the stuff and packaged it for specific audiences I guess.
HULICK: But that is incredible Johnny!
MATHIS: It is a lot of work put out. I haven’t really had any time in my career where I haven’t been able to sing. There were a few times when I’d have little problems vocally, like laryngitis or something, but not any long, long spells. Plus the fact that I’ve been very, very lucky to have a contract with these large record companies I’ve worked with. I signed with Columbia, then went to Mercury Records for three years and continued my career there and met people like Quincy Jones, and went to Europe and recorded stuff with Norman Newel for that aspect of the company, and then came back and picked up again with Columbia. So, all and all I think I’ve been recording for either Mercury or Columbia for over 60 years.
HULICK: There were actually only 12 years during that period of time, which I could see, that you didn’t release an album, whether newly recorded or repackaged. That’s unreal!
MATHIS: You mean 12 years altogether through those years?
HULICK: Yes, 12 years total throughout your entire career. That’s amazing.
MATHIS: It really is… I’ve been very, very fortunate in being able to transcend all of the musical genres that come in and go out, and come in again and go out again. You find yourself thinking… I wonder if I can sing this and I wonder if I can sing that. (laughs) You’re never quite sure, but once you get into the studio and put it down, it’s down for eternity. So I haven’t really over stepped the boundaries too much. Once in a while something will come up and I’ll hear it then I’ll record it and then I think, oh my goodness… what was I thinking! (laughs)
HULICK: (laughs) I don’t think you could ever do anything wrong… honestly Johnny.
MATHIS: Some of it’s pretty funny though Melanie. (laughs) But I finally righted myself. (laughs)
HULICK: (laughs) Oh, my goodness. As we talked earlier about how you were originally scheduled to perform this upcoming show at Kleinhans last fall on October 13th. Did Robert, your manager, tell you that was my birthday?
HULICK: Yes. You were going to be here on my birthday! I was so excited! I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday than to be at your show and hear you singing live.
MATHIS: Oh, no! And I would have sung “Happy Birthday” to you! I absolutely would have.
HULICK: It’s funny… the last time you played Kleinhans a couple years ago, your birthday was that week and I set up a surprise for you by asking the orchestra to play “Happy Birthday” for you without you knowing, which they so graciously did.
MATHIS: Yes, I remember that.
HULICK: Well Johnny, you know how much I love our chats, and I could talk to you all day, but I know you have other things on your agenda for the day. What a way to start a new year… chatting with a wonderful friend.
MATHIS: Thank you so much Melanie, and you know how I also love our chats. I am looking forward to coming to Buffalo again and I will see you then.
HULICK: Bring some warm clothes!
MATHIS: (laughs) I will!