PAT BOONE INTERVIEWED (1995): Still the same Mr Nice Guy

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Pat Boone: Wish You Were here Buddy (1966)
PAT BOONE INTERVIEWED (1995): Still the same Mr Nice Guy

If conventional wisdom and the rock'n'roll history books are to be believed, Pat Boone was one of the villains - simply because he was so nice.

He was the square when his contemporaries were the sneering, hip-swinging Elvis, the outrageous Little Richard and the adult, knowing Chuck Berry.

Boone – who turned down a film role early in his career because he would have had to kiss a woman who wasn’t his wife – idolised Bing Crosby and adapted raw elemental black music into the smooth style of the Old Groaner.

Boone’s bland and palatable popularisation of rhythm and blues meant the music -- albeit in a very diluted form – made it into conservative Middle American homes it otherwise wouldn’t have reached. And plenty of them. He scored an impressive 38 top 40 hits in America in the seven years to 1962 and sold more than 46 million records.

MainPatBooneRock historians might not like to admit it but Pat Boone, with April Love, Love Letters in the Sand and the like, rivalled Elvis for a while.

Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, he “dreamed of being a singer but the chance was practically nil because we knew no one in the business,” says this affable but still unashamedly morally and politically conservative 60-year-old.

“My mother was a nurse, my father a building contractor, and I took a few piano lessons. I never learned to read music but always sang because I was always willing and confident of my ability to carry a tune."

He sang to business, church and civic groups and won a talent quest which took him to New York, where he won the final and went on to another professional talent show.

His first record was a hit and in 1955 he scored a number one with a pallid version of Fats Domino’s Ain't that a Shame.

“I had just enrolled in Columbia University in New York City and thought I was going to be a schoolteacher. I was going to major in English and Randy Woods of Dot Records wanted me to sing a song called Ain't that a Shame . . . which was not good English! I tried to sing it as ‘Isn’t that a shame’ but it just didn't work out."

And so began a career, first in music later in film and television, which saw Boone – with his youthful, college-boy looks and trademark “white bucks” (shoes) -- as the acceptable face of the emergent postwar youth culture.22660_lg

Boone today accepts he diluted rock’n’roll to popularise it and in retrospect feels he has to “take some of the blame or credit for helping rock'n'roll become an accepted music form. Now that I look at where it’s gone I think it’s more blame than credit.”

“I think some of the fears that parents and preachers had about where rock'n'roll would take the younger generation have become well founded, not so much then because there was an innocence about rock 'n’ roll at the time.

"We’d clean up the lyrics - I know I did - but the kids didn't care so much about the lyrics, they just wanted the fun of the music. But then business people got very much involved and found if they could encourage anarchistic rebellious young people to write about taboo things that there would be a lot of kids who would gravitate towards those things.

“The fellows in the ivory towers and three-piece suits not only encouraged the writing of songs about drugs and sex and all sorts of things but then they discovered they could get the DJs to play them if they supplied them liberally with drugs.

“The music business became pretty corrupt.”

By that time, however, Boone was no longer a force. His hits stopped coming, the Beatles arrived and a new consciousness was abroad. Not one that he likes even today.

He understood the resentment many felt about the Vietnam conflict but still believes civil disobedience and burning draft cards was unacceptable.

“I think when we went into Vietnam it was with some fairly lofty goals. We wanted to keep people from being enslaved. We did have some economic interests there too. We never got into an all-battle -- and it would have been an even more frightful thing if we had, I guess.

“But I didn't agree with rebelling against the Government, burning draft cards and all sorts of civil disobedience.

“When I was of draft age for the Korean War I conscientiously objected to training how to kill because of my religious upbringing but I was willing to train to be a medic and go on the front line and risk my life. But it would be to save life, not take it.

"In the Sixties I wrote and recorded Wish You Were Here, Buddy [included on this set] which was from the viewpoint of a guy already in Vietnam in a foxhole or jungle and hearing about some friend back home who was burning his draft card and taking part in big demonstrations and thumbing his nose at the Government. I didn't think that was the proper response.patboone_photoplay

“Our Government does allow us to dissent. We don’t have to do something that we conscientiously object to but we don’t have to bring down the Government either just because we don’t agree with the policy.”

Today Boone says people are having to choose their own paths and "I just hope those who choose to go a productive way will finally -- and they do at this point -- outnumber those who want to go, and maybe even conscientiously believe they are right to go, in a non-constructive path.

“For instance there is a growing number of people in America who think we were robbed when Congress took prayer out of schools even if they wanted to have it voluntarily. We were then flooded with drugs, guns, violence and promiscuous sexuality and I think common sense tells you that when there are deterrent influences you aren‘t going to have the rampant involvement in destructive things.

“If you have kids who pray openly and have some sort of moral reminder then the likelihood of getting involved in things which fly in the face of that isn't nearly as strong.”

As with Cliff Richard, Boone kept the contract he undertook with his audience and never betrayed it.

He never claimed to be anything other than an upright, moral citizen and today – with charity work – he is still keeping his end of the bargain.

For another side of Pat Boone, the man in "a metal mood", have a listen to this.

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