Johnny Mathis talks 65 years of songs ahead of Southern California vacation show – Orange County Register



Johnny Mathis was only two years into his recording career when in 1958 he released his hit album “Merry Christmas”, an eternal Christmas classic to this day.

Since then, Mathis has released five more holiday albums, although “Merry Christmas” remains his bestseller with over 5 million copies sold.

Mathis, 86, still gives a handful of holiday shows each year, as he will do on Tuesday, December 21 at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa.

“Christmas has always been a huge part of my life,” Mathis said when he called recently from his Los Angeles home. “I think most people who do what I do, sing, will tell you that the holidays, especially the Christmas holidays, are very special because at this time of year you have to sing songs from Christmas.”

No, he hastens to note, that he had not liked songs such as “Winter Wonderland”, “Sleigh Ride” and “White Christmas” even as a teenager in San Francisco who dreamed of a lifetime. singer.

“Coming from a large family like me, Christmas time, the holidays were very important,” says Mathis. “I come from a large family of seven children. My mom, my dad were my best friends.

It’s his father, Clem Mathis, who is largely responsible for Johnny’s professional singing career, who has marked 65 this year, says Mathis, all but a few of those who have signed to Columbia Records.

“The reason I sang, my dad sang, and sure enough, I loved him a lot,” says Mathis. “We would hunt and fish together, and while we were there he sang to me.

“And that’s how I got the virus.”

His father also urged him to take proper vocal training to strengthen and protect his voice, which Mathis did while shopping for a singing teacher.

“I was lucky. I met a lady, her name was Connie Cox,” he said. “She was a singing teacher at Berkeley, I think. Somewhere above the water since then. San Francisco And over the years, I’ve cleaned her apartment, ran errands for her, sat in her studio, and listened to her voice teaching her students.

“Eventually, I would have maybe five or 10 minutes while she changed students, and I would run and she would show me things,” Mathis says. “The real essence of what I got was listening to his voice teach his paying students.”

Mathis also took music lessons at San Francisco State College, where he won a track and field scholarship and was an Olympic-caliber high jumper. But the music and the jazz scene of San Francisco had always been his first love.

“The lady who was very important in my recognition by Columbia Records owned a jazz club in San Francisco, and this wonderful man, his name was George Avakian, came to promote his jazz musicians,” Mathis said.

“He heard me sing one day, I think I was rehearsing with a buddy of mine – I think I was 17 at the time,” he says. “And he said he thought I could have a career as a singer.”

Avakian was only in San Francisco for a few days, but he vowed to look for Mathis when he returns next year. For Mathis, it might as well have been an eternity.

“I’ve been singing since I was 12 or 13, and I’ve heard that a lot,” he says. “I said, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s not coming back.'”

But Avakian, who was at the head of jazz music at Columbia at the time, was true to his word, and in 1956 he signed a recording contract with Mathis and brought him back to New York to make his debut album.

“I don’t think I was very prolific as a jazzer, but that was sort of what was kind of a rule at the time,” says Mathis.

His debut album, “Johnny Mathis: A New Sound In Popular Song,” didn’t sell much, says Mathis. “At the time, I don’t think anyone heard it,” he says.

But musician and conductor Mitch Miller, who at the time was also a senior executive at Columbia Records, heard something in Mathis’s voice that seemed to fit romantic pop better than jazz and took over. during his career.

“It was a big quagmire of popular music in Columbia,” says Mathis. “He heard me sing and said, ‘I think we can make some money if you sing a different song.

“I left with ‘This is not for me to say’ and ‘Chances are’ and ‘The twelfth of ever’ and ‘Wonderful! Marvellous ! He said. “And before I knew it, I was traveling the world singing. I kept my jazz fundamentals, but started to be successful singing popular songs.

Mathis has placed 43 songs in the Billboard Hot 100 over the past 65 years, with most of his biggest hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s before rock and roll finally took over. on the pop charts.

But her 1978 duet with Deniece Williams, “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”, reached number 1, her second time to top the charts after “Chances Are” in 1957.

“Over the years, I have sung in tandem with other singers, mainly my girlfriends, Deniece Williams, Dionne Warwick and all these wonderful singers,” says Mathis. “It was just a joy and a treat for me, because some of these women are so good vocally, and it’s just fun to be with them.”

It’s friendships like these, as well as the love he says he feels from his fans, that blackmailed him today.

“I think the thing that matters most – it’s a good song title – is how do you live your life,” he says. “I’ve always been a bit lonely. I never got married. But I’ve always been so involved in music, that it was like something that filled my life.

“I haven’t really felt the need for anything because I meet and hang out with, and I have associations, relatives and others, with audiences I sing for. And they are very generous with their emotions.

And music, whether it’s jazz or pop, classical or Christmas, dates back to its beginnings in San Francisco, a city that still holds much of its heart.

“The essence of my entire music career begins with the fact that I’ve had all of these opportunities because of where I grew up, and that’s San Francisco,” says Mathis. “There were so many opportunities, every kind of music imaginable.

“And I almost took the opportunity that I had.”

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