Interview: Randy Jones


American Music Award winner, actor, author, multi platinum recording artists, and one of the nicest guys in show business, Randy Jones has recently released his new album, “Mr. Right”. Best known as the Cowboy, and one of the founder’s of “The Village People”, their song “YMCA”is still played at every wedding, sweet 16, and every Bar mitzvah, throughout the entire world, with over a quarter of a billion views on YouTube, and over 75 Gold and Platinum certificates as well.

This year Randy is celebrating 50 years in the entertainment business, so it’s very fitting that his new album should be unleashed to the world.  I spoke with Randy about some of the highlights of his career, as well as and even more importantly, his up and coming projects.

Louder Than War: So I had no idea in life that you have been in the entertainment business for 50 years!

Yeah, since 1966.

That is so extraordinary and amazing to me.

It’s amazing to me too. I’ve been getting paid since 1966 to get up on stage in front of people.

Do you recall your very first gig?

Yes, I do. It was in “The Music Man”, I think I played Tommy Djilas, the dancing boyfriend of the Mayor’s daughter. I was 14, I think, maybe I just turned 15.

So really, you did acting before music.

I’m an actor. I would say that before singing or anything, I’m an actor. That’s how I really do approach every song, from the point of view of an actor. Most pop songs that I consider a real songs, are a verse and a chorus, a verse and a chorus,and  tell a story. It’s kind of like a play in 3 or 4 minutes, where you have a beginning, a middle and an end, with a certain ark of drama. My mentor who totally revitalized my interest in singing, and also gave me the best perspective I believe, that helped me crystallize my thoughts as a singer, and an actor, was Julie Wilson. In a coaching session with her, it was a master class, early on, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, she went around the room and asked, in our opinion, what the most important part of a song was. To me a song has 2 parts, the music and the words. She said that to her the most important part of a song is definitely the words. She said that when you were in front of the audience, whether it be a big concert hall, a cabaret, or when you’re just singing it to someone at a dinner table, the words are what you use to tell the story with. You’ve got to be able to engage that audience with what the story is that you’re telling. You’ve got to get them involved from the beginning to the end. She said if you don’t know the words or if you aren’t annunciating and getting the words out clearly, and communicating with the audience what the experience is, you may as well either be humming or whistling. And she’s right. She helped me understand that as an actor the words are really the most important part of a song. What makes up the most brilliant songs I believe, would have a wonderful melody  and a wonderful lyric. For me, I choose songs because of in some way they help illustrate a story I want to tell. That’s how I’ve always approached songs and singing, from an actor’s point of view. It’s also the reason I think that I take such great inspiration from what I call real singers and vocalists, that I was raised up on, like, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald…. One of the reasons I think Frank Sinatra to me, has such resinous is because when he is speaking, he’s talking to you. Sometimes he will get a few bars into a song before you realize that he started to sing. The quality of his voice, sounds the same when he sings as when he speaks. I think a lot of pop singers today may have one voice when they speak, then like Justin Timberlake, they have a voice that sounds like a man when speaking, but when he sings it sounds like another kind of human being with maybe grapes or raisins as testicles. That’s one of the reasons that I think that Michael Jackson created that affected speaking voice. It was very close to what his singing voice was like.

That’s an interesting concept.

I was around Michael Jackson when he did not always speak with that high child’s voice. It worked because it sounded the same as his singing voice. He revered singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. If you listen to some of the great singers, when they sing you hear their voice, except on pitch, and rhythmically. That’s what I aspire to.

I have never heard it described quite like that, and you are so right.

People can have really great voices, especially Broadway singers, I mean Kristen Chenowith has a great voice, Idina Menzel, when she does “Defying Gravity”, she’s got a great voice but, it can put your teeth on edge sometimes. I think there was some Broadway voices that kind of do that to me. You expect a woman who is a soprano to have that wonderful voice, but I like a little more body in the voice? I’m not the greatest singer in the world, I’m an actor who sings. Manny Patinkin is a perfect example. He’s wonderful, but when he’s speaking he sounds one way, and then that voice comes out of him and it’s so focused. It’s not a bad voice, but it’s a little too Broadway. I do think that people approach singing in different ways, and Manny is a great singer, but that’s one way of doing it, and it’s kind of an accepted way. Maybe it’s because I’ve not been on Broadway and done eight shows a week, it’s kind of that’s what you may have to do, day after day after day….I love Broadway, and I’d love to do it before my end has come, but it’s like factory work as far as I’m concerned.

I’m sure that touring can be just as grueling.

That’s grueling. But that’s not six months or a year at a time. It’s not 8 times a usually get a day in between concerts. Broadway I’ll tell you, that’s one of the toughest gigs in the world.

How did you feel the first time you ever heard your song on the radio?

I had heard “Macho Man” just a little bit. The first time I ever got out of the car was with my sister. I was in North Carolina, seeing my family. I remember when “YMCA” came on, it was on a local radio station in Raleigh North Carolina. We stopped the car, and we jumped out, and ran around it three times, like a Chinese fire drill. It was just that exciting! “Macho Man was the first song that got radio play, but not to the extent of “YMCA”. It was on everybody’s list and played all the time. It was a pretty remarkable feeling. If I were to look at YouTube, it’s approaching 100 million views,… just “YMCA.”

It’s the most famous song in the world.

All of the stuff that I did with “Village People” all of the stuff I’ve done as a solo artist, I have close to 400 million views on YouTube, which is approaching half a billion.

That’s a lot!

And YouTube hasn’t been around that long. If you think about the times on television, YouTube, radio, over 50 years I’ve been….I don’t think about it a lot, only when I’m asked or  prompted, there are millions and millions and millions, if not billions of eyeballs and ears that I have had the blessing and the luxury of performing for. I am very grateful at this wonderful ripe old age of 64, I’m still able to do that, and enjoy doing that, and have the balls to put out a CD called “Mr. Right”, where I am sitting in a chair on the cover with no damn pants on.

And looking pretty good I might add. You look exactly like you did when you were in the “Village  People”.

Everybody matures, some people do it with grace, some people do it by hanging on with tooth and nail, like a cat hanging on the curtain. I know that I’ve matured, I’m not 24 years old, I’m 64 years old, but I still look like myself.

You’re still hot!

I still look like Randy, I know I’m older, but I still look like Randy. That’s what the psychology is Eileen, if anyone would even to go deep enough to think about it. People who might not be aware of me, but through classic or iconic photographs, if that’s the only image that they’ve seen like from an album, when they meet me or when they see me, they kind of superimpose that image that they already have over what they see. It kind of gives me that wonderful benefit of having the gauze overlay of a younger image. No one stays young forever, but we can stay youthful.

Well you stayed sexy.

I’ve been in “Playgirl’ several times, most recently in 2009.

What is your proudest moment in your career?

In reflecting on my dad, he passed away 12 years last Saturday, so I’ve been thinking about that. He was a great guy. He was really a wonderful man. I feel that he lived on in me every day, and every day I think of him, and I’m reminded of him.  In light of that, it’s nice to play for the Queen of England, it’s nice to perform for Presidents at  Inaugural Balls, it’s nice to do outdoor concerts with a quarter of a million people, it’s nice when the helicopter picks you up on the roof of the hotel and flies over the crowd, like in the movie “The Rose”, it’s nice to do stuff like that, and it’s nice to make a movie with Bruce Jenner, and Paul Sands, and all those great people, but I think one of the proudest times I ever had, was on a tour where we did 56 shows in 70 days….. But I remember when we played Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina, an hour and a half from the town I was born in. My family booked 4 buses of family and friends that came to that concert. They were in the audience with posters, and they had big blowups of me, when I was three is years old, dressed as a cowboy, and I remember my mom and dad, and brother and sister and grandparents were there, that was a very proud moment. Specially in light of thinking about my dad, because they all were alive and they got to see me do something that no one else in our family had ever done. They had been watching the whole thing of me rising to stardom, being on television, Dick Clark, Bob Hope, Don Kirshner, and even Hugh Hafner on a playboy special. They got to see me in an audience of about 20,000 people. They got to say, “That’s their boy, that’s their grandchild”. That was something I felt proud of. It was also a moment, if you think about what 1979 was like, there was also a subtle proudness in knowing that I was helping people relax some of the fears or their thoughts of discrimination. This was the south you’ve got to remember….. I was letting people know that there is a reason maybe for them to relax and be less afraid.

Maybe you better go back to the South and do that now.

That’s why I’m so lucky. The audience is that I have is on not just one demographic. They’re not just men there not just women they’re not just gay or straight, younger, older black and white.

When you think of The Village People, you think of gay, but not really.

It’s not the first thing people think of. The first thing people think of is the smile. It is the most wonderful blessing to have because when people think of the body of work in the career and I hope they think of me because my sense of humor begins with myself, is that it’s fun.  I’m so blessed to have people perceive me as they do in this half a century career. Most of the time I’m still welcomed at the parties, and I’m amazed. That’s why I try not to turn down any invitations.

There is not one wedding, one sweet 16, one bar mitzvah that YMCA isn’t still played at, all over the world.

In the world! That’s why it’s such a worldwide phenomenon. I’m a very lucky dog that the sun still shines on my ass periodically.

Let’s talk about your brand new album for a minute. How did you choose the songs on it?

I chose them because of how we started our conversation, about how what’s so important for me is the words, and the story. Everyone of those songs tells the story that I can relate to, and that I feel that I have the ability to relate to an audience. One thing you notice about my vocal style, is that you understand every word I say. First of all, all of these songs strike me, and I love them. Some of them you might be familiar with, and some you might not. You might not be familiar with, “Candy”, or “Forever and a Day”. I know people are familiar with “On the Street Where You Live”, and “Rock the Boat” and “Emotion”. Some younger folks might not remember  Que Sera Sera”. It won an Academy award in 1957., for “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Doris Day sung it as a lullaby to her little boy in the movie. I remember it when I was a little kid. So I thought let’s do it in a different way. “Alfie”, everyone from the 60s knows that song from the movie  “Alfie”. I do that song in my show. I talk about the fact that I don’t have children, and i never had children, and I never really wanted children because I didn’t think I had the time to dedicate the overwhelmingly important responsibility of raising a child. But, ever since I was a kid and saw the movie, I thought that Alfie was a cute name. I thought if I ever got a dog I would call it Alfie. But I never had a dog or a cat because once again I don’t have the time that I think it takes to really dedicate to a dog or a cat. The way I introduce it in my show, is that I always liked the name, but I never had a kid, but if I did have a little boy and I called him Alfie, I know that there would come a time he would be 12 or 13, and he’d come to me, and he ‘d had a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and his girlfriend or boyfriend has broken up with him and has broken his little heart. Now listen to the words of “Alfie”, and it’s a whole different take on that song. If you lead your life with your heart, you’ll find love every single day. I want people to hear the songs in a way that they’ve never heard them before. I love “Emotion”, it’s a wonderful song. It was a BeeGee’s song, they wrote it. A man has never recorded it before. I chose those songs because I like them. “Forever and A Day”, is: we said we’d never last, a week , a month, a year. They said kiss and run…it’s like everybody told you, you’d never last, and yet, here we are. The song is not about me though, the songs about “you” and me, it’s about”us”, we’d never last.

That’s heavy.

Well it’s the song, the words, it’s the story. It’s the words, the emotion, the story. Now you can’t always get that at 1am at The Monster, and the DJ is playing a song with echoes and all of that. But professionally when I go in and record a song, it has a story, and it has to have something that resonates within me, it has to resonate an experience that I feel and can communicate to an audience. That’s the only reason I pick a song to record. I don’t pick stuff because a record label tells me to, or  because a manager tells me to, I don’t pick a song because I’m trying to craft what I think is going to be the biggest top ten hit. First of all I’ve had all of that, and that’s not what I’m about. I’m about staying true and authentic to whatever Voice I want to utilized in the story I want to tell. What is  unique about the CD is I have seven cuts that I was able to work with young produces, DJs and remix artists. I was taught that lesson when I was with Cher and Tina Turner. Cher was on our label, “Casablanca” back in the 70’s. I would see her and have conversations through the years. The same thing with Tina, she used to tour in the same shows with the late 70’s, early 80’s in Europe, I believe both of them at different points, twice in Tina’s and more than twice now in Cher’s, they had reached a time when they weren’t quite so popular anymore. All of a sudden they started getting interest from 22, 24 year olds.  DJs that wanted to be producers, but they were also big fans. They would either come up with new songs, new material or new remix of stuff, They had a youthful ideas. Tina had “What’s Love Got to do With It”, and Private Dancer”, that all came from young producers. They had grown up listening to Tina Turner and had jumped at the chance to work with her. She would have never had that second chance in her career. So I try to stay in touch with people who are younger,  a newer generation, and  I try to listen to what people are doing. That’s exactly what I’ve done with this record. So these younger people went in and did the songs as they heard them, and that’s what the second half of the album is. I’ve got 4 different interpretations of “Emotion”, I’ve got 2 different interpretations of “Candy”, 2 of “Rock The Boat”, I’ve got 3 of “Forever and a Day”, and 2 of “Que Sera Sera”.

You also have a new film coming out.

My new film is coming out October 11th, “Tales of Poe”, it’s a horror movie.

What was it like doing a horror film?

Oh, I love it. I love the genre. I was raised up in the 50’s and 60’s when TV was young. Universal and RKO would allow the movies to be played on television. So I saw the werewolf movies, all the Dracula movies, the Frankenstein movies, all on television. “Tales of Poe” is an anthology of three different stories, I’m in the middle one called, “The Cask of Amontillado”. On October 11th, Wild Eye is releasing it, and it will be available on Amazon, Netflix, and the DVD will be sold at Target and Walmart. There’s another movie I just shot this summer called “The Rack Pack”. Both of these have trailers on my Facebook page. “The Rack Pack” is 180 degrees from a horror movie. It’s a family oriented adventure. It’s like “Goonies” meets “Sandlot” meets “Home Alone” meets “Stand By Me”. It’s about kids playing outside and using their imagination to create incredible adventures. By doing that they become heroes by preventing thieves  from stealing priceless museum pieces. I play a retired army kernel, more my age. It was wonderful to be able to relax and put on a couple of pounds.  If you look at the trailer it has a wonderful Steven Spielberg thing about it. It comes out

You are probably one of the most “liked” man in the industry.

Thank you for saying that. I so appreciate that, I honor that, and I truly look at that as a blessing. I think that there are a lot of people that are very generous towards me.i would never want to do anything to denigrate that, or to harm it or to diminish it, because you can’t buy that kind of thing.

I want to thank you for this amazing interview. Any last words?

Wait, I got a little bit more….I was in the cast of  “Child of the 70’s” , a series I was in last season and this up coming season. It’s got great people in it. It’s on YouTube, and in 8 countries overseas. I play a character called Travis. It’s about a gay guy who starts out as an assistant for a has been TV star, and I play the boyfriend that comes from the past. It’s funny, it’s like a soap opera.  Also I debut my headliner show the 29th of October out in Oklahoma City. It’s called: ” Glory Days, Disco Nights”. It’s an evening with me, I tell stories and sing songs. It’s about my hey day experiences and highlights of 50 years.  It’s with my live band and my backup singers and dancers….it’s a fun show! We are traveling around the country. Glory Days, Disco Nights is also the name of my memoir that we’ve gotten signed, that comes out in 2019. And next year I shoot another horror film in Europe called: “Puncture”.

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All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.

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