This week’s post was prompted by regular WWR contributor Ross Hamilton: thanks Ross!
Charles Eugene “Pat” Boone – who has claimed to be the great-great-great-great grandson of the American pioneer Daniel Boone - was born on June 1, 1934 in Florida, but grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, where his family moved to when he was just two years old. He left school in 1952 and less than a year later, shortly before his 19th birthday, married Shirley Lee Foley. The couple are still together today.
He began recording in 1954 – managing to fit in a burgeoning career around his college studies (he finally graduated college in 1958). Boone became a huge (and I mean enormous, second only to Elvis in record sales during the 50s) star: his safe, wholesome image won him a long-term advertising contract with General Motors and the company sponsored his hit TV show The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, which ran for three years and 115 episodes. At the time Boone was the youngest host of a prime-time TV variety show and would remain so until Donny and Marie Osmond launched their show in 1976.
Early on in his career he made the decision to concentrate on covering R&B and rock ‘n roll songs by black artists, toning them down for the white American market. In 1955 his version of Fats Domino's Ain't That a Shame was U.S number one hit, and his covers – although bland and sappy, stripped of sex appeal and with the lyrics bleached clean – did much to help sneak black artists into the back door of middle America’s homes. Hearing these songs covered by a good, Christian white college boy encouraged others to follow suit: Doris Day and Frank Sinatra have both covered Boone’s covers (if you see what I mean). Some of the accompaniments are rather fine: he certainly had a powerful and accomplished studio band, but his vocal performances are Ned Flanders’ nice, with no energy, vigour or danger. His insipid album of Elvis covers – Pat Boone sings…Guess Who? is simply embarrassing. This is rock n’ roll for people who don’t like rock ‘n roll.
He also hit it big on the silver screen, with roles in a dozen movies; however his conservative Christian beliefs made him (or his management) back away from songs or roles which they felt would harm his career. A complete Renaissance man, in the early 1960s he began writing a series of self-help books for adolescents, including the bestselling Twixt Twelve and Twenty, and his likeness was licensed to DC Comics, who gave him his own (short lived) series which began in 1959.
During his career he has sold over 45 million albums and has enjoyed 38 Top 40 hits in the U.S, but by the time he hit 30 it was all over. His cover of Rolf Harris’s Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport failed to set the charts alight and the British Invasion in 1964 all but ended Boone's career as a hit maker, thankfully. Unable to compete on the charts with the likes of The Beatles and – apparently – starting to turn to the bottle he switched instead to gospel and country music, no doubt influenced by the fact that Boone’s father-in-law was country great Red Foley. The Boone family toured as gospel singers and made gospel albums; Boone founded the Christian record label Lamb & Lion Records and made plans to open a centre exclusively for Christian musicians.
And that was that. Or rather that would have been that if it hadn’t been for his bizarre decision, in 1997, to release In a Metal Mood: No More Mr Nice Guy, a collection of heavy metal covers. He’s since followed that with an album of classic R&B covers. Boone’s version of the Ozzy Osbourne classic Crazy Train became (in a cover-of-a-cover version) the theme to MTV’s hit series The Osbournes, and the two families were next door neighbours for three years. Not everyone thought this peculiar move was funny: an appearance at the American Music Awards dressed in black leather and a priest’s dog collar caused him to be dismissed from Gospel America, a TV show which he had presented for several years…although a grovelling apology in which he declared that his aim was to parody his own squeaky-clean image caused Trinity Broadcasting to reinstate him.
In recent years Mr Boone has turned his hand to political punditry, whose particular stock in trade is repeating the oft-cited claims that Barak Obama is an African-born Muslim and a Marxist bent on destroying American society. In 2010 it was announced that the Pat Boone Family Theatre would open in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina the following year, featuring a 600 seat auditorium and a Pat Boone Museum. As of today the theatre has still to open.
So, on to the music. And today I’m bookending Pat’s career with a couple of his earliest attempts at rocking out and one of the most recent: his whiter-than-white version of Little Richard’s blisteringly brilliant Tutti Frutti (which appeared on the charts in 1956 at the same time as the original and, to the world’s shame, was a bigger hit). As an interesting side note, it is said that one of the reasons Little Richard co-wrote Long Tall Sally was that he wanted to produce a record that was so fast that Pat Boone could not possibly cover it…although, unsurprisingly, he did and, in doing so, created what must be one of the worst cover versions of all time! Hear it now in all of its toe-curling glory.
Finally here’s his 1997 version of Dio’s Holy Diver, featuring no less than Ronnie James Dio himself on backing vocals.