50 YEARS OF BEING MISTER RIGHT
No doubt one of the nicest people in the entertainment industry is the talented, handsome, funny, brilliant Randy Jones. He’s got all of the right stuff for 50 years of being “Mister Right.” Jones, the original Village People cowboy, is celebrating 50 years in the business with his brand-new album release, “Mister Right”; his new show, Glory Day, Disco Nights; the second season of “Child of the ’70s”; and his new film, “Tales of Poe.”
Jones told the most magnificently captivating stories, added wonderful advice, and spoke of all that was going on professionally in his life. He is an epic storyteller and has the most compelling life experiences, which he was kind enough to share. It was a complete honor to have had this heart to heart.
I had no idea 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 song are a verse and a chorus, a verse and a chorus, and tell a story. It’s kind of like a play in three or four minutes where you have a beginning, a middle and an end, with a certain arc 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 two 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 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 resonance 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, Kristin Chenoweth 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 were 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. Mandy 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 eight times a week. You usually get a day in between concerts. Broadway, I’ll tell you, that’s one of the toughest gigs in the world. I would love the opportunity to do it, and I respect every single human being that has ever done it, and I really respect the people who are the support cast in the chorus of Broadway, because they are true triple threats. They sing, they dance, they act, they can do acrobatics, and usually their level of ability I think surpasses most of the people who are the stars. But most of the times the stars have something special that makes them the stars and would never fit in to a chorus.
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 [doing this] … 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 that I’m still able to do that, and enjoy doing that, and have the balls to put out a CD called “Mister 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 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 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?
I’m 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 four 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 years old, dressed as a cowboy. I remember my mom and dad and brother and sister and grandparents were there. That was a very proud moment. Especially 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 Hefner 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 that I have is on not just one demographic. They’re not just men; they’re 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. … 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. Every one of those songs tells a 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 to 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 have 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 Bee Gee’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 song’s about “you” and me; it’s about”us”; we’d never last.
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 1 a.m. 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 10 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 producers, 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 ‘70s. I would see her and have conversations through the years. The same thing with Tina; she used to tour in the same shows with us in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s 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 old 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 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 four different interpretations of “Emotion.” I’ve got two different interpretations of “Candy,” two of “Rock the Boat,” I’ve got three of “Forever and a Day” and two of “Que Sera Sera.”
You also have a new film coming out.
My new film is coming out October 11, “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 ‘50s and ‘60s 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 11, 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 colonel, 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 next summer.
Do you know how to ride a horse?
I do know how to ride a horse. I was an unofficial consultant on “Brokeback Mountain.” That’s the way I put it. One night when Jake and Heath had a hard day—those boys, as far as I know, were both straight—they had a tough day trying to do those scenes in the tent, about the anal sex and all that stuff, [and] somehow they got my phone number. I got this late-night call asking me about “how do you do this” and “how do you do that.” First of all, honestly, I’m just not that gay. I did have a couple words of advice: “Cowboys: It takes a lot to take your hat off, but I can tell you one thing, don’t take your boots off; you’re gonna need ‘em for traction.” That was such a ground-breaking film. To have that happen nine years ago…it’s just astounding that a wonderful film like that was done, as well as a lot of the work that’s been done since then. In light of that, the progress that’s been made, not only in my lifetime, certainly within the 50 years of a career, is just amazing to me.
You are probably one of the most “liked” men 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 there are a lot of people who are very generous toward me. I would never want to do anything to denigrate that or harm it or 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 ‘70s,” a series I was in last season and this upcoming season. It’s got great people in it. It’s on YouTube and in eight countries overseas. I play a character called Travis. It’s about a guy who starts out as an assistant for a has-been TV star, and I play the boyfriend of TV star Ann Walker from “Sordid “Lives” 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 heyday 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.” It’s an idea I got after visiting a friend who was a phlebotomist. We are doing part of it in New York. My film is about a blood disposal company that is told that it’s going to close down. It had been around since 1847. There is a chief phlebotomist who has a boyfriend who’s a detective, and there are these murders that have been occurring. What they find out in their investigation is the history of this company, and how it was founded by immigrants from Eastern Europe. They found out that the very old original New York families were really vampires.
I love it!
These vampires came over from Eastern Europe and were providing through these blood products ways for these New York families to live on blood without having to kill people. Now that this company is going out of business, these young, next generation characters that are all the descendants of these rich, rich, rich families, say, “We will go back to the old ways of killing people and drinking their blood.” And of course there is my book, “Macho Man: The Disco Era and Gay America’s Coming Out.”