IF YOU GO
Who: Johnny Mathis
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Palace Theatre, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
Tickets: $10 to $79.50; call 216- 241-6000 or 866-546-1353, or go to PlayhouseSquare.org
By John Benson
Chances are, Johnny Mathis’ show Friday at the Palace Theater in Cleveland will sell out just like his past four Cleveland performances. The legendary Grammy Award- winning artist may be known for hits “Misty,” “Chances Are,” “Wonderful, Wonderful,” “The Twelfth of Never,” “Maria” and “A Certain Smile,” but the 75-year-old performer refuses to rest on his laurels.
In fact, his latest effort, “Let It Be Me — Mathis In Nashville,” which includes guest appearances by Vince Gill and Alison Krauss, received a “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album” Grammy Award-nomination. The Vindicator talked to Mathis during a phone call to his Los Angeles home about his past, present and future.
Q. Considering you’ve been touring for nearly six decades, what are your earliest recollections of playing Northeast Ohio?
A. Some nice lady wrote me a nice note the other day and reminded me when I sang at Cain Park. It must have been 20 minutes after I started singing. It was such a long time ago, and Bob Hope introduced me. Evidently, he had a lot to do with that place. Anyway, that was the first time I think I sang in Cleveland. I started traveling in 1958 throughout the country, mostly singing in college gymnasiums.
Q. Last year you released your latest album, “Let It Be Me — Mathis In Nashville.” What was the idea behind making it a Music City affair?
A. We try to release some music every couple of years or so. My dad was born and raised in Texas, and the first songs I heard him play for me were country songs. Of course, over the years, I’ve recorded all sorts of genres music-wise, from Broadway shows to rhythm- and-blues stuff, along with singing with some pretty extraordinary ladies like Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight to name a few. So we looked for some sort of connection the audience might have and to try to get some songs in that vein that I felt quite comfortable with. They’re very good songs, and I got a chance to go to Nashville and sit and listen to all of these extraordinary guitar players. I think when people listen to the CD, they’ll hear some accompaniment for me that is really extraordinary. So it was a wonderful experience for me, and I do sing some of the songs up on stage now.
Q. Regarding the Grammy Award-nomination for “Let It Be Me — Mathis In Nashville,” did you see that coming?
A. I was floored. I couldn’t believe it. It’s been a long time for me in this business, and so many new generations of people. You get accustomed to being considered yesterday’s artist about what you do, especially for the young kids. If their parents don’t know you, then they don’t know who you are. So I was really floored when it was announced along with Barbra Streisand, Michael Bubl , Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow. They’re all really great singers and with great careers. It’s very flattering. Singing is so viscerally personal that it’s just amazing people look for this apple as opposed to this orange when it comes to singers. When you give your emotions as often as I’ve had to do singing, it’s kind of amazing people recognize it and take it to heart.
Q. Finally, what is it about your music that keeps you touring as much as you do?
A. Someone asked me the other day, “Why do you do what you do? Do you need the money or something?” I said, “Well, not really.” And then I had to think about it for a while. I even asked some of my buddies on the golf course, “Why am I doing this?” They said, “Well that’s what you do.” And I guess they’re right; that’s what you do. My dad was my first influence; he taught me my first songs. And then right up until he passed away, I remember him sitting at a piano that I bought for him and playing and singing. That’s the way I remember him, and that’s probably what I’ll do.