Interview: Wholesome singer Pat Boone remembers his heavy metal days
Courtesy of Universal Music Group

There has probably never been a more quintessential American pop singer than Pat Boone. In a career stretching beyond 60 years, Boone has sold more than 45 million records and amassed some 40-odd hit singles. And he’s done is all with a wholesome image that’s always been reflected in his all-white stage attire. So imagine what happened when Boone traded in the white clothes for black leather and (temporary) tattoos!

In what initially seemed like an untenable project, Boone was pitched the idea about 20-years ago of recording an album of heavy metal covers. Diving into the project with glee, the singer cut a set of tunes originally performed by acts like AC/DC, Van Halen, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and Metallica, putting his own stamp on each as he interpreted them in the big band style. Rockers Ritchie Blackmore, Dweezil Zappa and the late Ronnie James Dio all appeared on In a Metal Mood – No More Mr. Nice Guy, an anniversary edition of which has just been released by Hip-O Records.

At 83-years-old, Boone is considering retiring from live performance. But as our email conversation with him reveals, the legendary performer has lost none of his passion for music. In fact, besides reminiscing about his heavy metal days, Boone also tells us about his upcoming grand tour of Israel for fans and travel lovers that will include two full live performances. Boone’s commentary below is given exclusively to AXS.com.

AXS: Your vocals on In a Metal Mood – No More Mr. Nice Guy sound as smooth as ever. Were any of the songs particularly difficult for you to get right?

Pat Boone: The guitarist, Slash, had agreed to play guitar on my version of that Guns N’ Roses song (“Paradise City”) but at the last minute he couldn't do it because the group was trying to get back together at that point and he didn't have time. Later, when he heard our recording he said, "Good gosh! You do it faster than we do. I don't think I could have played it that fast!” To which I responded, "Your name is Slash. You could have played twice that fast, don't kid me.” But I will say it was a real tongue twister trying to get all the lyrics to that fast-moving song and keep them intelligible. Quite a job!

AXS: Advance publicity of the album touted it basically as “Pat Boone goes heavy metal” without mentioning that the material was actually a set of swinging, rock-tinged big band interpretations. Did you get much blowback from longtime fans? Was there a particular incident or comment that made you have second thoughts?

PB: You know I don't remember any negative comments from my real fans; they are sort of accustomed to my doing some surprising things and being more diverse than probably any singer in historyI've had actual chart success and sales in six genres of music: pop, country, rock, heavy metal, patriotic, gospel and even folk and spoken word! And it was very gratifying that all the artists whose songs I did, and from whom I've heard, were complimented and delighted with the way I treated their songs, as real music, not just rock anthems. That includes Alice Cooper, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Ronnie James Dio and Ozzy Osbourne! As long as they liked what I did with their songs, I was complimented and happy.

Of course, Christian TV was stunned and didn't know what to make of it. Even though I had written explanatory letters to some of the hosts of Christian TV networks, alerting them that I was doing an album of heavy metal songs but that I had gone over all the lyrics with a fine tooth comb and there was nothing about drugs or promiscuity or devil worship. But they got lots of response from their Christian supporters who had no warning, and were threatening to withdraw support of the Christian channels if I appeared on them in the future! But after two months, I appeared on Trinity Broadcast, one of the very biggest of the networks (and all the other networks were listening) explaining that I had found some good songs underneath all the clamor and shouting and even distortion, and treated them as good songs with good big band arrangements. I’m sure that was the only time ever that they played parts of my videos of “Enter Sandman” and “Smoke on the Water.” I got a huge kick out of the whole thing.  

AXS: Lots of famed players guested on In a Metal Mood, including rock guitarists Ritchie Blackmore and Dweezil Zappa. One of the era’s most-beloved hard rock singers, the late Ronnie James Dio, guested on your cover of his song “Holy Diver.” Can you share a memory of your time with him?

PB: I was really honored (but also pressured to perform) by the cooperation from people like Ritchie Blackmore who added his guitar from a recording studio in Germany where he was recording, and Dweezil  Zappa who volunteered to play a Hendrix Stratocaster on “Smoke on the Water.” Ronnie James Dio came over to Michael Lloyd’s studio, actually across the street from my house in Beverly Hills, and we had a rollicking good time singing together on “Holy Diver.” He, like all the other heavy metal artists, appreciated that I was finding music in their work that I could record in a different way, with respect and great musicians, and come out with a new product. So everybody was happy and I enjoyed working with Ronnie and his incredible voice.

AXS: Did you incorporate any songs from In a Metal Mood into your live set back in the day, or have you done so in more recent performances?

PB: Right after the record was released and while it was all still front page news I appeared at the Orange County Fair with a huge audience wondering if I would do any of the music from the album. I didn’t disappoint them! I rode my new Harley motorcycle onstage wearing my leathers while the band was vamping Little Richard’s “Rip it Up.” After I sang some of my own former hits, I did “Enter Sandman” and “Smoke on the Water” with my own band, got great reactions and then rode the Harley up the 405, the first time on the freeway, and went back home. Since then I’ve sung “Smoke on the Water” in many of my shows, including most recently in Manila, Tel Aviv and Canada this year; it’s always to great applause and response. I switch my white jacket (I always work in white) and slip on a Harley leather jacket and shades during the instrumental track and finish the song looking like I did, at least partly, on the American Music Awards. Again, though my audience is older, they “get it” that there’s good music under all that shouting and noise.

AXS: You’re known for wearing white shoes and those probably scuff beyond repair quite easily. How many pairs would you guess you’ve gone through, and how many are in your closet now?

PB: I really can’t estimate how many pairs of white bucks I have worn because they’ve been given to me freely over the many years by the Bass Shoe Co., with my name embroidered on the tongues. After wearing a pair for a couple of weeks, I sign them and give them to various charities that ask for them, and recently they’ve been bringing in about $1000-$2000 a pair for a lot of very worthy causes! Although I can always get more I keep three or four fresh pairs in the closet.

AXS: Tell us about your upcoming trip and 70th Anniversary of Israel concert.

PB: I have been to Israel 20 times, and I consider myself an “adopted Jew” as a Christian. For my whole life, I’ve known the Bible was for Jews, by Jews, and about Jews, all centered in Israel. I’ve known that God has a special place in his heart for Israel and the Jews and that having received Jesus as my Messiah, I know that I am adopted into the family of God’s chosen people. I was once designated by the Ministry of Tourism, as a “Christian Ambassador of Tourism” for Israel. This coming tour, May 9-20, 2018 will be first class everything and will include two full concerts with my musicians in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and an excellent musical TV special from the Roman amphitheater in Caesarea, featuring American and Jewish performers. This will most likely be my “performing finale” and I want it to be something extraordinary. We expect to take several hundred people and everything is first class. And we’ll visit not only the beautiful sites that all Christians and Jews want to visit but because of my long friendships with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government, we’ll see things most tourists never do! Information is here; consider coming with us! It’s not coincidental that May 14 is the 70th birthday of the modern state of Israel, and it’s right in the middle of our tour, so we’ll be included in the whole giant celebration. Unforgettable! It’s a life-shaping experience anytime, but this next tour will be even more special. 

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