Backstage with Ron Onesti:
America, apple pie and Pat Boone
I truly pride myself on the variety of programming offered at my Arcada Theatre. In any one week, I could have the likes of Bret Michaels, Engelbert Humperdink, Todd Rundgren and the Spinners, only to be followed by an even greater variety the following week.
But, for some reason, having 1950s teen idol Pat Boone seemed kind of out of my normal realm, regardless of musical genre we may feature.
But, as much as I remembered him from television in the Seventies, what came to mind when his name was first brought up to me was his daughter, Debby Boone! Her 1977 smash hit “You Light Up My Life” was No. 1 for ten straight weeks, earned her a Grammy Award that year. That hit stayed a radio station staple for the next four decades. AND, it was my dad’s favorite song, so it has a special place in my heart.
So I thought, how cool would it be if I had the legendary Pat Boone WITH his daughter Debby at The Arcada?
We went back and forth with both agents, and IT HAPPENED. They each thought that it was a great idea, which blew me away because I couldn’t believe they thought this was such a “novel” idea! Regardless, they were both poised to come and perform by us, and really, I couldn’t wait.
Truthfully, I was never a huge Pat Boone fan. Nothing against his music, I was just never really thoroughly exposed to it. I hadn’t been born yet when he was rockin’ and rollin’ in the 1950s. I was too young to appreciate him in the ’60s, and later in his life Boone went country and gospel, which weren’t really in my “wheelhouse” of music. I would see him on television enough times for me to recognize him as a star, but did not follow him closely.
So this was going to be another one of those nights when I bring in an act more for the fans than for me, or for my regular rock ‘n’ roll customers. That’s OK, though. As long as I am making people happy by bringing their legendary heroes and music icons to my stage, I’m HAPPY!
So the day comes, and he walks in, specifically asking for me. I welcomed him to The Arcada, and all along I was pleasantly surprised with how good he looked! After all, many of the “legends” we host are up there in years, and usually not as “spry” as they once were. But at 82 years young, Pat didn’t look a day past 60!
We sat in the dressing room, and he could not have been nicer. I started rattling off questions, and he rifled back classic stories. By the time he was 22 years old, Boone was the second-biggest charting artist of the late 1950s, behind only Elvis Presley, and is ranked at No. 9 of all time — behind The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney in Billboard’s listing of the Top 100 Top 40 Artists 1955–1995. Also, he still holds the Billboard record for spending 220 consecutive weeks on the charts with one or more songs!
By the time he was 23, Boone had his own television show, and Elvis was opening for him! “We were doing a tour of high schools, and RCA, my record company, was developing this ‘kid’ from Shreveport, Louisiana. He had that James Dean look … a ‘greaser’ with hair all greased back, pants too long for him, white T-shirt and a ‘bad boy’ look — but very respectful and shy,” Pat said.
I thought it was ironic that “bad boy Elvis” opened for the wholesome, All-American, clean-cut Pat Boone.
“I represented the moral majority, back then,” he said. “I would regularly sing other artists’ rock ‘n’ roll or rhythm and blues songs, but to make them less sexually suggestive, I changed many of the words to those songs. What Little Richard would sing, I would change to make it more politically correct, even then,” he said.
“I had to be All-American — my great, great, great, great grandfather was Daniel Boone!” he said.
Well, Debby opened, and she was great! Her Broadway-style show was a mix of pop tunes and standards, but what was cool for me was what was going on downstairs in our dressing rooms. “Dad, are you ready?” Debby yelled down the hall. “I’m putting on my shoes,” Pat snapped back. It felt as if we were at the Boone house!
After his rock ‘n’ roll beginnings, pop and R&B hits, country and Christian blockbusters, books, television shows and films, he “lit the candle on the cake,” coming full circle back to rock music in 1997 by releasing an album of heavy metal tunes done big-band style.
“Dick Clark thought it would be fun if I appeared on his ‘American Music Awards’ that year to promote the album,” Pat said. “Dick asked Alice Cooper to present with me, but we were to change personas. He was to be in a three-piece suit, and I was to be in a sleeveless, leather vest with earrings and other stuff. Alice backed out at the last minute, but I stayed in my ‘Rocker’ costume. All my God-fearing fans thought I lost my mind … did I have a mess on my hands!”
Song after song, note after note, story after story, I just kept watching this 50-plus year show biz legend flawlessly perform to his loving fans. I thought about the roads he has traveled, and how he has remained grounded and a symbol of All-American pride. Pat Boone was the “Bruce Springsteen” of his generation, but “The Boss” never had “The King” open for him.
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Chevrolet … and Pat Boone. Few things are more American than that.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.