Sunday, June 11, 2017

Johnny Mathis

During the latest pledge drive by my local PBS station, they aired Johnny Mathis: Wonderful! Wonderful! as part of the My Music series. He burst onto the music scene in the 1950's. Although he was a little old fashion for my Rock & Roll tastes, I always thought that he was an outstanding singer. The fact that he still performs today pretty much proves my young ears were right. 

I can still remember one night watching The Ed Sullivan Show at home with my parents. Johnny was a fairly new upcoming artist at the time. I don't remember what song he sang, but my Mom and I thought it was pretty damn good. Then my dad chimed in that he wasn't impressed. He stated that Johnny's voice had no "tone", whatever that means. To be fair to my dad, Mathis had a few strikes against him. He was young and new, he wasn't Frank Sinatra, he was Black, and my father was half deaf. The reason that night sticks in my mind is that "tone" is one of Johnny's trademarks. He's one of those singers who's voice is instantly recognizable. 

My musical tastes ran through Folk, Surf, British Invasion, Blues Rock, Psychedelic, Big Hair Rock, and many others. Hardly ever did I listen to the old standards and jazz that were Mathis' forte. Still, his music showed up on the radio and he made TV appearances. 

He has had some very big singles and albums which have sold over 100 million copies. I admit that Misty is one of my all-time favorite songs of any genre. The original Erroll Garner, who wrote the music, instrumental version and Johnny's vocal version. It's a 1959 hit single that enjoyed a big revival when it was featured in the 1971 movie Play Misty For Me. I liked the movie too. 

The PBS program primarily features a 2004 Mathis concert. He would have been 68 or 69 at the time of the performance. He was still hitting the notes. I was struck watching the concert of a few thing. There was very little banter or filler. He just went from one song to another. There was no glitz, just Johnny, and an orchestra. I didn't detect any auto-tune enhancements. I also noticed that singers from his generation controlled the volume of songs and phrases with their voice and the position of the hand-held microphone. They didn't depend on the sound engineer to mix it properly.

Mathis sang all his biggest hits during the concert plus there were a few flashbacks to his earlier career and biography segments. It was an enjoyable watch. I think it would be worth your while to dig up some of his songbook and give a listen. 

Johnny Mathis was and is a great talent and seems to be a pretty decent human being too. He is now 81 years old and still performs. The last time I saw him on TV a couple of months ago he looked and sounded pretty damn good. 


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