Interview with Pat Boone to promote his PBS special ‘Love Letters’

March 5, 2010, by Rodney Ho

Pop star of yore Pat Boone is a self-admitted "pack rat" – as opposed to being part of the Rat Pack.

But he did save something that has become quite valuable five decades later: kinescopes of his ABC variety show from 1957 to 1960 dubbed “The Pat Boone – Chevy Showroom.”

He was just 22 years old and hosting his own show. He had a huge array of big stars of the day come on, including Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat "King" Cole, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams and Mel Torme.

PBS wanted to do a retrospective on Boone’s life. When he showed them highlights (much of which has not been seen since they aired a half century ago), “they were blown over,” he said in an phone interview earlier this week. “It’s priceless time capsule stuff. I’m glad I’m still around to talk about them, too!”

Notable segments from that show have become a 90-minute special “Love Letters in the Sands of Time” which debuts Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on Public Broadcasting Atlanta. The 75-year-old pop legend will be in Atlanta at PBA headquarters for a live pledge drive tomorrow night. Check him out! A similar pledge drive was huge in San Diego, he said, so PBA was very persistent to replicate that.

“I’m seeing myself for the first time do a lot of this,” Boone said. “I see myself scatting with Ella Fitzgerald. My jaw just drops. I had hutzpah, gall or guts to sing with Ella. I sing ‘Mona Lisa’ with Nat ‘King’ Cole. There was Connie Francis and Johnny Mathis. Oh my gosh! Some things I don’t even remember!”

Boone was well known for re-recording R&B hits like ‘Tutti Frutti” and “Ain’t That a Shame” and make them palatable for white radio in the 1950s. “I had R&B hits, too,” he said. “Latter-day revisionists don’t know that. Some people say I inhibited the careers of R&B artists or was taking something away from them. But I exposed these songs to a vast audience that knew nothing about rhythm and blues or the original artist.”

Sure, he added, “I was not a crusader. I hardly knew the part I was playing.” He ultimately paved the way for crossover R&B hits on pop radio around 1960.

Once he lost his top 40 appeal, he became popular in gospel and country. And the man has a sense of humor. In 1997, he did a heavy-metal parody album. A couple years ago, he did five albums of different genres. He even recorded "Papa Got a Brand New Bag" with James Brown right before Brown passed away.

Boone remains as busy as ever. He campaigns for politicians. He’s been a bit of a lightning rod for making anti-gay comments and badmouthing liberals. “I’ve taken stands for things that have not been expedient as far as my recording career,” he said. “I think people know I’m honest. I say what I believe. You can accept it or not.”

He keeps recording music. He thinks he’d make a great “American Idol” mentor though he finds the critiques a bit too harsh. (Boone competed on “Ted Mack & the Original Amateur Hour” in 1953, the “Idol” show of its day.)

“I’m diverse as a singer, which could be helpful” to the “Idol” contestants, he said. “I’ve done country, pop, rock, show tunes, semi-classical, Broadway. The performers have to do all these things, go outside their comfort zones.”

And the man is not out of date when it comes to technology. He talked to me via his iPhone. And he has an app for that. Really! It enables people to listen to Pat Boone 24/7 with pictures included — all for free. He is also selling a pre-loaded MP3 player with 40 Pat Boone songs on it for older folks who don’t want to download songs themselves for $40.

You can also hear his music on his Web site He has a Twitter handle (This might be a demographic issue but he only has 402 followers.) His Facebook fan page does have 1,015 fans, as of today.


“Pat Boone: Love Letters in the Sands of Time,” PBA, 6:30-8 p.m., Saturday