PAT BOONE

Shirley Boone can make a statement no one else can: her father, husband and daughter have all made records that have been number one hits in the U.S. Other families can lay claim to three generations of success in the music business, but Shirley's family tree is the only one with a bona fide Billboard chart-topping triple-threat. Her father Red Foley began performing as a teenager in Kentucky and made his first recordings in 1933 when he was 23 years old; during the '40s he enjoyed a string of major hits on both pop and C&W charts, reaching number one pop in February 1950 with "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy," a song written by Harry Stone and Jack Stapp. It was just the fourth time a country record had topped the pop charts (Al Dexter, Tex Williams and Gene Autry being the previous three to cross over).

Red's daughter Shirley met Charles Eugene Boone during high school and married him in November 1953 while both were still teenagers. Boone, born in Jacksonville, Florida in June 1934, was nicknamed "Pat" by his parents before he was even born (they expected a girl and had planned to name her Patricia). The family moved to Nashville and it was right there in Music City where everything came together for this ambitious young man who patterned his vocal style after superstar Bing Crosby. As a teenager he attended David Lipscomb High School (where he was student body president, captain of the baseball team and a reporter and cartoonist for the school newspaper) and hosted a show, Youth on Parade, on local radio station WSIX, singing and introducing other young local talent (his father, Archie Altman Boone, a contractor by trade, built new studios for WSIX when the station relocated in the early '60s). In July, four months before tying the knot, he made an appearance on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, broadcast nationally on ABC. 1954 was a busy year; leaving Nashville to attend North Texas State University in Denton, north of Fort Worth, he made his first recordings for Nashville-based Republic Records.

"(I'll Never Be Free For) My Heart Belongs to You," Pat's debut single, was strictly in the pop standard vein of singers like Tony Martin. None of the six sides released that year generated much interest outside the Fort Worth area, where for a time he hosted a local television show, Bewley Barn Dance (in addition to a Sunday afternoon poetry-reading-set-to-organ music program called Organ Moods), on WBAP, local channel five in Fort Worth, serving the larger Dallas market. Better breaks came his way in 1955: an appearance on Arthur Godfrey and his Friends, one of the highest-rated weekly series on CBS, led to semi-regular appearances over the next two years. At about this time Randy Wood signed Pat to his Dot label; long a fan of rhythm and blues (many early Dot releases were in this field), Wood suggested Pat try his hand at The Charms' current hit "Two Hearts," which the young singer was unfamiliar with. Wood knew what he was doing; Boone's pop cover version of the uptempo R&B tune broke into the charts in April and became a top 20 seller.

Wood felt Fats Domino's "Ain't it a Shame" would make a good follow-up, but Pat was reluctant to put out a song with such poor grammar in the title! He wanted to change it to "Isn't it a Shame," but Randy convinced him of the impracticality of such a move. The title was adjusted to "Ain't That a Shame," more accurately matching the lyrics of the song written by Domino and longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew. A pop chart breakthrough for the original version by Fats, it was an even bigger hit for Pat (peaking at number two for several weeks beneath the heavy competition of Bill Haley's blockbuster "Rock Around the Clock" and Mitch Miller's "The Yellow Rose of Texas"). Domino wasn't the least bit upset that Boone had made a greater impact with it; showing off an expensive piano-shaped diamond ring on his finger, he announced to audiences "Pat Boone bought me this ring!"...with the considerable royalty money he'd deposited, the proceeds from Boone's million-selling version.

Those first two hits established Pat as an unlikely rock and roll star several months prior to the game-changing arrival of Elvis Presley. Many pop and early rock acts established themselves by recording popular R&B songs, a practice that had been going on for decades (the reverse was also true; artists like Dinah Washington and Roy Hamilton had considerable success during the '50s covering pop songs for the R&B market). Randy Wood, in fact, used this as his business model in the mid-'50s; The Fontane Sisters (with "Hearts of Stone," best-known by the Charms), Gale Storm (with Smiley Lewis's "I Hear You Knocking"), The Hilltoppers (with The Platters' "Only You") and other Dot acts scored major hits using the same formula.

Billy Vaughn, a Dot label act in his own right with a string of instrumental hits, arranged most of Boone's recordings for the label. Third single "At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)" (lifted from The El Doradoes) was a top ten for Pat, followed by "Gee Whittakers!" (a Five Keys original written by Winfield Scott). While Domino had no quarrel with Boone over "Shame," Little Richard reacted differently, taking offense to Pat's version of "Tutti Frutti" (a valid point as it was clearly not one of Boone's better efforts), representing what Richard felt was a movement in the music industry to prevent black artists from reaching the white teenage audience. Over the years, "cover version" critics have lined up behind Little Richard, essentially making Pat Boone the scapegoat for something that was common practice and, in the bigger picture, actually had a lot to do with exposing music fans to the originals. At the time, Pat's "Tutti" was a better seller than Richard's, though "I'll Be Home" (a hit R&B ballad by The Flamingos) was the bigger side, his third to reach the top ten.

At Wood's insistence, Pat tackled Little Richard again with a lost-in-slang-translation of "Long Tall Sally." Uncomfortable with the situation, Pat wisely opted to stick with R&B ballads for the majority of coming releases. "I Almost Lost My Mind" (a 1950 Ivory Joe Hunter hit) ranks among Pat's better adaptations; the song made it to number one in August 1956. Proof that he was exerting more control over song choices came with the next single, Dimitri Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster's theme from the popular film "Friendly Persuasion" starring Gary Cooper, another top ten for Pat; B side ballad "Chains of Love," written by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun (under his often-used pseudonym Nugetre) and first recorded by Joe Turner in 1951, was also a hit. Charles Singleton, a black songwriter who successfully supplied material for many pop, R&B and rock artists, gave Pat his next smash, "Don't Forbid Me," his first of three number one hits in 1957. Contributions to the red-hot star came from all directions; Luther Dixon and Leon Harrison (former members of R&B group The Four Buddies) penned Pat's top ten hit "Why Baby Why."

As with many pop stars of the day, film offers began coming in, leading to Boone's screen debut in "Bernardine" (the title character an "ideal girl" made up by Pat and his onscreen friends), for which he also recorded the theme song written by Johnny Mercer. Though intended as the A side of the next single, a catchy ballad from the film, of lesser importance at first, grabbed the glory and became Pat's signature song. "Love Letters in the Sand" was a golden oldie by the time Boone crooned it in the film, a possible explanation for its relegation to B side status (composed by John Frederick Coots with brothers Nick and Charles Kenny, the song was first made popular in 1931 by bandleader and singer Ted Black). But radio programmers, and the public, had a different opinion of its timeliness. By the time Bernardine made it to theaters in July '57, "Love Letters" had already been number one for several weeks.

Coinciding with the fall hit "Remember You're Mine," Pat graduated from his featured role on Arthur Godfrey's show and debuted his own ABC series, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom (jumping on the Dinah Shore bandwagon, hawking the 'See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet' auto line). Without a cast of regulars, he welcomed virtually every current pop act (but few rock and rollers) over the series' three year run. Meanwhile, his star shone brighter on the silver screen; his second film "April Love," co-starring established musical star Shirley Jones, had a strong run at the box office starting late in '57 while Boone's title theme reached a then-familiar benchmark: number one. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, as had the previous year's "Friendly Persuasion," but Pat did not appear on either Oscar television broadcast. In both cases, Tommy Sands performed the songs (for "April Love," an elaborate group presentation featured Sands, Ann Blyth, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Jimmie Rodgers, Tab Hunter and leading lady Jones).

At about this time Pat's brother Nick was signed to Dot Records, releasing singles as Nick Todd and landing mid-chart with his first two efforts, "Plaything" and a cover of Danny and the Juniors' megahit "At the Hop" (subsequent releases faltered and he left the label in 1960). Pat's Christian values never wavered (every Sunday he led the choir at the small church he attended, undistracted by worldwide fame and its temptations). In early 1958 he placed a spiritual song, "A Wonderful Time Up There," in the top ten (penned by well-known gospel singer and songwriter Lee Roy Abernathy, its original title was "Gospel Boogie"). The flip side, a remake of "It's Too Soon to Know," written by Deborah Chessler (a 1948 hit for R&B group The Orioles), was also a top ten hit for Pat.

Other singles in 1958, including "Sugar Moon," "If Dreams Came True," "Gee, But it's Lonely" (penned by Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers) and "I'll Remember Tonight" (from Mardi Gras, his third starring movie role), performed below the high levels of '55 through '57 but kept his hit streak intact. The second week of June 1959 came and went without event, but chart-watchers took note of one glaring absence: Pat was nowhere to be seen on that week's singles chart, ending an unbroken run of nearly four years (since "Ain't That a Shame" in July 1955) with one or more records on the national charts each week (and at least one song in the top 40 for more than three straight years), something no other recording artist has since achieved...not even Elvis, who was the only artist more successful than Boone during that period.

Pat became a best-selling author in 1958 with a non-fiction advice book aimed at his loyal legion of young fans. Publisher Prentice-Hall suggested he call it Pat Boone Talks to Teenagers, but he convinced them to use the catchier, more memorable title 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty. Aaron Schroeder and Fredda Gold composed a song with the same title, which was a hit in the summer of 1959, a year after publication of the first edition, helping keep book sales brisk until it appeared as a paperback in 1960; those 35 cent Dell editions sold in the millions.

'Twixt Twelve and Twenty

Journey to the Center of the Earth, a sci-fi film Pat co-starred in with James Mason, reached a larger audience than previous big screen productions. When the blockbuster Exodus (in which he did not star) was released in December 1960, the film's instrumental theme was a sensation, thanks largely to Ferrante and Teicher's million-selling version, its intensive airplay helping the original soundtrack by Ernest Gold achieve a long run at the top of the album charts in the first half of '61 (in addition, there were hit versions by Mantovani and jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris). A number of seasoned lyricists made attempts at writing lyrics for the hit, but it was Boone, despite limited songwriting experience, who came up with "The Exodus Song (This Land is Mine)," approved by Gold and Otto Preminger, the film's producer, both of whom felt his lyrics best captured the struggle to establish the state of Israel (the subject of the film, which ultimately won an Academy Award for Gold's score).

The big hits were harder to come by in the 1960s, though Boone had a respectable run during the decade's first half. One song, "Moody River," returned him to the apex; Randy Wood had Billy Vaughn arrange the session in a higher key than Pat was used to in an effort to achieve a more anguished performance from the singer, an experiment that worked. Written by Gary Bruce (who recorded as Chase Webster), the lyrics suggested suicide, a subject rarely broached in popular recordings. A mild controvery surrounding the song didn't prevent it from hitting number one in June '61, his first in three and a half years to do so. The thematically and sonically similar follow-up, "Big Cold Wind," made the top 20, giving him back-to-back hits at a level he hadn't reached in more than two years.

One more major hit was still in the offing. Few would have guessed the romantic crooner would make a novelty record, but just as he had surprised with "Moody River," Pat threw everyone a curve with "Speedy Gonzales," a song written by Buddy Kaye, David Hill and Ethel Lee about the Warner Bros. cartoon character introduced in 1953 and given his own series that kicked off with the Oscar-winning short Speedy Gonzales in 1955. First released in the spring of 1961 by David Dante, Boone's top ten hit version of summer '62 featured a purposely shrill female backing vocal ('La-la-la...la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!!!') by session singer Robin Ward (whose later hit was "Wonderful Summer") and a secret weapon Dante's version lacked: Mel Blanc, who voiced the character in the cartoons, contributed a couple of lines to the recording, a big draw for younger fans of the mouthy mouse. Internationally, "Speedy" was one of the biggest hits of the decade, ranking high on charts in a dozen or more countries including Italy (Pat and Peppino di Capri each took it to number one there) and Germany (where both Pat and Bavarian-born Rex Gildo hit number one).

With his extraordinary run of hits winding down, Pat Boone continued making movies, and some popular ones at that, including All Hands on Deck in '61 and State Fair in '62. He touched on many genres, including thrillers (The Yellow Canary), horror (The Horror of it All), comedy (Never Put it in Writing, Goodbye Charlie) and crime drama (The Cross and the Switchblade in 1970, his last theatrical film and future CHiPs star Erik Estrada's first), followed by sporadic TV guest roles. Attempting to keep up with the latest trends in music, he had some minor success with "Beach Girl," a timely surf-and-sand song written and produced by Terry Melcher and soon-to-be Beach Boy Bruce Johnston in 1964 and, in '66, "Wish You Were Here, Buddy," a controversial song (criticizing Vietnam protesters) that Pat wrote himself. He left Dot in 1968 after more than 13 years with the label. His last chart single came in the spring of '69 on the Tetragrammaton label with the folk song "July You're a Woman," written by John Stewart of The Kingston Trio.

Pat Boone made records for many companies during the 1970s including Capitol, MGM, Warner Bros. and his own Lamb & Lion Records, established as a spiritual label in 1972; 25 years later he surprised almost everyone and shocked a few with his 1997 collection of hard rock songs done up big band-style, In a Metal Mood, his first album to hit the charts since 1962. Pat's four daughters, Cherry, Lindy, Debby and Laury, were all in their teens during the '70s; performing together as The Boones, they released a number of girl group-style records. In 1977, "You Light Up My Life" was written and recorded by Kacey Cisyk for the film of the same title directed by Joe Brooks. Debby Boone, while still a member of her siblings' group, released a cover version of the song on Warner Bros./Curb Records that hit number one in early October and stayed there until just before Christmas, selling millions in a short span of time. Dad Pat gushed on TV talk shows over his daughter's success with the single, the biggest hit of the year if not the entire decade. The multi-generational chart-topping trifecta was complete, at least from mom and spouse Shirley's point of view.

- Michael Jack Kirby

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