With her dad, Pat Boone, on the big stages of Las Vegas, Debby Boone was able to explore Sin City in the swinging ’60s. She remembers seeing some of the big-name performers – Sinatra, Streisand, Presley – but it was the lounge singers who really made an impression.
“I’d look into one of the lounges and see some beautiful woman in a beautiful gown standing by a piano and singing a song,” Boone recalls. “I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.”
That’s exactly what the 55-year-old Boone is doing now, but it took her a while to get here. She had a detour in the late 1970s when, at age 20, she had what you call a mega-hit record. “You Light Up My Life” won her a Grammy and the song itself won an Oscar and broke chart-topping records once held by the Beatles. Mega-hit.
Every singer dreams of a hit record, but this hit was seismic, and it trapped Boone in a music industry that didn’t know quite what to do with her.
“In those years it was all about trying to figure out the next hit record and the frustrations of trying to reconcile the fact that I didn’t really have the image, at that point in time, for Top 40 radio.”
Now Boone is allowed to be herself and do what she does best – sing great songs with great musicians. And she gets to wear beautiful dresses.
Boone will be in San Francisco this weekend (Sunday, May 20) with her show Reflections of Rosemary, a tribute to the late, great Rosemary Clooney, who happens to be her mother-in-law (she’s married to Gabriel Ferrer, Clooney’s son with José Ferrer). Boone first did this show in San Francisco about seven years ago at the now-defunct Empire Plush Room.
This won’t be quite the same show audiences saw in 2005 (which also spawned a fantastic CD with the same name as the show). Boone says she’s been adding songs like “Cloudburst,” which are not necessarily Clooney’s hits but beautifully written songs that Boone connects with. That’s one of the lessons of performing she learned from her mother-in-law.
“I’d go watch Rosemary on stage,” Boone says on the phone from her Southern California home, “and I’d admire the elegant simplicity she had in her approach to a show and a song. She connected with people at such a deep level. There was no showing off vocally, and it wasn’t about sharing what was inside of her by way of the songs. It wasn’t about high notes and fancy runs – the stuff that people are so impressed with today for reasons I don’t quite understand. Rosemary would open her mouth and sing within one octave and touch you on many levels.”
In the show, Boone also sneaks in some tunes from her forthcoming CD, “Swing This” about Vegas in the ’60s.
“I love what I’ve been doing with this show because it’s very heartfelt and sentimental and a little bittersweet reminiscing about Rosemary,” Boone says. “But I’m ready for a fun, high energy, let’s all have a great time kind of show and CD. I’ll sing songs that have great arrangements by John Oddo and tell stories about the days my dad was headlining in Vegas. I was so enamored of all the glitz and glamour and the stars.”
Boone’s famous father has never asked when she might perform a musical tribute to him, but she says audience members ask her all the time. It’s something she’ll do when the time is right, and she’s looking forward to dipping into her father’s rich musical history.
“I think people forget what kind of music he used to sing before the pop hits like ‘April Love’ or ‘Tutti Fruitti,'” Boone says. “He’s got all these beautiful albums and songs with tremendous arrangements by Gordon Jenkins. It’d be great to revisit that material.”
Boone would also like to pay musical tribute to her mother’s father, the country legend Red Foley. She’d like to do a CD and a show honoring her grandfather.
“Everywhere I go people remember him so fondly,” she says. “When I sing his songs, they come from this new place in me. It’s like, ‘Where did that come from?’ I didn’t know that was in there.”
Boone has been on Broadway twice – in 1982 with the short-lived Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and again in the ’90s in the long-running revival of Grease. She has done a number of touring and regional shows (she says her favorite is Camelot) and would happily return to the musical stage.
“I’ve never had more fun in my life than doing musical theater,” she says. “I dream of originating a role, but mine is not a typical female lead voice. I don’t have those big, high money notes that most roles for women require. I recently saw the revival of Follies in LA, and it made me jealous. I want to go and play, too.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Debby Boone’s Reflections of Rosemary is at 7pm Sunday, May 20 at Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35. Call 415-655-5600 or visit www.yoshis.com.