Donny Osmond, American singer, songwriter and actor, chats with Kevin Cooper about Osmondmania, the highlights of his career, his latest album The Soundtrack Of My Life and his forthcoming tour of the UK
Donny Osmond is an American singer who was first famous for being in the group The Osmonds with his elder brothers who formed in the 60’s. Since then his career has seen him acting in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, become a talk show host, record producer and author. Since 2008, along with his sister Marie, he has been headlining the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Originally a contract that was for a few weeks only, they continued to perform there until November 2016.
He continues to have solo success although in 1989 one of his biggest selling recordings, Soldier Of Love was given radio play after it was credited to a ‘mystery artist’. In 2004 he returned to the UK top ten for the first time as a solo artist since 1973 with Breeze On By, which was co-written with Gary Barlow.
Having released his 60th album in 2014 to celebrate fifty years in the business, he is busy rehearsing for his first solo tour of the UK in ten years. He took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Donny, how are you?
I’m very well thank you Kevin how are you today?
I’m great thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all, it’s my pleasure.
Before we go on let me just pass on my belated birthday wishes.
Well thank you Kevin, I can’t believe that I am twenty-nine again. It’s so hard to believe (laughter).
And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
I have to say that I have never been busier. It’s just amazing. I thought that I would slow down a little bit at this time in my life but I have never been busier.
I understand that you are currently in rehearsals for your forthcoming UK tour so I have to ask, how are things going?
There are lots of things going on at the minute, such as introducing new songs to the Donny & Marie show, but the short answer is yes, everything is going great but it is also quite hectic.
I hope that you don’t mind but I am taping our conversation so as to help me later.
Sure, but can I pick you up on something Kevin?
Of course you can.
Are you really taping this conversation?
Yes I am, well no I’m not (laughter) I am actually using a digital voice recorder not actual tape.
(Laughter) you would never know just how many times I correct my wife back home when she tells me “oh, by the way I taped that show for you last night” and I say “really, tell me, what was the exact make of tape that you used” (laughter).
On the subject of tape I am amazed at just how many of the younger bands are releasing their current work on cassette tapes. They tell me that it’s retro (laughter).
(Laughter) I know what you are saying. I have seen cassettes being sold in stores and I just think ‘really, is that what you really want to do. It’s all so trendy but please let’s all get back to quality’ (hysterical laughter). I’m the kind of person who really embraces modern technology and yes, I love tape. In fact I will happily go back and use analogue tape for a kick, or the bass, because there is some very nice warmth when it comes to tape saturation. You can also find plugins that will do a similar sort of thing but it’s not really the same saturation as the old analogue tape. It’s funny, whenever you speak to sound engineers they tell me that they will take that saturation on the analogue tape and where does it end up, on a digital format (laughter).
I have to say that I am not a fan of the cassette but being a life-long collector of vinyl albums it does make me smile when I see the youngster’s once again collecting vinyl.
Yes, I do know what you mean. I kind of regret getting rid of my vinyl collection. Because I envelope myself in modern technology, once I was told that I was now in the digital age sadly I got rid of my vinyl collection and I regret it to this day.
A little bird informs me that you have developed an app?
(Laughter) where are you getting your information from. Yes that’s right, I recently developed an app which was inspired by what Coldplay did when they had the entire audience wear coloured wristbands at their shows. When I saw that I thought ‘you know what, there has to be something more innovative out there than that’ so I developed my app. I didn’t actually write the code but I mapped it all out. The audience can download this app for free and they are instantly interactively connected with the show. There is video, colour and audio which is all synchronised with the show, so that the whole audience is then in synch with the show. Take it from me it is going to be spectacular.
I have to ask, why now?
Several years ago now I said to my manager “you know I haven’t played the UK in a long time. I released Soundtrack Of My Life without any tour support because of my schedule in Las Vegas, so let’s find a window” and the only window that we could find was this tour coming up later this month simply because of the residency schedule in Las Vegas. This will be the first time in ten years that I will have done a solo tour over there in the UK.
After all of the years that you have spent touring the world, do you still get that buzz?
I do, especially with this one because there is going to be lots of new stuff that I will be introducing into the show, plus there will be quite a few songs that I have never done live before. But yes, in answer to your question, the touring is the best part of what I do.
I asked Burt Bacharach the same question and what he said was that whilst he still loved every minute that he gets to spend on stage entertaining his audience, the travelling side of things have changed dramatically since 9/11.
Yes, it’s a little difficult but when you do it the way that I do it then it becomes a little less hectic. In the UK it is a lot easier because you can bus from place to place and it’s easier to get to where you need to be. However, when you travel internationally it gets a little more difficult. You just find those moments when you are travelling that become such fun. With modern technology you really are not away from home with Skype and all of the other things that I have at my disposal. I’m a technological geek (laughter) I have got cameras at home in my pool house and in my yard and I just turn them on and I’m not really away from home (laughter).
Haven’t you taken the step of seeking advice from your fans as to what songs should be on your set list for this tour?
(Laughter) just who is leaking this information to you? Yes that’s right, I have personally undertaken surveys online through social media asking the fans what songs they would like to hear on this tour. I have worked out so many songs that my band hates me because they have to rehearse so many different songs which we will probably never do (laughter). However, there is a segment in the second half of the show which I call the Purple Heart segment. Before the show begins purple cards are distributed through the audience and are gathered up just before the show starts and they are then put on the stage. Then during the second half I grab these cards and who knows what is going to happen (laughter).
For the next fifteen or twenty minutes the show is nothing but improvisation. For me it is a very scary thing to do but I have been doing this for so long and I have such a repertoire that it is very difficult to put me into a corner. I am anticipating on this tour that the audiences will just have the time of their lives because what I am going to do is not just going to be a retro show, but there certainly will be things where I will go back to the good old days of the 70’s. I am going to close the show with Crazy Horses, that’s the standard basically. I have got to do Puppy Love, but wait until you see the opening number, it is just going to blow people away. The app is going to be so much fun for people to be actively involved with the show. It is just going to be a two hour party and so much fun.
Are the audiences here in the UK still good to you?
For me the audiences over there in the UK are probably the best in the world. They have been so loyal to me over the years. What is interesting is that I have noticed, particularly back home in the States, the demographics have really expanded. Obviously the primary people who come to my shows we call the Puppy Lover; that is the basic makeup of the audience. However, they are bringing their kids and husbands with them and we are finding that it is standing room only at the shows. It is just wild. Large contingents of the audience now are young kids who have found out about me via YouTube or some other way. The audiences have truly expanded quite a bit.
You will be playing here in Nottingham at The Motorpoint Arena on Saturday 28th January. This will not be your first visit as you have performed in the city many times before so I have to ask, what do you think to our fair city?
That’s correct, I have played almost every place that there is to play in Nottingham and I hope to continue doing so for many years to come. I love whatever time I get to spend in Nottingham, because I find it to be a lovely city.
I have to tell you because we get a lot of comments from the American artists who play Nottingham, thanks to a certain Mr Kevin Costner, that the real Nottingham Castle is not as big as it is portrayed in the movies.
(Laughter) well let me tell you, I visited Nottingham Castle back in 2004 and you have absolutely nothing to worry about (laughter).
I will be reviewing and photographing your show here in Nottingham and it will actually be my birthday.
Oh come on, how old are you going to be?
Strangely enough I will be the same age as one Donald Clark “Donny” Osmond (laughter).
So we are the same age?
No, you are a month older than me (laughter).
(Laughter) go on rub in it Kevin, I’m a whole month older than you. Go on, rub it in.
I have to because I’m the youngster in this conversation (laughter).
(Laughter) well it seems like everyone who I talk to now these days are all youngsters. The thing is, it doesn’t bother me thankfully.
You have briefly mentioned the Donny & Marie show at the Flamingo Hotel in Los Vegas which you have been performing for the past nine years. Having been doing that together for so long, will it feel strange for you being out onstage alone here in Nottingham?
To be honest with you, pretty much every summer I tour the States on my own. Both Marie and I have our individual careers and she does the same thing so we are always doing separate shows, individual shows as well as our duet show. So fingers crossed it shouldn’t feel strange at all. Also don’t forget that I have had a solo career since I was thirteen years old so hopefully it won’t feel strange at all.
I have to congratulate both of you for winning the best show in Las Vegas three years running. How did that feel?
That was totally unbelievable. Who would have thought it? I think back to 2008 when the whole concept of bringing the Donny & Marie show to Las Vegas was first developed and I remember thinking ‘really, are we going to be able to make any kind of substantial noise in Las Vegas’ and it was originally for a run of ten shows. To my surprise those ten shows sold out immediately. It was at that point I thought ‘wait a minute, we might actually have something here’ so we were then offered a contract for six weeks. I remember thinking to myself ‘just how are we going to sell seats for six weeks’ and it sold out overnight. So six weeks turned into nine years (laughter).
You released the album The Soundtrack Of My Life back in 2014 and I have to say that I have been playing it now for almost a year. I think that it is a really nice piece of work.
Thank you, I appreciate that. I have to be honest with you and tell you that it was a very difficult album for me to make because the whole concept behind this album could have very easily turned into a karaoke album because I am doing cover versions and that is the danger of this concept. However, you don’t want to do exactly what the original artist did but also you don’t want to go too far from the original because that is what people fell in love with, the original. So with songs like The Long And Winding Road I did create my own stamp on that vocal, away from Paul (McCartney) but not so far as what I did with Moon River, which as you will know was recorded by my late great friend Andy Williams.
I thought that I had more licence to play around with Moon River because of my relationship with Andy. Songs like Peg, well, I really just messed up Peg the way that I wanted to do it. It is nothing like the original Steely Dan track at all; I just did it my own way, very much like Blurred Lines that is popular at the moment. Having said all of that, it was a fun album to make but oh my goodness it was so challenging. I really do hope that Adel gets to hear my rendition of Moon River because I love what she does with her melody lines. She can really interpret a song so that is what I tried to do with Moon River, get clever with the melody without showing off.
Please don’t take this the wrong way but I personally feel that your voice is sounding better than ever. There now appears to be a softness and a warmth to your voice.
Well thank you, I really appreciate that. I had a little scare about a year and a half ago and lost it when I had to go under surgery. In fact coincidently it was the same doctor who manage to get Adel back on stage. But thank you for that compliment, I appreciate that.
Are all of the songs on the album songs that mean something to you?
Yes they are, and that was the criteria when I decide to do this album. I had a list of some three hundred songs that I wanted to do, and when I started narrowing it down the main criteria was that the songs that would finally make it onto the album had to have a significant back story. That was the deciding factor that helped me cross out a lot of those three hundred songs (laughter).
I was going to ask you how many missed the cut (laughter).
The last song to miss the cut was Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are (Donny then sings me an impromptu verse of the song). I wanted to do that song so badly but there is no real significant story behind it. I just wanted to reinterpret those vocals that Billy (Joel) did and do it my way together with a different kind of saxophone solo. But that sadly didn’t make the cut.
Were you pleased with just how well the album was received?
Absolutely, at my age, being in this business as long as dirt (laughter) I really did think that this album was right for me. This was the self-indulging album, it was an itch that I needed to scratch, I did it and I am so proud of it because it was so challenging for me to do (laughter).
Was it really your sixtieth album?
To be honest with you there are actually more, oh yes there’s more (laughter). However, if you take out of the equation all of the foreign albums and the bootlegs then sixty is about right but in reality there are so many more than sixty. I looked at the list of all of the albums and realised that if you were talking about legitimate albums then that number came in around sixty.
I have to tell you that I am a massive Motown fan and I love what you have done with Baby Love (The Supremes) and My Cherie Amour (Stevie Wonder).
Well thank you, I am glad that you have mentioned Baby Love. I wanted to try to do Baby Love as a ballad with an R & B Al Green kind of groove to it. So that is why I did it that way. Again I thought take some risks, take some chances, mess it up a little bit and do it the way that you want to do it. I worked on that vocal for days trying to get the falsetto just right (laughter). That was a fun one to sing. In fact, speaking of Al Green I am putting Let’s Stay Together in the set list.
And just what did Stevie (Wonder) think to your interpretation of My Cherie Amour?
At first I was a little hesitant but after I had cut the track I thought that it would be so cool if Stevie could play the harmonica on the track. I have got to know Stevie over the years and thought that I could call in a few favours and stuff like that, but I didn’t really want to be the kind of person who did that. However, I just had to call Stevie because that was the first ever 45 record that I had bought. It just had to go on the album and it is the lead off song. So I called him up and he was really nice. He told me that he gets a lot of these requests but asked me to send him an MP3 of the track which he would listen to and he would see what he could do and he would make a decision. So I emailed him an MP3 of the track and no more than ten minutes later my phone rang and it was Stevie’s assistant telling me that Stevie was on the other line and that he wanted to speak to me.
At that point my heart stopped. Here was my musical hero calling me with either really good news or really bad news. Stevie came on the phone and said “Donny, I absolutely love what you have done with this track. Send me over the master straightaway as I just have to be part of this project”. So that was a nice little compliment from my musical hero. He not only put his harmonica on the track, he sent me an MP3 telling me exactly how he would produce it and change it up. He just really cared. It was so cool, in fact I have kept that MP3 and I will never share it with anyone because it was so personal. That was really a nice thing to have on the album, to lead off with my musical hero Stevie.
Obviously your latest album The Soundtrack Of My Life is an album of cover versions. The Osmonds have been covered many times by various artists. Do you have a favourite cover version of an Osmonds song?
My favourite cover version of an Osmonds track, I would probably have to say, and this is rather self-indulgent so you will have to forgive me, but I think that my version of Crazy Horses is up there. Whilst it is hard to better the original, I took that track, sampled the horse sound, beefed it up a little bit and I quite like my cover version of our song (laughter). In fact the funny thing about it is that when my brothers tour they actually use some elements from my version (laughter).
I love seeing your brothers playing Crazy Horses because Jimmy uses a handheld keyboard with pyrotechnics strapped to the end of it (laughter).
That is so nineties isn’t it (laughter).
I was shooting them here in the UK a couple of years ago now and I was dragged out of the pit because they were worried that Jimmy would set fire to me.
Really, that is so funny (laughter).
Do you have any thoughts on a new studio album at this moment in time?
Nothing as yet, I am enjoying taking one thing at a time. My attention is going towards a television show that I am hoping to develop. That’s the first thing for me. And then eventually I want to look at another studio album. I have got to beat Elvis Presley; I think his record at the moment is sixty-five albums and as you know I am at sixty. And as he is not here then I have a chance to beat him (laughter).
But what about Sir Cliff (Richard) hasn’t he released a million and one albums over the years?
(Laughter) well I am talking about the United States, nobody is ever going to beat Sir Cliff (laughter).
On a personal note, Social Phobia, was that something that you felt that you needed to speak about and write about?
Yes it was great therapy and for me it was very cathartic to be able to get it out into the open back in the 90’s. However, that stage of my life is over with because now I find it so much more fun to get out onto the stage and have a good time. I now find every show that I do so much more exciting.
Taking you back to the 70’s, when you first visited the UK did Osmondmania surprise you?
Oh yes, I mean who anticipates that. That even rivalled Beatlesmania. It is the most coveted thing in show business and we were able to achieve that. It was the greatest time of my life; it will always be a wonderful memory, you move on and do other things but it is one of those stakes in the ground that you can refer back to in your life that is unprecedented. However, you can never recreate it, it’s too contrived if you try, but during the time it was just absolute utter chaos and bedlam in a good sense.
If I had to push you to choose just the one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s a tough one; that’s tough Kevin because there have been so many peaks, there have also been valleys but there have been so many peaks. Okay, let’s just name some of the peaks for a second; Puppy Love was definitely a peak, The Donnie & Marie Show was definitely a peak, my comeback in the 80’s with Solider Of Love in 1989 was definitely a peak, Joseph was definitely a peak in my life, the resurgence of Donny & Marie in Las Vegas is most definitely a peak in my life, achieving sixty albums is definitely a peak in my life, so when you ask me that question you can see the problem. How do I pick my favourite, it’s like trying to pick a favourite child, you just can’t do it.
Taking you back to 2008, the last time that The Osmond family toured together; was that a bittersweet moment for you?
Very much so, because there are a lot of artists as we all know who give their farewell tour and as we also know it may really be their farewell or it may be the first of many. We all knew that based upon our brothers health that was the last one. And it was definitely bittersweet because we knew that was the end.
You quite obviously enjoy acting both on the stage and the screen, do you have any roles in the pipeline?
No, I’m a singer (laughter). Singing is what I love to do. I love to get up there and entertain. However, if a role happened to come up, when I am just gobsmacked then yes, I would probably take a look at it, but at this point in my life I love getting on stage and singing, entertaining, and that is what I am focused on right now. However, with this television show that I am developing, it won’t just be particularly music, there will be comedy and acting involved in it as well. I love dipping my toe into every pool. That is what keeps it fun for me.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
I really did like Adel singing Someone Like You. That song was pretty significant, I don’t know if I shed a tear but it grabbed me. It grabbed me and that was good.
Without offending the family what was your favourite Christmas gift?
(Laughter) I guess that I am hesitating a little here because it is not the things that make me happy, it’s the situation. I think that it is very materialistic of me to say a thing. Therefore, I am going to have to say just having my children, my grandchildren together with my wife with me. That would be my favourite thing. For me to celebrate Christmas like that simply goes beyond things. I know that is probably a generic way for me to answer the question but that is why I hesitated. I just can’t pick things that make me happy, it’s all down to the situations together with the people.
Was that your ideal Christmas and did you manage to have that last year?
Yes I did. What with having my family all around me and the snow, it was a fabulous time
Everybody has a favourite Christmas song, what is yours?
That’s easy, I would have to go back to Andy Williams singing It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. That song invokes memories of my childhood, learning a skating routine with my brothers which we had to learn in two weeks, in order to perform it on Andy’s Christmas Show. As gruelling as it was, every time that I hear that song, and it happens every Christmas time, every season, every radio station one time or another plays that song, and that is my childhood memory.
On that note Donny let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been fantastic and I will see you here in Nottingham.
Thanks Kevin it’s been good to talk to you buddy. That sounds good. You take care and bye for now.