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RIDE 'EM, COWBOY!
The retroCRUSH Interview with Randy Jones from The Village People

INTERVIEW by Randy Waage
retrorandy@retrocrush.com

During the late 70ís and early 80ís the Village People were extremely popular. My mom and I loved the group and she bought me the 45 single Macho Man which I played on my record player nonstop. In fact almost everyone I knew loved them. You couldnít go anywhere without hearing their hit songs: Macho Man, YMCA, and In the Navy on the radio or seeing them perform on television.

Recently, a dream came true and I was granted an interview with one of my personal retroCRUSHes, the original cowboy from the Village People Randy Jones.

Did you always want to sing? Musical Influences?

I guess I've always BEEN singing since I can remember. Being raised in the Baptist Church I was always singing on Sunday mornings. My dad's favorite music was country western. Fifies pop music certainly made an impression upon me. My parents, who were home movie enthusiasts, have these great early 8mm images of me at age 3 or 4 dressed in my denim jeans, cowboy hat and boots, doing my best Elvis Presley impression complete with gyrations. So you could safely say that I came by singing and dancing naturally AND at an early age! I have always loved listening to Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald.


What was it like performing with Grace Jones? Is she as wild as she seems?

Grace and I first met while we were both working the runway at a fashion show. I don't remember if it was in Paris or New York. When she got her first record deal and was putting her live show together, she needed two guys to be onstage and perform with her. At that time, few if any artists performed in the numerous clubs and discos with a pre-recorded instrumental track. We were actually pioneers is creating that type of show. Most of early '77 we spent travelling over the eastern part of the USA doing gigs and promoting her first LP PORTFOLIO. I sure got a baptism by fire introduction into the music business and learned a helluva lot about being onstage in that VERY unstructured, fluid type of performance format. Previous to that much of my performance experience, aside from modelling, was traditional musical theatre, i.e. CAROUSEL, OKLAHOMA, BRIGADOON, etc. I had also danced in dance companies such as The Agnes deMille Heritage Dance Theatre, The Pauline Kohner Dance Consort, The Anna Sokolow Company and The North Carolina Dance Theatre. However, working with Grace was an incredible eye-opening experience that I would not exchange for anything. There is still NOTHING like Grace Jones.



Tell me about the heyday of the VP? What are gay groupies like? Was it as crazy sexually as has been said during the gay culture of the 1970's/early 80's?

The heyday of Village People was probably the most breathtaking whirlwind experience of my life. There was hardly ever a moment to stand back and take a deep breath in the schedule that we were constantly involved. We could easily find ourselves on three different continents in the space of five days. I distinctly remember performning on AMERICAN BANDSTAND in LA, then flying to Rio de Janiero for a stadium gig, and then taking the Concorde to Paris in order to work on a French film entitled JE TE TIENS PAR LE BARBICHETTE. We did this all in less than a WEEK! Somehow, once in a while, I was able to force myself to pause and just look around to take in all the glorious madness that was endlessly swirling around us. Like taking advantage of a free evening to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and look out at Paris, the City of Light, realizing that this experience is NOT the common experience of the majority of the people on this planet...so f--king enjoy this and EVERY moment that comes along. Those moments were precious and far between. For a period of several years, I never really heard the word "No" very often. When most everyone around you are answering "Yes" to your every request, it can be easy to lose perspective. I guess you can say groupies, of any sort, are by their very nature extremely enthusiastic and cooperative. And believe me, I have been blessed with a very generous amount. Despite the impression that many may have of the late '70's lifestyle, it was not really my cup of tea. I certainlly know that there was a helluva lot of wildness going on...I observed alot, but it wasn't my predilection particularly. I know that there are many people that I knew and worked with through the years that are no longer with us, for various reasons. God bless them all.

Do you think it's odd that for a group with gay icons, fantasy figures, even a few lyrics that were homoerotic you still became so well loved and a part of suburban American culture? Do you think it's because straight people were oblivious to all of it?

No, I don't think that it is particularly odd, especially when we're so lovable (smile) AND taken with the fact of the group's success as proponents of Popular Culture over the past quarter of a century. Indeed, we have become cultural icons, with our images and music in every manner selling products as diverse as soft drinks, fast food, children's toys and automobiles, not to mention the numerous films and television programs that utilise our voices and music in the soundtracks. I believe the perception of our iconic qualities is definitely in the eye of the beholder. One of the very deft points in our creativity was the opportunity for any audience member to impose upon us its particular fantasy. I believe people saw in our performances EXACTLY what they wanted to see. Whether that fantasy was straight or gay, sexually, or the fantasy of youngsters looking up to us as comic book figures or ANY other imposed fantasy, it was strictly up to the individual and what was going on in his or her mind at the moment. We were just able to create fertile figures for others to just let their imaginations go wild upon. And trust me , they DID!


How about the song, "YMCA". How in the heck did all those hand movements come about?

Ah!....those hand movements! Those hand movements came about from the debut of "YMCA" on Dick Clark's AMERICAN BANDSTAND. Dick really enjoyed what we were doing and had us debut each of our songs on his programs. When it came time to perform "YMCA" on BANDSTAND, the album, CRUISIN' had already shipped platinum, so it was very familiar to the audience from radio and record. As we launched into our performance of the song, the audience quickly began to sing along with us and by the time we got to the chorus of "YMCA, etc", the studio audience began to form the letters with their hands. So during the next verse, we looked at each other and by the time that the next chorus came round, we had picked it up ourselves and were forming the letters, "YMCA" along with the audience, LIVE on television. That's how all that madness came about and it has endured for more than 25 years. It's a simple little song with an incredibly sincere and uplifting lyric that even young children can sing along with. The Young Men's Christian Association has used our song, "YMCA" in it's public service announcements. The WALT DISNEY Co. even uses "YMCA" on one of their compilations to teach the alphabet to youngsters. Now that's some legacy!

"You Can't Stop the Music" is a Cult Classic and I know I LOVED it when I saw it as an 11 year old child. What was it like working on this fine piece of cinema? Meeting Bruce Jenner? Steve Guttenberg? Working with Nancy Walker? Did you know it was going to bomb?

Hmmm...."Can't Stop the Music". Working on that film was truly an incredible experience. I mean, how many people can say that they have had the opportunity to portray themselves in a major Hollywood motion picture. I can't think of many...maybe Audie Murphy in "To Hell and Back". He portrayed himself in that film as America's most decorated war hero. Come to think of it, "To Hell and Back" might have been a better title for "Can't Stop, etc". Only kidding. Getting to know Allan Carr, Nancy Walker, Valerie Perrine, Bruce Jenner, Steve Guttenberg, Tammy Grimes, Marilyn Sokol and all the rest of the great folks involved with that project was just part of the non-stop whirlwind that we found ourselves caught up in LESS than TWO years after we recorded our FIRST album as Village People. Yes, in less that two years we went from recording our first album to shooting CSTM, a major Hollywood film, budgeted at more than 25 million dollars, which was a helluva film budget in 1979 dollars. And we were surrounded by ALL the trappings that one would expect in a "Hollywood' scenario. The house in Beverly Hill, the car, the parties, etc. All of it happened so very quickly. There are hundreds of tales...you'll have to read my book for all the good stuff. This interview is just the tip of the iceberg. There's everything from Rock Hudson to Ladybird Johnson to Falcon Studio Models to meeting the Queen of England,.. and more!

I know this is sort of silly, but I grew up with these 70's shows & I considered them my Gods. Describe your experience on the Love Boat? Dance Fever? Solid Gold? Other TV shows of the time?

Yes, it IS silly. But isn't it amazing how so many of those '70's TV shows have such a fascination wtih folks even to this day? 'LOVE BOAT' was a great experience. Aaron Spelling just knows how to do a tv show. He always makes the celebrity guests feel just that way. I still have this beautiful 6"x9" silver box engraved with my name and "LOVE BOAT 1980". Mr. Spelling is a class act all the way. I think he has been that way with every show he's ever produced. I got to know Betty White on that show. She is hysterical lady with a fiendish sense of humour. She and her husband Allen Ludden were guests on the show in the same episode. Loni Anderson was in that episode too. And that was the period when she was built like a brick s...house. I mean STACKED!!!! I also hung out quite a bit with Lauren Tewes(Julie) during that period. Believe me, 'LOVE BOAT' was indeed a rockin' raft!

As VP we did the pilot episodes for both 'DANCE FEVER' with Denny Terio and 'SOLID GOLD'. I think SOLID GOLD had the Jeff Kutash Dancers....they were sweet, in a '70's kinda way. Of course, we did 'DANCE FEVER' for "Uncle Merv" (Griffin). We had done his show lots. Merv, Dick Clark, Bob Hope and Hugh Hefner were kinda like Godfathers to us in Hollywood. It just seemed that somehow they tuned into us a s group and understood what it was that we were about and were always there with an opportunity to make an appearance on one of their programs or specials or at an event with which they might be involved. Hef had several Pajama Party Specials that we performed in and I always had a standing invitation to the Los Angeles Playboy Mansion. In fact, that's where I first met Dorothy Stratten and got to know her. She and I went out together a couple of times. Of course no one really knew what that insane husband, Paul, had in store for her. I also got to know Patrick Cassidy at the Mansion in LA when he was just a kid...maybe 17...he really shouldn't have been there, but it was the '70's. I was ALWAYS running into someone at the Mansion. My favorite places were the grotto and the game room.

What was the "Renaissance New Romantic look". Is that what ultimately made you quit the group? How did the others feel about the new look?

I think "Renaissance" was a reaction as opposed to a creation. Although, CSTM was successful in several major markets overseas, (we did have several top 10 hits from that soundtrack in foreign territories), it definitely did not live up to expectaions here in America. Coupled with a record label change, from Casablance to RCA, I think the Village People Producers thought they could change the look of the group to something akin to what was happening in Europe a la Steve Strange or Adam and the Ants kinda thing. When we first started talking about changing the image and all, I couldn't believe it. I thought, something's up! And secondly, I thought it wasn't fair to the many millions of loyal fans who had bought our recording around the world during the past nearly four years.

By that point we had probably sold in excess of 50 or 60 million records...an impressive amount. That's a lot of album covers to have one's face on. And I personally thought that to destroy the character images that we had spent blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) to sear into the minds of legions of loyal fans, was a downright betrayal to those same fans and a very unwise move. It was neither a smart move financially nor career-wise. So, for me, it was time to move on. We figured out a way to do it and I was OUTTA THERE prior to the paintin' up for the Renaissance album shoot. I guess the other guys thought it was a good idea, because they went along with it. But NOT me! The Renaissance album was the first one for RCA, the new label. I think RCA was a bit shocked when it received the Renaissance package. It had bought one image, the Cowboy, Indian, etc., and had been delivered a totally DIFFERENT package of goods. I don't think that album did very well.



 

Was it hard coming back and performing with the VP again after the group was considered dead?

In 1986, Boy George and Cornelia Guest gave me a birthday dinner and party to introduce a new record I had just finished. At the time I had been listening intensely to what was being played on the radio in the NYC market and it was beginning to sound a lot like some of the stuff we had done as VILLAGE PEOPLE. One of the guys who had sang background with me on my recording of "Pretty Woman" was Dan Hartman of "Instant Replay", "Relight My Fire" and "I Can Dream About You" fame. I had consulted with him about creating the background "sound" of "Living In America" which he wrote and produced for James Brown. He was looking for a big male-voiced choral sound, a la VILLAGE PEOPLE. In 1985, When the record was released and appeared in the film, ROCKY IV, I thought, "Damn, that sounds an awful lot like a VILLAGE PEOPLE song, just with James Brown singing the lead. I'd been working with lots of different folks doing projects in the mid-'80's and just about everybody would eventually ask if I'd ever thought about getting back together with VILLAGE PEOPLE? So, I figured I'd invite the original VP guys to my birthday party with Boy George and Cornelia so I could see up close how everyone appeared and frankly to see if we could all be in the same room together for a couple of hours and not kill each other.

I even made sure that we got photographed for the New York Post and the Daily News, so I could see what we looked like in photographs. Photos of the birthday party showed up in the press over the next couple of days and we looked great...we looked like VILLAGE PEOPLE! So my mind went into overdrive and I thought...."Hmmm, given the sound that's out there getting radio play, the fact that VP has been off the scene for a couple of years, the guys look good and there is deifinitely industry interest, maybe we ought to give it a shot and see if there are gigs, etc out there for VP!" So I had everyone located, but I knew it was an act that DEFINITELY needed skilled management and representation. I met with David Fishoff, the management svengali who masterminded the revival of the MONKEES in '85 and '86 and the overwhelmingly successful "DIRTY DANCIN'" Concert Tour. He salivated. But he was like me....he insisited on meeting face to face with the guys....to see all of them up close. We met, hammered out our agreements and begain rehearsals in January of 1987 for our first reunion tour....which was to be in Australia later in the Spring/Summer of '87. It just snowballed and gained momentum from there. Was it difficult to accomplish...this "reunion". It was NOT easy. But the guys needed it. They had been going in all kinds of different directions since the group previously disbanded. Most of them were not even involved in the music business at the time that I had gotten in touch with them, so it all came about at a very good time for everyone. We worked really hard at creating a damned good show and it paid off. I mean, VILLAGE PEOPLE is still out there doin' it after more than a quarter of a century. That deserves respect!

Do you still keep in contact with any of the members of the Village People?

I do. I try to catch at least a couple shows a year when they perform in New York City. We were all together at Glenn Hughes funeral in 2001. We all keep pretty busy, but our paths do cross once in a while.

What are you working on now? Is it tough getting past the VP image of being the cowboy from the Village People?

Right now, I've got two films in the can. One, THREE LONG YEARS is completed and is to be screened during the New York Film Festival in September of this year. The other JOYTIME is in postproduction. I'm booked to begin work on another, SUNRISE, early next year. My partner, Will Grega and I are known as STEREOTONIC. We have an award winning cd, STEREOTONIC currently in release that was chosen on June 2nd, as the winner of the OUT MUSIC RECORDING OF THE YEAR, 2003. As STEREOTONIC, we produce and create 'Music for Your Fabulous Lifestyle'. It is a mix of Lounge and Dance grooves that is hip yet sophisticated. Urban, but Cosmopolitan. Drum'n'bass, house, dub, rock, disco, ambient and jazz are all rolled into one polyrhythmic, polymorphous and playful musical performance of intricately layered music inspired by such artists as Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation, Pink Floyd, Enigma, Avalanches, Air and Aphex Twin. We have another scheduled for release later in the year. As a solo artist, this summer I'm recording a collection of jazz and standard vocally oriented songs by Ben Folds, Sting, Gershwin, and others from the American Songbook. It's called "THE LUCKIEST" and it's due out in late January.

I would not say it's tough getting past the image of the 'VP Cowboy'. It is however something that I acknowledge, embrace, respect and then get on with. Having created such an iconic image that has permeated the public consciousness and achieved such a place in Popular Culture over the last nearly thirty years is a daunting accomplishment. I've been on the cover of ROLLINGSTONE Magazine, the front page of The NEW YORK POST ,preserved in the pages of the WORLDBOOK Encyclopedia and more. And unless I run for President of the United States and win!....I'm probably gonna always be tagged with the VP association. And you know, having been part of something like VILLAGE PEOPLE and YMCA, etc....is not so bad. Every day somewhere in some town, on the radio, on televison, in a film, at a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or Saturday night dance, people are laughing and enjoying the work done by my VP brothers and me. Everywhere I travel, my work is familiar to people's ears if not their eyes and more often than not the mere mention of VP or the sound of our music will bring smiles to most faces. I mean what better legacy could one possibly wish for?

Why did you quit the Village People again?

After I was able to locate and convince the original guys (with Ray Simpson replacing Victor Willis) to re-group again in late '86, we formed a corporation, SIXUVUS, Ltd., to handle our business affairs as VILLAGE PEOPLE. As President of SIXUVUS, Ltd., for nearly four years, I learned a helluva lot about the business of running a corporation, etc. It was a very intense time spent in rebuilding an audience base for the group and just letting people know that we were still vital and alive...and still kickin' ass! But we did just that! I mean the fact that a group is still out there performing as VILLAGE PEOPLE testifies to the hard work we did in the late eighties. Of course, the group out on the road today is only "fifty percent Village People" or "Village People Light" as I like to refer to it. The present group is comprised of only three original members and three replacements. In the early nineties, I began to really think about the future, my individual career and my relationship with my life partner, Will Grega, which is now approaching twenty years. Life on the road continuously with VP, was and I'm sure still is a very demanding mistress, emotionally and physically. After a year of soul searching(my last year with VP), I came to the conclusion that my relationship and homelife were more important than spending the greater part of each month out on the road with VP. I figured it was a good time to make a change. I was eager to pursue my individual career as a performer and explore other facets of my training as an actor and a singer that really weren't utilised as a member of VILLAGE PEOPLE.


CLINT WALKER: A retroCRUSH fit for a Cowboy!

Can you tell us an actor/singer from the past you have a retroCRUSH on?

As a kid growing up in the Fifties, we had many fewer choices of shows to watch than kids do today and most of them were in black and white...as difficult as that is to imagine. Even more unimaginable, there was actually an end to a programming day where an image of the American flag and the STAR SPANGLED BANNER were the last things one saw and heard if one caught the final programming moments of a station. I was a huge fan of Roy Rogers and the many western television programs...such as PALLADIN, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, SUGARFOOT, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL and THE REBEL. Of course I was a huge fan of I LOVE LUCY, AMOS 'N ANDY and THE LIBERACE SHOW as well, of course. One of my VERY favorite television shows when I was a kid was "CHEYENNE" starring 'the big guy himself', Clint Walker. He was one of the most popular 'cowboy' actors on tv and he had a presence like no other western "style" actor. The man is 6 feet four or five inches tall and weighed in somewhere around 220 or so. He really was a HUGE guy! And he was one of those guys in the Fifties that really took care of himself...he had a great body and was very handsome. Needless to say, Warner Bros. Studio took every opportunity to exploit his obvious physical assets. So at the young tender age of 7 or 8 years old, I'm fixated with this image of a nearly perfect specimen of a superhero COWBOY. And nearly every week for four or five years, this heroic figure of a human being is beamed into my folks living room for me to view, performing within some plot where he always ends up being the good guy while finding some reason to play at least a portion of the hour WITHOUT his shirt, displaying what even by today's standards would be a very well-built body and an excellent hairy chest to boot! So how could I grow up and turn out to be any different. I mean C-O-W-B-O-Y!!! I remember once reading in TV Guide that "Clint Walker enjoys using a sewing machine". Somehow, without concious recognition, that must have given me some kind of alternate perspective. I guess you could say I had something of a crush on CLINT WALKER.


Thank you again Randy Jones for sharing a part of your world with us.

For more info about Randy Jones go to his website at WWW.RANDYJONESWORLD.COM. He also has a dance and lounge music site that every RetroCrusher would love at WWW.STEREOTONIC.COM.

The Village People are still going strong and for those of you near the Central Valley in California they will be playing July 25th at the STANISLAUS COUNTY FAIR. I will be there taking pictures and cheering them on. Donít miss your chance to see these incredibly talented people! Not to mention who doesnít love waving their hands in the air to the song "YMCA"?  To find out more go to WWW.OFFICIALVILLAGEPEOPLE.COM.

 

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