With Christmas getting closer come every second that passes, the winter concert season is heating up with several holiday themed shows. As is the case with so many tours around this time of year, artists are changing up their set lists to include seasonal standards, while greenery and even more lights than usual abound on stage. Leading the Yuletide pack this year is the legendary Johnny Mathis, who's no stranger to this type of show as he reprises his local appearance with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra. The crooner is currently celebrating fifty years of recording and has just released The 50th Anniversary Christmas Celebration (Legacy), which he will perform in ample amounts at the Rosemont engagement. However, in a recent call with Livewire's Andy Argyrakis, he promised plenty of hits, including "Misty," "Chances Are," "Wonderful! Wonderful!" and "It's Not For Me To Say." Following some talk time with Mathis, fellow holiday hero and original member of The Temptations Otis Williams checked in to chat about the group's separate engagements, its new Reflections (New Door) CD of Motown covers and special moments of the season.
Livewire: What puts you in the holiday mood and what can we expect from your current Christmas CD?
Christmas classics with Mathis
Mathis: The minute I hear "Sleigh Bells," I get right into the mood and the show will kind of go according to what I feel. I don't go too heavy on the religious stuff, but I do a lot of very beautiful songs. The current Christmas CD has the songs people are most familiar with from the holiday season, from "Silver Bells" to "The Christmas Waltz." I like singing the up tempo Christmas songs, things like "Sleigh Ride," "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "We Need a Little Christmas." Those are the kind of Christmas songs that wake up everybody!
Livewire: Will your upcoming concert just focus on the season or also the hits?
Mathis: Well, you know you've got to sing Johnny Mathis songs if you're Johnny Mathis, no matter how many Christmas songs are included. There's "Chances," "The Twelfth of Never" and "Misty," along with probably some of my Brazilian music because I've always loved that style.
Livewire: What do you look forward to most about visiting the Windy City this time of year?
Mathis: I get a big charge out of walking around Chicago all holidayed up! It really puts me in the spirit of the holidays, I wouldn't say very spiritual or anything, but at least a joyful feeling about having love for your fellow man. In California, it's difficult to feel like Christmas. Today it's 90 degrees, so I'm looking forward to Chicago because it's going to feel like Christmas!
Livewire: How are you able to keep up the stamina of touring after all these years?
Mathis: The most difficult part of my performances I'd say in the last 20 years is the traveling, but the rest is a piece of cake! I always make sure I'm in a city at least a day ahead of time and I've only missed a very small amount of shows, which is always the airlines' fault. My schedule is booked at least two years in advance and there's a lot of planning since it doesn't seem like you can get a direct flight anymore.
Livewire: What can we expect in terms of future projects?
Mathis: To celebrate my 50th anniversary of recording, PBS is filming a hometown tour of where I grew up in San Francisco and then an actual performance in Atlantic City. I'll also be interviewed before the performance is aired on television. There's a lot of work to it, but it's worth it in the end and makes me feel good because you don't have to sign up for cable television to watch PBS.
Livewire: Congratulations on your 50th anniversary of recording. Does it feel like you've been going that long?
Mathis: I've been so busy doing stuff all the time that I've never really thought about it! What really amazes me is how fast things change nowadays and how corporations come and go! When I call offices of these big corporations, I never know who going to speak to because there's such a change over personnel. To have CBS or Columbia Records- now which has morphed into Sony- and to be associated with one company for 50 years is truly amazing.
Temptations' Motown memories
Livewire: Is it tricky to tour around this time of year with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays?
Williams: It's a labor of love, but we've got to tour because we love what we do. There are certain times of the year like Christmas and Thanksgiving when you'd like to be home if you have family. But right now I'm a bachelor and I don't have to worry too much about that. You have to have a mate understand what you're doing and hopefully you can work through it. If not, you have to ask them to come on the road with you!
Livewire: What's your take on the chilly weather?
Williams: I'm from Detroit, so I understand how the weather is part of the Christmas spirit. I love the whole attitude and ambience of decorations and I know when we come to Illinois and Indiana its going to be very cold. But I love the snow and the howling wind. We'll just get bundled up and hopefully they'll be enough brave people to do the same to see us perform.
Livewire: What's your favorite holiday song to sing?
Williams: Nothing comes to mind more when it comes to holiday memories than when we sing "Silent Night." It's a staple of the show and people always cry. It's such a spiritual thing that we do and people love it and appreciate it. They well up with tears and start crying because it's touching a human emotion.
Livewire: What led you to making a new CD of Motown covers?
Williams: We've wanted to sing other Motown songs for quite some time. It's great to hear Marvin Gaye sing "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" or Gladys Knight sing "Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)," which we sure wish we could've gotten! We had a lot of hits on our own, so I don't mean to sound greedy, but it's been great to put our own spin on these and our other favorites from that era.
Livewire: Throughout the group's lengthy history, what are your all time favorite moments?
Williams: It's hard to single them out because there have been so many, but our first hit "The Way You Do the Things You Do" stood out and so did our number one for "My Girl." We were the first Motown act to win a Grammy for "Cloud Nine," there's our star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We've had a mini-series dedicated to us, time on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and I could go on and on.
The Temptations perform two area shows: 8 p.m. Friday, December 8; Genesee Theatre, 203 North Genesee St., Waukegan, IL and 8 p.m. Saturday, December 9; Star Plaza Theatre, I-65 At US 30, Merrillville, IN. Johnny Mathis performs 8 p.m. Saturday, December 16; Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont, IL. For additional information call 312-559-1212 or log onto www.ticketmaster.com.
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