Donny Osmond Interview: "Reinvention Is the Key to Longevity"
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Musicians
Image attributed to Donny Osmond
Donald Clark “Donny” Osmond is a singer, actor and radio personality. The former teen idol has also been a talk and game show host, record producer and author. In the mid-1960s, he and four of his elder brothers gained fame as the Osmonds, and he went solo in the early 1970s, covering such hits as “Go Away Little Girl” and “Puppy Love.”
In 2017, Osmond toured the UK playing sold out shows in arenas in Manchester, Glasgow, Brighton, Bournemouth, Nottingham, Birmingham and two nights at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo, London. The tour was very special to him, and it was filmed and recorded. As a result, One Night Only is now available in a limited edition signed and numbered US box set celebrating Osmond’s February 2017 performance at the Birmingham NEC. There were only 1,000 units pressed, and the numbered box sets are individually signed by Osmond. One Night Only is Osmond’s first independent release.
"It’s always hard to achieve success. It’s never easy. What’s even harder than achieving success is recreating success. Reinvention is the key to longevity, but it’s how you reinvent yourself when everybody’s keeping you in a pigeonhole of the previous success. I look at an artist like Taylor Swift for example. She’s the real deal. I mean, she knows how to keep reinventing herself. What will be interesting for me is to see what she does in ten years."
Donny Osmond: Where are you, Melissa?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Birmingham, Alabama, Donny.
Donny Osmond: I have a love for your state because it was in Muscle Shoals where my recording career got started.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you find that experience?
Donny Osmond: I loved it. I think back to those days in the early 1970s, and it was so much a tipping point, we’ll call it, in my entire life because that’s when everything changed. I mean, we were popular, I guess, from The Andy Williams Show and things like that, but it wasn’t until I went to Muscle Shoals that the whole thing kicked in. It gave me “One Bad Apple,” and started my solo career. I have a lot to thank for Alabama.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What made this particular UK tour this year so special that a concert at the Birmingham NEC was filmed and recorded for this recently released, special deluxe box set?
Donny Osmond: It’s my favorite of all the tours that I’ve done, which is quite a lot to say after touring over half a century. I guess it was because I was able to do all different genres of music of all different aspects of my career. When you analyze it, and it depends on who you talk to, I’ve had five or six different careers over the course of my 56 years of show business, whether it was The Andy Williams Show and recording, the Donny & Marie show, or Broadway and Las Vegas, I’ve been able to, in this concert tour, kind of bring it all together.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you find that you are you more nervous performing live these days as compared to your teen idol days of the 1970s?
Donny Osmond: It’s actually a lot of fun when I hit the stage. Sammy Davis Jr. told me something a long time ago when I was a little kid. I never realized at that moment just how profound it was, but he said to me, “The day you stop getting butterflies before you go on stage is the day you should stop performing because you don’t care anymore.” So, yeah, there’s a little bit of nervousness, I guess, or butterflies, because I want to do a good job.
At this point in my life, I’ve done so many shows that I go out there with a little bit more of an excitement rather than nervousness because I have so much experience under my belt that I really could handle any situation that comes up, especially in Vegas where I get some of these hecklers every once in a while. I love it when people yell out things.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What kind of people would heckle Donny Osmond?
Donny Osmond: Well, I use the word “heckler” as a general term when they yell out things, or when I’m talking to the audience because when I perform, I get the audience involved. I do what I call a “purple card” segment in the show where whatever I read on the card is what I do. It’s completely improv, and when you do improv, that in and of itself can be a scary proposition because you don’t know what you’re going to do. In that respect, every show is different. That’s why I love it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it difficult to achieve success being a “family” band?
Donny Osmond: It’s always hard to achieve success. It’s never easy. What’s even harder than achieving success is recreating success. Reinvention is the key to longevity, but it’s how you reinvent yourself when everybody’s keeping you in a pigeonhole of the previous success. I look at an artist like Taylor Swift for example. She’s the real deal. I mean, she knows how to keep reinventing herself. What will be interesting for me is to see what she does in ten years.
I’ve been doing this, like I said, for half a century, and I’ve had to reinvent myself so many times. But I think Taylor’s got the talent. Bruno Mars is the real deal. He’s going to keep reinventing himself. When you come out with certain things, and it hits really big, it’s wonderful for the moment, but add some time to that. People keep saying, “Well, that’s all you can do. It wasn’t as good as the previous success.” Well, Taylor’s been able to break that. There have been a lot of artists able to break that mold. That’s what is difficult in a cheating success and reinvention kind of way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The Osmonds rode into hard rock territory in 1972 with the album Crazy Horses, a favorite of mine.
Donny Osmond: Yeah. That’s always a favorite. Ozzy Osbourne told me one time that one of his favorite rock and roll songs was “Crazy Horses.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was that an example of the Osmonds intentionally breaking the mold and reinventing themselves?
Donny Osmond: Well, if I were to say “yes” to that it was all concocted, then it was just a publicity stunt. So I’m going to say “no” to that because it was a song that revealed who we really were. We came out with another album called “The Plan,” that didn’t get a lot of critical success, but over time, it got a lot of respect for what we did at the time because we wanted to push the envelope and show who we were as musicians and artists. But no, Crazy Horses was not an attempt to prove anything to anybody. It was just a manifestation of who we were at the time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You guys were Led Zeppelin fans also.
Donny Osmond: Oh, yeah (laughs) We did a show at Earl’s Court the night after Led Zeppelin was there in London. It was quite interesting when we were invited backstage, and the whole band was saying, “Man, we just love what you guys do.” We were just playing Frisbee with all their kids backstage. Then they came out and did the hard rock, but backstage, it was quite a different atmosphere.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did your parents ultimately feel about their children’s careers with all the ups and downs?
Donny Osmond: That was tough on them because you hit it right on the head. It was ups and downs. If you’re hitting it really hot, or if you’re really hot, the next moment, you can be really cold. That’s just the nature of the business. In a lot of industries, it’s the same way. But they were obviously concerned with the downs of the business, the pitfalls and the traps that artists can get into, whether it be in a social way, a drugs or alcohol way or a sexual way. They isolated us as much as possible from all that stuff, and thank goodness that they did because I was able to avoid a lot of those pitfalls.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And stayed true to your faith?
Donny Osmond: Yes. I stayed true to my faith, and it kept be grounded, so I owe a lot to my parents for who I am today. Granted, I’ve had to pass on a lot of opportunities that probably would’ve catapulted me in many different aspects of show business. But because I passed on them because of the principles my parents taught me, I certainly am happy with my life right now with a 40-year marriage, five kids and ten grandkids. It’s a pretty peaceful life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Which of your kids and grandkids want a career in the music business?
Donny Osmond: None of them. They are involved in different aspects of it, like promotion. One of my sons wants to be involved in sound design, and we’re hoping that this potential gig at Disney is going to come through, but nobody wants to be in front of the camera right now. I think they see what I go through as far as the workload. I mean, you have to be married to this business because it takes almost 23 hours a day to be focused on what you’re going to do next, what the next reinvention will be. Right now, I’ve developed a potential television show that I want to do after Vegas, so I’m working on that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A variety show?
Donny Osmond: It’s something that I think would be the next incarnation of what we had referred to as variety because variety from what I grew up with doesn’t work anymore. So it’s the next incarnation, I guess, of The Voice, American Idol, things like that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I loved The Carol Burnett Show, The Dean Martin Show, then there was Donny & Marie …
Donny Osmond: (laughs) They don’t make those shows anymore, but it doesn’t work in today’s atmosphere. However, I have a concept that I think could bring a little bit of that element back to television that we’re missing. I’m about ready to pitch it here to the networks.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds great. What has been the highlight of your career, Donny?
Donny Osmond: Oh, Melissa. That’s like trying to pick a favorite child (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Okay. If it’s easier to answer, who’s your favorite child?
Donny Osmond: (laughs) Well, I’m going to give you a long answer on the career, okay? Here’s the deal. I have respect for so many different peaks and even valleys in my life because each one has brought me to this point. But I look back on that initial debut on The Andy Williams Show when I was five years old, and that’s what started my life. How could you not look at that point? Then I look at Muscle Shoals at FAME Studios with “One Bad Apple.”
I’m leaving out a lot here because we released a couple of records before “One Bad Apple,” but if I don’t state that, everybody thinks, “Oh, his life has been nothing but, whatever you touch turns to gold.” We released a couple of songs before “One Bad Apple,” that hit the charts with an anchor. But “One Bad Apple” definitely was a moment I constantly look back on. I’ve got to look at “Puppy Love,” even though “Go Away Little Girl” was my first Gold #1 record. “Puppy Love” is the song that I’ll always be likened to. Then I’ve got to look at Donny & Marie. When Donny & Marie debuted in 1976, that just made me, with my sister, a household name worldwide and took me to places I never knew existed.
Then the huge valley was trying to reinvent myself, but the next big marker was “Soldier of Love.” They called it the comeback of the 80s. Almost every record executive said that Donny Osmond would never be on the charts again. But that put me back on the charts, and then I made a huge decision. After all that work, ten years of working, I decided to go and do a Broadway musical. It was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Everybody said, “What are you doing? You worked so hard. Keep recording.” But I saw what was going to happen. The shelf life is only so long, so then I signed a six-month deal with Andrew Lloyd Webber that turned into six years.
I did the Donny & Marie talk show, hosted Pyramid and did other things that made me, what they call in the industry, a triple threat. Marie and I signed a six-week contract in Las Vegas, and we’re just about to sign our tenth year. All along this time, of all these things that I’ve mentioned to you, I just recently came up with my 60th album. That was a peak because there’s only two people, from what I understand, that have beat me, and that’s Frank Zappa and Elvis Presley, and they’re gone, so I can beat them (laughs). That’s the long-winded answer, Melissa.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As you said, you have respect for both the peaks and the valleys of your career. But knowing what you know now, would you do it all over again?
Donny Osmond: Um, no (laughs). It’s too hard (laughs). Oh, there are a lot of things I’d do differently, but you know, you make the best decision you can in the moment. But why in the world I decided to wear purple socks, I’ll never know (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m old enough to remember when you married in 1978, and girls all over the world went crazy! Did you ever get physically hurt at a concert?
Donny Osmond: I did actually, yeah. There were a few occasions. I almost went blind one time when somebody almost stuck a pen in my eye trying to hug me and get my autograph at the same time. There were a lot of little different things over the years that actually got dangerous, but I loved every moment of it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Which Osmonds are performing as the group now?
Donny Osmond: Merrill, Jay and Jimmy perform. Marie and I are keeping the whole thing going in Las Vegas right now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What else is going on with you?
Donny Osmond: This new DVD, I guess, could officially be my 61st album because of the CD disc on it as well. So I’m going to be working on my 62nd album, and the concept, in my mind, is going to be all original material because the last couple of albums I’ve done are covers. In fact, my 60th album was a remix of cover songs that influenced me over my life like songs by Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney.
I called my musical mentor, Stevie, when I did “My Cherie Amour,” and I said, “Would you be willing to play harmonica on it for me?” I’ve known him over the years and have never really called upon him. Stevie said, “Send me the track.” I sent him an MP3. A few minutes later, my phone rings, and it’s his assistant. She said, “Stevie’s on the other line and wants to talk to you.” My heart stops, you know, because I’m thinking that this could be really good news or really bad news. He gets me on the phone and says, “Donny. I just listened to the track, and you’ve got to send me the master immediately because I’ve got to be part of this project.” He absolutely loved it. That put a nice little stamp of approval on it from my musical mentor.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That made your day.
Donny Osmond: Oh, big time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you keep performing in concert, or is there an end in sight?
Donny Osmond: Well, why stop? If you still have the energy, and you still have the desire, why do you want to quit? If you quit because you just can’t stand it anymore, then you don’t really enjoy what you do. I actually like what I do despite the challenges of the business and how hard it is. That’s why I do what I do. I love a good challenge. So I’m going to keep going until I can’t (laughs). Why quit what you love? I’m going to keep going.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I imagine the performing keeps you in shape?
Donny Osmond: Yes. It is so hard with the dancing and everything, but that’s my workout.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe the world knows you’re a fairly good dancer (laughs).
Donny Osmond: I was doing Dancing with the Stars and Vegas at the same time. But I got the trophy, baby! I did (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have a milestone birthday coming up. Any special plans?
Donny Osmond: I’m just about to join the 60 club this year. You know what I did? Marie and I have a Christmas tour tradition every year. But my wife and I started talking. I said, “You know, I don’t want to be on tour for my 60th birthday. It’s a mile marker for me, and I don’t want to be in some theater. I just want to be with you.” So I cancelled the tour. Nobody was very happy about that, but I cancelled the tour, and my wife and I are going to go travel the world together in the month of December. Just wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s the way I want to bring in my 60th.
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