One of the nicest things I found in my conversations with Andy Williams was how instantly he made me feel I was talking with an everyday friend. No larger-than-life celeb or unreachable American Idol… just someone who thinks of himself as blessed to do what he loves most – and sometimes even questions his own abilities. Even while I encouraged him, he spoke encouraging words to me… and that’s when I knew my childhood image of this genuinely nice man had been right on… that Voice was still like family.
See if you don’t feel the same as you “listen in” on some of our conversation below: 🙂
Q. The Moon River lyric, “You old dream-maker,” certainly fits you these days. In Branson, you’ve created everything from stylish production numbers saluting Lion King, Madame Butterfly and Titanic, to fun concerts with stars like Glen Campbell and Ann-Margret. Do you think this “second chapter” dream has been a lifetime coming?
Andy: Thank you. You know, I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t part of my life. My father felt my brothers and I were meant to do something really special with our voices. He taught us 4-part harmony and we started singing in church and on radio when I was about 7 or 8. He believed in his dream for us so much, he actually took a job demotion with the railroad so he could move us to Des Moines. My father was always looking ahead…
Then we got a movie contract, did a lot of radio and a few movies – singing background. You know – Janie was having a party, and suddenly the party went wild with kids singing and dancing, and Edward Arnold would come home and find the house in an uproar. My brothers and I’d be singing around the piano. Later, when we toured with Kay Thompson we learned to craft a sense of timing on stage that I think still influences my style today. It’s still a family affair at my theatre. My brother Dick writes the voice parts for the singers.
Q. You appeared so wonderfully easygoing on television. Was it always that way?
Hmmm… maybe I was calmer than I thought. (Laughs.) I was never nervous singing as a kid. It was just fun. But later on, when I was starting out alone, I was frightened all the time, very shy, very uncomfortable. When I debuted on Steve Allen’s Tonight show, I often had to push back waves of self-doubt that could make me physically sick. Sometimes it was a relief when it wasn’t my turn to appear.
Q. Why do you think that was?
My father was very instrumental in my life, helping me with investments and business. He was a very loving, wise man. But if there’s one thing maybe my father did wrong, it was the way he went about getting us to rehearse. He wanted to instill in us a desire to achieve and do our best, but he would do that by telling us we weren’t good enough and needed to work harder. Subconsciously, I think that left me feeling not as good as others. I ended up wanting to be the best of all, and thinking I’d never make it, and that was very discouraging starting out. That’s always stayed with me – that feeling of low self-esteem – because of what my father said.
Q. Obviously, you haven’t let self-doubts hold you back. How did you get past them?
I think many entertainers struggle with insecurities. I remember talking with Bob Hope about that once. Underneath, he had his insecurities, too. I had a secret way – Whenever I was recording sentimental or beautiful songs, I used to think of my children. I’d just picture their sweet and beautiful faces. One song I remember is Yellow Beach Umbrella. Something about it reminded me of Bobby, my youngest son, and just made me smile. If you like that song, you can blame it on Bobby. (Laughs.)
Q. I do like that song… That explains the hint of playfulness I’ve always heard in it. What are you most proud of in your life?
My children. I’m proud of all three of them. I used to worry about my legacy, being remembered as one of the greatest crooners. Now, as long as my wife and kids love me, I can’t worry what people are going to think. Whether you go down in history like Elvis Presley – I don’t really care. I used to worry about that, but it’s not important. Children, integrity, faith – they’re what’s important.
Q. You’ve often been dubbed, “Mr. Christmas.” Why is Christmas so huge in your life?
Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, from the time I was a small kid. It was always a favorite time for our family and relatives to get together. We sang carols door to door. I kind of like what it stands for and the whole religious part of it.
And the music – I mean, it’s some of the most glorious music there is. I get thrilled singing with a choir. There’s nothing like singing at Christmas. And, It’s the Most Wonderful time of the Year was written specifically for me. It’s sort of my Christmas song. At Christmastime in Branson we have big sets, dancing reindeers…even the Cookie Bear. It’s a lovely, family-oriented Christmas show.
Q. What do you enjoy most about entertaining live?
It’s really the orchestra that makes me want to sing, makes me feel the music. I think I’m most influenced by harmonies and chord structure of the orchestra. I hear every right and wrong note. Things no one else hears. I think that’s where my phrasing comes from. My 10-member band sounds like a full orchestra, with brass and woodwind synthesizers. That makes it fun for me because of all the sounds I enjoy in it. And it’s just the joy of the audience’s reaction, what they give me for those two hours.
Q. How do you stay fit and healthy?
Thankfully, I’m in pretty good shape. I eat well – number one – mainly just staying away from a lot of fats. And I love yogurt – I have it every morning. I work out some, do the treadmill every day. I walk around Branson every morning for about 45 minutes, up and down hills. Play golf.
[At one time], I went to the Pritikin Longevity Center. Part of the time was devoted to foods you should eat and cardiovascular exercise. I have kept to that pretty much throughout my life. Also, my mother and father lived to be pretty old and they were always healthy, so I think I’m blessed that way.
Q. Do you see yourself retiring? Or leaving Branson?
Well, eventually I probably will stop singing. I’m slowing down, but life now is just fun. You can’t manufacture it. I’m just as relaxed as can be…and I think I’m still singing well. If you take care of your body, your voice will be OK. If you let your body fall apart, the diaphragm won’t hold the same kind of pressure and you won’t sound good. I plan to keep singing here as long as people want to keep seeing me. I love it here. I’m staying.
To read a post recalling one evening of special light in Andy’s Moon River Theatre, click here: Remembering…candles in the darkness
🙂 FOR THOSE WHO WOULD LOVE TO READ THE MORE COMPLETE INTERVIEW: I’ve just attached a copy of the article I wrote based on this interview to my header page, PORTFOLIO . You can read it in the BONUS section at the lower part of that page. Enjoy!
© Pam Depoyan