I love tackling different genres of music, as there is little I won't listen to. Over the last few years I have developed a slight bond with jazz and songs from the great American songbook. Toss a throwback from my childhood into the mix and my curiosity is more than peaked. Donny Most, the familiar face and voice behind Ralph Malph from the television show Happy Days has been performing these songs for decades, but in the last couple of years decided to take it out on the road and perform killer songs that are near and dear to his heart for fans of jazz, the standards, and fans of his. With two shows booked at the Lexington Village Theatre in Lexington, MI, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to chat with Donny on the phone about his singing, his love of the music, and more...
Donny: Thank you. I'm really looking forward to coming up there, doing my show, and letting people know about it.
Toddstar: You mentioned it, so let's get to it right off the bat. You're coming to the Lexington Village Theater in a little under two weeks. We're excited to have you come up here, but tell us about your show. Tell us about your music. What can we expect when you storm the stage, so to speak?
Donny: I've always loved, since I was very young, I actually was singing when I was young, before I got into acting. I was performing in the Catskill Mountains, up in the hotels up there. It was a resort area, and doing the nightclubs when I was 14 and 15 years old. I always loved the Great American Songbook, and the jazz standards, big band swing, and all the greats, so I decided to put a show together because I'd put it aside for so long. Once I turned into, when I shifted gears and went into acting, and got into Happy Days, I put the music on the back burner for a while. Part of the thing was back then, this music wasn't really in favor. When you're talking about the 70's and early 80's, it was looked upon sort of almost like my parent's music, or grandparent's music, even. It's had such a resurgence in the last ten years or so, with artists like Michael Buble, Harry Connick, and Diana Krall, and all kinds of people who brought back the American Songbook. Tony Bennett probably helped usher it back in many ways. I realized if I was ever going to do it, this would be the time, so about two years ago, I put together the show. It's all of my favorites, so it's music that Sinatra, and Dean Martin, and Bobby Darin, and Tony Bennett, and all the greats, and some great music from the Big Band Era, the Count Basie, Joe Williams kind of stuff, so it's joyous, it swings, it's exciting. It's that kind of music that I've just loved my whole life. I'm having a blast doing it, just a complete, wonderful time.
Toddstar: For anybody who doesn’t know you sing, they should go to donnymost.com, and check out the music page. You actually get to hear you sing some of these songs that you talk about, and the one, for me, was the first video featured, "Mack the Knife." I was a kid who grew up on Happy Days, it wasn't the guy I expected to hear. It really floored me with how talented you are.
Donny: Thank you, yeah. You mentioned "Mack," and I mentioned all my musical heroes, but the one that had the most influence on me, of them all, was Bobby Darin. I loved Bobby so much. I got to see him at the Copacabana when I was 18 years old, twice. He was just amazing. "Mack the Knife" was a song, when I started following Bobby, I probably played that record over, and over, and over until it was worn out, and sang along with it every single time, so that one's really special to me. I usually close the show with it. It's kind of uncanny. I sing it in the same key that Bobby did it. I just know that song like the back of my hand, and people love it. They love when I do that. I do other stuff that Bobby did, but then, also Sinatra, and Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin. All that music, it's just so infectious. I made sure that the arrangements were the right kind for this music, and I have a great musical director. There's such attention to the detail and it's very joyful, at the same time, with this music.
Toddstar: I love that you've put the attention to the detail, because this music, like you said, it's the American Songbook. It's standards. It's not something that's really open to a ton of interpretation, unless you really want to rework it. What's it like for you to go back and take these songs, and really dissect them and be able to put your own stamp on them without recreating them, so to speak?
Donny: Yeah, you do want to put your own stamp on it. You don't want to mimic. I don't try to do impersonations of these artists, but I try to take the essence, and all the things that were great about it, about the arrangements, and about the feeling of this music, then filter it through whatever prism that I have, that I can bring to it, and bring my own personality, and the qualities that my voice lends to it, so it does become my own, but I think I'm very true to the essence of the music, and try to honor it. You know? That's important to me, and I think it's great when people reinterpret some of this stuff and make it very unique, and I think that it's great when people can do that, but I also don't want to do it for the sake of doing it. I like to try to keep the things that made it great still ring true. That's important to me.
Toddstar: The music is great - watching the videos that I was able to see, and luckily I'll be able to see you do this live for 90 minutes in Lexington. Looking back over the songs that you have done, or that you have adapted, Donny, are there any songs that you've given your best shot, and just didn't come across the way that you wanted them to, so you don't really put them out there?
Donny: I don't know. There was one or two that I did early on in the show that I haven't gone back to. I guess it was a matter of which ones felt the most comfortable, but most of them, I keep in and rotate. I might shift around, like in one show, say, "We haven't done this in a while, let's bring this one back," because I like to keep it fresh, so I didn't want to just do the same songs every single time I do a show. We've build enough of a repertoire where I can keep it fresh by rotating them around, and mixing, and matching, but I guess there were a couple that I haven't done that didn't feel quite as good as the rest. Maybe, at some point, I'd go back to them and say, "You know what? We just need to work on it a little more, or shape it a little differently." Some of it, when we first put the show together, we were putting so many songs together at once, that maybe we didn't give enough attention, or the right attention to a couple of them. I'll revisit them, probably, at some point.
Donny: Oh yeah, without a doubt. Unbeknownst to me, Anson, in the first season, had gone to Garry Marshall and pitched him the idea of letting us form a band, and that he was a singer. He tells a very funny story about how this happened in his book, called Singing to a Bulldog, and how it went down with Garry. Garry did let him do it, so when I started to see that, "Oh my God, we have a band, and Anson's doing all this music, there was a point when I set up a meeting with my manager and myself, to meet with Garry and pitch him the fact that I was singing before, and that maybe there was a place for me to do some, as well, but Garry, he had a very set idea on the fact that he had established the band, and that Anson was established as the singer. He didn't think it would be right to then, all of a sudden, to shift and change that. It was funny, he said to me, "If I was putting together an act, and I already had a juggler, I wouldn't need two jugglers." I said, "Oh okay." I saw he was pretty set on that, so there was only so much I could do. Then, there were a couple of episodes where I did actually get to sing. There was a Valentine's special that was sort of a fantasy episode, and that I sang. There was one other one, but it was a little tough at times, but I guess, the reality was also that the music that I really loved was the standards, and jazz, and all that, so that wouldn't have been appropriate on the show, anyway, but there are also some songs from the 50's that I love, and from that genre. Actually during my show, I'll tell this whole story in a little more detail, and hopefully, with some humor, and then I do a song that is a real iconic 50's song. I say, "If I had gotten a chance to sing on the show, this is maybe one of the ones I would have done, and here's how I would have done it," so I do have some fun with that, as well.
Toddstar: Excellent. I also understand that when you roll into Lexington to do two shows on Saturday, September 24th, you're actually going to hire some local musicians.
Donny: Yeah, exactly. We're going to. My musical director comes with me, and then the rest of the band is going to be filled out by local musicians. Then, we'll have a rehearsal, one rehearsal, but these are musicians who can read music really well, since all our arrangements are charted. If they're good readers, it should be- I've been doing this because it's kind of tough to go around with the whole band. Unless the economics allow for that, but that's kind of tough, right now, so this has been working. This has been working out really well, because a lot of the jazz musicians, you know, they can do that. It still amazes me how they can just look at the music and pretty much play it like they've been playing it forever. I still get a big kick out of that, and have a huge appreciation for these musicians that can do that.
Toddstar: That's great. You've done so much - you've done acting; you do the singing; you're even a director putting together some feature films. What is it about the singing gives you, professionally and personally, what the acting and the directing didn't or doesn't?
Donny: That's a great question. They're all a little bit different, and I love them all. I love acting and I love doing the directing, but yeah, the singing is different because I guess, for 90 minutes, or 75 to 90 minutes, it's just you with your audience, and you're sharing this music, and you're living with the music. It's a very visceral, it's so visceral and, I often say, I get high. I get extremely high on this music. I get lost and swept away with it. It's like a wave, if I was a surfer. I would think it's like you catch this wave, and you just go with it and see where it takes you. It's always a little different. Doing it and communing with a live audience with it is wonderful. I've done theater where I've had live audiences, but it's not me, like a one-man show, like this is. It's a whole journey. I guess that's as best as I can describe it.
Donny: Thank you so much, yeah. I'm really looking forward to it, and I really think people can enjoy the show, just have a great time sharing the incredible music of the Great American Songbook.
Toddstar: We look forward to you bringing that to us, and I look forward to seeing you and hearing you do what you do, Donny.
Donny: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Toddstar: All right. We'll talk to you soon.
Donny: Okay. Bye-bye.
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