Andy Williams

Now in his seventh decade of performing, Andy Williams is an evergreen icon of Christmas standards. But the smooth-voiced crooner had a lively career long before he began singing songs about "the most wonderful time of the year."

In the '50s, he was a featured regular on "The Tonight Show" with Steve Allen, and, in the '60s, his own variety show ran for 12 years on NBC. From the late '50s through the early '70s, he released a string of hit singles and albums including "Moon River," "Can't Get Used to Losing You," and Love Story.

His relationship with controversial singer-actress Claudine Longet was tabloid fodder in the '60s and '70s and he was instrumental in igniting the careers of the Osmond Brothers and Atlanta native Ray Stevens. Williams' star dimmed during the late '70s and '80s, but he successfully rebounded as the first pop performer to open a showcase theater in family-oriented Branson, Mo.'s resort area.

CL recently spoke with Williams at his Moon River Theater as he readied for a holiday-themed mini-tour. He performs in Atlanta Dec. 15-16 to benefit the Atlanta Opera.

Creative Loafing: You'll be doing all Christmas material on this show. Are you promoting a new album, as well?

Andy Williams: I haven't recorded, except for live things here at the theater, for 10 years. I don't do rap or hip-hop records. The music business is a different world today. The record companies are all fighting each other to get people who will appeal to kids. If you think about it, you don't hear much of Elton John or any of the big ones from the last 10 or 15 years ago on the radio. It's youth-oriented. And that's the way it should be.

You are famous for your interpretations of standards and classic movie themes, but have you ever tried songwriting?

No. I was brought up in the era where people sang, and you had songwriters who wrote the songs. But, again, things have changed. Now you have the songwriter as the artist and the quality of the singer has changed a lot, too. Paul Simon is not a wonderful singer, but he writes wonderful songs and he interprets them in his way. It's the same with Elton John. I love them both, but they're not Vic Damone or Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra.

Recently there's been a wave of established rock artists — like Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper — going back and recording the classics.

Rod Stewart is a great entertainer and a terrific song stylist, but he has no more right singing standards as Jerry Lewis. But he's not selling in today's market so he's getting the fans he has to go the other way.

I don't think adults who like Frank Sinatra are gonna go buy [Rod Stewart]. I think it'll be his fans from the last 20 years who'll buy it and that's it. He does [standards] fine. He doesn't do them the way I would do them, but he does them in his own style.

Same with Cyndi Lauper. I think she's talented as can be, but she can't sell a single record. Not saying anything against her, it's just that things change. She's doing whatever she can to make it work.

You have a rich catalog of your Columbia material still in print and you've inherited Bing's "King of Christmas Music" title.

I have taken on the mantle of "Mr. Christmas" for the last few years now — well, the last 15 or 20 years. Most people put out one Christmas album. I've got six. Most people do one Christmas special. I did 12. So it's OK with me, because I like Christmas.

Will the Atlanta show be the same one you do in Branson in November and December?

Yes, but here we have big sets and reindeer and dancing penguins. On the road, it's more like a concert. We have a full band and singers. Plus we'll have a local choir and I'll bring some kids up on stage, too. I like kids and its very Christmas-y.

So the kids like you even though you don't rap.

Actually, I do a rap in the show. It's a Christmas rap.

There's your next hit record.

Well, we'll see about that. Seeing me up there doing a rap is funny.

Andy Williams performs Mon.-Tues., Dec. 15-16, at the Atlanta Civic Center. $19-$85.