Johnny Mathis Talks 68-CD Box Set of Entire Catalog, Including Unreleased Album With CHIC: Hear 3 Tracks

Eliot Lee Hazel
Johnny Mathis

"The Voice of Romance: The Columbia Original Album Collection" arrives Friday.

Fans of the legendary Johnny Mathis are in for a treat this holiday season. The singer’s entire catalog of studio albums for Columbia Records will be reissued in a massive 68-CD box set on Dec. 8 titled The Voice of Romance: The Columbia Original Album Collection.

“I'm just thrilled with the whole project,” Mathis tells Billboard. “When they said they were going to release all of my recordings that I've done,” he laughs, “I said, 'You mean, all of them?'

“Everything, essentially, that I have recorded is in this tiny little box. It was thrilling to see the different album covers… they've miniaturized all of my big ol' LPs. That was fascinating.” 

All 67 of his albums for Columbia -- including two previously unreleased sets -- are in the box, along with a bonus disc of rare and unreleased recordings. Further, 62 of the 67 albums have been remastered for this box. Each copy of The Voice of Romance, released through Legacy Recordings, includes 25 albums that are out on CD for the first time, as well as a hand-signed numbered certificate from Mathis.

Of particular note is that one of the previously unreleased albums inside the box is a set written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the CHIC Organization titled I Love My Lady. The album was recorded in late 1981 and early 1982, but was shelved until its inclusion in this box. Billboard has an exclusive preview (see below) of three of the album’s remastered songs: “Something to Sing About,” “Fall In Love (I Want To)” and “Love and Be Loved.”

Mathis says he “very much” enjoyed the recording sessions with Rodgers and Edwards.

“I didn't know what they expected of me,” he says. “I had my own way of recording, and this was quite different, because they were right there, in the studio with me. I sort of did some of it piecemeal. They would say, 'Sing it this way,' and I would, and I'd do it the best I could. And of course it always turned out to be a little different from what they asked me to do. So it was a wonderful experience for me as a singer, recording in that manner. I loved it.”

Mathis says that Rodgers and Edwards would work their CHIC magic in the studio while Mathis left the studio for perhaps a meal, and then he would return and they would already have a finished track for him to listen to. “They were that fast,” he says.

Mathis, still marveling at the speed and technologic capabilities of the CHIC Organization, says, “What usually happened is that they would say, 'Come on, we're going to get in the car, and we're going to drive to the restaurant or we're going to have dinner, and in the meantime, you're gonna listen to what you've recorded, in the car…' And it was just the most wonderful thrill to be able hear that put together -- because it takes a long time to record a lot of that stuff.”

Rodgers tells Billboard in a statement that the album was created “during what I’d like to refer to as ‘our age of artistic exploration and the search for growth and development.’ When Johnny Mathis came into our world it was like a gift from the Art gods. He allowed us young, idealistic producers, with a love of music, to try and fuse that love into a new form of pop/jazz/R&B. There are no words to express my eternal gratitude for the result.”

Mathis says of Rodgers, specifically, “Over the years, I've been so happy, because Nile shows up at some of my performances. And he's such a wonderful, wonderful… not only musician, but a person to be around. He has so much knowledge. He's been all over the place.”

If the recording sessions were so enjoyable, and resulted in such notable tunes (just take a listen to our exclusive previews), why was the album shelved?

“Great big question-mark mystery in my mind. Absolutely,” Mathis says. “I thought it was some of the best things that I'd done for that period of time, when that music de rigueur. I just have this great big question mark.”