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Whole Lotta Nostalgia: Inside Veteran Hitmaker Pat Boone’s The Gold Label On Its 20th Anniversary

Veteran hitmaker Pat Boone looks back at the durability and legacy of his niche imprint, The Gold Label, on its 20th anniversary.

Twenty years ago, Pat Boone was mad as hell. Despite having sold over 45 million records and earning nearly 40 top 40 hits, the singer-songwriter of “Love Letter in the Sand,” “Speedy Gonzalez” and more found himself at the turn of the millennium out of favor and away from the spotlight. Like so many singers from that time, the multimedia personality and six-time Grammy Award nominee felt there was little industry interest in his work at a time when *NSYNC, Eminem, Britney Spears, Creed and Destiny’s Child dominated radio; Santana was in the midst of a comeback; and The Beatles’ 1 was, well, No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

So in 1999, anger — and what Boone calls “opportunism” — led the singer to launch The Gold Label, an imprint for himself and other disenfranchised veterans, which he now calls “the senior tour.” “I felt like, ‘Wait a minute. We’re still alive, still performing — and we can’t get our records even put out on a record label?’ That’s not right,” says Boone, 85, who also brought his contemporary Christian label, Lamb & Lion Records, into Gold Label’s fold. “We were out there still performing the songs that helped build those labels, and those labels were still selling those old records. But record companies didn’t see fit to have us continue to record.”

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Under Boone’s leadership, The Gold Label and its four-person, Los Angeles-based team have released nearly 100 albums and DVDs including new recordings for then-still active acts Glen Campbell, The Four Freshmen, Toni Tennille, The Lettermen, Patti Page, Lou Rawls, Merv Griffin, Roger Williams and others. They also put out records by Boone; his late wife, Shirley; and his daughter Debby.

The firm maintains a steady array of direct-sale, private-label and custom CD and DVD projects that are manufactured at a clip of 5,000 to 20,000 units, plus deals in books and sheet music, and educational products with a Christian bent, through its BooneAudio banner under Lamb & Lion. Specialty and custom projects remain a staple of Gold Label’s catalog. The imprint gets “a regular influx” of master licensing requests from around the world and has created special bundles for Boone’s 1997 LP, In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, which included covers of songs by Metallica, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne; his 70th anniversary concert for Israel in 2017; and its Ambient Series for retailer Hobby Lobby. “They put those out chainwide and sell 7,000 to 10,000 units. For us as a small label, that was a nice deal,” says Dana McElwain, The Gold Label’s Colorado-based project manager and business development director. “Like most labels, we have to rely on everywhere we can to generate revenue. You can’t just rely on distribution.”

“Pat had a genuine concern for so many of the artists that he respected who just didn’t have an outlet — and he fit into that category himself,” says The Gold Label vp and staff producer David Diggs, who began working with Boone 13 years prior to the label’s founding. The concept, according to Diggs, was to target acts that were part of the 45-plus demographic with “two or more” gold records but no current major-label deal.

Pat Boone and David Foster
Boone (left) with composer David Foster at the Grammy Museum in 2015. Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

Boone still laughs about the company’s launch event: a press conference at the Recording Academy headquarters in Los Angeles. It took place the same day A&M Records closed and put hundreds of its staffers on the street. “I had the presumption to launch a label right when people with a lot more experience and money shut theirs down,” says Boone. “That struck a lot of people as curious.” Nevertheless, he was confident in his business model, which provided each signee with a $50,000 budget for recording and promotion, which they could add to at their discretion. “I knew if we sold 15,000 or 20,000 records, we could recoup,” says Boone. “If you planned and were diligent, you could make a good record with that kind of money. I think we’ve wound up helping some artists create very good records on their own and contributed to their ongoing careers.”

Boone’s own lengthy musical career helped him relate to acts on Gold Label’s roster. “They’re very much oriented toward the artist,” says Fiona Taylor, the widow of Ventures drummer Mel Taylor and the surf-guitar group’s continuing business manager. “It’s not like working with one of the big major companies where you’re just a small cog, especially as you get older and you’re with people who don’t know an awful lot about what went on in the old days. That’s not the case with Gold Label. We’re all on the same page.”

In the two decades since its inception, the company — now distributed by MVD Entertainment Group in Pennsylvania and New Day Christian Distribution in Tennessee — has expanded into new genres, landing albums and singles on Billboard’s country and R&B charts, including the 2006 compilation We Are Family – R&B Classics featuring James Brown and Smokey Robinson, and 2016’s Part of America Died. It has also worked with artists from younger demographics in recent years, including big-band crooner Ryan DeHues, jazz musician (and Boone’s musical director) Dave Siebels and Diggs’ daughter Rachel Diggs, whose 2008 single “Hands of Time” earned a synch on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.

The Gold Label’s durability has not come without challenges. Andy Williams and Steve & Eydie (aka Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme), artists Boone courted early in the imprint’s history, opted to sign elsewhere; then one of its first distributors, Valley Media, went bankrupt. Boone acknowledges that there were struggles until The Gold Label settled in with Allegro Media Group and subsequently followed executive Forrest Faubion to MVD in spring 2017.

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Throughout, Boone powered the label forward with his own releases, such as 2005’s “Thank You, Billy Graham,” an all-star tribute to the late Rev. Billy Graham co-written with Ambrosia’s David Pack and country star Billy Dean and featuring Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Rogers, Brad Paisley, Bono, Andrae Crouch and more. The following year, Boone composed “For My Country,” an anthem for the U.S. National Guard, followed by “Faith & Freedom” in 2017, which he wrote for the Faith & Freedom Coalition that conservative political activist and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed formed in 2009.

“We stay present in social media and keep the world out there and continue to grow the fan base, but really we’re selling to a niche,” says The Gold Label’s McElwain. “What we put out is definitely what we might call a harder sell. It’s really up to us to find out who the consumer is and how to reach them.” McElwain, who came to the company from Nashville’s Brentwood Music, says Gold Label’s touring legacy acts such as the rock’n’roll doo-wop group Sha Na Na, The Ventures and Boone himself help the cause by continuing to play live. “I really think the No. 1 thing now is the band’s got to be touring,” he says. “Their fans come out and see them, and they want to take something home with that. They’re die-hards and they want tangible, physical product. That’s the best selling point of all.”

Though he isn’t actively looking to expand, Boone has no intention of closing shop anytime soon. “I still believe there is an elder market that’s underserved, that’s not into hip-hop, not into rap, not into current stuff,” he says. “It’s a real labor of love, just like everything else I do with music.”

 


 

Sha Na Na and The Ventures Are Here To Stay

Two Gold Label mavericks mark milestone anniversaries with commemorative CDs.

Two of The Gold Label’s marquee acts, Sha Na Na and The Ventures, are celebrating their respective 50th and 60th anniversaries of their founding. The former released its 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition LP to mark the occasion in June, featuring 12 unreleased live songs, three studio bonus tracks and more.

“It started as college fun back at Columbia University,” says co-founder John “Jocko” Marcellino. “But we still rock.” The group’s big break came when Jimi Hendrix convinced organizers of the first Woodstock festival in 1969 to add the then-rising 12-member group to the bill, which led to a syndicated TV series and an appearance in the 1978 film Grease. The band still plays about 20 gigs annually.

Sha Na Na
Sha Na Na onstage circa 1970. Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Meanwhile, venerable instrumental hitmakers The Ventures, known for recording the theme to ’60s TV show Hawaii Five-0, have entered their seventh decade and play as many as 60 shows per year. The group, which was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, will celebrate its longevity this year with a pair of new albums: Live at Daryl’s House Club, released in Japan in June, and their commemorative 60th-anniversary release, V60, due later in 2019.

The Ventures
The Ventures in 1961. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“There’s a lot of historic content that has been [sitting] around in boxes,” says Fiona Taylor, widow of Ventures drummer Mel Taylor, of the dozen unreleased recordings from the band’s sessions in 1988 with Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter that appear on the record. “The lifelong fans will be very interested.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the July 27 issue of Billboard.