Las Vegas Sun

August 16, 2017

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The Orleans:

Marilyn McCoo + Billy Davis Jr.: How we keep music playing after 45 years of marriage, work



Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo.

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Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

Up, Up and Away

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In

One Less Bell to Answer

Fifth Dimension singers Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. have shared nearly half a century of togetherness, and it’s appropriate as Valentine’s Day nears that they’re still singing love songs to each other and fans.

They’ve worked together for 47 years and have been married for 45 years. This weekend with Valentine’s Day on Saturday at the Orleans, they are singing of love yet again and sharing “how they keep the music playing” after so long together.

The three of us are friends from their days appearing on “Solid Gold” when she hosted from 1981-1984 and again from 1986-1988. The duo joined me on “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” and “Runaway With the Rich & Famous,” and I recruited her for “Preview Next Seven Days.” They had a TV series in 1977.

They had a string of hits, among them “Up, Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” and many more. I caught up with them at home in Los Angeles as they prepared for their two nights of Orleans shows.

We’re so glad you’re coming back to Las Vegas. This was like a second home in a way for you?

It used to be. We haven’t been there in a while. We were there not too long ago to do a benefit, but to come back for a concert at one of the casinos is really nice. We’ve been looking forward to it. Playing the Orleans, it’s such a great place. We’re really looking forward to it.

And it’s Valentine’s Day Weekend, so obviously I have to ask you two lovebirds what Valentine’s Day means to you. You’ve been together 47 years in the business.

That’s right. And add in 45 years of marriage. Valentine’s Day to me is a chance to let that special person in your life know how much they mean to you. Make sure that you don’t just feel like they automatically know it because you can’t take those things for granted.

A lot of times when you’ve been together as long as we have, you just kind of take it for granted instead of expressing how you really feel about that person at that particular time.

One of my favorites, if not my most favorite song of all time, is “How Do You Keep the Music Playing.” And after 47 years together, your answer is?

Oh, yes. We love that song; we do that in our show. It starts off from the beginning as being friends. We carried that friendship all the way through until now. We never forget that about our friendship, and our friendship means a lot to us.

Do you ever get sick and tired of performing “Up, Up and Away”?

You know what, Robin, there are so many people who love to hear that song and the other familiar ones. When people hear that, they light up. We’ve watched people who are in their 60s and 70s go right back to when they were in their teens and 20s. It’s such a beautiful thing to see that. No, we don’t get tired of it. It’s fun.

You describe them as champagne soul and sunshine classics?

Yes because we’ll be doing all those classic numbers, and then we’ll go home, go downtown, down to some deep, down-home blues. The Las Vegas audience is going to hear the hits that they were hoping to hear, and then we’re going to do some songs for them that have been important in our lives and our careers. Billy is from St. Louis, and he can get real down.

You’ve had a remarkable career: seven Grammy Awards, 15 gold and three platinum records. Reasons for your success? Is it just the music, or is it the relationship that both of you project to the audience?

I think that when they watch the two of us, it gives a lot of people hope. Hope that maybe relationships can last if you really care about each other and if you nurture them.

A lot of people marvel when we come onstage in our relationship and how it projects from the stage. We don’t know it, but they tell us about it. They really enjoy watching that.

But other people do turn around and tell us they think we’re just entertainers and thus it’s a bunch of “yeah, right.” You can’t convince anybody. You have to be who you are, and people have to accept it or not.

But the two of you have always projected that magic of romance. In fact, it’s like shifting the car into automatic. It just seems so real, that that’s the way it is.

Well, that is the way it is, and we’re thankful for it. I think people see the joy in us when we perform because we enjoy performing together. We enjoy singing and being with each other onstage. We’re in our own little world, I guess. What they see is what we’re doing.

If the two of you hadn’t been singers, do you think you would have had the same magic?

You know, it’s very possible that that answer would be no. I don’t even think about that part of it because it is what it is, you know? Both of us wanted to sing since we were kids. We didn’t know each other. Billy was in St. Louis, and I was in L.A., but we both had that love of music, and that’s really I think what drew us together.

It’s probably also the glue that’s kept you together.

Oh, I’m quite sure.

Do you have a favorite song from all these iconic music tunes? You’ve got to like “One Less Bell.”

We still enjoy singing “One Less Bell.”

What does that one mean to you, Marilyn?

I’ve always liked torch songs, and that song is the definitive torch song. When you’re singing about a broken heart and everybody goes through it once. We all have those experiences in our lives, and I just always liked them from when I was young and didn’t have a broken heart yet.

(Billy interjects) I like “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” because I get to take off and have a ball.

What do you both love about Las Vegas?

It is the entertainment capital, so that’s always going to be appealing. We watched Las Vegas grow up. Robin, let’s face it, the Las Vegas of today is not the Las Vegas of 40 years ago. It’s really interesting to see how it has evolved. In a way, I kind of look at it and say, “Wow, this is just not the same place.”

You remember when we used to do the shows in the big rooms, and they had the full orchestra? You’d come downstairs with your suit and tie, and she’s dressed up and you have special tables. It was an event.

Today, it’s just a different kind of event. EDM and the nightclubs are definitely a different sound. It’s a different pulse, too. When you deal with digital music, it’s so straight ahead; it’s digital. Years ago, it had the feel of wherever the person who was doing it was going with that.

It’s going to always be different, and I think each generation is going to feel that. The music that follows it is not the same for whatever reason because it doesn’t mean the same thing to us that it means to the kids today.

It’s what you get used to. These kids grew up with that music, and that’s what they’re used to. But the thing that’s interesting is that the kids after a while start listening to the music that we like, and they start getting into that, saying, “Well, this is nice because I can feel something here that I don’t feel in the music that I’m used to.”

Do you believe that music is cyclical? In the sense that the songs of yesteryear where you could hear the lyrics clearly and they weren’t offensive can come back?

Absolutely. I think that everything in life is cyclical. I think that music is no different. As a matter of fact, some of the music that I’m hearing today that the younger people are doing, it seems like it’s coming back around. You’re starting to understand what they’re saying and understand the music. Some of it before, I couldn’t understand.

It got kind of out there, it got really out there, but there’s some music today that you can hear and say, “You know what, that’s not half bad.” But we can’t connect to vulgarity. We want to hear clean songs. We don’t even listen to it, so you aren’t going to find us rapping at the Orleans.

You aren’t rapping at the Orleans?

We won’t be breakdancing, either, because we’d probably break something.

Are you going to try to celebrate Valentine’s while you’re in Las Vegas?

That will be part of the celebration working there, but we won’t have time to go out to some little, quiet, cozy romantic dinner because we can’t eat before we perform. And we don’t want to eat too much after we finish because we don’t want to go to bed on a full stomach and have nightmares.

So we’ll be celebrating it onstage. And that’s where we keep the music playing.

Longtime lovebirds Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. perform at Orleans Showroom at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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