Q&A: Mathis On New Box Set, Yoga And ‘Simpsons’

Chances are you haven’t heard these Johnny Mathis albums – but that will change.

The 78-year-old singer is dropping a 13-CD box set of unsuccessful commercial albums released from 1963 to 1967, when Mathis left his longtime label, Columbia Records, for Mercury Records and Global Records, his own production company.

Photo: Omar Vega/Invision/AP
Posing for a portrait in Los Angeles.

The Complete Global Albums Collection will be released on Nov. 17. It includes 10 albums that have been digitally mastered. It also features an unreleased album of Broadway show tunes and two albums that contain other unreleased songs and non-album singles.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the “Chances Are” singer – who is listed to perform two dozen live shows this year – talked about the box set, recording new music, trying yoga and appearing on “The Simpsons.”

AP: What was it like when you left Columbia for your own label in the ‘60s?

Mathis: I didn’t have the luxury of a producer and it kind of shows on a lot of the stuff, but it was a good adventure for me. I did get a chance to meet Quincy Jones and become really good friends with him because he was at a high-level position at Mercury Records.

Did you enjoy the responsibility?

I did some good stuff at Mercury, but I was kind of lonely and didn’t have the checks and balances that I have at Columbia, so after about two years I kind of exhausted all my energies, but I’m very happy that I did something earlier on in my career that made me realize that nobody, and I mean nobody, does anything in this world by themselves. You need a lot of help.

Are you working on new music?

I just recorded a couple of Christmas songs. One with David Koz, a wonderful friend of mine and great saxophone player, and I sang with the Count Basie Orchestra.

Since you’ve had a long career, would you ever consider mentoring young talent on a show like “American Idol”?

I’m a little ambiguous about shows like that. Giving advice to someone on such a short notice … I think it’s kind of good publicity for the celebrity who is sitting there … You can’t be really too sure of yourself when you’re seeing someone sing one song. I realize it’s a great outlet for anyone who wants to perform … but it can be a little disheartening … It’s kind of good, kind of bad. I don’t watch it. I cringe when these so-called celebrities tell these people what they should do.

How was life been outside of music?

I’m trying to figure out how much exercise I need … Someone said, “Have you ever tried to do some yoga stuff?” … I’m torn between starting a whole new routine of exercises or sticking with the ones I have. That’s the thing that happens I think with performers who get a little older and wonder how they can keep their appearance up.

How’s the yoga going?

This is my third day. I need a little bit more time. I’ve seen it and I know people who do it and I thought: “Let’s try it. Let’s see.” Because it’s very good for breathing, I know that and that’s a very big, big part of what I do onstage. … I get up at 4:30 in the morning to go to my gym classes and I have been doing that for a very long time … but the yoga thing is about a week old and we’ll see how long that lasts.

What are your goals?

Well, you know what, I went out yesterday and had an epiphany about my golf game, and it really, really helped me. Golfing is very addictive and I’m able to do it because I put aside a lot of time to do it. … I also have a lot of interaction with people who have projects that they want me to get involved with, and most of it is music. … I did something the other day that was kind of fun. I went and recorded dialogue for a show called “The Simpsons.”

That’s so cool!

Yeah, I know. I thought that was the coolest thing I’ve done in a long time. … I went to the studio … and the guy who does Homer Simpson was recording a lot of stuff, and I sat fascinated, listening to him go over and over certain lines … then I did my little part. I am playing an English gardener who is beset by a lot of gophers and I sing a little bit of “Chances Are” … changed the words a little bit of the song and it’s all about, you know, I got this torch, this blow torch that I’m killing gophers with (laughs).