Tony Orlando sounds glad and grateful he’s tied into a part of American history.
Speaking last month by phone from Branson, Mo., where he has lived for years, the man who recorded “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” with the female duo Dawn almost 30 years ago spoke about the song’s second life as an anthem when 52 Americans were held hostage from November 1979 for 444 days.
When Orlando plays The Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach on Thursday, he also will sing hits such as “Candida” and some other collaborations from his time with Dawn, including “Knock Three Times,” “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?” “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)” and “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You).”
Question | Seeing “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” spur a theme with which people knotted yellow ribbons around trees at the turn of the 1980s and at other subsequent times of challenge for this country overseas during troop deployments, had you foreseen the song becoming a heartfelt tool for people to hold out hope?
Answer | It continues to be a symbol of hope and homecoming. After I recorded that, … I was only the mailman who delivered the letter; that’s all I was. The letter took hold of the American spirit and American people, and they made it a cornerstone for welcoming Americans home. Whether in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, you always see the yellow ribbon. …
We never recorded it based on a military experience. It was originally a love song, about a prisoner who comes home. That welcoming was a surprise to the guy in the song, and the passengers in the bus cheered. They said, “See, she still loves you.”
Q. | You became a part of American culture with Dawn extending to a TV variety show on CBS from an era where Sonny & Cher, Donny & Marie, and Glen Campbell amplified their music on camera. What memories – for better or for worse – still hit your heart at thoughts from a time when the world might have seemed simpler, and perhaps people overall were happier? Have your feelings about the 1970s changed with time?
A. | We went on the air in 1973, in midseason, then for full seasons from 1974 until 1977. When they replayed our summer shows, those 1974 shows, they replayed the entire season, which had never been done before. CBS actually replayed every single show, so we were on for a full year. They repeated the 12 shows to make it 26 shows, and in 1974, but repeated it in the summer, when it was the midseason. So we were on for four full years. … It was a wonderful run, as they say.
I also want to let people know that Dawn and I, we’re still very close friends. Telma Hopkins has gone on to be a great sitcom actress, on “Bosom Buddies” first, then on “Gimme A Break!” then “Family Matters, “Getting By,” “Half & Half” on UPN for five years, then on to “Are We There Yet?” on TBS. She was never off the air from 1973 until this year. … Joyce Vincent Wilson continues to work with everybody. She works singing background with different artists and does jingles and is known very well for singing with her sister, Pam Vincent. And Joyce has a … wonderful story, and she’s a very good gospel singer.
Q. | What other changes and innovations have marveled you in your 68 years of aging gracefully?
A. | It’s become so automated. … Everything is real time because of the Internet. In the 1970s, in that time period, you had a half-hour of national news. Now you have news 24/7. There’s not one big story that’s done that’s not breaking. You have all these forms of communication that are in real time, all sandwiched into the present moment.
Time is needed to make decisions. I often wonder what would have happened if the forefathers didn’t have time to rewrite the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They respelled it; they rewrote it. They edited it with nothing to get in the way of time. The speed of things in which we live because of the Internet has changed everybody’s lifestyle.
Q. | Talking on this day after the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, what thoughts cross your mind as a native New Yorker?
A. | There’s a spot in New Jersey where that duel took place between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, and a little marker at the spot. It might have the most beautiful view of Manhattan. … With 9/11, I hope we never forget it. This is going to go on and on. We have to be prepared to deal with it. And I think we should make sure we have our young people aware of history, just as the Second World War can never be forgotten.
Q. | With Veterans Day coming up in November, what special plans fill your calendar?
A. | For me to be a guy who helps raise money for military needs, I’m getting ready for another free show, for the 19th year, in Branson. We are now the second largest gathering of veterans … with 175,000 vets in the month of November. We started with 600 … and now all of the theaters have shows for veterans. … And we take money we’ve raised through the years and buy wheelchairs and vans for those who need it in small towns, and to help welcome returning military.
Q. | People at one time saw Myrtle Beach bearing potential as another Branson. What makes Branson such a vacation paradise for people who live here and Myrtle Beach a getaway and tour stop for you?
A. | I love Myrtle Beach. … Someday, I’ve love to do a Christmas show there. … For the Palace show in October, I’m looking forward to it. We’ll do a tribute to our veterans. …
I do 125 dates a year on the road, and I do my Christmas show here from November into December. The truth is, there’s a symbiotic relationship between Branson and Myrtle Beach, … which has magnificent golf courses. There’s close ties … with the theaters and the performers and the music and the Christmastime celebrations from November into December.
It’s a brother-sister relationship between Myrtle Beach and Branson. It’s not a competition as much as a brother-sister relationship. Really there’s three places, with Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Branson and Myrtle Beach, that are all so family oriented, with the kind of vacations to bring your families on. They’re very similar, with close ties in a wonderful triangle.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.