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Friday, May 24, 2019
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Barry Manilow talks Christmas songs, retiring from touring and whether you'll ever see him as a hologram

Given his rep for schmaltz and sentiment, it's impossible that Barry Manilow could have made it through the '70s without popping up on some cheesy network holiday variety special. Right?

"I may have," the legendary singer-songwriter said by phone recently. "I remember singing my version of Joni Mitchell's River on some TV show, so I must have done one of those variety things. I don't remember which one."

It could have been any of them. Manilow is a man made for the holidays, whose crowd-pleasing sensibilities square perfectly with the pageantry of the season. He has released three Christmas albums, two gold and one platinum, and last year launched his first full-scale holiday production, dubbed "A Very Barry Christmas."

On Dec. 7, Manilow, 75, will bring the show to Tampa, mixing Christmas standards and originals in with hits like Copacabana and I Write the Songs. He's also hosting an instrument drive benefitting local schools, offering tickets in exchange for gently used instruments at the Amalie Arena box office.

Calling from his home in Palm Springs, Manilow reflected on Christmas songs, his holiday traditions with long-term partner Garry Kief, the likelihood of a Barry Manilow hologram and more.

This is the first time you've brought the holiday tour to Tampa. What's special about these?

Who doesn't like the Christmas holidays? You've got to be Scrooge. After all the craziness that's been going on, everybody needs a little Christmas. I've always loved the time of the year. Whenever I've been on the road, when it gets to November-December, I drag out the Christmas songs. We'd done this particular show last year and it went over really well. There's snow and Christmas trees and presents and children. Everything you could imagine for a Christmas show.

You're Jewish, are you not?

I was raised Jewish, in a Jewish family, in a Jewish neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But my mother remarried and I got an Irish stepfather. The first year he was with me, when I was 13, he brought home a silver aluminum Christmas tree with blue balls. I'll never forget it.

What was the first Christmas song you remember appreciating?

Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters' Jingle Bells.

It's a classic.

I did my own version of their arrangement on my first album. I love it so much.

So now how do you celebrate the holidays? You don't have kids, so is it just you and Garry? How do you spend Christmas Day?

We used to have a lot of people coming through our house over the years. It's quieted down for Garry and I. People drop by. Palm Springs is a small town, and we have loads of friends here, so it's always very festive. The business calms down, as you must know, so the phone stops ringing and I'm not running around. That lets me catch up with all the stuff that I haven't done.

Back in 1984, you sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl here in Tampa. What do you remember about that experience?

I'm not a sports fan, so I really don't go to games at all. I didn't realize how big this event was. Both teams stood on both sides of me, and I'm a tall guy, but I felt like a munchkin compared to the size of these men. I do remember feeling very small.

The other thing I remember about it: They insisted that I lip-synch. I would have been happy to sing it live, but because of, I don't know, technical problems or whatever, they always made the singer lip-synch, at least in those days. Somebody found out that I was lip-synching and it was a big deal. It was kind of a scandal.

Before your last performance in Tampa, I asked if it would be your last time here, and you said it might be. Now you're back again. So I guess I'll ask again: Do you think this will be your last time in Tampa?

You know, I can't say last. I have stopped touring the way I used to tour. We do one-nighters. We're doing three in Florida and three in L.A., and that's it. I used to go out for months at a time, then take a couple of weeks off, and go out again for months at a time. That was my life for 30-some-odd years. Well, I had had it. That was the end. So I did a "One Last Time" tour, and it was the end of my big days of touring. So when I spoke to you about it, I didn't know whether we would ever be back anywhere.

There's a lot of that now among performers of your generation. Elton John, Paul Simon, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss.

Touring is a young guy's thing. The kind of tours that I spent most of my life doing, you don't have a life. You have a hotel life, or you have an airplane life. After a while, just like me, it's getting to everybody. "What happened to my life?" I kept saying. "One more lousy dressing room in some arena with smelly socks and jock straps hanging in the closet." But I always qualified it by saying I'm not done performing, because I do love it, and I don't want to lose my band and my crew. It really is the touring, and that's what I think most of my colleagues are feeling.

Have you ever talked about creating a Barry Manilow hologram?

I beg your pardon? A hologram?

Yeah, a hologram of yourself. To perform in perpetuity.

I haven't. But I sure would love them to do it to some of the older singers, like Frank Sinatra. I wish they would do that. That would be great fun. But do they work? Aren't they exorbitantly expensive?

They must be. There's a Roy Orbison one.

Roy Orbison as a hologram? Does it work?

Apparently. They've had success in Europe and across America.

Wow. No, I never thought about it. After I croak, maybe somebody will think about it. I've got so many concerts on tape, they probably could get something like that. But not while I'm still working.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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