Hint: He’s the Cowboy.
You may not even know their names, but they are instantly recognizable: The Cowboy, Leatherman, Indian, Police Man (sometimes Naval Officer), Construction Worker, and G.I. And though they may be one of the most cartoonish bands to ever hit the stage, let’s be honest with each other: No matter how much of a stick in the mud you may be, you’ve done the “Y.M.C.A.” dance at least once. The Village People are, in a word, iconic.
“And I think we didn’t see it coming down the road,” recalls Randy Jones, the mustachioed, gingham-wearing Cowboy. “But we saw it immediately in front of us in our audiences. We saw the huge crowds of extremely diverse folk right there before our eyes enjoying our musical shenanigans.”
While The Village People might seem a little “much” by today’s standards, they were definitely in the spirit of their age. In contrast to every era before, 70’s bands were famous for wild clothing (ABBA), wild performances (Alice Cooper), or both (KISS). So when music producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, thought up the idea of an six-man disco group, the whole point was to take male archetypes Hollywood had promulgated since the 1920s and give them a level-11 70’s-style macho upgrade. There was no magic; Morali and Belolo simply took out an ad in a theatre trade paper that read “Macho Types Wanted: Must Dance And Have A Moustache.” The rest is record-setting history.
But if a band can belt out a song that later becomes enshrined in the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant,” which “Y.M.C.A.” was in March, clearly there is more than just dancing and mustaches.
“As they say in this business, ‘It has legs!’” says Jones, who goes on to explain how The Village People added a very simple component to their music to ensure audiences would keep coming back for more: “One of the many reasons for our longevity and success is that the audience does not find it difficult to enjoy what we do. It’s just fun. And as time has passed, that somehow has become a rare commodity.”
In other words, don’t look for a Village People remix from My Chemical Romance any time soon. Fun is probably why upbeat, good-time songs like “Macho Man” and “Y.M.C.A” not only have preternatural staying power, but cross just about every boundary there is. Young or old, White or Black, progressive or reactionary, gay or straight, The Village People is one of the very few bands everyone can bop along to.
And the band has been bopping for 50 years non-stop. Disco may have died, but The Village People are going strong, as is Jones. Now married to husband Will Grega, Jones splits his time between New York and Miami, almost always wearing his signature cowboy hat (rumor has it Disney based Woody from Toy Story in part on Jones). Type A to the core, he has not let something like a pandemic stop him; Jones has both movie and music projects in the works. Indeed, he was in the studio as this article was written.
“I am grateful and amazed every day that my legacy and work is somehow still relevant and ingrained so deeply in pop culture as a touchstone or firebrand,” Jones reflects. “But actually, that was our intent from the very beginning: to reach as many people as possible of ALL stripes. As artists, we want to share our work with the world. Success is sweet.”
What do you do in your down time?
I am currently prepping for work on a new thriller film to begin work in early 2021 and looking forward to a new film that we just finished, The Shuroo Process, directed by Emrhys Cooper. I’m also in the studio recording material for a new release and absolutely loving the process of working with musicians, writers and other people from all over the globe via the Internet. I love our gardens, my husband’s and mine. The roof garden in Manhattan and the gardens at our home in Florida. In Florida, everything grows year-round, 24/7.
Where do you like to dine?
Our kitchen. With all the traveling you do as an entertainer, there really is no place like home and our kitchen.
What are your favorite cuisines?
So many. But Italian, since my husband is and all the great diversity that the True American Southern kitchen presents. There is a great PBS program, “Somewhere South” that illustrates my point.
What are your favorite bars?
In Manhattan, The Monkey Bar and Bemelman’s in the Carlyle, especially when Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch appear there on Sunday evenings. And Harry’s New York Bar in Paris is still a comfort.
What are your favorite drinks?
When I would drink, vodka is the choice. Simple, perhaps with lime or lemon.
Do you prepare drinks at home?
Not really. Water is my friend.
Have you ever been a bartender?
Only as a celebrity guest bartender at The Palm in NYC with Tony Danza one evening for a cancer benefit, ha!