This was a thrill for me as I was a huge fan when I was young. It was a tough interview to arrange but I finally nailed it down and we had a lovely conversation about her upcoming show at Twin River on Friday, April 14th and a few other tidbits so please read on…
Olivia Newton John (ONJ): Hello, John…i am early but I wanted to see if you were ready yet!
John Fuzek (JF): Yes, I am! We had a kind of a mix up, I was supposed to talk with you last week but there was some kind of an e-mail snafu and the communications wound up lost in cyberspace
ONJ: So, here we are…
JF: Where are you calling from?
ONJ: I am actually in Las Vegas right now…
JF: Are you there to do more shows out there?
ONJ: No, I am actually here for a private visit
JF: Doing a little gambling?
ONJ: (laughs) Oh, no, no … I’m not a gambler …
JF: You have had quite the busy life … I have only seen you live once and that was back in 1976…
ONJ: That is quite a while ago!
JF: You must have been in your 20’s back then…
ONJ: Yeah, ’76 … I must have been … I was born in ’48 so, yeah, something like that…
JF: What is on tap for your show at Twin River? What can folks expect?
ONJ: Well, I do songs from my career … so it’s really a journey through my life…
JF: Will that include the hits that I am sure your fans want to hear?
ONJ: Well I won’t be able to sing every single song that I have ever recorded (laughs) but hopefully I will do the ones that they like … I kind of choose the ones that are the most successful and hopefully they are the ones that people like.
JF: How do you feel about performing some of these songs after having done so for the past 40 years?
ONJ: I feel that I am very lucky to have had such great music that has been able to last … the songs still stand up and I am grateful for them.
JF: Do you ever get tired of being asked about Grease?
ONJ: Ahhhh… (laughs) I am very grateful for Grease. It is something that not many people get to have in their lives — a movie that has become iconic and loved. So, I am amazed, actually, that people are still interested after all this time. I feel lucky, really.
JF: That’s great … Sometimes I do these interviews and some performers admit that they just go through the motions of performing the old songs, but you still seem sincerely excited about it.
ONJ: Oh, good, thanks. I don’t think that you should be performing if you are just going through the motions … music is an expression of you. I think I have been very fortunate though … I have really some good songs and good lyrics, and well produced music.
JF: At this point in your life you really don’t need to perform anymore … I am sure that you could retire very comfortably and be happy for the rest of your life. You obviously still do this because you love it.
ONJ: I still love to sing but I am going to take more time off because it is getting to that point where I want to be home more. But I love to sing and it’s what I do.
JF: Do you play any instruments?
ONJ: Very badly (laughs) … guitar and piano, but not well enough for the stage. I did actually once do a song on piano on stage — I can’t believe that I did that. It was very brave — a song that I wrote with my daughter. That’s the only time I’ve ever done that (laughs). And I can play guitar really, really badly (laughs).
JF: Do you have any plans of doing any more recording or touring with your daughter?
ONJ: We actually did just do a little guest spot in a movie, but I can’t say what it was. We like to do things together. We love working together, but have no big plans. But you never know…
JF: I noticed that you are listed as one of “Australia’s National Living Treasures.” How does that feel?
ONJ: Well I am glad that I am in the LIVING treasure column (laughs). I believe that once you die you get taken off that list (starts laughing more).
JF: So, besides music you are big with animal rights and rain forest issues … those are two that I am particularly interested in.
ONJ: Yes, my husband has worked in the Amazon Rain Forest for about thirty years and he and I are involved in a good cause called ACEER (Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research). They help with the education of the children and the tribes of the Amazon River and also right now, due to the terrible floods they’ve had, they’ll help with rehabilitating them and fixing their houses … my husband John has worked down there and helped them all of his life. So we help out and of course our concern is preserving the rain forests and making use of the amazing botanicals that are in the rain forests so they aren’t lost. My husband actually works with plants and medicine, and … there are so many animals to be concerned about now. I try to support all the groups — we’re trying to protect our natural wildlife, making sure that animals are not cruelly treated.
JF: One of the projects of yours that I read about was the Hotel Sessions CD … can you tell me about that project?
ONJ: It was a project that I did with my nephew, Brett Goldsmith. Brett is a musician and one day he was playing me this song and he wanted to give it to someone to sing. He needed a girl to do the vocals so I did the vocal for him. We had so much fun that every time I went to Australia I would sing on one of his tracks. In the end we had enough for a CD … he would bring his equipment to my hotel room. That is how we got the name — because usually we would do it in my suite when I was in town in Melbourne. Then my sister, his mother, died, and we dedicated it to her and finished it and put it out. My nephew played everything on it — synths and guitars … you can download it on the internet.
JF: What about this project that you worked on with Beth Nielson Chapman and Amy Sky, The “Liv On” project?
ONJ: It’s an album that we recorded together for people going through grief and loss. I lost my sister almost four years ago now to a brain tumor and it was a very, very difficult time. I wrote a song to help get me through it … I called my friend Amy, who I had worked with before, to help me finish it up. We decided that there was no music for people going through grief and loss, and wouldn’t it be great to make an album of that. So we invited Beth Nielson Chapman to join us. She wrote the classic song “Sand and Water.” I don’t know if you’ve heard it — it’s a beautiful, beautiful song. She lost her husband to cancer … so we recorded this album to let people know that they’re not alone and to help them though grief and loss. And we toured with it through Europe and did a short tour of the West coast.
JF: I noticed that you tweeted something a couple of weeks ago that you were playing a Folk Festival in Europe. That was with this trio?
ONJ: Yes, that would have been with the girls.
JF: Is it just the three of you that performed or were there other musicians on stage?
ONJ: we have a keyboard player and bass and drums.
JF: When you first came to stardom in the 70’s it was partially due to being part of the big Eurovision contest. Did you win?
ONJ: I didn’t win, I came in fourth (laughs). ABBA won! It was pretty obvious that they were going to win — they were pretty amazing. They’re wonderful … love them.
JF: Are you still friends with them?
ONJ: I am. I see Frida, though I haven’t seen the others in while. Yes, we are still friends. They were guest of mine on a television special that I had … That was one of their first shows in America, I think.
JF: OK, I always put it out there to my readers to see if they have any questions for the people that I Interview. One asked, “What was like to dance with Gene Kelly in Xanadu?”
ONJ: Of course it was an amazing and scary experience. I had never tap danced before and to dance with such a legend was pretty intimidating but also very, very wonderful.
JF: I know that Xanadu was one of those movies that has had its ups and downs as far as acceptance and popularity. How do you feel about that movie?
ONJ: I think that the music and the dancing were great and the music and dancing were really successful. I think the story line has some holes in it, but I think all in all people really enjoy that movie … particularly as time goes on. It was a really great experience.
JF: Are you glad that you made that movie?
ONJ: Oh yes of course I am.
JF: Do you have plans of working on any more films?
ONJ: My daughter and I just did a guest spot in a movie but I can’t say what it is called yet (laughs)
JF: Is it a secret?
ONJ: yes, at the moment it is (laughs), but I don’t have anything else right now.
JF: When you are looking for a song to record what do you look for in that song?
ONJ: The lyrics and the melody have to be really strong. It has to hit me or touch me in some way
JF: How much of your own writing do you do? Do you do it regularly or just occasionally?
ONJ: When I’m writing it’s usually for a project. Sometimes I just record songs and put them on my tape machine or on my phone. I’ve got quite a few on there waiting to be finished.
JF: Who were your influences when you first started out?
ONJ: Oh, gosh. Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Dionne Warwick — these are people that I admired but I was always aware not to copy anybody. That was important.
JF: How you had the chance to perform with any of them?
ONJ: Yes, I worked with Dionne. We sang together once … we did a special together once. I love her. Joan I haven’t, and Nina, of course not. But, yeah, they were my early influences.
JF: So your dedication to cancer research and funding is a still a very strong part of your life and you have been cancer free for 22 years. Do you feel that these efforts have made a difference?
ONJ: Oh, yes, absolutely. I have to believe that. Working at my hospital in Northern Australia, which I am very proud that it has my name — The Olivia Newton John Cancer Wellness Research Center — we are moving forward with new therapies such as immuno-therapy and targeted therapies. My special thing at the hospital is the wellness center and the wellness programs there … it helps people who are going through cancer and it helps them stay strong in body, mind and spirit while they are going through treatment. One day my dream is that the hospital will just be about wellness.
JF: How do you feel about the way cancer is treated? Chemo vs. alternative treatments?
ONJ: Of course I believe in alternative treatments. Everyone has to make the choice for themselves … what’s right for them. The body’s immunity needs to be strong, but I believe we are inundated with so much in our environment and I think that it has affected our immune systems, which is why cancer is so prevalent. I did both types of treatment when I was going through my breast cancer — both alternative and chemotherapy. I do believe that there are treatments that work besides chemotherapy, but people have to choose what is right for them.
JF: On to another question. Do you have any pets right now?
ONJ: Pets? Oh, yes, I do. I have a dog, a cat, a bunch of chickens — little baby ones right now, too. And two miniature horses.
JF: Do you still live in California?
ONJ: We live between California and Florida and Australia. We are always moving it seems.
JF: Are you technically a British, American or Australian citizen at this point?
ONJ: I am still Australian.
JF: Well, we are almost out of time. Do you have anything else that you would like to add before we wrap up? Anything more about the show at Twin River?
ONJ: It’s really a journey through my life, and the music from all different places in my life. And it’s a fun show.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. ONJ is at Twin River on April 14th. For more, mellow on over to: www.twinriver.com