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Johnny taking tee in the city.

Byline: Andy Coleman

JOHNNY Mathis always hopes his UK tours include a date in Birmingham - so he can visit the Belfry for a round of golf.

The 75-year-old crooner is crazy about the game and ensures that he makes time to play when he's on tour.

''We're going to stick around after the concerts to play some of the courses in Great Britain,'' he says of his forthcoming UK tour, which visits Birmingham's LG Arena on October 14.

He is particularly fond of the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, dubbed 'the spiritual home of the Ryder Cup'.

''One of my golfing partners is world renowned artist Harold Riley and he has a room full of his paintings at the Belfry,'' Johnny reveals.

''Harold is a wonderful artist and has been a friend of mine for a long time. We love to play golf together. The Belfry is a wonderful venue.'' The golf course is also a good place to 'network' and it helped shape Johnny's latest album, a collection of country songs, Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville.

''Of all my friends in country music I've met most of them on the golf course because they all play the game,'' he says. ''Vince Gill, Eddie Rabbitt, Larry Gatlin, Willie Nelson, just on and on and on, they all love golf. I just kinda hung out with these guys on the golf course mostly and they introduced me to people like Alison Krauss and Lane Brady, a wonderful singer.'' Alison and Lane both ended up singing on Let It Be Me which includes tracks such as Crazy, Shenadoah and Southern Nights.

Making a country record proved a nostalgic experience for Johnny.

''My dad was born and raised in Texas and he was my first vocal influence,'' he recalls. ''The first music I heard when I was maybe five or six years old was my dad singing country songs, songs he grew up listening to in Texas.

''Over the years I've recorded a lot of different stuff, but it wasn't until I ran out of ideas for material to record that I said that a lot of that music that my dad sang was pretty good.

''So that kinda gave me a little excitement to not only sing some of the music, but to kind of remember my dad and the first music that I ever started singing.'' Not everything that Johnny has attempted has been successful.

''Over the years I've tried everything and once I got into a studio with some over-enthusiastic producers who said 'Let's try some James Brown stuff'. I jumped in and tried a little something and played it back and I went 'Oh, my God, terrible!'. I've tried everything - some of it works and some of it doesn't.'' Johnny's LG Arena show will include a country section, alongside old favourites such as When A Child Is Born - or, as Johnny jokes, ''The Christmas song that I'm sure everyone gets sick and tired of hearing''.

He's also discovered a track from 1980 which he plans to perform for the first time.

''It's called Time by a group called Alan Parsons Project. I'd never heard of it before and I've fallen in love with it. I've been singing it five times a day for the last couple of weeks and I've got a nice arrangement of it so that's something new I'm going to perform for the audience.'' TicketInfo JOHNNY MATHIS October 14: LG Arena, Birmingham Tickets: 0844 338 8000.

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Keen golfer: Johnny Mathis plans to play a round at The Belfry when he visits Birmingham.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 9, 2011
Words:599
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