Since marching to fame in the 1970s with such hits at “YMCA,” “Macho Man” and “In the Navy,” the disco kings have sold more than 100 million records.
The group’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is between Betty Grable and Liberace.
Michael Taormina, managing director of the Performing Art Centre, said this is the first time the Village People will perform at the Centre.
“It is going to be a fun musical evening experiencing the ’70s disco tunes that made the Village People famous and continue to be popular with audiences of all ages,” Taormina said.
In the Navy, yes, you can sail the seven seas
Original Village People band member Alexander Briley, who plays the role of the military man, said he joined the group in 1977.
“Sometimes I wear a Marine, sometimes a Navy outfit, sometime Army,” Briley said. “It depends on how I feel.”
Briley said he chose that role when a fellow band member spotted him wearing an Eisenhower jacket.
“They suggested to our wardrobe person at the time, ‘Why don’t we make him a military man?’ and our producers said, ‘Oh, that sounds fun,’” Briley said. “And so our wardrobe person scoured New York going to the naval base, going to all the surplus stores and put together several outfits for me, and they all represented most of the Armed Forces.”
The reaction he receives from wearing the uniform is an interesting one, particularly from those in the Armed Forces, he said.
“Until recently, I didn’t always run into too many, but because of all that’s been happening with the military, I would get into an airport, and I would see some of our young men and women and our nation’s sons, and I would say, ‘Thank you for serving our country,’ because it’s very important that they know that this country cares, and so I’ve had a chance to do that a few times,” he said. “Some of them have come up and taken pictures with me.”
A friend in the armed forces gave Briley his medals and service pieces.
“I appreciated that, and I just try to do that because I only wear the uniform,” he said. “I don’t represent anyone out there in the military, but I do appreciate these young men and women who have decided to make that their career.”
Of the six Village People in the band today, three were there from the beginning. They are Briley, Felipe Rose, who has the role of the Native American, and David Hodo, the construction worker.
The originals carry forward the torch as best they can, he said.
“But we also have a great amount of talent from our lead singer Mr. Ray Simpson (the cop) who came in 1979 and has been at the helm ever since,” Briley said.
The other two are Jeff Olson, the cowboy, and Eric Anzalone, the biker.
Briley said he’s looking forward to returning to metro Atlanta.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s always been very nice for us. We’ve always had a good time there.”
The show may be a little different from past performances.
“Each time is a new experience when you see Village People because many times there might be new songs or there might be the same ones, but we don’t go on without doing the ones everybody knows,” he said. “We made that mistake a few times, and of course, they let us know about it. But the nice thing is we’ve always had a warm reception whenever we’ve gone to Atlanta.”
Disco is not dead
Every now and then, some music authority announces the death of disco. Briley laughed when asked if he wanted to correct the record. True, there was a period of time when disco was taboo, he said.
“I think probably this had to do with the fact that there were a lot of people in the industry that didn’t like that the dance floors were full, that this type of music took over for a while, but I tell you, you speak to the people who would go to the clubs at night and who would dress up in leisure suits and women in beautiful dresses and high heels, and you tell them that you didn’t enjoy that music, because that’s basically what they went to do,” he said. “They went to have a wonderful time under those mirror balls and to hear the DJs just crank out some wonderful songs from so many artists that came out and did well at that time whether they had one hit or 10 hits, they would always come and have a wonderful time, and then it got to a point where people said now it’s time for something else.”
The New Romanticism craze took off in Europe for a while, but disappeared just as fast, Briley said.
He credits DJs for bringing disco back.
“They are the ones we would say are basically responsible for the return of it,” he said.
Briley recalled one DJ asking a club manager for permission to play disco songs just one night a week. The manager said he could try it, although he was skeptical.
“It sort of caught on like wildfire across the country and was one of the most popular nights in many clubs,” Briley said. “People would hit the dance floor because of songs that they grew up on, songs that they went to a disco and danced to until 4 o’clock in the morning. So I would say that there’s a return to that, because there were a lot of groups that happened to love the music of that era and lots of people say to us now ‘We’re so glad you guys are still around,’ and so many of us, KC and the Sunshine Band, artists like Thelma Houston, so many artists you could probably think of that through their songs were very, very popular and people are glad that the music is back.”
Young man, there’s no need to feel down
Of all the band’s hits, Briley said his favorite is probably YMCA.
“Well, I guess I’ve grown to like YMCA a lot more,” he said. “When you’ve done it for 36 years you say to yourself, ‘You mean there is still somebody out there that likes that song?’ … I would say YMCA is probably one of my favorites.”
The song, he said, is about having a good time at the Y.
“There are people who go there just to meet friends, to make new friends,” he said. “It’s been a place where some people from out of town, out of the country, have been able to come and stay there because either the hotels were too expensive or they just couldn’t afford it and the YMCA was a very inexpensive place at times. I’ve heard people say this. To come and just crash overnight because the next day they have a 24-hour touring session and are ready to hit the pavement in New York or anywhere else they might be in the country.”
No double meanings to songs
The Sun, a London publication, has raised the topic of double meanings in Village People songs, claiming the group was formed in the ’70s to appeal to gay clubbers with the six singers dressed as gay fantasy figures. Yet Hodo told the publication that there is not one double entendre in the music.
Briley said he agreed with this statement.
“Most definitely, most definitely,” Briley said. “Everybody will always have their own meaning of what they hear. They will put something into something that the producers and the writers of the songs had no idea at the time that’s what it means. So they just decided to take it on themselves saying ‘This is what it means to me,’ assuming that it means the same thing to someone else. But we’re just basically people out there singing about having a good time and that’s all it is.”
Briley declined to weigh in on the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act or the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the U.S. military.
“Well, I’ve learned over the years not to talk about too much, politically, what my views are or whatever, so I’m not going to answer that question,” he said.
Together, we will go our way
While many bands come and go, the Village People soldier on.
“Part of it is camaraderie because I work with five amazing gentlemen who we’ve become family,” Briley said. “We decide one day that we want to be quiet, that someone is having a bad day, they’re left alone. But the moment we hit that stage, we’re a unit. We’re six people that are up there to put on a good show, and we enjoy each other’s company, and that’s very, very important, especially when we’re traveling as much as we do. That means internationally as well as locally. And of course with traveling today, I don’t know too many people that say they enjoy traveling a great deal because it has become harder. But once we get where we are and we’re able to have some time to acclimate and get ready for the show, because everybody has a regimen, we’re ready to enjoy what we do.”
If he has a regret, Briley said it’s the hectic schedule that doesn’t allow him to spend enough time in the various cities of the world.
“Well, when I say we travel a great deal, we do get to some places but I haven’t really seen the world. I have seen maybe my hotel room, maybe a few hours around the city, but not nearly to get a chance to say I’d go back there and spend some time,” he said. “So it’s pretty much been like that for a while. That’s probably the only regret.”
Briley said his message for metro Atlanta is that the Village People are happy to be back.
“We don’t get there often enough and we’re looking forward to a wonderful audience and we’re going to do our best to give a really wonderful show,” he said.