Long-Time Musician John Tesh Comes To Kravis Center
THE PALM BEACH POST - John Tesh has been a lot of things – a young news reporter, one of the leading sources for national entertainment news, a celebrity husband and smooth-voiced purveyor of radio-dispensed wisdom.
But the one thing he’s always been, throughout the last 30 years of professional exploration, is a musician.
So if there’s still anyone who thinks that the former Entertainment Tonight anchor and current host of the syndicated John Tesh Radio Show is just a celebrity fly-by-night dabbling in the world of smooth Adult Contemporary music, he’d like to set things straight.
"I know there are people who might be coming to see us who weren’t sure what it was gonna be, but I grew up as a musician, listening to Dave Clark Five tunes and Sam and Dave, and playing in garage bands," says Tesh, 58, who brings his "Christmas With John Tesh" show to the Kravis Center Saturday night.
Among Tesh’s notable songs are Give Me Forever (I Do), sung by go-to romantic R&B crooner James Ingram, and the theme for NBC’s NBA On NBC. He has also done several worship and classical albums. But Christmas seems to be a special theme for him, having done six holiday-related albums.
"My album Romantic Christmas was really the start of my professional record-selling career. I had tried to get signed to everybody, and it didn’t happen," he says. "At the time I was the host of ET and sort of started my own record company. I used the TV money to go and do that. I went on Good Morning America and played one song, and it ended up being number 5 on the charts. We were literally selling records out of the garage, shipping them to Music Land and Target."
This year’s show has a big band feel to it – "We have swung and will swing" – with originals, instrumentals and takes on classics like Carol of the Bells and Sleigh Ride.
Tesh says that somehow, the story of his musical career has been misinterpreted as him leaving ET as an untested artist, to follow his dream. Actually, "we were already touring 50 cities a year on the weekend," he says. "I would be in my office at ET on my keyboard practicing songs."
By the time he left the show, Tesh had married Hotel and The Greatest American Hero star and hair product pitchwoman Connie Sellecca. Having had aspects of their relationship, like their deep religious faith and abstinence from sex before marriage, made public, Tesh was no stranger to living his private life in the public eye.
But earlier this year, he learned that sometimes that eye will turn to you at the least likely moments. In the publicity surrounding writer Kitty Kelley’s supposed tell-all book Oprah, about media queen Oprah Winfrey, it came to light that Winfrey and Tesh had dated as young Nashville reporters in the 1970s. That romance ended, according to the anonymous friend quoted in the book, when Tesh allegedly "looked down and saw his white body next to her black body and couldn’t take it anymore (and) walked out in the middle of the night."
Ask Tesh about it now, and you can almost hear his eyes rolling over the phone. "Yeah," he says, dryly. "I’m a racist, but I dated a black girl. I don’t know how that works. That never happened."
The real story, he says, is that the two did go out briefly in 1974, when he was 21 and she was 19, and this being the 1970s, "we absolutely turned some heads, but that just made us more interested in being in people’s faces," he says. "None of us cared about that stuff."
While the relationship didn’t last, Tesh says that the scrutiny surrounding Kelley’s depiction of it in the book did linger, and that he was unhappy not only with the implication that he had a racially based freak- out but with the media focus on it – "I’d never really had anybody write about me that way, and it made me angry," he says.
He was particularly peeved by a two-part segment on Entertainment Tonight, his old show, about it. "To think that somebody I worked with side-by-side would do that," he says of former co-anchor Mary Hart. "Not to bash her, or the show, but I guess what you have to understand is that you become what you worship. Somebody there thought ‘John will love this! He’ll love the attention!’ That’s the way they think."
Fortunately, one of the people who understood that Tesh certainly did not welcome that attention was Winfrey, who "called me and had a laugh about it," he says. "She wanted to make sure I was OK with this, and that Connie was. And then she said, ‘This is my life, every minute of the day.’"
Interestingly, the idea to do the John Tesh Radio Show, broadcast throughout the USA and Canada, was born in a private moment with Sellecca, "because she was complaining about my side of the bed – I have a keyboard in the bedroom – and I needed to complain about her stacks and stacks of magazines with sticky notes on them for things she wanted to read but was never gonna get to," he says. "The light bulb went on, and she said, ‘This is a show.’ Having started in radio, I’ve always been a big fan of the medium."
Initially, the show was done from the Westwood One studios, but proved expensive, "so we took it over again, in true entrepreneurial spirit. We used my touring money, and didn’t take a salary for three years," he says. "There are plenty of stories about ideas that crash, but you have to be willing to take a risk. That’s what happened for the music, too. If this had crashed, we would have lost the second mortgage on our house."
Fortunately, that "calculated risk" paid off, and now Tesh has a staff of 10 people, who do research for his signature "Intelligence For Your Life" moments of facts, figures and advice.
"We want that talking point, that thing that can be used to shrink the waistline, information that you need but don’t have time to get," he says. "None of our pieces are any longer than a minute 50 (seconds). If it is, we chop it off. We think ‘How am I gonna move somebody forward in two sentences? The thing is that we’re getting a group of people that we didn’t expect to get, which is 8- to 12-year-olds. They don’t know me as the goofy guy from television. They’re probably in the sixth grade!"
IF YOU GO:
JOHN TESH, 8 p.m. Saturday, Kravis Center, West Palm Beach. Information: (561) 832-7469