Don Most is experiencing plenty of "Happy Days" lately.
The actor, who starred as class clown Ralph Malph in the classic sitcom, is proud to showcase his softer side on his third album "D Most: Mostly Swinging." And while most fans might be more familiar with his antics as a rambunctious redhead goofing off at Arnold’s Drive-In, curious listeners will instead discover Most — now 63 and no longer a redhead — delivering lush, smooth-as-silk vocals inspired by legendary artists including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and more.
Longtime fans may also be surprised to learn that Most easily commands the stage with same ease and charisma as his idols. He insists that music has long been his first love — one he’s never given up on despite his lasting success as an actor (and director) in Hollywood. So on Valentine’s Day, Most is determined to sway audiences with his new collection of swingin' tunes.
Fox News Magazine spoke with Most about his upcoming album, his biggest challenges as a singer, and his current relationships with his former "Happy Days" cast-mates:
FNM: It’s a little surprising to hear Ralph Malph from "Happy Days" singing all of swing and big-band hits.
DM: Yeah, I know! Most people don’t expect that. They're surprised because I guess it’s such a stark contrast from how they know me, if they were a fan of "Happy Days" (laughs). But truthfully, I like to say singing was my first love. I started pursuing that — before I was acting — from a very young age, and actually, I ended up part of this teenage musical revue that played up in the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York, which was a resort area. I was 14 or 15 at the time. We were singing at all the hotels and nightclubs there during this one summer. That’s what I set out to do initially. I always loved it. And I always loved all the hits of the great American songbook and the jazz standards — all those styles of music moved me from a very young age.
After that summer, things took a little bit of a turn. I attended an acting workshop and I ultimately got caught up in that. One thing led to another and then I just focused on my acting career. But I always knew I wanted, at some point, to get back to singing. Two and a half years ago, I decided the timing was right. This was it.
FNM: Over the years, how did you manage to balance acting and directing with your first love of music?
DM: When I started pursuing music more, I kind of put acting on hold. Sure, I was doing some guest roles here and there, but there were really windows of time where I wasn’t truly working on the acting side and I was able to focus on music. It wasn’t like I was on a series where it demanded my time on a regular basis. And whenever an acting job came up, I would take it because I wasn’t touring steadily. Everything worked out for me to pursue both. But that could change.
Things are already picking up on the singing side. There have been some talks about touring more and maybe even doing some shows overseas. But what I’m hoping will happen is that, after a period of time, I’ll take time off from singing and go back to concentrating on acting and directing again. I really want to do it all.
FNM: What is about swing and big band music that’s so timeless?
DM: I think it’s the songs, these great standards. They’re incredible. They’re "standards" for a reason. They’ve stood the test of time all of these years. The lyrics were witty, sophisticated, catchy, and funny … and the music was so melodic. The combination of all that makes it so wonderful. For my album, "D Most: Mostly Swinging," I incorporated a big band approach, because I do love that sound. But I’ve also done this type of music with smaller bands, 5 to 7 musicians, as opposed to 17. Whether it’s a big band approach or more intimate and dynamic, at the heart of it are these wonderful songs. And they are timeless.
FNM: What can fans expect from "D Most: Mostly Swinging"?
DM: I came out with an EP during the Christmas season to sort of pave the way for this CD that’s coming out in February. On this one, there are all of these great standards. It’s mostly swinging — that’s what it is. Songs done with a big dynamic band done with a real swing approach. And it does swing — these guys are great musicians. There are a few ballads and a bonus song where it’s just me and a piano — it’s such a stark contrast to the big band sound. It’s the quintessential saloon song made famous by Sinatra called "One For My Baby." But the rest is mostly swinging, and I find that to be so exciting and contagious. When I’ve done these songs live, people sometimes just spontaneously get up from within the audience and start dancing! They can’t help because it’s just that infectious and joyous.
FNM: How do you pick out the classics you want to cover?
DM: It was daunting. But also, I enjoyed the process very much. Basically, I went through a very long list of songs I loved. And with the help of technology today, I was able to do a lot of those songs at home — you know, just trying them out. I couldn’t do that years ago. I initially picked about 70 songs and then narrowed it down to 40 or 50 songs. Then I met with my producer Willy Murillo and we listened to them all together and exchanged ideas. Then we narrowed it down to 20, and somehow, we whittled it down to 12 songs, plus the bonus track. There was no preconceived approach — everything happened in an organic way.
FNM: Which song would you say is the most difficult to perform and why?
DM: One that I was really happy with, but was probably the most demanding, was a song called "After You’ve Gone." That one was the toughest vocally. It was demanding because of the way it builds, especially at the very end. It moves to the top of my range with some really sustained notes and a really big one right at the end. But it was also one of the most enjoyable and it turned out to be one of my favorites.
FNM: Music critics have expressed nothing but praise for your musical talent. As a performer, does it surprise you that they’ve responded so well?
DM: Yes, to some degree. Yes, I am pleasantly surprised. But because I’ve been pursuing music since I was so young, I knew I had an ability to perform within that area. However, it had been so long since I really did it, and you just don’t know how people are going to respond. You just don’t know until you do it. When I started getting the response right from my very first show, which for me, was very encouraging and exciting, it gave me even more motivation to improve with each performance. I hope that never stops. I get high doing this, and I’ve been very grateful and excited about the response.
FNM: What’s your relationship like with Ron Howard and Henry Winkler these days?
DM: We’ve always remained good friends. We were so close during the filming of "Happy Days." Everyone then got busy, of course, doing different things. But we still stay in touch. Ron is a little bit harder to pin down because he’s so busy and all over the world. But we stay in touch through email primarily, and see each other once or twice a year. As for Henry, I had lunch with him a few months ago. We emailed each other just last week. As for Anson Williams, we speak regularly. We speak every week and see each other quite a bit. We’ve remained very, very tight. I saw Marion Ross not too long ago, and I played golf with Scott Baio about a month or so ago. We’ve maintained the friendships. It may sound like a cliché, but we really were like a family. It’s accurate in our case.
FNM: Who’s one singer in today’s music industry you greatly admire and why?
DM: Big fan of Diana Krall. She’s a wonderful jazz singer and pianist, so I greatly admire her. I like Harry Connick Jr. a lot in that style of singing, Norah Jones is a great talent. But Diana stands out for me. She’s one of my favorites.
FNM: And what are some of your favorite current TV shows?
DM: Well, that’s actually a tough question because I don’t watch a lot of television, except for news and some sporting events. But I don’t watch regular TV. I know there are a lot of wonderful shows on these days, and I’ve been hearing a lot of great things from friends who do watch TV on a regular basis. I’m like the last person to ask that question (laughs)! But I know I have to do a lot of binge-watching to catch up because I’ve heard so many great things about shows like "The Crown," "The Man in the High Castle," and "House of Cards." I actually did watch a few seasons of "House of Cards" and I really, really liked it. I’ve been told we’re in a new golden age of television, so I aim to catch up soon.