John Mayer & His Dad

updated 11/05/2007 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/05/2007 01:00AM

80 RICHARD BORN OCT. 11, 1927
30 JOHN BORN OCT. 16, 1977

On Oct. 16, musician John Mayer treated his father, Richard, a retired high school principal and sometime pianist, to the joint birthday bash of a lifetime (see box). Just before the party started, the pair sat down with PEOPLE's Mark Dagostino for a father-son chat.

SO HOW DOES IT FEEL TO SHARE TWO BIG BIRTHDAYS?

RICHARD: I used to think 80 was old. Now I know it is. [They both laugh.]

JOHN: There's a line in [my song] "Stop This Train" that says, "You turn 68, you renegotiate." And the number is wrong, because it's poetic license to rhyme. But I really did say to my dad one day, "If I could make it to 50 I'll be happy." And he looked at me as if he had already thought of this before, and he said, "Trust me. When you make it to 50, you'll want to renegotiate."

WAS THE HOUSE ALWAYS FILLED WITH MUSIC WHEN JOHN WAS GROWING UP?

R: I sat at the piano and fiddled around.

J: It's a really big part of my childhood—the smell of dinner cooking and the sound of [Dad playing] an old-time song.

R: They were all old-time songs.

J: My dad has these great, sinewy, veiny hands. I remember watching him playing and going, "I want those hands." Now I have them!

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF JOHN BECOMING A MUSICIAN?

R: My experience in music was everybody had a job. We were teachers, plumbers, and on the weekends we'd play. So it boiled down to saying, "John, you have to have a Plan B." And John said, "I don't have a Plan B. This is it." Trying to get him "within the lines," as you say [he nods to John]—I failed and he won. And he was right.

JOHN, WHAT DO YOU ADMIRE ABOUT YOUR DAD?

J: My father is the most upstanding man I've ever met. He's not the kind of guy who says, "Don't cash that for a week." He wouldn't have written the check if he couldn't cash it. He's never ventured something that he couldn't complete.

AND YOU'RE NOT THAT WAY?

J: No! I'm a mess of unfinished thoughts. Really. The music world allows it, art allows it. That's where I wish I was more like my father.

DO YOU REMEMBER JOHN'S FIRST TIME ON STAGE?

J: I do. It was a preteen talent night in Westport, Connecticut. I was cocky. I made posters for my performance. I got on stage and the nerves hit so hard that a couple of my fingers just wouldn't move. It was remarkably bad.

R: I wouldn't say that. But do you remember in Back to the Future when [Michael J. Fox] played "Johnny B. Goode"? And the people just sat there and looked with their mouths open because they couldn't get what he was doing? That's pretty much what happened.

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO WATCH JOHN PERFORM NOW?

R: Sometimes I don't look at John when he's on the stage. I look at the audience and I see their faces, and the happiness there, and I think, "God, John's doing that. He's making people happy."

J: That's going to make me cry.

HAS FAME CHANGED YOUR SON?

R: I see shots of John on TV coming out of a restaurant completely surrounded by click-click-click, "John, John, John!" How can anybody stay normal under those conditions? I wouldn't! But when he comes home he's just one of the boys.

J: Well, I gotta say—I feel like I have a really good compass. And that's all from my parents.

JOHN'S KNOWN AS A LADIES' MAN—WERE YOU BACK IN THE DAY?

R: No! I was scared of girls.

AS A DAD, WHAT'S THE BEST PART OF YOUR SON'S SUCCESS?

R: I'm just happy for him. Really. People say, "Are you proud of him?" I'm happy for him—knowing that he did it on his own. Against my better judgment, although I did not do anything to stop him.

J: And when my kid comes in the room and says he wants to be a musician, I'm going to throttle him!

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