It’s been 40 years since the Village People began their meteoric rise up the disco charts, ultimately earning a permanent place in American pop culture history.
Randy Jones was the cowboy in the colorful group that included singers dressed as a biker, construction worker, American Indian, soldier and cop. Together, they recorded chart-topping hits “Macho Man,” “Go West,” “In the Navy” and, of course, “Y.M.C.A.,” songs that remain popular with gay and straight audiences alike.
Jones will sing many of the band’s iconic hits, along with tracks from his solo albums, and greet fans at Florida Supercon, July 27 – 30 at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“I was the only person in the Village People who lived in the (Greenwich) Village, and I still do,” said Jones in a telephone phone interview.
He created the character of the “cowboy,” but it really wasn’t acting, Jones said. The North Carolina native wore blue jeans and boots on the streets of New York City during the post-Stonewall era when many gay men began reclaiming the masculine image and dressing in leather, jeans and cut-off shirts.
“We didn’t call it cosplay then,” Jones chuckled, referencing the popularity of costumes and roleplaying at comic and sci-fi conventions such as Florida Supercon.
Even though there was an intended gay subtext to their characters—not all the band members were gay—the hints were often lost on fans in middle America.
“I don’t want to say it was genius, but part of the well-crafted plan was that we appealed to these various audiences and they felt like we were representing them,” Jones said. “The American cowboy image is the most solid, dependable, most representative of America…Everybody loves cowboys. I was raised on Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, ‘Wagon Train.’ I realized the cowboy was the safest, most irresistible image.”
For three years during the height of the disco era, the Village People appeared on national television nearly once a week, performing for millions of fans across the country. The group also was featured on the covers of “16,” “Super Teen” and “Teen Beat” magazines, alongside teen heartthrobs Shaun Cassidy and Rex Smith. Jones and his colleagues became overnight sensations—and inspired many secret crushes.
“Those magazines were intended for little girls, but I’m telling you, the little gay boys read them, too,” he said. “Those were great days. There was an appeal of sexuality. We were young in our twenties, cute, had smiles and we were alive.”
Jones frequently meets gay fans who harbored those secret crushes. They tell him of the Village People posters that hung on their doors and some even got their hands on a playful, homoerotic “Playgirl” magazine spread.
The singer would eventually perform theatrically on stage and record several solo albums, including “Hard Times,” which is available now on iTunes and other digital retailers. He’s appeared in film—he particularly loves the horror genre—and has a new book, “Macho Man: The Disco Era and Gay America’s Coming Out.”
Looking back on his busy career, Jones said, “I have no regrets and I’ve never been bored a day in my life. I always have a calendar and a schedule and, if I find myself with some time to myself, I adore using that time to write my thoughts or do things with myself. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been able to entertain myself and I think that’s helped me become an artist that can entertain other people.”
Randy Jones will appear at the Florida Supercon, July 27 – 30, at the Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. For a schedule and tickets, go to FloridaSupercon.com.