Monday, January 18, 2016

We Just Lost A Cornerstone of Chicago Rock ... Gary Loizzo of The American Breed Passed Away This Weekend

We received some VERY sad news on a local level yesterday when we heard that Gary Loizzo, lead singer of The American Breed, had passed away from cancer on Saturday.

The American Breed had just performed together for the first time in over four decades as part of the WTTW "Cornerstones Of Rock" program celebrating the hit bands of Chicago from the '60's and '70's.  Thankfully, that final performance is now preserved forever on the accompanying DVD that will be released next month.  (Loizzo was in FINE voice for the program, where The American Breed, backed by Jim Peterik and The Ides Of March performed their 1968 #1 Hit "Bend Me, Shape Me".)  

Other Top 40 National Hits included "Step Out Of Your Mind" (#20, 1967) and "Green Light" (#22, 1968).  

The American Breed were expected to perform as part of the live Cornerstones Of Rock Shows being held in St. Charles and Skokie later this spring.  (kk)     

Gary Loizzo, lead singer and guitarist with Chicago's American Breed, died of cancer Saturday (January 16) at the age of 70. Formed as Gary and the Knight Lites, the group saw some local success in 1963 with "If I'm Lonely Tomorrow" on Kedlen Records and continued recording for three other labels before being discovered by officials of ACTA Records who were snowed-in during Chicago's blizzard of 1967. With a name change to the American Breed, the group scored success that year with "Step Out Of Your Mind" (#24 - 1967) before hitting with "Bend Me, Shape Me" (#5) early the next year. But the follow-up, "Green Light" (#39 - 1968) proved to be their only other top 40 tune (though they charted locally with "Ready, Willing And Able" that year as well). Nevertheless, the American Breed were in high demand for commercial jingles, including such products as Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Partridge Weiners and the TV show, "Temperature's Rising." A change to more R&B-flavored records as Ask Rufus (later shortened to Rufus) followed Gary's departure and eventually led to fame for lead singer Chaka Khan. Gary, meanwhile, formed a suburban Chicago recording studio where he engineered (and sometimes produced) the city's top talent, including Styx, REO Spedwagon, Survivor and Dennis DeYoung. He was twice nominated for Grammys for his engineering work.
-- Ron Smith
We were fortunate enough to spend time at Gary's Pumpking Studios in the late '70's ... it was a trip to see Styx's gold records prominently on display on his walls.  SUCH a shame to lose him now, just as he stepped back into the limelight after such a long hiatus.  (kk)

This is a true shock to me.  Lead singer of the American Breed Gary Loizzo has passed away at 70 years of age.  I just watched him in the Chicago reunion show just a couple months ago singing "Bend Me Shape Me" with the original members of the American Breed.  How sad.  I wrote the liner notes for the Breed's greatest hits CD on Varese Sarabande in 1993 and interviewed him.  He was a great guy and until his death was working sound and keyboards for Styx for over a decade and operating Pumpkin Studios in Chicago for decades as well.

I first met Gary at a Jim Lounsbury Record Hop. It had to be in ‘62/’63. His group was called Gary & The Nite Lights.
Years later, I re-connected with him when he owned Pumpkin Studios and he was recording some tracks for Paulette McWilliams with Al Ciner producing.
God bless you, Gary.
Jim Holvay 

I am certain we can all say we will miss Gary ...
a generous, kind and talented man.
RIP friend
Tom Doody

Gary was truly a good guy.  I knew he had cancer, but he looked so good (and sang well, too) on the PBS Special I thought maybe he was doing better.  Such a loss.  
He was the nicest person to be around backstage – no big ego here.  I remember talking with him a number of years back to see if the Breed would play out, but he just loved his studio so much he was like “Nah, Sue,  Pumpkin it is.”  Everyone that used him for recording could not say enough good things about his professionalism and quality of his work.  
He will be missed.  
Sue Christenson Patterson  
PR Creative

From Jim Peterik ...    

I just heard the sad news that our dear friend Gary Loizzo has lost his brave fight with cancer.   
The Ides got to play on the same bill with Gary and the Nite- Lites back in 1965 in a little club on Chicago's north side.  We were blown away by their professional sound, talent, great equipment, dance steps and more than anything the vocal talent and vibe of their lead singer, Gary Loizzo. He had it all - voice, good looks and guitar chops. He was also a genuinely nice guy.   
One day a few years later we heard a great new song on WLS called Bend Me Shape Me by The American Breed. We soon realized it was the same group we saw as the Nite-Lites with a much better name and a national record deal. We were impressed and so glad for these four guys.  Flash forward to 1975 when I was looking for a good, budget priced studio to record demos for my Don't Fight The Feeling album.  A buddy said "I heard of this guy who records in his garage in Oak Lawn. He calls the place Pumkin".   
I booked time and soon I was cutting with none other than a reinvented Gary Loizzo. The sound we got our of his suburban garage rivaled anything I'd heard and when he moved to his store front on 95th, he went pro.   
I showed up at his door with a newly minted Survivor to record a demo of songs in 1978 then in '79 recorded our future classic Rebel Girl with Gary manning the console. I cut the demo for Wild Eyed Southern Boys there as well and returned often for other projects.  
Then the world became aware of the epic albums he made with Chicago's own Styx and the great live mixes he did at their concerts.  
Gary's best piece of gear was his well calibrated set of ears.  
When Joe Thomas green lighted the Cornerstones of Rock PBS special in late 2015, we knew that no bill of Chicago bands from the 60s would be complete without Gary and the American Breed. When I called Gary in September, he informed me that he wasn't sure if he could do it and hesitantly told me he was fighting cancer. I was shocked and saddened. He called me a week later and said he probably would not be doing it. Beside his health, his band members had not played in years ...  but I pressed on and after a few conversations with gentle assurance all would be great, he and Chuck, Al, and Lee showed up at WTTW for the rehearsal and then the taping on Oct 16.  
Gary came healthy looking and focused and he and the band members backed by the Ides of March knocked it out of the park as we knew they would.  
Bend Me Shape Me was one of the highlights of this epic show. And there were many.   
I'll never forget Gary's gentle eyes when it was all over. "Well, we did it Jimmie. Thanks for believing we could."
I answered "No Gary - thanks for all the years of music - and believing you could."
We love you, Gary. Rock in Peace.  
Keep Rocking!

And from James Fairs, original guitarist for The Cryan' Shames (who reunited with Tom Doody and Jim Pilster for the Cornerstones Of Rock PBS Special) ...

Gary Loizzo and I first met in the very early 70's. I have a ton of stories from that time, and almost each and every one of them includes at least some measure of his generosity ... whether it was complimenting me on a musical choice, or on my songwriting or production ... or using his degree in electronics to help me hot rod one of my tape decks. 
I never knew him to be anything other than straight and true, and he certainly demonstrated that quality at the Cornerstones Show. 
This may sound like a cliche' ... but I seldom say it: I will really miss Gary Loizzo  ... truly. 
James Fairs

A very nice write-up from Vintage Vinyl News ...   

Gary Loizzo, the lead singer and guitarist for the American Breed and a very successful producer and studio owner, has died after a two-and-a-half year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 70.

The Shadows of Knight posted the following on their Facebook page on Sunday afternoon:
I'm deeply saddened by the news that my longtime friend Gary Loizzo of the American Breed has passed away ... we've lost another great one ... Gary was a good friend, a great singer ... and I worked with him in the studio as an engineer and a producer on many projects ... his work with Styx is legendary ... he will truly be missed and remembered fondly ... Bend Me Shape Me any way you want me will live on in our hearts.
Todd Sucherman, drummer for Styx with whom Loizzo had worked extensively, said:
Gary Loizzo, RIP my dear friend. This is a hard one to write as it’s one of our own. Gary Loizzo has been our front of house engineer since I joined the band 20 years ago but before that he was the (Grammy nominated) recording engineer on many of the Styx records of the 70s and 80s (and 90s and 00s.) And before that he was the lead singer of The American Breed, most famous for the song “Bend Me, Shape Me.” He was a man of exceptional taste, wonderful musicianship, eagle sharp ears, but most of all he was a shining example as how to conduct yourself as a man, a professional, a husband and father. In 20 years I never saw him lose his cool or raise his voice to anyone, and believe me, the road can be frustrating at times. He just made everyone feel good. He was a magical person and I know everyone in our organization feels they are a better human being having had the privilege to wok along his side.

Can we please cure cancer? Enough already.

Gary stopped touring with us in early summer 2015. When we played Chicago on September 5th, Gary and his amazing wife, Diane and the whole family came out to the gig for a party before show time. We had worked up “Bend Me Shape Me” and brought him on stage to sing it mid set. The large screen behind us displayed an image of Gary from the late 60s as he came out on stage with the energy of a teenager, all smiles, and sang the hell out of his hit song in front of 20,000 people in his home town. What a send off my dear, dear friend! I love you, and you will continue to be an inspiration and a shining example of how to live life.
Loizzo was one of the founding members of The American Breed (originally known as Gary & the Knight Lites) in Cicero, IL. The group played around the Chicago album until, during a snowstorm in January 1967, Mercury Records VP Kenny Myers was stranded at a Universal Recording in Chicago where he met with producer Bill Traut who had worked with the American Breed on their initial recordings. Myers signed them to the new subsidiary Acta where they released their first single, I Don't Think You Know Me, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

The American Breed with Loizzo on lead hit the charts the first time in early 1967 with Step Out of Your Mind (1967 / #24) but it was two singles later that they hit it big with Bend Me, Shape Me (1967 / #5 U.S. / #24 U.K.). Overall, the band charted five singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

When the band's singles stopped charting, members began to break off even though Loizzo tried to keep them going into 1970.

Loizzo moved forward in business by opening his own Chicago studio, Pumpkin, where he produced many local artists. Over the years, he worked with REO Speedwagon, Bad Company, Slash, Survivor and a number of Styx and Dennis DeYoung albums. As mentioned above, he was also Styx sound engineer for over twenty years.

Loizzo and the other original members of the American Breed also reunited to record an album in 1986. They continued to reform over the ensuing years for special events around the Chicago area.

Among Loizzo's engineering and production credits:

  • You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tune a Fish - REO Speedwagon (engineer)
  • Cornerstone - Styx (engineer)
  • Premonition - Survivor (engineer, producer)
  • Paradise Theatre - Styx (engineer)
  • Kilroy Was Here - Styx (engineer)
  • Caught in the Act - Styx (engineer)
  • Desert Moon - Dennis DeYoung (engineer, vocals)
  • Return to Paradise - Styx (engineer)
  • Brave New World - Styx (engineer)