Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Chicago Sound - Part Two

Since Shelley singled out The Buckinghams in her inquiry, I thought that this would be a great place to start.  

The following comes from Carl Giammarese ... some of it written specifically for our readers ... and some of it is an EXCLUSIVE excerpt from his forthcoming book, world premiered right here in Forgotten Hits!!!   

The Buckinghams and “The Chicago Sound”   

Before The Beatles came and changed our worlds as we then knew them to be, Chicago had always been known for an exciting, vibrant sound coming from clubs and ballrooms here. Up and down the streets of Old Town, teenagers found bands they liked, one by one. As musicians in The Buckinghams and also as teenage consumers of music, we knew what we liked. Each of us liked and followed some of the same groups, but we also looked for whatever resonated with us personally to play for our audiences. Everyone had an equal say and we all got along well.  

Our parents’ music was playing on the radio ... Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, as well as Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, and Percy Faith. A young Barbra Streisand, Bill Haley & the Comets, and a few other artists were working their ways into the mix. Before Rock and Roll and the British Invasion were popular, Chicago was already famous for the greatest soulful sounds of blues and jazz — coming from the club scenes frequented by sophisticated listeners. Chess Records was birthplace and home of the Chicago blues sound for legends such as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and vocalists Etta James, Koko Taylor and more. That group defined “the Chicago sound” to us, before we found our way to performing as The Pulsations, later rechristened The Buckinghams, in 1965 and 1966.  

As The Buckinghams, we were proud to be alongside our friends in other Chicago bands including the American Breed, Baby Huey & The Baby Sitters, Canned Heat, Cherry Slush, Cryan’ Shames, The Dontays, The Flock, The Mauds, Shadows of Knight, New Colony 6 and more. Our sound, among the others, was a gritty, “garage” sound, as it’s been described, with a lot of fuzz guitar, rock beat and great vocals.  

The Buckinghams were fortunate to have the support and backing of two distinctly talented men, Carl Bonafede and Dan Belloc, who launched us on to records, based on what we were able to do onstage. We’d been playing at teen dances at the Holiday Ballroom, the Aragon Ballroom, (later Cheetah Nite Club), The Embassy Ballroom, Antoine’s, the Majestic and Dex Card’s Wild Goose. Remember those? 

As a result of our winning a 13-week appearance on WGN’s “All Time Hits,” Chicagoans identified us, by face and name, as their very own, among others, because of how we performed songs of the day back, for them. Seeing our look and style on stage also contributed to a Chicago sound for our group. We were all serious about performing, recording and music as “our business” — we didn’t have a “Plan B” for what we’d do if music didn’t work out. We were equally committed to being professional musicians as well as music professionals.  

With the financing of Bonafede and Belloc, and the talented engineer, Ron Malo, when we walked into Chess Studios to put down “our sound,” we drew on the strength of how we played our instruments and backed Dennis Tufano’s excellent, distinctive vocals. We were, before The Beatles, a band with more of an R&B sound than rock and roll. We did “I’ll Go Crazy,” “I Call Your Name,” “I’ve Been Wrong,” “Summertime,” “Don’t Want to Cry” and others in concert, without horns. We had a gritty, garage band sound to identify us as performers, similar to but different than the other groups.  

Our first album was the vinyl capture of the songs we played on stage that the teenagers liked. (To contradict your earlier statement in a different column, Kent, that we didn’t know how to play our instruments yet and relied on studio performers, listen carefully to every track on our “Kind of a Drag” album on USA Records. That’s Dennis Tufano singing, us backing him on vocals, Jon-Jon Poulos on the drums, Dennis Miccolis on keyboards, Nick Fortuna on bass, and me on lead guitar, not studio personnel. That’s all us.)   

What became a defining part of our recorded sound, also, were horn players from Dan Belloc’s big band. The Buckinghams never performed with horns on stage at that time, nor did we travel with them after we cut records in Chicago. Yet each of our USA Records had that distinctive “pop rock horn sound” that became the genesis of The Buckinghams’ “Chicago sound” on the radio. Other bands included horns in recordings outside of Chicago, but we were the first to become known for it here, because of radio airplay and WLS and WCFL, to have such horn-heavy arrangements, particularly trombone, on rock and roll records.  

After “Kind of a Drag” hit number one, and we left Chicago to go to New York with Columbia Records and manager / producer Jim Guercio, Marty Grebb had replaced Dennis Miccolis on keyboards. Guercio took our USA Records horn sound and added his own touches, and those of talented arrangers at Columbia with their New York studio orchestra players to create our next level of “horn sound.” Guercio had “ears” before the term ever became commonly used. Guercio’s major orchestrations on “Time and Charges” songs included symphonic instruments, plus the horns, which made our distinctive sound even more firmly the “pop rock horn sound.”  

Guercio strengthened that sound even more on orchestrations he created and assigned out to others, on our second album “Portraits,” created in Los Angeles. Jim brought in some studio players in LA if he didn’t like how we had recorded a particular track. He knew what he wanted and we were playing 300 dates a year (without horns) in 1967 and had little in-studio time. With “Hey Baby” and “Susan” on “Portraits” by Holvay and Beisbier, our Chicago sound, with the horns, was even more identifiable with us. Every song you knew back then that was ours had horns in it.  

A few years ago in concert, Nick and I started talking with the audience about how Guercio took what he learned with The Buckinghams over to the band “Chicago” by performing Marty Grebb’s “C’mon Home,” which we do first, and then we go right into Robert Lamm’s “Beginnings.” Same groove and feel.  

When I first thought about creating the “FlashBack!” album, I wanted to show our musical roots and how we matured through the 1960s until we broke up in 1970. It was fun to have Rocky and Dave join us in recording our early hits, including “I’ll Go Crazy,” “I Call Your Name,” “You Make Me Feel Good,” “I’ve Been Wrong” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” (horn-heavy); and, we added in the national hits — “Kind of a Drag,” “Don’t You Care,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” "Susan,” “Back in Love Again” and “You Misunderstand Me.”  It was even more special because this time I was the one wearing the headphones, pacing the studio floor, listening to different instruments, deciding what to use. Larry Millis (The Ides) did a great job on mastering, more Chicago history there.   

“FlashBack!” is really our portfolio of the pop-rock horn sound, our journey we launched in Chicagoland and Chess Studios, which was continued on brilliantly by other Chicago-based bands, including all our friends you know so well. Every time a Chicago band broke onto the national scene was a win, shared by all of us.  

When Nick and I reformed The Buckinghams and decided to tour full time in late 1982, I wanted to have horn players join us on stage as often as possible, to stay true to our sound that people knew and liked us for back in the 1960s. We wanted to recreate the records as closely as possible, including the keys the songs were first recorded — that’s important to the audience and we respect what they want.  We’re fortunate to have Carlo Isabelli, Chuck Morgan, Rich Moore as our primary Buckinghorns, and we have brought them with us around the country for selected dates like Presidential Inaugurals. If we go too far from home or they have other commitments, I’ll find horn players in the cities we’re going to and work long distance before the concerts. Other times, Bruce Soboroff can sound like an entire horn section on his keyboards for us.  

Hope that explains our Chicago sound from our perspective. We’re glad to still be bringing that to our fans, on the road and on “FlashBack!”, which has already been receiving great feedback. Special thanks to Clark Besch for sending you the photos and liner notes and your running them in Forgotten Hits on Sunday. We appreciate your getting the word out.    

Carl Giammarese  
[Portions excerpted from the forthcoming book, “My Journey: Reinventing The Buckinghams” by Carl Giammarese and Dawn Lee Wakefield]    

Thank, Carl.  Interested fans can order a copy of the new Buckinghams CD through their website:   
Click here: The Buckinghams - Home Page    

Carl sent me a copy of their new CD last week and it's a fun listen ... as well as an accurate depiction of what these songs sound like when performed by The Buckinghams today.  And I've got to tell you, some of these songs really rock, thanks to the horn arrangements ... you don't realize just what a vital part of their sound this really was!  I am particularly fond of the new version of "Lawdy Miss Clawdy", a track that just missed Billboard's Top 40 after The Buckinghams relocated to Columbia Records and USA tried to cash in on their new-found success by releasing this old album track.  This track just jumps out of the speakers, grabs you and doesn't let go. 

The Buckinghams will also be part of the "Concerts At Sea" package in January of 2015 along with Paul Revere and the Raiders (that'll be fun, hangin' out with their old drummer Tommy Scheckel again!), The Lettermen and The Guess Who.  Again, more information can be found on the website via the link above.   


Carl brings up a few good points.  Prior to "making it", The Buckinghams were influenced by any number of musical acts happening around them.  Two of the best early examples I can think of are James Brown ("I'll Go Crazy", a VERY minor hit for The Godfather of Soul that The Buckinghams reinvented, making it sound like their very own) and The Beatles ("I Call Your Name", which added horns YEARS before The Beatles and George Martin thought about doing so themselves!)

Clarifying a couple of points since they were mentioned in Carl's response:     

The comment about The Buckinghams not playing their own instruments didn't come from me ... but rather from a reader who made the "supposition" that (as most bands did in the '60's), The Buckinghams supplemented and enhanced their sound with the use of studio musicians.  (I have had to clarify this very point with Nick Fortuna earlier as well as he had interpreted the comment as coming from me rather than from a Forgotten Hits reader.)  

Over the years, Carl, Dennis, Nick and Marty have ALL told me on various occasions that once the band signed with Columbia Records, the use of studio musicians certainly became the case ... even more so with The Bucks out on the road as much as they were, playing live concerts and doing television appearances.  But I am happy to reinforce the point once and for all about the "Kind Of A Drag" album being recorded COMPLETELY by the original band.  

Another big story that's been going around for years and years is that Guercio would come back into the studio at night and put his own "musical touches" on what had been recorded earlier that day, sometimes wiping off an entire bass track for example to replace it with his own.  This, too, has been related to me numerous times from each of the guys ... and I'm sure that, as musicians, this had to be infuriating ... I think Carl covers this topic in a most professional and respectful manner when he says that the #1 priority always was committing the best possible tracks to wax and, as such, Guercio had the full support of the band [at the time anyway ... he had, after all, helped guide them to four straight Top Ten Hits!] ... and the band was out on the road much of the time fulfilling their end of the bargain.  (One thing I've learned from Carl over the years is the importance of committing the best possible product as the end result remains your "permanent record".)  As such, even 45 years later, The Buckinghams' records stand up exceptionally well today.  These are well-made recordings that accurately captured the sound of a bright, young, enthusiastic and exciting new band who were living the dream at that moment in time.  That's why you still hear this music every single day on the radio ... it has stood the test of time and ranks as pop perfection.  Each and every member who has EVER been a Buckingham should hold their head high and be extremely proud of this fact.  (kk)   

Thanks, Kent.  It was big fun to re-create those songs. I stuck to the original arrangements although with what I know today, I would have certainly done it differently, but I'm sure our fans want to re-live the songs in their original form. I'm a purest when it comes to that. If you listen to the re-records of the big hits, I really stuck to the original arrangements and tempos. Even the drum fills are there.  
When you listen to the new FlashBack CD you'll notice near the end that a few songs are out of order. It happened in the mastering process. I am going in next week to correct it. So there will be 250 that will become collectors items. That reminds me back in 1968 when Columbia released Dylan's new album.  The pressing plant put our album "In One Ear"on his B side.  That pissed him off!  Ha!   

Guercio was a great producer ... and maybe we've wouldn't have continued the hits without his guidance ... but then again we created our biggest hit without him. We knew if we didn't get some help and exposure more on a national level we could become another 60's Chicago one hit wonder. Like I said before, at the time there was a lot of talent in Chicago, but the business side of it was small time ... you still had to go to LA or NY to make it. The Columbia Records machine did a tremendous job promoting and distributing our records. When USA had Kind Of A Drag they blew it. The distribution was slower than it should have been and they didn't get us any national exposure on TV. That came after we signed with Columbia.  

Going back to Guercio, who knows what he did late at night. Our schedule was so busy with live performances in 1967, we barely had time to come into NY and record the next single. When we finally went to LA for a couple months to record Portraits (which to this day I am very proud of), we all contributed to playing and writing on that album ... which was our Sergeant Pepper. When we interviewed Guercio for the book, (IT WILL GET FINISHED!!!), I was surprised to hear that it wasn't Marty Grebb but a studio player on "Mercy."  Marty was the most capable and seasoned musician in the band at that time and certainly could have played the Wurlitzer on that song, but who knows, maybe we were on the road at the time and he had to get it done. Marty made some big contributions back then.  After all this time, who really knows for certain who played what anymore! 

Carl Giammarese's book "My Journey: Reinventing The Buckinghams" has been a long time coming ... but fans are anxiously awaiting its release.  (Just like making a record, Carl wants to make sure every detail is right ... because once it's out there, you can't go back and change it.  As such, they're still tweaking and fine-tuning it ... but he assures us it will be soon.)  Former lead singer Dennis Tufano is reportedly in the process of putting his memoirs together as well ... and rumors of a book by former keyboardist Marty Grebb have been circulating for quite some time, too.  The story of The Buckinghams WILL get out there ... and we can't wait to hear it all!

In 1967 Cash Box Magazine named The Buckinghams "the most promising new artist of the year" ... and why not ... during the course of those twelve incredible months, The Bucks placed no less than SIX Top 40 Hits on The Cash Box Chart:  "Kind of A Drag" (#3); "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" (#39); "Don't You Care" (#6); "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (#5); "Hey Baby, They're Playing Our Song" (#5) and "Susan" (#7).  Billboard Magazine called them "the most listened-to band in America" that same year.  Some would argue that The Buckinghams put Chicago on the map.  No other local band to this point had garnered the national attention that these guys did.  (They even appeared on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" that year ... albeit flanked by a "Union Jack" UK flag!!!  lol)