Thursday, January 2, 2020

In Memoriam — Martin Joseph Grebb

On the first day of a new year and a new decade, friends and family of Marty Grebb read a post on his Facebook page that sparked instant concern. The composition he shared had required much thought, and in it, Marty shared his love, regard, concern, and caring for virtually every person he’d worked with professionally, loved in his lifetime, and showed how deep his feelings ran for an earlier day and time when his body and mind were not wracked in pain by the five types of cancer he said he’d battled over time.

The outpouring of love and support, expressions of concern, reminders of so many who had friended him on Facebook and felt as though they’d really known him, were nothing short of amazing. Offers of “please call me” or “we are worried about you” or “hang on, brother, we are here” filled the comments section. If there were a point in time when he was wavering in his attitude about what his plan was, everyone did whatever they could yesterday, New Year’s Day, to show their support for Marty and express their best wishes. His voice mail was reportedly full with messages from people who expressed their concern and undoubtedly asking him to return their calls and let them know “how he was.”

Marty said clearly how he was in his post. He was in pain. His own words are the important ones to contemplate, not anyone else’s as commentary about how they thought he felt. He said it specifically. And, it wasn’t 12 hours before someone posted they learned he was gone, although it will be Thursday before any official notice appears online.

His talents in music were innumerable, but he sang, played keyboards, especially the Hammond B-3, saxophone, and guitar; he composed, he was an arranger, and he performed as an integral part of many bands during his career. Hailing from Blue Island, on the South Side of Chicago, Marty’s parents were both musicians. His father Harry played professionally and his mother Armella (“Mel”) taught piano and co-owned a music store. Marty even studied at the American Conservatory of Music.

Although not a complete list of all Marty’s musical involvements, I wanted to list a few. Before he was ever a Buckingham, Marty was one of The Exceptions. He was two years older than most of us (which meant light years ahead in music practice, skill, and refined talent), and it showed in his performance. Paired with Kal David (David Raskin), Peter Cetera, and Denny Ebert, Marty was in Kal David and The Exceptions. Their PR photos showed four handsome young men in nice matching suits. They were always playing at the more adult clubs in Chicago neighborhoods, compared to the teenage audiences and venues we’d play in Old Town, Rush Street, and various ballrooms.

But, when our song “Kind of a Drag” became number one on the Billboard Charts, we found ourselves in need of a keyboard player, as our original one, Dennis Miccolis, had decided to enter college studies. Marty was better than we were at our instruments, but still he never made us feel inferior about it. He was an easy guy to be around, although early on he was very different from the rest of us in his attitude about what people thought of “pop music” and musicians with Beatle haircuts.

When we traveled, he loved the nightlife and seemingly required no sleep. I say that as our former tour manager, Peter Shelton, used to see him come in from an evening about 4 am and since we’d all have to leave at 6 am the “next” day, Marty would shower, get fully dressed for travel (back in the days when we all dressed up to travel on airplanes) and then he’d lie down on top of his bed and sleep for 2 hours. When Peter would knock on his door, Marty simply stood up, grabbed his hat, and he was ready to go. He loved the nights more than the days, to be sure.

Our greatest musical successes centered on songs written by James Holvay ("Kind of a Drag"), and during Marty's time three songs by James Holvay and Gary Beisbier ("Don't You Care," "Hey Baby, They're Playing Our Song," and "Susan"), and we all got lucky with our version of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," as there were seven artists who released that same song that year.

Our first album for Columbia, “Time and Charges” was a new experience for us, recording in New York (Marty was not on the USA Records “Kind of a Drag” album or any of those tracks recorded at Chess Studios), but when it came time for our sophomore album for Columbia Records, “Portraits,” Marty took charge willingly of the content—the concept, theme, substance of the songs, having written several that were on there, and occasionally “gifting” some of us with co-writing credits because that’s just the kind of guy he was.

We “studied” or prepared to bring this idea to life, first by sitting in the middle of a living room floor in the Hollywood Hills, in a home James Guercio had rented for us, and we played The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” album so many times that we all felt fully inspired.

Of course there were some other things around the room that provided a little extra inspiration, but the point was that all five of us were together, united, acting in concert with each other with no acrimony at all. That time was probably the time when we were the closest to a “band of brothers” that people seem to think all bands were like at that time. His contributions to our success were great for the 22 months he was with us.

Eventually, though, Marty outgrew The Buckinghams. Once we’d left Guercio and were with new management, Marty was on his way to his next musical association with Lovecraft, and later on worked with The Fabulous Rhinestones. He did return, though, when Dennis and I formed The Tufano & Giammarese Band, to record the second album we did for Lou Adler’s Ode Records, and we also had our mutual friend, the late Darryl Warren, come in and play congas and percussion, so we had four Chicago natives at least in that band, too.

Marty would become an in-demand sax and keyboard player, mostly, for music powerhouses including Eric Clapton, a longtime player in Bonnie Raitt’s bands, and his list of associations and affiliations with other musicians took him in and out of the studio and found him back out on the road often, which he seemed to love.

Through the years, I’d see Marty and Dennis occasionally when we played California and they’d come see us and yet we were not in close touch. Dennis was working with Bernie Taupin, and one of the products was “He Who Rides the Tiger” (1980) and Marty was part of that album also.

In the past decade, though, we spoke by phone often. Handling all the business of Buckinghams Music, I kept up with Marty’s location—and I remember telling him when we recorded “C’mon Home” for a project many years ago, that his song was a real precursor to the sound of Chicago’s “Beginnings” track. In fact, in concert years ago, we used to play one right after the other as part of that genuine horn sound.

The one thing that initiated phone calls around for all of us was when one of us lost a parent. No matter where we were, that was one thing we would all do, is all find each other, wherever we were, and pay our respects in person or by phone, the way that families do at those times. Shared history is a permanent thing to be cherished and remembered.

It’s hard to imagine but about 5 years ago now, I got a call from Dennis Tufano, telling me that Marty was battling cancer, things didn’t look good, and that medicine/treatment was outrageously expensive. He proposed a one-time reunion in Chicago, and I agreed—five minutes later, Ron Onesti was all-in for The Arcada Theatre to host what was one of the most amazing concert experiences of any of our lives. Dolores Weissman posted some video on her Facebook page; here's one excerpt from that evening: https://www.facebook.com/delores.weissman/videos/10203088998300931/

Time warped, all barriers disappeared, and for a magical evening thanks to the generosity of our longtime fans and friends in Chicagoland, substantial funds were raised for Marty’s medical expenses in ticket sales and silent and live auction items. Videos of those performances are still on YouTube. About four weeks later in his L.A. home base, Dennis Tufano organized another fund-raiser at the Canyon Club in Los Angeles, in conjunction with the charitable organization Sweet Relief, where Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell were part of the music lineup in Marty’s behalf.

The best part of the outcome of both fundraisers helped Marty and the medical treatments seemed to give him a new lease on life for a long time. In fact, Marty joined up with friends in the band The Weight, the band that formed to carry on the music of “The Band.” The Weight was so well received that a few years ago they started a national tour and Marty was able to be with them for a large part of that time. In his final band affiliation, then, Marty attained his greatest success and national visibility, which he had long deserved.

Others know more about his personal life and family times. I knew that he was devoted to his daughters, Nika and Anna, and he really loved having the opportunity to perform with Anna in several music gigs—that brought him a lot of joy. He released solo CDs “High Steppin’” and “Smooth Sailin’,” and was involved in recent years in music for various films with national releases, writing songs that were included.

His passing leaves a hole in our hearts, anyone who knew him personally, as his presence is already missed. The goal in writing these memories is to share some of the best times of my life with Marty but not to focus attention away from him. Perhaps it’s best not to think of him as an Exception, a Buckingham, a Lovecraft, a Rhinestone, or anything that would presume to group him into a unit that marched to a single tune.

Marty Grebb was the countermelody in many of the songs of our lives. He was close and yet he was always on a path of his own charting, following his own muse, and gifting us with his talent and time, most graciously, and to those who knew him better, longer, or more closely, look to them for the insight and details missed here.

Recently on Facebook he posted a link to his seasonal composition, "It's Christmas Tonight," https://clyp.it/iuhepzag?fbclid=IwAR2e3-DAouwaz4GkY4EVNjzqehGXaAhiWlu4cVilzpcoQKEN6GD4Bm81tYI and when you hear it, it offers a sense of comfort and peace as we remember him.

On behalf of Nick Fortuna, Dennis Tufano, and the entire Buckinghams family, we offer our prayers for comfort and condolences to Marty’s family and hope that the outpouring of love they receive in the days and weeks ahead will help them realize how truly loved and respected he was in his lifetime. God bless you, Marty Grebb, and we will always remember you as our friend and bandmate. Carl Giammarese

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Preview of Upcoming Concerts

And as the summer rolls on, The Happy Together Tour continues to generate excitement and press buzz for the shows ahead. Just today we see the Happy Together Tour "In the News" in New London, Connecticut!

In today's publication, "The Day," Rick Koster's story carries this headline:

"Happy Together’ package tour brings stars to the Garde Friday"

As one description of what you'll see, "these events feature short, hit-clustered performances by the acts — with other '60s familiars Gary Puckett, the Buckinghams, the Classics IV and the Cowsills also showing up..." For tickets: "Happy Together Tour," 8 p.m. Friday, Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London; $49-$69; (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org.

And The Westerly Sun has the concert in its Picks of the Week Shows: Happy Together Tour 2019

8 p.m.; Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London.

"Garde Arts Center will host the Happy Together Tour 2019, featuring The Turtles, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, The Buckinghams, The Classics IV and The Cowsills. For tickets or more information, visit gardearts.org."

Nice to see the word getting out so well around the country. That's why the packed capacity crowds are showing up for this tour!

The Buckinghams Deliver Hits at Cape Cod Melody Tent

Entertainment & Life Classic rockers, fans happy ... together

On Tuesday, June 25, the Happy Together Tour performed at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and journalist Cynthia McCormick had this to say about the evening in the Cape Cod Times:

"The lineup included The Buckinghams, the Classics IV, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night) and the Cowsills – all singing and playing to a packed house..."

"Nick Fortuna and Carl Giammarese of the Buckinghams delivered lively renditions of “Don’t You Care” and “Kind of a Drag” and reminded the audience they were Italians from the west side of Chicago – not Brits."

To read the entire review visit this link (click here)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Takin' a Break the Happy Together Tour Way

After last night's concert in the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, we were rewarded for all the miles we'd covered in just one day to get here early. If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late. At least that's the case in the music business. The Buckinghams were so appreciative of a capacity crowd and the enthusiasm shown by everyone who stood on their feet for so much of the evening.

Tour promoter, Ron Hausfeld, decided to throw an outdoor grill for the entire tour this afternoon on the one day we didn't have to be on the road this week. Really thoughtful of Ron, just his way of keeping the tour keeping. Here's a couple photos from the day.

Tomorrow, the tour heads to Hyannis, MA, for the Cape Cod Melody Tent.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Paul Shaffer Visits Friends on the Happy Together Tour 2019

It's always a nice surprise when you have fellow musicians drop by backstage after the show to say hello and catch up for a few minutes. After the Happy Together concert at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey, multitalented musician Paul Shaffer came by to visit many of his friends.

It's always great to see Paul. What an amazing collection of music he is responsible for! Of course you watched him for years every night on the "Late Show with David Letterman" as he conducted his "World's Most Dangerous Band." His book, "We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives," is, as he subtitled it, "A Swingin' Show-biz Saga Book."

He talks about his years leading the Saturday Night Live Band, leading the Blues Brothers Band, and then the Late Show band and TV personality. Get the book here. Do you have a CD of their cover songs? (Find one here: https://theshaffershop.bigcartel.com/).

Here's a photo of Nick and Carl with Paul, taken by Tom Garrett.

Below is a picture of Carl, Gary Puckett, Paul, and Tom Garrett.

There's another Happy Together connection with Paul Shaffer--his good friend Ron Dante. This pic, of course, was borrowed from Ron's IMDB page. Ron produced mega-successful albums for Barry Manilow, Cher, and Pat Benatar, in addition to being the voice of many songs you grew up loving but never really knowing "who's singing on that song?"

As Paul Shaffer noted on a former "Late show with David Letterman" show, Ron is the person who gave Paul Shaffer his first break in the music business, as you'll see he mentions in the video. Ron played during all the commercial breaks with Paul and his Most Dangerous Band, including the amazing guitarist/vocalist/percussionist, Felicia Collins and bass player Will Lee. Paul's entire band was collectively known as the CBS Orchestra.

And, you'll love the connection between The Buckinghams and Paul Shaffer that goes back over 50 years, but it's entirely by serendipity that it happened. You remember how Paul grew up listening to the music of Chicago bands, especially The Buckinghams, at nights in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, as he could pick up the 50,000 Watt signal from Chicago's WLS-AM radio. He knew the voice of our first manager, Carl Bonafede, very well as Carl used to do all the overnight radio commercial spots himself.

In addition to being The Buckinghams' agent and band manager, Carl hosted a lot of music events (called dances or sock hops in the old days) across A clever radio ad man, Carl Bonafede would go around and get sponsors to buy air time to advertise their products and then he'd go into all the radio stations across Chicago and record his ads.

Using his own voice, you would have to know Carl to know that he's one of the fastest talkers in all of radio and he can give you two minutes worth of advertising in thirty seconds. He also has a way of showing his excitement about a project, a product, or a person that gets you all worked up about it, too. That's why he was often referred to as "The Screamin' Wildman!"

We used to say he was the hardest working man in music; he still is today. This is a recent photo of Mr. Bonafede selling his famous "Umbrella Hats," perfect for wearing over your head to keep the sun off you, especially on a hot day at Wrigley Field while watching a Cubs game, right?

So, when Paul used to have the band occasionally play "Kind of a Drag," coming back from commercials on the show, he always said, "The Buckinghams from Chicago, managed by 'The Screamin' Wildman,' Carl Bonafede." One night, Mr. Bonafede remembers, he was watching Dave's show with William "The Refrigerator" Perry as a guest. Because "The Refrigerator" was a Chicago Bear, the band was playing "Kind of a Drag," and Carl Bonafede remembers that as one of the highlights of his life, hearing Paul Shaffer say his name, noting that he couldn't imagine that he'd be remembered all those many years later.

Just like Paul Shaffer remembered Carl Bonafede, Paul Shaffer remembered the music he'd grew up listening to as a teenager himself in Thunder Bay, music from the earliest days of The Buckinghams, when they were on the USA Label in Chicago, before they'd signed with Columbia Records. The beauty of the circle of life that is the music business--it truly is a very small world.

And the tour keeps on rolling down the road.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Hits of the Happy Together Tour--Three Dog Night

Looking at the set list of the Happy Together Tour, it's easy to see all the titles and immediately know the artists who brought these songs to life on the radio and, if you were lucky enough to see them, in concert. Yet, for so many of the hits of the Happy Together Tour, none of the artists really are responsible for writing any of the songs that they made iconic. It is true, though, that the versions that American teenagers fell in love to hearing on the radio were not the versions recorded by the composers who wrote them. Imagine the joy of having written an amazing hit song, but never being the one to take it to the top of the charts? But when someone else breathes new life into your song, the product can be simply amazing. Sometimes you just have to know when to let go of a song so that someone else can make you a hit songwriter.

Twenty years ago, when Hoyt Axton passed away in 1999 at the age of 61, in an interview for the Los Angeles Times, it was written "Chuck Negron, former member of Three Dog Night, said he was saddened by Axton's death, adding that "thanks to Hoyt's genius, 'Joy' and its memorable opening lyric, 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog . . .' are arguably a part of Americana." Axton toured as Three Dog Night's opening act in 1969 and 1970, the story said. He wrote "Joy to the World" in 1971 and "Never Been to Spain" (Mama Told Me Not to Come) in 1972. Those are two million-sellers that Three Dog Night could thank him for. Back when they were hits, however, the band was not exactly in a thankful mood, as they were somersaulting through their career being impacted by their own poor decision-making skills, plus being led by people who they would come to view differently many years later, upon reflection. Axton's multitalented songwriter's compositions ranged from "Greenback Dollar" for the Kingston Trio as well as Steppenwolf's "The Pusher" in 1968. Hoyt's mother, Mae Axton, co-wrote "Heartbreak Hotel" for Elvis Presley. It ran in the family.

Here's Hoyt singing his composition, "Joy to the World":

Now, listen when Chuck Negron sang it:

Same song, right? But, sometimes, with the right artist, there's a difference between a songwriter creating a beautiful melody with brilliant lyrics that only "interpretation by someone else" brings special qualities of the song to light. Naturally, the version of the song that Three Dog Night put out on singles and their albums was a lot like Hoyt's--full of energy, bouncy fun, and a humorous song.

But Chuck's version from two years ago, though not flawless, reflects the powerful impact of the song on the audience. Every single one of the people gathered there knew the words, the melody, and they sang along with the artist, at his invitation. The audience experience of a Happy Together Tour provides that kind of environment. They're "Your Songs," the ones you grew up to, and it's your almost right, when invited, to join in all the fun.

Another of Chuck's signature tunes is Laura Nyro's "Eli's Coming," with some of the most complex and enchanting lyrics that make little to no sense, but we all sing along with them anyway, when we hear the song on the radio, right?

Imagine in your head how you hear the opening "Eli's Coming" and the organ swelling, and after the "you'd better hide your loving heart" warning, the song explodes into sheer energy. Featured on the album "Suitable for Framing," the Three Dog Night version is definitely a power ballad and you remember the voice of Cory Wells on it, as the story goes that Chuck thought it would be a good song for Cory to sing.

And, in concert these days, the way Chuck Negron sings it, unquestionably it's a power ballad. Here's a sample:

And yet, composer Laura Nyro sang it on her album "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession" with such a soft, high voice opening that you might have picked the needle up off the vinyl before hearing it out. Not long into the song, produced in multiple changing rhythms that you're sitting there shaking your head, wondering what you just heard, but then the song wanders into another new syncopation with multiple vocal overlays.

The fact remains that Hoyt Axton and Laura Nyro left behind amazing songs that we enjoy some 50 years after they were contemporary radio hits. Their lives were over too soon, but fortunately we still know them and their work because talented classic rock artists are still very much in demand today to bring these songs to life again, night after night after night.

And so the music plays on...

Rehearsing for The Happy Together Tour 2019

As of this date, there are 53 Happy Together Concert performances for the 2019. First up is State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on Wednesday, May 29th, but before the tour begins, you're looking at six different musical acts, a single backing band to keep up with all their songs, and then introductions of each group plus the evening's finale where everyone is on stage to sing. And you need the show producer who puts all these details together bringing the shows to your hometown. The producers are formally known as Flower Power Concerts, Inc., but that's actually the brainchild of Toby Ludwig and Ron Hausfeld. They're the same fellas who are behind several nationally popular tours, including "Hippiefest," "Rock the Yacht" Tour, "Happy Together" Tour and the soon-to-launch "It Was Fifty Years Ago Today" Tour.

Although many of these artists have been on tour together before in previous tour configurations, the magic just doesn't happen when the band starts playing. It's a matter of getting together early before the tour and rehearsing. That's a part of the touring world the audience doesn't get to see, but it's all made easier as Mark Volman (The Turtles, aka "Flo" of Flo & Eddie) is the consummate showman and ringmaster (with or without the top hat, you never know), who puts everyone at ease with his wild sense of humor.

The Next Phase Sound Studio in Farmingdale, New York was chosen as the tour's rehearsal site for Monday, May 27 and Tuesday, May 28.

They have many studio rooms available for rehearsal, plus they have a huge sound stage that's perfect for rehearsing this giant concert. This year's lineup includes:

The Turtles

Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night)

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap

The Buckinghams

The Classics IV

The Cowsills

Traditionally until 2017, The Turtles were always Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. Three years ago, Howard ran into some medical problems that kept him off the road since then, but Mark always reminds the audience of Howard, noting that he's missed and it's hoped he can rejoin in a future tour. In his stead is Ron Dante, a recording artist and respected music producer whose versatile voice allows him to blend in exactly as whomever he needs to. Specifically, he can sing Howard's notes perfectly and The Turtles' songs still sound authentic.

You may remember Ron as the male voice of "The Archies" song ("Sugar Sugar"), with Toni Wine as female lead, on radio and television. Ron is also the uncredited lead singer of The Cuff Links, whose hit "Tracy" is well known by many as well. So, this is the third year pairing Mark Volman with Ron Dante. Ron will also sing some of his music of The Archies, including "Jingle Jangle" (also recorded with Toni Wine). Then get ready for all the music of The Turtles, as Ron and Mark sing all the hits, including "Elenor," "You Baby," and "It Ain't Me Babe."

Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Night, is a veteran of many HTT tours. His unmistakable voice is heard on so many of Three Dog Night's hits yet the audience always has a hard time choosing which of his songs is their specific favorite. One song that's always guaranteed to get the audience singing along has to be "Joy to the World," that great Hoyt Axton tune from a very versatile songwriter. Hoyt also wrote their hit, "Never Been to Spain" as well.

Carl Giammarese, founding member, lead vocalist and guitarist for The Buckinghams and Nick Fortuna, founding member, bass player and vocalist, return in 2019 for the 10th anniversary of the 2010 25th anniversary of the Happy Together Tour. They could have called it the 35th anniversary of the Happy Together Tour (1984-2019), but that might complicate the math. Anyway, it's the anniversary of the anniversary and from "Kind of a Drag" to "Don't You Care," the audience loves to sing "I love you, yes I do, I do" when Carl sings "Susan." Count on hearing "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)."

The Classics IV are represented by lead singer since 2007Tom Garrett, and Paul Weddle on saxophone. Tom sings so many of their one-word massive chart hits, "Spooky," "Stormy," and "Traces." They had plenty of other hits with songs with more than one word, too, sharing songs so many teenagers fell in love to.

Gary Puckett brings his signature hits including "Young Girl," "This Girl is a Woman Now," "Lady Willpower," "Woman Woman," and "Over You," which includes the memorable lyrics: "Why am I losin' sleep over you? Relivin' precious moments we knew? So many days have gone by, Still I'm so lonely, and I, Guess there's just no getting over you, And there's nothin' I can do, Wastin' all of my time, all of my mind over you." The audience will join in on "Guess there's just no getting" without your even asking them to. And Gary graciously loves it when audiences sing.

But for so many of these amazing musical talents on the Happy Together Tour, when they tour separately around the country, they generally have a full band of sidemen with them. For example, Gary Puckett has his "Union Gap" band, The Buckinghams have three very talented sidemen, and The Cowsills actually have more family members who tour with them, including Susan's husband, Russ Broussard, but the configuration for the HTT includes Bob Cowsill, Paul Cowsill and Susan Cowsill, with their amazing familial harmony bringing you right back to "Indian Lakes," "Hair," and "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things" in the blink of an eye.

Now, there's one backing band to keep up with all the music of the Happy Together Tour. They're touring professionals, and two of them are longtime veterans of this tour. Musical contractor, guitarist, and vocalist Godfrey Townsend is the man with a plan. Manny Focarazzo on keyboards and vocals has been part of the tour for a very long time. Joining more recently are Chris Camilleri on drums and Barry Waller on bass.

You can't have a tour without sound mixing, lights, and the monitors comprising the Front of House engineer duties. J. C. Girardier is in charge of the FOH and Josh Lampert handles the monitors. You don't see them often, but they are the MVPs of the show. They put the hidden magic behind making everything sound so good that you can hear all the vocalists, the instruments, plus you don't have to wear earplugs as you would if you were at other concert venues (and you know you've had that happen before!).

Once the groups all arrived in Farmingdale, the rehearsals went very smoothly as the full group had a chance to put the plan into action. After two days of rehearsals, the band traveled 69 miles from Farmingdale, NY to New Brunswick, NJ for the tour opening on Wednesday, May 29th at the historic State Theatre.