Thursday, March 3, 2011

Moonlight Mojo Man's "Sun Day" Interview with Carl Giammarese, February, 2011

Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna, joined by Bruce Soboroff, Dave Zane, and Rocky Penn, performed at the Sun City Community in Huntley, IL, March 2nd. This interview appeared before their concert.

"Sun Day" journalist/rocker "Moonlight Mojo Man" interview with Carl Giammarese, transcript here:

The following is an excerpt to a February 2011 interview between journalist, “Moonlight Mojo Man” and Carl Giammarese. Permission to share an edited version of the interview for Buckinghams’ fans has been granted by the Managing Editor of “Sun Day”, the publication serving the Sun City community in Huntley, IL. The link to the original, published article is: Our thanks to all.

February 24, 2011 | By Moonlight Mojo Man

All hail!

Sun Day’s Moonlight Mojo Man sat down recently with The Buckinghams co-founder and lead singer Carl Giammarese for a little quick and casual Q&A, as the popular Chicago band readies to head to Sun City at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 2 in Drendel Ballroom.

Moonlight Mojo Man(MMM): The MMM is pleased to be joined today by Carl Giammarese, one of the founders and lead singer of Chicago’s The Buckinghams and that name will bring back great memories for many of us children of the 60’s. Welcome, Carl.

Carl Giammarese (CG): Well thank you Mojo, thanks for interviewing me, I’m looking forward to it.

MMM: Thanks, Carl. I know that the group will be playing in Sun City this coming March 2nd in the Drendel Ballroom, I know I’ve got my tickets already. Probably most everybody knows who The Buckinghams are, but I’m betting that not as many know how this big adventure started for you all. Can you tell us a little bit about how the group got started and found its success?

CG: Well, of course, we started in the Chicago land area, mostly on the north side of the city. We sort of merged a couple different bands, you know, I played in the group with Nick Fortuna, called the Centuries and another guy Curt Bachman. Anyway, and then there was this other band called the Pulsations with Dennis Tufano and John Poulos and George Legros was in the band at the time. So, when the Centuries broke up they asked me to join them and I did. I saw a lot of potential there and I thought it was a great group. I thought Dennis & George were singing well and it just had a lot of potential, so I joined them and then, you know, initially Curt Bachman joined us as a bass player but then he left after a short time and Nick Fortuna came in. So, you know, we played for a short time as the Pulsations in 1965 and then we landed a TV show on WGN, a short- lived variety show called “All Time Hits.” It was a 13-week show and they were responsible for changing our name to The Buckinghams.

MMM: I see

CG: It’s a funny thing the producer of the show, his name was Sheldon Cooper and when you talked to him I liked to build it up and say, “we won the audition and a lot of bands tried out”. If you talked to him, though, he said “well, yes we picked those guys ’cause they were the least worst band.”

MMM & CG: laughter

CG: It really deflates your ego.

MMM: Well, I guess, but there are any number of moments like that, aren’t there? I know I was in a band in the 60’s as well and we played a lot of high school dances and so forth, did the Centuries play those sorts of things, too?

CG: Oh yeah, when we were leading up to that audition, we were playing all around Chicago and mostly in the Midwest and we played the Holiday Ballroom on the north side, The Embassy, Antoine’s, The Vogue Ballroom, The Wild Goose, and you know. So we did a lot of that. There was a club in Old Town on Wells street that we used to play and then we would play dances and hops around the Midwest and the tri-state area and we were always loading our manager Carl Bonafede’s station wagon with equipment and a trailer and we would get in that thing and drive. Eventually we got sponsored by Mr. Norm, the car dealer, and we sang this commercial, “Get with the go-group”. He gave us a van and then we had a van we used to pile our gear in. Then we would all lie on top of the equipment and drive all over the place

MMM: Well that was a great advantage wasn’t it? I think I read somewhere where the Centuries once played in front of an appliance store in Morton Grove, is that right?

CG: Well, that was one of our first gigs when we first got together. It might have been our first public show because up until then, the Centuries, we mostly played parties, you know a lot of weekend parties in Morton Grove area, and they would pay us with free beer or somebody would slip you 20 bucks or whatever. Then we had a chance, I think my cousin Jerry got us that gig, at Dempster Street in Morton Grove. Right in downtown Morton Grove, there was an appliance store and somewhere I have a picture in my file of us standing out in front with these little amplifiers. And we are standing in between all the appliances. So you’ll see me, then see a refrigerator, then Nick Fortuna, then you’ll see a television set and so forth. It was a funny, funny thing and that was probably our first public gig and I don’t even think we got paid for it.

MMM: And if it was an appliance store you probably didn’t get free beers either?

CG: No, no.

MMM: Well take us from, I guess, the All Time Hits show, to that moment when magic hit.

CG: Well, from All Time Hits, you know, they changed our name to The Buckinghams. They were looking for a British sound, you know the British invasion was happening and they came up with that and we were surprised that nobody was using the name and “The Buckinghams” worked. It sounded good. There was this guy who was the security guard who worked for the show; he came up with the name, so we went on the show with that name using The Buckinghams. The exposure was really good for us and that led to a recording contract. Our manager Carl Bonafede got us a contract with a Chicago-based local called USA Records and, you know, we recorded several songs. At that time we were a cover band, you know, we played cover material around the city, different places. We were doing everything from James Brown to the Beatles. We did soul tunes, we did British invasion songs, we did the Kinks, the Hollies, whatever. So when it came time to record we just covered some of those songs, you know. We did James Brown’s song, “I’ll Go Crazy”. That was a single, got some Midwest play and thank God, great radio stations like WLS and WCFL were very supportive of local bands. They put your song on rotation and that certainly helped a lot, especially your station like WLS, you could hear all over the country, that was a 50k watt station.

MMM: How about “Kind of a Drag”, where did that come from - that was not a cover, I gather?

CG: No, you know after doing a few cover songs and getting some exposure, we were looking for an original tune and our manager Carl Bonafede tapped on a guy by the name of Jim Holvay. Jim was a songwriter who also played with the band called The Mob. They were a big show band. I guess the material wasn’t right for the band and Holvay gave Carl a song on tape and he says, “Here, maybe they can do something with this song, it’s “Kind of a Drag”.” It was just him, strumming on a guitar, playing a little slower than we recorded it and we felt the song had a lot of potential. The hook of the song opens up with right away, not only that big intro, but (singing) “Kind of a Drag”. It’s right there as soon as you start, and so we figured let’s give it a shot, and we went into the old Chess studios on South Michigan Ave, and recorded it. And it was one of our producers, Dan Belloc, who owned the Holiday Ballroom; and, Dan was a band leader of the big band sound and he had a horn section and he thought “Hey this will be great with horns” and came up with the idea. Then he had his trombone player Frank Tesinsky do an arrangement. So we put the horns to it after we recorded the track and that really spiced it up.

MMM: Yeah, the horns were a little unusual at the time weren’t they?

CG: Yeah, and I always say this in our show, you know, we were first famous for a two and a half minute recording called ‘Kind of a Drag”; it was a number one record for us. But we were also, which some people don’t realize, credited with starting the pop/rock horn sound. You know that trombone-driven sound, which I would have to say was Belloc and Tesinsky were responsible for. Then, of course, later on when we went to Columbia records and Jim Guercio produced us, he continued that sound with “Don’t You Care”, “Mercy Mercy”, and “Hey Baby”, “Susan” and so forth. And, of course, Jim went on to produce Chicago, which has this similar horn arrangement sound to it.

MMM: All together, I think from what I can recall, it was 6 or 7 songs in the top 40 over the span of about a year and a half, wasn’t it something like that?

CG: Yeah, cause you figure “Kind of a Drag” was released in late ‘66 and all the hits in ’67; “Susan” was in ’68. Then we did the Ed Sullivan Show in ‘68 and we performed “Susan” on that show.

MMM: “Back in Love Again” was ‘68, wasn’t it?

CG: Yeah, late ‘68, you know it was at the most a 2-year period.

MMM: Well how exciting for a bunch of kids from North Chicago, huh?

CG: Yeah, it was very exciting. You know, who would have imagined a bunch of kids rehearsing in their parents’ basements would take it that far and have that kind of success and be named by Billboard magazine, the “Most Listened to Band” back in 1967, you know.

MMM: And by Cash Box as “The Most Promising Band”, I think, of 1967.

CG: Right, right, exactly.

MMM: The group actually continued up to about 1970 before you disbanded at that point, right?

CG: Right, after having all that success people ask me a lot of time “why’d you guys break up, or what happened?” And I would have to say you couldn’t put your finger on one exact thing; it was a combination of things. One was we were having some disagreements with management and changing producers and managers. In retrospect, that didn’t help us with our relationship with Columbia Records. But the main thing too, is that the music scene was changing so drastically in ‘69 and was a more underground heavier sound and albums started to sell more than singles. And you had Monterey Pop, you had Woodstock, groups like that. Columbia was signing Janis Joplin and Santana and so forth. So it was changing the way groups like us and the Association and the Turtles and the Beach Boys were kind of like becoming a little passé, I’d have to say, at that point.

MMM: Late 60’s was a very different sound wasn’t it?

CG: Right, it changed all at once. I think the Beatles went that way with Sgt. Pepper and that’s when things like the concept albums started coming out. We gave it a shot, we did a wonderful album called “Portraits” that was a concept album, the way the songs script together and was really different for the Buckinghams. But, you know, our audience was used to “Kind of a Drag” and “Hey Baby” to buy into that from us. So that was changing and we were kind of losing interest in that, but still excited about making music. And so then Marty Grebb left us first, he was our keyboard player and he went on to do some other things. He played with a group called the Fabulous Rhinestones and later on, he did play with Chicago and as a back-up player for many musicians, including Eric Clapton, and so forth. Nick was more interested in R& B music at that time and John Poulos, our drummer, was more interested in the business end of things.

MMM: I know that you and Dennis did kind of a duo thing for a period of time?

CG: I was going to say Dennis and I wanted to get into the singer/songwriter mode as a duo and we landed a record deal after playing small venues around Chicago for a couple of years. We kind of went back to our roots and we were writing a lot and we were just a couple of guys with acoustic guitars and we landed a record deal with the great Lou Adler back in ‘72. And Lou had just come off winning about 7 Grammy awards with Carole King. So he signed us and we did three albums with him and the first album got a lot of attention, but we were just never able to pull out that big hit. While the exposure was different, we didn’t have that success with it.

MMM: Obviously The Buckinghams are back now, how did that happen?

CG: Well, after going through the 70’s and it just seemed like there was no interest in 60’s music, Dennis & I finally called it quits in ‘77 and I came back to Chicago, because we were out in LA a lot and I started singing commercial jingles, because Chicago was a big “jingle town”. I probably sang on about 170 commercials over a period of a few years.

And then all of a sudden it was 1980 and I got a phone call from John Gehron, who was the program director at WLS. John asked me if I we would be interested in doing a Reunion show at Chicago Fest on Navy Pier, which was just happening. And I don’t know; we had never really able to pull it together and I always thought “if I could get all the guys together,” but it never seemed to work out. John Poulos, our original drummer was a big fan of doing that for many years and he passed away in the summer of 1980, so I called Dennis Tufano and I called Nick Fortuna, and I called Marty Grebb. Marty was unable to join us because he had just started playing with Chicago, but Dennis and Nick were up for it, so the three of us got together and pulled a couple other musicians in with us: another keyboard player John Cammelot and we picked a couple different drummers at the time: Tom Radtke and Tom Osfar.

Anyway we rehearsed for a couple weeks and went and played Chicago Fest in 1980 I think it was July, a gigantic turnout. We had about 12 thousand show up on the Pier. It was so exciting and so much fun, that we did a few other dates around the Chicago area. We played the Park West Theatre a few times; we did it on New Year’s Eve, I think, in ‘81 I think it was. But what was happening was you felt this insurgence and excitement of 60’s music again, in the early 80’s. And every year for a few years we were getting offers to play more dates and Jam Productions was booking us for some of the dates and so forth.

Then I talked it over with Nick and Dennis, who was living in LA at the time, and we talked about, well, we could feel this building, “why don’t we just go out and put the band together permanently and go play nationally and record again” and so forth. Nick was up for it and we approached Dennis Tufano and initially he was excited about it. He sounded like he wanted to do it and this was like early ‘83, and so we were in the studio doing some recording and all of a sudden Dennis turned to us and said, “you know what guys, I really don’t want to be a Buckingham any more”. He had his acting career going on in LA; he was doing a lot of things and so we were a little deflated, as you can expect.

MMM: And that’s how Carl Giammarese became the lead singer?

CG: Yeah well, Nick said to me, “Why don’t we do it anyway?”, and my initial reaction was “I don’t want to do that, that’s too weird, I don’t know what that would be like”. But that was the turning point for me and I said, “Well, I’ll give it a shot”. I had been singing a lot on jingles and I had been singing with Tufano and Giammarese on lead half the time, so I had sort of put the lead guitar down back in 1970. So, we did it and we found out immediately that what people wanted to hear was those great songs again and they weren’t that concerned, as long as they had some originality in the band, they accepted it. So it kept building. We tried different band members back and forth and then in ‘85 we were offered the “Happy Together Tour” with the Turtles and the Grass Roots and Gary Lewis and Playboys, and that was the biggest tour that year; we played probably 200 cities over a period of 7 months.

MMM: Did I read that that Tour is going to be renewed this year or last year?

CG: Right, so what happened was last year, we went on to play and tour every year since. We would play 60/75 dates a year and having put a great band together, Nick and I. And it’s been a lot of fun and then last year we were offered the Happy Together Reunion Tour, the 25th Anniversary Tour. We didn’t make it anywhere near as long as the first tour, because we’re a lot older now, but I was still in my 30’s during that first tour. Anyway, all in all we played about 30 dates over the summer and it was with not only us, but with the Turtles, Grass Roots, Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees and Mark Lindsay from the Raiders. And it was very successful; it really was received well and we played a lot of nice venues and big venues. So they’re re-tapping it again this year. We will be out probably in July doing “Happy Together” dates.

MMM: Any stops in the Chicago land area?

CG: Well, to be honest I haven’t seen the schedule yet. I’m sure that there will be a Chicago land date. So along with that we’ll, of course, be playing with our band. Nick and I have a great rendition of The Buckinghams now, with Bruce Soboroff on keyboards and Dave Zane on guitar and Rocky Pennon drums, and Steve Frost with Carlo Isabelli on trumpet, and Rich Moore on sax and Chuck Morgan on trombone. Those guys have been working with us for a long time.

MMM: And for a group that actually started at an appliance store, you’ve also played a couple Inaugural balls, now haven’t you?

CG: Right, we played the last two, we played President Bush’s inaugural ball and more recently President Obama’s.

MMM: Wait a minute; you were hired by both the Republicans and Democrats?

CG: Yeah, we don’t show any preference here.

MMM: Maybe we should be sending you to Washington to get something done?

CG: Yeah, maybe I can create that bipartisan deal that we need so badly, you know…

MMM: Well I know the group has continued to record. In fact, I recently bought a copy of “Reaching Back,” which is, for our readers, a CD that blends both the new and old. It’s got some of the hits on there but it’s interesting that the new stuff sounds very much like very vintage Buckinghams. How are you able to achieve or recreate that sound on entirely new songs?

CG: I appreciate it, thank you. Well, that album was an act of love for me to put together because I produced it. We tried doing some things through the years. Back in ‘85, we created a sound on an album called, “A Matter of Time” that was very 80’s-sounding and that didn’t work out so well. Then we recorded with Nation Records in Chicago, Phil Vaughn’s label, we did an album called “Terra Firma,” which was real cutting edge. I thought a great sounding album - a little too maybe, eclectic, as far as the way the songs connected to one another because it was a bunch of tunes that Bruce Soborroff and I wrote at different periods of time. And it just wasn’t Buckinghams enough I guess, so then fans kept asking me, “Well why don’t you tap into that sound you guys had from the 60’s more?” I started thinking about it and I was like “well, I don’t know if I can go back to that”. And so then what I did was I started listening to and it had been years since I listened to “Time and Charges” and “Portraits” and those albums and, of course, I’ve certainly over a period of 40 yrs, become a much better musician and arranger and producer. I think you learn a lot over all those years, so I listened to all those albums and I’m going, “that’s how Guercio did it; this is what he did here and this is where he put this and this is what the arrangements were” and I locked in and pretty soon I found myself writing songs that were sort of in that bag, in that mode with the Buckingham sound, which was very progressive at the time. The horn arrangements, the string arrangements, it was almost symphonic, and some of it with the augmented and diminished chords and the way the chord changes and the voicing of the chords.

MMM: Well it’s a remarkable achievement to listen to entirely new music and be transported back to that Buckingham sound.

CG: Well, that was my idea, to create an album of new songs with going back through to that sound, but with new songs.

MMM: Well, Carl that CD “Reaching Back” and other CD’s that the group has are available on your website. Can you give us that please?

CG: Sure, is our website and all our albums, “Reaching Back” and we’ve got the new “Up Close” CD/DVD and it’s both, of a show we did at the Star Plaza Theater not too long ago. It came out really great and, of course, our Christmas album is available and they are all available. We have a bunch of things and you can purchase them right off the website; everything is up on ITunes now and all the downloads, they’re there for us.

MMM: And there’s a Facebook page for The Buckinghams, I imagine?

CG: Right, we’ve got or Facebook page “Chicagosveryown Buckinghams”, “The Buckinghams”, and there’s a Carl Giammarese, Singer/Songwriter Facebook page also. Hey, you know, we’re cutting edge!

MMM: From appliance store to White House, that’s a pretty amazing ride, hasn’t it been?

CG: It sure has and you talk about that ride from the appliance store to where we are now, I’ve been writing a book with a really great writer, Dawn Lee Wakefield. She and I are co-writing an autobiography. We’ve been working on it for 3 years and hope to have it done before summer this year. And it’s just reconnecting with so many people that we’ve interviewed through my career and it should be a really fun book, really interesting, a lot of insight into the business and things we’ve done - some funny stuff. So I’m excited about getting that out there, too.

MMM: That is exciting. That will be a lot of fun to read. Well, tell us what can folks attending the concert on March 2nd look forward to?

CG: Well, we always do a pretty high energy, exciting show, I think. And it’s not only can you guys expect to hear all our hits and maybe some of the album cuts too, but we like to cover a lot of material that were on the charts with us back in the 60’s. So we may do a medley tribute to the “Solid Gold 60’s Tour” that we did with the Turtles & the Grass Roots and Tommy James and so forth. We will do that and cover some tunes. I love to sing like “The Worst That Could Happen”, a ballad, “Good Lovin’” we’ll do, too. It’s just the whole idea is to take a trip down memory lane for that period of time in the middle to late 60’s.

MMM: Are we going to get to hear some of the new songs as well?

CG: Yeah, we will do some of the songs from “Reaching Back”. We’ll probably do “We Were Living a Dream” off there. I don’t know what else; we haven’t made up the set list. You know, Nick likes to sing “Expressway” and “Domino”, the old Van Morrison tune and, of course, we like to joke around and kid around with the audience, too. We always have a good time. Its pretty high energy, you know. We have a good time. By the time we’re done, everybody should really be taken back to that time period and hopefully some really good memories.

MMM: Well that’s great, I know I’m looking forward to it and last time I checked, there were a few seats still available, so buy your tickets folks and Carl, thanks so much for joining us today, we all look forward to it.

CG: Oh you’re welcome and I’m always happy to do it.

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