Saturday, February 18, 2017

What Celebrating 50 Years Since Reaching #1 on Billboard Means in the World of The Buckinghams

Everyone who is a fan of the band The Buckinghams can easily name all the songs that were Top 10 hits, Top 20 hits, and Billboard Top 100 chartmakers. You have several songs that have personal, special meaning for you. But the song that took the native Chicagoans out of the basements of the band members' homes was the one USA Records released last, almost as an afterthought. "Kind of a Drag" has the distinction of being the song that took this band to the national level. Many wonderful bands are part of Chicago history, and they are as beloved today as they were in their time. But this one song, "Kind of a Drag" took flight and went to #1 on Billboard 50 years ago today, February 18, 1967.

Imagine what it was like for five young men to hold a copy of "Billboard" in their hands. For a few years, Carl and Jon-Jon had gone to the newsstand each week, buying a single copy of "Billboard" and reading it cover to cover. These days you hear about visualization techniques and dreaming about what you want in life. They didn't know exactly what it was they were doing, but they knew two things, they wanted to be a national band and they wanted a number one record. It was Jon-Jon who would ultimately start focusing on the financial aspects to what that number one status meant. He loved the business side of things almost from the start.

Carl Bonafede was one of the hardest working promoters in Chicago....he'd do his best to make sure everyone in Chicago knew who this band was. Bonafede had vision for making The Buckinghams the biggest band in Chicago. He did that. Dan Belloc's horn section made the arrangement unique and forever memorable.

James Holvay wrote the iconic song that propelled five young men into the spotlight and it gave him his first number one songwriting hit. The native of Lyons Township was multitalented as a writer, performer, and musician. He composed on piano and guitar and he was wiser than many young men his age, something that traveling the road with the Dick Clark tour gave him, along with street smarts you pick up along the way.

Although the iconic song spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard charts at the #1 spot and more weeks before and after that up an down the Top 100, even more impressive is that it has soared across the airwaves daily somewhere in this world every single day for the past 50 years, 18,250 days, 438,000 hours, 26,280,000 minutes.

Think about that--a two-minute song on the air waves and on wings of love. Thanks to SiriusXM radio, especially the 60s on 6 channel and Music Director Phlash Phelps and Program Director Lou Simon, The Buckinghams' music is alive and thriving. Music services keep this and other Buckinghams' songs alive, as you hear their music on airplane flights, in Hyatt Hotel properties, in Chicago's O'Hare airport, and yes, even in elevators and grocery stores. Even when terrestrial radio stations, once the primary sponsors of concerts around the country, played the music faithfully in the 1980s and 1990s, fell victim to program consultants, it was the unexpected places that the music remained alive for 50 years on the airwaves.

There are two key factors responsible for the songs making into our mainstream sonic consciousness for 50 years. It is first thanks to the fans of The Buckinghams--you above other factors set a demand for the music. From Dolores Chapman and her high school friends calling the radio stations requesting their songs be played on the air in the 1960s, to all of you who follow their concerts and go back year after year to wherever the band is playing around the country, you're the ones.

Next, Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna deserve special distinction as the ones among the founding members of the band who have kept the music of The Buckinghams alive, particularly on a daily basis since 1982. We all remember the five Buckinghams on the record: Dennis Tufano, the late John Poulos, original keyboardist Dennis Miccolis, Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna. Those are the five on "Kind of a Drag."

And yet, since 1982, every time the curtain has gone up, Carl and Nick are the ones who have been the keepers of the flame, and they've had a wonderful collective of musicians with them, many for a very long time, and each one has an important place in the history of the band. But were it not for their willingness to be at airports at 5 in the morning and spend 8 hours in the airport sometimes when flights get rearranged due to weather, for spending hundreds of hours on the road each year that they perform, and for the love they have for all of their fans, there would be no Buckinghams' concerts to look forward to.

Those of you who have attended concerts from the 1960s and from the 1980s forward know best of all the names of the others who have contributed their talents to The Buckinghams' performances, several of whom spent over four times as many years as the original recording group was together in the 1960s.

Bruce Soboroff joined Carl and Nick in 1986 and Dave Zane and Bruce "Rocky" Penn have been with the band since 2010, and, naturally, the musicians frequently known as The Buckinghorns, including Carlo Isabelli, Charles Morgan, Rich Moore have been with them for ages. Carl and Nick have carried the responsibility for assuring they bring the high standard of excellence to the music that is required for a performance that assures you leave having heard the music sung and played authentically, in the same key it was recorded, because you know how every note of every song goes.

Of course no list would be complete without Susan Rakis, who has attended more concerts than any other fan in the world, because she does both merchandising and she's the concert coordinator working behind the scenes to assure that when they walk on to the stage, everything is to their exact specifications. Each concert takes hours and days to advance, again unseen.

Those of us on the other side of the concert stage in the audience don't really get to see what it is like behind the scenes. We just know that we love being able to go to arenas, festivals, on cruises, or to showrooms in Las Vegas, and state fairs to see the musicians we regard doing what they do best, playing our songs.

It's profound to think, though, back in 1967, about how many 45s we bought, possibly 50 or more that year, each of which was important enough to spend the week's allowance, or a portion of it, on. Now, think about how many bands from that stack of our favorite records can we go see today? Very few, right? Fifty years of music later, James Holvay's song lives on, and thanks to Carl and Nick and all those who join them in concert and on the road, it will live on in our hearts and minds for many more years to come.

Undoubtedly, each of these variables has combined to make a truly memorable living legacy.

Congratulations to The Buckinghams for this very special milestone,

Dawn Lee Wakefield

Publicist for The Buckinghams