Thursday, March 26, 2020

Remembering John Poulos, 40 Years Later

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been 40 years since The Buckinghams’ leader, drummer John Poulos, passed away at the too-young age of 32. Travel back in time for a few minutes as we remember John through the eyes and memories of his bandmate and friend, Carl Giammarese.

First, Carl's video message, especially for friends and fans of The Buckinghams, who’d journeyed with them from their earliest days. John’s legacy of love lives on, and his many gifts and talents are remembered by those who loved him dearly, especially his widow, Dale Fahey, and their daughter, Polly, a talented creative in her own right.

And now, flashback to the very beginning. From the band photo (above) the year was 1965 and The Pulsations won a battle of the bands in Chicago, chosen to perform on Chicago’s WGN-TV for 13 weeks on the show, “All Time Hits.” Band members on the show by the 4th week were: [L to R]: Nick Fortuna, Dennis Miccolis, John Poulos (seated), Dennis Tufano, and Carl Giammarese (seated)]. As most of you know, before the first episode of the program was broadcast, producers didn’t like their name—The Pulsations.

You know the story of the name change, but the bottom line was American audiences were introduced to the group ultimately as The Buckinghams…now that sounded just right. After those 13 weeks, John and all his band members (with Nick Fortuna coming in when bassist Curtis Bachman left to join Saturday’s Children in the fourth week and George LeGros was drafted into the U.S Army) became household names. The lineup who originally won the band for the TV show is pictured below, including Curtis Bachman and George LeGros, sitting behind John (photo courtesy of Carl Bonafede).

So many new opportunities were waiting for them. WGN-TV was based in Chicago, but the signal was strong and could be seen beyond the immediate city.

Carl Giammarese remembers that John at that time had such a focus on the entertainment business, a fascination beyond a passing interest. John was the de facto “leader of the band” for two reasons: first, he loved it and second, everyone else was happy to have him step up and take charge. John was the one signing all the contracts for the band, from the beginning.

One of the favorite parts of the week for John and Carl was when they’d go to the news stand to purchase the latest copy of “Billboard Magazine.” This was before they were ever in it. You know what they say about focusing on your dreams and never giving up. It’s the path of visualizing that helps dreams to come true.

As future record co-producers Carl Bonafede and bandleader Dan Belloc saw, there was such popularity of the band based on the buzz from the TV appearances. They acted quickly to get the band into the recording studio and they financed their first recordings. Three singles released were regional hits and the rest is….Buckinghams’ history.

From Chicago to New York City in less than 700 days. Let’s go back to 1967 and visit another of the best times in John’s life.

The powerful presence on Chicago radio and TV was The Buckinghams’ ability to ultimately launch James Holvay’s song, “Kind of a Drag” to number 1 on the Billboard charts. Imagine the look on John’s face the week of February 18, 1967, when he opened his copy at the news stand and saw it in print. Certainly that was another turning point in his life.

John was a drummer, not a singer or part of the background vocals, the way all the other band members were. Carl spoke of John’s singing debut—and his finale—on record in the song, “The Married Life,” from their first Columbia Records album, “Time and Charges.”

At any rate, here’s John holding up fairly well, despite his four bandmates and their tour manager at the time, Peter Shelton, giving him a good-natured but tough-to-concentrate ribbing, while he was attempting to record the song. He made it through the song, despite his friends. From that same album, the opening drum fills of “Don’t You Care” reflect the creativity that John (or Jon-Jon as he was best known to the fans) had, as does the smile that was always on his face in any situation. Here’s John featured on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” or as it was sometimes known, “The Smothers (Comedy) Brothers Hour.”

The 1980 reunion of The Buckinghams at Navy Pier was “poignant,” Carl Giammarese said, “because of all of us, John was the one that wanted so much to have the band back together. He missed it so much and he would have been the first one in to say ‘yes.’” But, he’d passed away a few months prior to the reunion even being considered. Life went on and Carl reached out to the other members, and you know how that all flowed from that point on.

Time stopped again, in 2010. Throwing back to a Thursday ten years ago, Carl shared his memories at the 30th anniversary of John’s passing in the story (link follows):

Recent stop on the journey back—four years ago, when Carl released his third solo album, “Living in the Moment.” He shared that John Poulos was the inspiration for writing his song, “I’ll Remember You.” At the time, Carl posted on Facebook: “John Poulos was like a brother to me. He was the original drummer and a founding member and leader of The Buckinghams. When he passed away in 1980 it hit me hard. These lyrics reflect my feelings and how I remember him:"

‘I’ll remember you, will you remember me

I guess it’s just the way it had to be

When the days turned to years, you should never fear

That you’ll become a distant memory

I can’t believe you’ll never have tomorrow

You’ll always be a part of yesterday

And when I get this feeling of sorrow

I wonder what you would have been today.’”

This brings us to today, March 26, 2020.

A good way to remember John is not with our tears, but with our smiles. Let that be his continuing legacy, to lift your spirits by his smile, his sense of humor, his devotion to the band and their music, and his love of this life we all are still privileged to enjoy.

~~Dawn Lee Wakefield