Monday, September 27, 2021

Six Degrees of Separation--From The Buckinghams to Kevin Bacon

What are the chances that one Buckinghams concert in 1968 would find itself relevant again in 2017? Relevant, that is, if you find it on the path of the string of people connected to the films of actor Kevin Bacon? Remember that game that “assumed that anyone involved in the Hollywood film industry can be linked through their film roles to Bacon within six steps”?

On August 11, 1968, Dennis Tufano and Carl Giammarese (Bacon number of 6), two of the founding members of the band, The Buckinghams (Bacon number of 5), were in the heyday of their musical careers as a beloved national act. The previous year, Billboard Magazine had named them "The Most Listened to Band in America." Photo top: Carl, Jon-Jon; bottom: Nick, Marty, and Dennis.

Now, The Buckinghams were booked to perform for one week, August 5-11, as the stage band in performances of “Sweet Charity” (Bacon number 4), the play that actress Shirley Maclaine (Bacon number 3) made famous nationwide.

The performance was at the Starlight Theatre, in Kansas City, Missouri, and the actress in this particular stage production was Patti Carr, but just assume for the sake of Bacon’s continuity that we are dealing with Shirley Maclaine.

From the ad, you can see that their performance was a coming attraction amidst stars performing in other shows including Kaye Stevens, Ethel Merman, Arthur Godfrey, and Vikki Carr. And, The Buckinghams were accepted by parents and teens alike when they crossed over to a popular show. Even though they had Beatle haircuts, they were considered sufficiently moderate to be "those nice, clean-cut boys" who play that pop music so nicely.

Carl remembered, “I know we were all so excited to be performing in a play that everyone in the country was talking about. My dad even took a day off of work to take the train from Chicago to Kansas City to see us one night. That was one of my proudest moments back then. I was just about to turn 21 years old, and it meant so much that he would travel to see us in that play.”

As part of the pre-show publicity, Dennis Tufano made a visit to the Metcalf Merchants Mall in Overland Park, KS, for their first birthday celebration. They had a one-hour autograph party wher people could meet The Buckinghams and be encouraged to drive over to the Starlight Theatre the next evenings. Back in the day organizations preplanned events together for cross-promotion well in advance of the actual concerts.

The performance was at the Starlight Theatre, today quite an icon among venues for its amazing outdoor setting.

The booking represented a fresh start for The Buckinghams to showcase their talents and set them apart from all the other popular bands of the 1960s, another bright move by Columbia Records to promote their recording artists. In the August 3, 1968, edition of Billboard Magazine, the promotions team ran an ad with the following claim:

“Twenty years ago, when Columbia introduced the LP, records were a $200,000,000/yr business. Today, they’re a $1,000,000,000/yr industry….Music itself has changed. The significance of lyrics. The new instrumentation. The full range of creative expression. Audiences have changed too. More and more people are listening to a wider variety of music than ever before. Because society’s changed. And the question many people ask is ‘Which has worked more influence upon the other, society or music’?”

Columbia was always thinking ahead, and their promotions and A&R department were clearly the best in the business, and we really were fortunate to be signed with them at the time pop music was at its peak. Of course, times would change again, but The Buckinghams were able to keep pace for 18 months longer. Other factors intervened and the band would go in a different direction in 1969.

For this shining moment, the connections were linked. In 2017, the movie “The Last Word,” the plot stars Shirley Maclaine. Maclaine plays (perfect casting) a somewhat crusty businesswoman, Harrier Lauler, who has attended the funerals of so many of her contemporaries and reading their obituaries in the newspaper infuriates her, as they describe a litany of accomplishments that are (she feels) far less than what she has done in her life. Maclaine walks into the local newspaper’s office and finds obituary writer, Anne Sherman, played by Amanda Seyfried (Bacon number 2). The movie is solid gold, between acting, plot, and nuances that it’s worth renting on Amazon Prime or even owning.

Freeze frame for just a minute and find another reason this magical pathway has relevance. The movie “The Last Word” has a scene where Amanda Seyfried is going through Shirley Maclaine's vinyl collection to select an album to play on the stereo [music and vinyl records are an important subplot] and Seyfried takes an overly long pause in the collection, long enough for the camera to focus on one album of special interest to fans of The Buckinghams (Bacon number 5):

You might be asking, “How did that happen?” It’s all about product placement in movies and one possible explanation for the subliminal sighting of the very first album by The Buckinghams on Columbia, “Time and Charges,” is possibly there because one of the film’s producers might just have a copy around her house. In fact, odds are strong she does.

Anne-Marie Mackay, one of the film’s producers (with a Bacon number 2), who also developed the project to bring it to film, married Dennis Tufano (Bacon number 6), founding member and former lead vocalist for The Buckinghams, in 2015 after many years together.

And, the beauty of producing a film is the right to hide such “Easter eggs” in the program for audiences to spy at their delight. But to be fair, the 60s band that received the most attention and accolades in the film is undeniably The Kinks, "the most underrated band of all time."

In the film industry, Ms. Mackay is renowned for "creating and overseeing the successes of Palomar Pictures (of which she is a cofounder) and Propaganda Films ($40MM in annual revenues by 1990 in just the music division); she's represented directors to the record industry and they've produced "hundreds of videos and concerts for artists including The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Tom Petty, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Michael Jackson" and more. She has been nominated for multiple Emmys and Grammys.

Anne-Marie and Dennis have a business together. And wouldn't they be very photogenic if they went in front of the cameras in a film project themselves? But that is still not the pathway to Kevin Bacon.

But wait, there's one more! In "The Last Word,” playing Ronald Odom, third generation heir of a family newspaper for whom Amanda Seyfried is the obituary editor. Scott, as most 60s fans will recall, played “Skitch,” the drummer in the Tom Hanks’ 1996 movie, “That Thing You Do,” that followed the path of the fictional band, The Oneders. In an interview years ago, Dennis Tufano said he heard The Buckinghams were one source of inspiration for Hanks creating the movie.

Really, it’s a generic “insert any successful 60s band here” format, except for the ease with which the band’s promoter, played by Hanks, inserts a new band member on “The Ed Sullivan Show” broadcast almost instantly, to make up for one who left the group virtually overnight to get married. That’s a little closer to home to The Oneders (pronounced Wonders) that The Buckinghams came than the others.

Before “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the original keyboardist (on all the USA Records, including “Kind of a Drag”) left the band to go to college and get married. Enter Marty Grebb (after one other brief substitution) and you had national success because of the formula. Someone would have to ask Tom Hanks, but that is still not the path to the final step, Kevin Bacon. Give up?

In 2020 Amanda Seyfried, aka (Bacon number 2), filmed “You Should Have Left,” described as a “psychological horror film,” together with…and here we are: (Bacon number 1) Kevin Bacon. It’s an interesting journey from Carl and Dennis to Kevin Bacon, but it appears as a "close enough to be correct" six-step pathway. And there you have it!

Now, maybe you can take a few minutes and see how you might connect to Kevin Bacon. You might very likely only six steps away! And....go!