Thursday, May 19, 2011
GARY U. S. BONDS - THE STAR
Gary (U. S.) Bonds (b. Gary Anderson, June 6, 1939) is best known for a handful of great 45s on Frank Guida's Legrand label in the early 60s, like "New Orleans", "School Is Out", "Dear Lady Twist", "Twist Twist Senora" and the bona fide #1 hit "Quarter To Three". But after 1962, he seemed to "go away" until 1981, when he had a bit of a comeback under the tutelage of one Bruce Springsteen. Of course, the story's not quite that simple.....
When Gary Anderson hooked up with Frank Guida in Norfolk, VA in 1959, he was already a veteran of a couple of gospel groups and sang with an amateur group called The Turks. Guida had just started a new label called Legrand (pronounced "le grand") that already had one hit under its belt - the original VA version of "High School U. S. A." by Tommy Facenda (when the record got picked up by Atlantic, poor Tommy had to record twenty-seven more versions of the song to be sold in various areas of the US, since the lyrics name-checked high schools in said areas). Guida also had some brand-new recording equipment, which he wasn't exactly proficient in the use of (at least that's what Gary U. S. Bonds told me when I interviewed him a few years ago), thereby coming up with the ultimate in lo-fi sound! Today he'd be laughed out of the industry by snobby head-up-their-ass recording engineers. Gary Anderson recorded "New Orleans" and "Please Forgive Me" for Legrand in the early summer of 1960, and the record was released in late August. But to Gary's surprise, instead of saying "Gary Anderson" on the label, the song was credited to "By - U. S. Bonds". When Gary went back to Guida to ask, "what the hell?", Guida said that the name was a marketing ploy so that folks would remember to "buy U. S. Bonds" records. Despite this hair-brained scheme, the record became a huge Top Ten national hit, so big that Legrand had to hook up with Laurie Records in NY to take advantage of their distribution system.
But another problem arose; after three hit records ("New Orleans", "Not Me", "Quarter To Three"), the public and the DJs all thought that "U. S. Bonds" was a GROUP, since the records all had a group sound (courtesy of the incredible backing band of Gene "Daddy G" Barge, whose "A Night With Daddy G" 45 - also on Legrand - was the basis for "Quarter To Three"). This didn't sit too well with Gary, so on subsequent releases, the labels read "Gary (U. S.) Bonds".
We all know what happened next - hit after hit followed (many written by Gary), but by 1963 Bonds' records were no longer selling, and he faded from view. However, he did continue to have local hits in the Norfolk, VA area, and worked steadily, doing one-nighters all over the place. He also continued to record for Legrand and write for many of their artists until the label ceased day-to-day operations in 1967 (though Frank Guida continued to release records on his Norfolk International and S.P.Q.R. labels through the 70s and 80s, and even brought back Legrand for a reissue series in the early 80s). It was about this time that Gary (U. S.) Bonds hooked up with the Swamp Dogg.
Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams (b. July 12, 1942), also from Virginia, had been making records since 1954 for labels like Mechanic, Loma and Calla as "Little Jerry Williams". He and Gary had been on the same tour circuit several times, and began a writing partnership. Eventually they would write the Grammy-winning song "She's All I Got" for Freddie North (and, one year later, Johnny Paycheck would have one of his biggest country hits with the same song), and soul hits for Dee Dee Warwick ("She Kept On Talking"), Doris Duke ("To The Other Woman, I'm The Other Woman"), The Precisions ("You're The Best That Ever Did It") and Swamp Dogg himself ("Mama's Baby - Daddy's Maybe"). They also did a couple of one-off productions for Gary on labels like Botanic ("I'm Glad You're Back" b/w "Funky Lies") and this Joe Tex-styled stormer, released in 1969. It's a surprise to me that this 45 doesn't go with the "Northern Soul" crowd (probably because it's not "rare" enough for those dummies) - it's one of the best uptempo soul records I've ever heard. But what do I know?
Gary continued to play one-night stands all through the 1970s, until the night in Asbury Park when some scruffy weirdo named Bruce stormed the stage when Gary was on and asked if he could play with him. The best part was that Gary HAD NO IDEA who Bruce Springsteen was! Bruce and his buddy Little Steven produced a pair of hit singles for Gary ("This Little Girl", "Out Of Work"), which allowed Gary to raise his performance fees for a few years. Lately, when Gary's not touring, he does a lot of charity work, bringing food and supplies to people in need all over the world. When I spoke with him several years ago, he could not have been a nicer person, laughing at all the crazy things that has happened to him during his career. So let's all raise a glass to one of rock's true good guys, who keeps on rockin' to this day - check out his website here.
Gary U. S. Bonds - The Star (Atco 6689) - 1969