Monday, November 16, 2020

7'' Gary Puckett & The Union Gap - Lady Willpower (1968) & LP Woman, Woman (1968)

Gary Puckett started playing and singing with friends at hops and local talent shows while he was still in high school in Twin Falls, Idaho. Eventually, he enrolled as a pysch major at San Diego City College where he studied for about a year before quitting to hang out with local musicians. At one point, Gary put together an R&B group called The Outcasts, but they didn't last. Next, he formed Gary And The Remarkables, a band which while talented, had nothing that was truly remarkable. Gary realized that he needed a gimmick, something that would attract attention and make his group really distinctive. After considering a number of ideas, he decided on a military motif, costuming each member in a blue and gold civil war uniform. As lead singer, lead guitarist and General, Gary would command Sargeant Dwight Bement on bass, Corporal Kerry Chater on rhythm guitar , Private Gary Withem on keyboards and Private Paul Wheatbread on drums. Adapting the name from historic Union Gap, Washington, his new ensemble became, The Union Gap, featuring Gary Puckett.
In January 1967, the band quickly began to draw some attention in the San Diego area. "We were very business like" recalled Gary. "We made up a brochure with pictures, clippings, song lyrics and a demo record which was actually my voice with another group because we couldn't afford to make a Union Gap demo". Gary took this promotional kit around to various record companies in L.A. and was turned down by all of them. Finally, just before leaving town, he visited Columbia Records and was directed to producer Jerry Fuller. Jerry chuckled at the photos but listened to the demo and agreed to come out and see The Gap on the second night of their regular weekend gig. That booking happened to be in the lounge of a San Diego bowling ally, where the boys had to compete with the sounds of rolling balls and crashing pins. The group coasted through three rather routine sets before Jerry stepped forward and said "Let's make some records." The Union Gap signed contracts on June 21st, 1967 and on August 17th cut what was to be their first single, "Woman Woman". Released one month later, it broke in Cleveland in November, rising to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 during a fifteen week stay in the Top 40. Jerry Fuller would later recall, "Naturally, since it was such a big hit, we were sent a lot of songs to use as a follow-up, but I just didn't hear the kind of song I wanted. Finally, I dug out a thing I'd given up on six months before that. I re-wrote the song and played it for the group. They didn't care much for it, but I talked them into recording it". That song was "Young Girl".

"As far as what inspired 'Young Girl', that's another story" said Jerry Fuller. "I was on the road a lot as an artist, fronting various groups for many years. I guess every entertainer goes through a time when fourteen-year-olds look like twenty-year-olds. That's somewhat of an inspiration... not from my own experience, but just knowing that it happens." "Young Girl" took off in early March 1968 and by the next month was one of America's best selling singles, reaching #2 in America. Years later, Gary Puckett would recall, "People come up to me and say 'We fell in love while listening to that song.'"

All of the Union Gaps records had a warm, romantic feel, and the hit streak continued with "Lady Willpower" (#2 in 1968), "Over You" (#7 in 1968), "Don't Give In To Him" (#15 in 1969, and "This Girl Is A Woman Now" (#9 in 1969. "When you listen to those records today", said Fuller, "they sound fairly simple. We didn't try to get contrived, because we didn't know how. We always tried to make the music say what the lyrics did. We let the songs dictate our arrangements." That philosophy must have worked, because in 1968, The Union Gap managed to outsell Rock's number one group, The Beatles.

As the face of Pop music evolved, the hits stopped coming. A song called "Let's Give Adam Another Chance" stalled at #41 in the Autumn of 1970, followed by another flop, "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", which quit climbing at #85 that November. Eventually the members of the group began to develop other interests and disbanded in 1971. Rhythm guitarist Kerry Chater wrote songs for other popular acts including Bobby Darin and Cass Elliot. Bassist Dwight Bement later joined the oldies act Flash Cadillac And The Continental Kids. Drummer Paul Wheatbread turned to concert promotion, and keyboardist Gary Withem returned to San Diego to teach high-school band. Gary Puckett tried acting for a while, but met with limited interest. He also recorded as a solo act and with his brother David, but was never able to match his earlier success. A single called "Keep The Customer Satisfied" only made it to #85 during a one week stay on the Billboard Pop chart in February, 1971. It would prove to be his final appearance on the Hot 100.

Puckett continued as a solo artist and enjoyed success playing festivals, theaters, and arenas throughout the world. He was part of the highly successful 1984 version of the Happy Together Tour, which also featured The Turtles, The Mamas & Papas, and Spanky & Our Gang. His casual, mild-mannered demeanor on and off the stage gave no indication of the powerful singing voice he possessed that did not diminish over the years, and if anything, got stronger. Besides being a familiar face on the oldies circuit, Gary also released some new material, including a 2001 holiday album entitled "Gary Puckett at Christmas". In 1994 and 2002 he performed at the Moondance Jam near Walker, Minnesota. In 2009, Gary Puckett And The Union Gap were inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. Throughout the decade, Gary continued to perform live concerts in venues across the U.S. On June 20th, 2010, he performed for the first time in Union Gap, Washington, the namesake city of his former band.

Throughout the following decade, Gary Puckett still maintained a heavy touring schedule, and although the COVID-19 virus canceled most of 2020's plans, he was still booked for shows into 2021.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Gary Puckett

 Woman, Woman (1968)


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