by Ben McLane, Esq.
The year 1967 was a magical one for music. There were some big bands: The Beatles, The Monkees, The Mamas and the Papas, The Buckinghams...that's right, the Buckinghams. Often summarily dismissed as mere horn rock or bubblegum pop, the Buckinghams out of Chicago ushered in 1967 with the classic number one hit "Kind of a Drag." Four more memorable pop songs raced into the top 20 immediately thereafter "Don't You Care," "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)," and "Susan" making The Buckinghams legitimate chart contenders that year. I spoke with original lead singer, Dennis Tufano, about the rise and fall of this historic band.
"Jon Poulos [drums] and I knew each other from the neighborhood and we were the first in the band. Originally, we were called the Pulsations. We went through several players before finding Carl Giammarese [guitar] and Nick Fortune [bass]. Dennis Miccoli was our fist keyboard player, and he is the one playing on 'Kind Of A Drag,' but music was more of a hobby for him." Soon after "Kind Of A Drag" was recorded, Miccoli was replaced by Marty Grebb, the keyboard player from the Chicago folkrock band The Exceptions. (It is interesting to note that members of The Exceptions were also Peter Cetera, later of Chicago and Kal David, later of The Illinois Speed Press.)
Like many bands from that era, the television medium was an early career boost for the group. "We won a 'Battle of the Bands' for a local TV show, 'All Time Hits,' and we became regulars on the show for 14 weeks. The British invasion was happening at that time and the TV show wanted us to use a more British sounding name. A security guard that worked for the TV station actually came up with the name The Buckinghams."
During this period, the band signed to the Chicagobased independent label, USA. "Jim Holvay [of another popular Chicago horn band, the Mob, later to chart on Colossus] approached us and said he had some original songs that his band was not going to do and that maybe we could do something with them. He gave us a tape that contained his songs 'Kind of A Drag,' 'Don't You Care,' 'Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song),' and 'Susan.' [Gary Biesber, also of The Mob, cowrote the latter three.] We took the tape home, liked 'Kind of A Drag,' and rearranged it a bit differently, added horns."
The Buckinghams recorded several sides for USA with Carl Bonafede and Dan Belloc handling production chores. "Bonafede was our original manager. He was a local DJ at a club called the Holiday Ballroom that the band played at early on. He discovered us and said you guys should make a record. [Bonafede later produced groups such as Thee Prophets and The Lot.] 'Kind of a Drag' was not released right away. USA thought it was too slow. Instead, they choose to release the more up, R&B sounding sides, such as 'Laudy Miss Claudy' (aka 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy'). The band had done a deal with USA for about 12 sides. There were no options. After they released 'Kind Of A Drag,' the contract was up. USA did not push the song. However, the local station, WLS radio, got on it heavy. Within a month, it was in the top 10 in the Midwest. After that, the brass we used became known as the 'Chicago Sound.'"
Like a dream come true, "Kind Of A Drag" was soon number one in the country. "It was ironic, for six months we had no label, no manager, no keyboard player, and we opened up Billboard magazine and 'Kind of a Drag' was number one. A friend of ours from Chicago was the cousin of Jim Guercio. Guercio was playing bass for Chad & Jeremy at the time. His motivation was to be a producer. However, Columbia would not let him produce Chad & Jeremy because he did not have a name. We were his calling card to be a producer for Columbia. He went to Columbia and said 'I've got the group with the number one record. They are yours, but I produce.' That was the deal that was cut." Guercio also became the new manager, along with Garrick Ebbins. "Ebbin's father was at the William Morris Agency. Ebbins was the business connection to showbiz. Guercio connected with him in order to have a legitimate management company."
The first Columbia album, "Time & Charges," with Guercio now the producer, introduced a change of direction in the group's music, as evidenced by such tracks as "And Our Love" and "Foreign Policy." "The symphonic element was Guercio's idea. About onehalf of it was okay with us. It got a little overproduced sounding compared to our other material. But, our arguments were tempered by the success of the record. So we had to go with the flow. Although the album reads arranged and conducted by James William Guercio John Andrews really did these duties, but never got credit." (Andrews later got credit for arranging [along with Marty Grebb] and conducting the last charting single by the Buckinghams, "Back In Love Again" (BB #57, 1968)). This album included the big hits "Don't You Care" (BB #6, 1967) and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (BB #5, 1967). The success of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" was unexpected. "We recorded it as an album cut only. Columbia released it as a single to followup to 'Don't You Care.' Bam, it became another hit."
The second Columbia album, "Portraits," showed tremendous growth in the band and an attempt to change with the times; to not be pigeonholed as a bubblegum group. Unfortunately, that growth led to the demise of The Buckinghams. "We wanted to write a lot of the stuff. On the road, we really started to get into it. This was a problem for Guercio because he saw it as the group gaining back some control. We told him that since we wrote these songs, we are going to set up our own publishing company. We did not want our songs to go into Guercio's publishing company. At first, Guercio says no problem, we'll get the paperwork going. However, he later came back and said 'the record company has to release the album immediately, so I threw your songs into my publishing company.' The flags went up. From then on, attorneys starting getting involved and things got hairy. We sued Guercio for fraud regarding the publishing. It was a big knot of litigation. In retaliation, Guercio told Clive Davis [head of Columbia] that we were 'puppets,' and if not for him, there would be no Buckinghams. Guercio poisoned us at Columbia. We fired Guercio and told Columbia we wanted another producer." (Guercio later went on to produce Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago.) Although behind the scenes things were imploding, the Buckinghams were exploding on the charts with "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song) (BB #12, 1967) and the trippy, "A Day In The Life" inspired, "Susan" (BB #11, 1967).
The last Columbia album, "In One Ear And Gone Tomorrow," utilized the production services of Jimmy "Wiz" Wisner. "The match of the band with Wisner was not that good. He was a nice guy, but he produced us in a different way, incorporated a different sound." Highlights of this album are the abovementioned "Back In Love Again" b/w "You Misunderstand Me" (b side only) (both penned by Marty Grebb), and the lush group composition "Song Of The Breeze." The catchy pop song "Where Did You Come From" was also recorded during this period for inclusion in the 20th Century Fox Film, "The Guru." "It ["Where..."] could have been a hit. Columbia just did not care about us by that point. We had then become a throw away group." To make matters worse, it was during this time that the group got busted in Iowa for possession of marijuana. "Everyone was acquitted of the charges for lack of proof. The papers never printed our acquittal."
"We started to work on a fourth album for Columbia. By then, Columbia started sending over staff producers that wrote their own songs. Young guys that had done very little. I knew it was all over. As for the last tracks we recorded, Columbia just released them to fulfill their contract; they did not promote." It is a shame that Columbia lost interest because two of the final releases, both produced by John Hill, "It's A Beautiful Day (For Lovin')" and the very last Columbia single "It Took Forever" b/w "I Got A Feelin'" were fine examples of late 1960s polished pop. One song from these sessions that was never finished, the Tufano composition, "You," was not released until the Sony Legacy CD, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy A Collection." "By this time, Marty and Nick were gone. John Turner was our keyboard player and Kurt Bachman took the place of Nick on bass. People were dropping like flies because it was like a sinking ship. At this point, Jon Poulos and I just wanted to pay the bills. All the money that we did get went towards legal fees. 1970 was the official breakup." (Grebb went on to briefly join a reformed HP Lovecraft, called Lovecraft, for one album on Reprise in 1970. Then, he formed The Fabulous Rhinestones for three critically acclaimed albums on the Just Sunshine label in the early 1970s. Later, he became an indemand studio and touring musician, playing with rock greats such as Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell.)
"After the breakup, I totally went hippy. I just started writing and did my own demos at home. Carl and I stayed in touch. We saw that our songs went together well." Thus, TufanoGiammarese was born. "It was a hard road because we came from a rock background and we tried to play all the clubs in Chicago as an acoustic duo. The clubs would not hire us. We never used the Buckinghams as a calling card at all. Initially, we Did a demo for Reprise but they did not like it. Jon Poulos was managing bands in Chicago at the time and he began to help us. Next, we did a complete album demo to shop. Jon got on the phone, but nobody would sign the group. Then, we hooked up with the guy who produced the Guess Who, Jack Richardson out of Toronto. Richardson produced a demo with three songs. All the guys from Poco played on it. Jon sent the demo to every label nothing. Finally, Jon says he has one long shot: Lou Adler [producer of The Mamas And Papas, Johnny Rivers, Spirit] and his custom label, Ode. Two days later Adler calls and says he really likes the sound. He flew us to Los Angles to audition live. He was blown away. Adler says he not only wants to sign us, he wants to produce the album."
The first selftitled TufanoGiammarese album was released on Ode in 1973. The initial single, "Music Everywhere," had modest chart action (#68 BB, 1973). The pearl of this album is the Tufano written "Rise Up," which was released as a single in 1973 but did not chart. In order to promote the first album, the act went out on a promotional tour with Cheech & Chong, also on Ode. "We opened the show in nine states for two months. Talk about dangerous duty. People were yelling 'Hey man, where's Dave' when we are trying to play the songs. At most of the shows we got standing ovations. It was just two guitars, bass and congas. Tommy Chong used to call Adler and tell him that Dennis is bumming out our audience because he tells them to shut up all the time. We survived that tour."
There was an aborted second album for Ode that was started. "We had four sides done, then Adler got sick and had to keep leaving the sessions." As this was happening, Giammarese quit. "I went in myself and starting recording with session players like Russ Kunkel and Danny Kortchmar. During this period, Adler got to a point where he could not take making records anymore. I was stuck." Eventually, the second album, titled "The Tufano & Giammarese Band," came together. "That album was Adler's punishment. Jon Poulos and I had to beg Adler to do the record. Adler said he will not do another album unless he knows that Carl is not going to leave again. In order to get back together, I had to move back to Chicago. We put the band together, worked clubs, and learned new songs. This time, Adler assigned Jack Richardson to produce. We lived in one room in Toronto; the whole band, no money. It was hell." A standout track from this overlooked LP is "Colouring The Trance."
Tufano & Giammarese had one last run at the charts with the third, and final, Ode album, "The Other Side." "Adler was going to produce it. At this time, Ode was distributed by Epic Records. Adler brought in Hank Cicalo to engineer and Tom Scott to do the arrangements. On the first day we were to record, Adler says 'I cannot produce anymore, I lost my ear. I want to make movies.' Tom and Hank became the producers. The record goes into the stores. One week later, Adler cuts the distribution deal with Epic off; he wants to be distributed by Columbia instead. Adler rereleased the album. Unfortunately, the guys at Columbia treated it like an old record. It never got promoted. 'Night Rider,' a Jeff Lynne song, was to be the single from that album."
The Adler experience, although on the surface a disappointment, actually turned into a fortunate connection for Tufano. "It was through Adler that I met Bernie Taupin. Adler had a private club on top of the Roxy in Hollywood. Over the years, we had maintained our friendship. I used to hang out at the club. Bernie Taupin started coming there. We began having conversations. One day he asked me what I did during the day. I told him I was a songwriter, that I used to be in this band, etc. He told me he was thinking of doing a solo album and he was looking for a songwriter to work with. At this time , Elton was going through some changes, and they decided to take some time off. I played him a demo of my music and he liked it. He gave me some lyrics for the song 'The Whores Of Paris.' I said okay, I'll try this one. I played him the music I came up with; he said 'that's it, lets do the record.' We became partners. Boz Scaggs was also considered to be the writer for that album, but I got the job." The album was called 'He Who Rides The Tiger' and it was released on Asylum in 1980. "Asylum did not know what to do with the record. It was not an airplay record. There were no singles."
"The Buckinghams were invited in 1980 by WLS radio Chicago to do a reunion. Marty could not make it because he was working with Leon Russell. We rehearsed and played three shows. [Jon Poulos passed away in March, 1980 and did not participate.] It had been eleven years since anyone had seen us play. We got a lot of jobs out of that and could have worked the whole year as the Buckinghams, but I lived in Los Angeles and had a lot of things going on. That reunion was the impetus for Carl and Nick continuing on as the Buckinghams."
During the 1980s-90s, Tufano was involved in acting. The Buckinghams have continued to tour extensively as a nostalgia act with Giammarese and Fortune and they released their last recordings, the album "A Matter Of Time" and the single "Veronica," in 1985 on the Red Label label. Tufano's partnership with Taupin was recently renewed with the release of Bernie Taupin's newest project, Farm Dogs, of which Tufano is a member. The new album by Farm Dogs, "Last Stand In Open Country" was released in July, 1996 on Discovery Records.
[Special thanks to Marty Grebb for contributing to this article.]Copyright 1996, Ben McLane
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