GARY U.S. BONDS
Born Gary Levone Anderson, 6 June 1939, Jacksonville, Florida
In the early 1960s, nobody made noisier, crazier, more exciting rock and roll records than Gary U.S. Bonds and his producer, Frank Guida.
Born in Florida, Gary Anderson moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1941, with his family. He began singing at the age of nine in his church choir. Whilst attending the Booker T. Washington High School, he joined the Turks vocal group who won several talent contests during their three-year existence. They liked to hang around a local record shop, "Frankie's Birdland", owned by Frank Guida. A former New Yorker who had moved to Norfolk in 1952, Guida had already established himself as a key figure on the local music scene as a deejay, producer and host of a musical TV show. In 1958 he started a musical collaboration with 23-year-old songwriter/guitarist Joe Royster and in April 1959 Guida started his own label, Legrand Records. The first Legrand single, "High School USA" by ex-Blue Cap Tommy Facenda, was a local success ; it developed into a national hit (# 28) after it was re-recorded for Atlantic in 28 different regional versions. Come July 1960, Guida purchased the failing Norfolk Recording Studio and began to make records in earnest.
Guida asked Gary Anderson to join his Legrand label and the first session at the newly acquired studio resulted in the Guida-Royster composition "New Orleans", featuring Gary's double-tracked vocals. Amidst the diluted rock and roll of 1960, this return to rock's original uninhibited excitement came as a breath of fresh air. "New Orleans" peaked at # 6 pop and # 5 R&B in late 1960 (also # 16 in the UK). Much to Anderson's surprise, his name wasn't listed as the artist - the label read 'U.S. Bonds'. Frank Guida hoped that it would be confused with a public service announcement advertising the sale of government bonds and thereby garner more radio play. Gary's first three Legrand singles and his first LP were released under the name U.S. Bonds, but people mistook it for the name of a group and from July 1961 onwards, credit went to 'Gary (U.S.) Bonds'. The parentheses were discarded in the 1980s.
The follow-up to "New Orleans", "Not Me", inexplicably failed to make the Hot 100 (a remake by The Orlons would reach # 12 in 1963), but the next 45 more than made up for that. "Quarter To Three", which sounded as if it had been recorded in the middle of a boisterous party, reached the top of the Billboard charts on June 26, 1961, staying there for two weeks. As on "New Orleans", the backing was provided by The Church Street Five (the name Guida gave to his group of studio musicians), but saxophonist Earl Swanson had been replaced by Gene Barge, nicknamed "Daddy G", who had already achieved some notoriety by blowing a haunting, distinctive solo on Chuck Willis's 1957 hit "C.C. Rider". The pattern for the Legrand sound was now set, the result of multiple overdubs, massive amounts of echo and a live ambience created in the studio by producer Frank Guida.
Guida quickly put out an LP, "Dance 'til Quarter To Three", which went to # 6 on the album charts. Gary (U.S.) Bonds continued to have hit after hit in 1961- 1962 : "School Is Out" (# 5), "School Is In" (# 28), "Dear Lady Twist" (# 9), "Twist Twist Senora" (# 9), "Seven Day Weekend" (# 27). The latter song was featured in the British movie "It's Trad Dad" and Gary toured the UK in 1962, in the company of Johnny Burnette and Gene McDaniels. He likes to tell the story that he was backed by the Beatles on that tour and seems to believe it too.
Guida was a great fan of West Indian music and many of his compositions have a calypso feel. The second Bonds album, "Twist Up Calypso", included Gary's versions of several well-known calypso songs.
Though Bonds continued to record with Legrand until 1968, there were no more hits after "Copy Cat" (# 92, August 1962). The British beat invasion forced him to take a backseat for many years. He started to concentrate more on his song- writing, scoring his biggest success with "She's All I Got", a # 2 country hit for Johnny Paycheck in 1971. But his days as a hitmaker were not yet over. It was long-time fan Bruce Springsteen, who often sang "Quarter To Three" as an encore in his own act, who would resuscitate Gary's career in the early 1980s. When they first met, Gary had no idea who Springsteen was, but he agreed to work with him on an album. Their collaboration resulted in two successful LP's, "Dedication" (1981, # 27) and "On the Line" (1982, # 52), both produced by Springsteen and accompanied by his E Street Band. "Dedication" spawned the hit singles "This Little Girl" (# 11) and "Jole Blon" (# 65, a duet between Bonds and Springsteen). "Out Of Work" from the second album was his last hit (# 21), but Bonds was back in business. In 1984 he issued the self-produced "Standing In the Line Of Fire" on Phoenix Records, which was his last release with new material until 2004, when "Back In 20" came out, with guest appearances by Springsteen and Southside Johnny. "Let Them Talk" (2009) is his most recent album. In April 2013 he published an autobiography.
It is for the classic Legrand sides - especially "New Orleans" and "Quarter To Three" - that Bonds will always be remembered and they have been constantly regurgitated in various permutations and are relatively easy to find.
Official website : http://www.garyusbonds.com/
Autobiography : Gary U.S. Bonds with Stephen Cooper, By U.S. Bonds : That's My Story (Signal Hall, California : Wheatley Press, 2013, 328 pages).
Discography : http://www.rocky-52.net/chanteursb/bonds_gary_us.htm
Acknowledgements : Brian Walsh, Fred Bronson, Tony Wilkinson, Wikipedia.
Dik, September 2013
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