'70s - Gary U.S. Bonds (2013)
'Let Them Talk - The Gary U.S. Bonds Story'
As America’s baby boomers moved into their mid teens, Gary began his professional career. For his first hit, 'New Orleans,' attention was brought to the record by having promotional copies sent to radio stations in sleeves inscribed "Buy U.S. Bonds" - hence at age 19, Gary Anderson became Gary U.S. Bonds.
The follow-up was the now legendary "party" record, 'Quarter to Three,' a number one hit with a spirit and energy that would eventually inspire and influence a generation.
Over the next three years, Bonds co-wrote and recorded hit after good-time hit: 'School is Out,' 'School is In,' 'Dear Lady Twist,' 'Twist, Twist Senora,' 'Seven Day Weekend' and others. He performed throughout the world, rising to a status so high that on a 1963 tour of Europe, he headlined above a group of relative newcomers… The Beatles.
A friendship developed and, shortly after, a musical collaboration which resulted in Bonds' Dedication and On the Line LPs, with singles: 'This Little Girl Is Mine,' 'Out of Work,' 'Jole Blon' and 'Daddy's Come Home.'
While he has continued to perform, Gary also keeps active as a songwriter. His success as a songwriter even garnered him a nomination for the Country Music Association's Songwriter of the Year.
Gary is an honoree of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, a favorite son of the Blues Brothers and a highly respected golfer, often invited to play at celebrity/PGA events.
Chatting one-on-one with the man himself Gary U.S. Bonds, I first wondered and at what point had Gary Levone Anderson become Gary U.S. Bonds - and why? "1959, I think it was. My ex-manager tagged that name onto my first recording, 'New Orleans.' So, I got a chance to hear what my name was by way of Daddy Jack Holmes who was a DJ there at WRAP Radio in Norfolk, VA. It came on the air and he announced it as a new young man in town who had just recorded a record and we would like to play it for him. And the title of the song is 'New Orleans' and the name of the artist is Gary U.S. Bonds. And I was like, 'Damn, I've only been in the business a week and somebody's already stolen my record'," he laughs. "So that's when I first realized my name was Gary U.S. Bonds when I heard it on the radio!"
So, there's been no legality issues behind it from the Government? "Not at all. No, the government accepts taxes in any name I give them," he again laughs.
Back in the '60s you had a lot of hits, and even headlined above The Beatles on a 1963 tour of Europe! What were those days like? "It was fun. Of course, I was a young kid, but I was making money and the girls were loving me. So, how ungreat could it be? But to be honest with you, I've been trying to think about what they are saying that I headlined over The Beatles. I didn't know it was The Beatles until after we'd finished the tour. And they weren't called The Beatles back in those days. They were just the band that was backing me, Gene McDaniels and Johnny Burnett when we did a tour of Europe."
"And when I got back to the States, my ex-manager said those guys over there they've just started recording. And they're going to call themselves The Beatles. And so I've still never been able to confirm that all for a fact either. I'm just assuming they were and if they weren't we were still bad," he laughs.
Your #1 hit 'Quarter to Three' from 1961 appears on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list! That's quite incredible, my friend "Yes, that is amazing. That really is amazing. I never thought that would happen. But hey, it's a great achievement, I think. But, they never tell me anything in this business so I heard that on the radio also from WCBS in New York!"
'Quarter To Three' (1961) on YouTube!
In the early 80's, which is where I personally pick up your musical trail, you worked with Springsteen and Van Zandt on a couple of albums, bringing out the hit single 'This Little Girl.' That song has never left my brain always takes me back to where I was at the time I first heard it. So, take us back to the time when you first released it and what was going on in your life "Yeah, I'd met Springsteen back in '76 when we became friends. And he was recording in 1980 for himself and he called me one day. He said, 'Bonds, I've got this song that I wrote and man it sounds just like you. Come down here, I want you to listen to it.' So I went into his New York studio and he played it for me. It was 'Dedication.' And I told him that it sounded like some of the stuff we used to do out in Norfolk. So he told me I should record it, gave me the opportunity to, and, of course I wanted to do it."
"And so that was the first one and after we finished that he said, 'Man, that went off so great let's do some more.' And that's when we began recording some other things. And then I think it was into the second or third night at the studio he didn't want to go back to Jersey. So I told him to come back to my house and hang out. And with me and my wife in bed, I guess it must have been about one or two o'clock in the morning, I hear the knock on the door. 'Bonds. Bonds. Come out here, you gotta hear this song. You gotta listen to this one.' So I'm like can't it wait until the morning and he's like, 'No, you gotta hear it now!' So I went out there and that's what he played on my piano, 'This Little Girl.' And I was like, this is cool, but we'll do it tomorrow," he laughs again. "So, that's how that came about and the next thing we went in and recorded it. It was fantastic. And once again I was back in the high life."
You have just released a new book, 'By U.S. Bonds - That's My Story,' so why now? "Well, I never thought I was that interesting. I've led a pretty mediocre life, but people kept telling me that I had some really interesting stories and that I should put them on paper. So, Stephen Cooper grabbed me and says let's do this. He actually came to England with me and by the time we'd got back he'd actually written about three or four chapters. And I read them and found them to be really interesting. I think I'd like to know who this guy is. I think we have an interesting story here. So we finished the book and it took less than a year. And next week we're getting ready for its release."
Is there one true highlight of your life that was as pleasure to experience at the time as it was talking about it again in the book? "Well, there's been many, many highlights in my life; really, many, many of them. But I remember the first big gig I did. Even though the record came out in 1960 when Dick Clark put it on American Bandstand and then 'New Orleans' became a hit, it was my first time going out on the road and doing all the big shows. I remember one at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC and I got to play with some of my heroes. People that I admired, you know. Jackie Wilson was on the show, Sam Cooke, B.B. King, Laverne Baker, and Ruth Brown, my homie was on the show also. And so that was the thrill of a lifetime."
The foreword is written by Steven Van Zandt - so, did you prep him what to write or was it a nice surprise when he sent back what he eventually did? "You don't prep Van Zandt," he laughs, "He's a wildflower; he's on his own, man. He's a great guy and he's been a really, really cool friend to me. And I love just being around him because he's an interesting guy too."
The book contains 80 photos selected by yourself and photo editor Mark Weiss. What was sit like sitting down and going over them all to decide what was going to be used? "Painful! Painful! And the reason why is not just to choose the pictures alone, but I had to go find those suckers," he laughs. "All over the house and especially up in the attic - which is a hoarders dream up there. I had to go through all those boxes and man, my wife was cursing me out every day," he laughs.
Did you find any treasures in amongst all the boxes? "Yeah, I found lots of stuff. I was amazed at the stuff I had up there in the attic. I found my disco boots! And they were cool too! They had like six inch heels. I must have looked like Dorothy Dandridge! I don't know what was going on there," he laughs.
Did you try them on?! "No, they wouldn't even fit any more," he continues to laugh. "I couldn't even stand up in them when I was in good shape!"
Is your book one of those where the facts are true, but some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty?! "No, no names have been changed, because most of them were my friends. Down in Virginia we had some nicknames ... because, well, everyone had a nickname. Everybody. So I hung with Slow Drag, Fat Rat, and Jelly Belly! And so yeah, it may sound like they've been changed but God knows nobody's changed those names."
Taking a look through your book, the stories are fascinating. So, what can you tell us about your humorous outing with Muhammad Ali?! "Muhammad and I have been with this foundation called Global Village Champions who created Vitapro [a dehydrated soy-based meat-replacement product]. My partner, Yank Barry and I got together and started this. Well, he actually did the R and D on this. He spent, oh God, about half a million dollars on doing the Research and Development on this product that he found in South Africa. And we started distributing it to Federal and State Penitentiaries. As some of the inmates in there couldn't eat meat for religious reasons and such. And they had no food they could use so put that in there instead."
"After that Yank decided that we should then try different countries and especially Africa; where they had problems with food and medical supplies. So they went over there and they needed a spokesman. So we talked to Muhammad, went to his house in Berrien Springs, MI and asked him to try the product out before getting on board with us. He tried it and said, 'Wow, this is good, but there's meat in there.' So I told him again there was no meat in there. But he was adamant that he could taste meat in it still! 'So, don't make me get up from here and hit one of ya'll, because I'm telling you that I can taste meat in here!' Finally we were able to convince him there was no meat in the product and he jumped on board. And that was all we needed."
"So we went over to Africa and made contact with a lot of the Nuns over there. They were taking care of kids and so we delivered them our food and medical supplies. And we did it all ourselves. We didn't ask anybody, Red Cross or anybody. Because once you do that it takes forever to get to wherever you want to go; if it gets there at all. So we hired our own planes, our own pilots, put everything on the planes and then once there distributed it all to the Nuns."
So, who have you enlisted these days that's famous to help you? "Oh my God, everyone's on there. We just included Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. B.B. King, Celine Dion, Sting, you name it. Everybody's involved with it."
Tell us another story about traveling with B.B. King and Sam Cooke and what you got up to! "I had a problem when I first came out that, ... well, I talk a lot now, as you've noticed. But on stage when I first started I was the quietest person you've ever heard. I would just go out, do a song, never say a word and come off. And Sam told me I was such an interesting guy backstage when I came off stage. But on stage I just didn't say anything. 'You're a dead shrub!' So he gave me a couple of instructions of what to say and how to say it and when to say it. So he told me next show to go out and do all that. And I didn't do it! So, I came back off stage and he said, 'What's wrong with you? I told you what to do and you didn't do it!'"
"Anyway, this went on for three or four times and one day B.B. King's standing back there when I came off stage at the Apollo. He asked me what I did, I said I didn't do anything, and so he just slapped upside the head! Hard. I mean, hard. It was no friendly slap. And so I've been talking ever since," he laughs. "Since then I've told everything to everyone. I just think maybe I needed to wake up a little!"
Are there still great stories that happened to you that didn't make it into the book? "There's a lot of stuff not in the book, but we're gonna do another one. The next one gets a little more personal, I think. I don't have a clue what we're gonna do, but there's so many, many, many stories, and so many road stories to still tell."
When can we expect this follow-up book? "No, not yet. But I think I'll start on it later this year. This last year just sapped me of all my energy getting this one down. So, I'm gonna take a break and then I'll start on the other. And probably with Stephen Cooper again as I enjoyed working with him."
Will you be bringing next month's book signing tour to Detroit, perhaps? "Oh I hope so. I love Detroit. It was such a lovely city, although I haven't been there in years though. Back in the day when Motown was out there that was the place. If you didn't want to buy a car at least you could buy a record," he again laughs.
I have to say, that as you still look incredible, I cannot believe you are about to celebrate your 74th birthday! So, "Happy Birthday"! "Why, thank you so much. Thank you."
So, as they have been in your life for years now, please tell us more about "Big Mama" and "Little Mama"! "Well, Big Mama and I we have just celebrated our 50th Anniversary and we hadn't been anywhere in years. And so my daughter and her new husband invited us to Montego Bay with them. And we hadn't had a vacation for something like 30 years maybe. Because growing up we were always on the road. So when I come home I never leave this house. I don't go anywhere for dinner, because she loves to cook and I love her cooking. And so I really enjoyed Montego Bay ... and those rum punches," he laughs.
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love penguins - do you, and/or do you have a story involving one? "Yeah, I've met a penguin once. Yeah, I met a penguin and we sang together! There was a group called The Penguins and they had a hit with 'Earth Angel.' Yeah, I used to sing that song when I was with The Turks."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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