Gary’s Gap opens up 50th anniversary

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Mar 2018 Gary’s Gap opens up 50th anniversary

By Peter Robertson

THIS SPRING marks the 50th anniversary of the classic, if controversial, international hit Young Girl by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap.

About a man who has become distressed upon finding out that the girl he’s with is under the legal age of consent, Young Girl was a UK No.1 for four weeks from May 22, 1968. To mark the anniversary, American singer Gary Puckett is teaming up with British band Union Gap UK to play a string of concerts here later this month, March.

Despite now being a 75-year-old grandfather, Gary is still in fine voice.

“Pavarotti sang until the end, Sinatra sang until the end, and I shall sing until the end,” he said. ‘I’m very strong at this point, and I think I will be for some time to come. If there are those who think I should pack it in because I’m not the 26-year-old voice (on the hit records), I’d simply say: ‘I’ll continue on my way, and I’m sorry to lose you!’ I feel all of us deserve to still be out there unless we can’t sing anymore.”

Gary Puckett was born on October 17, 1942 in Hibbing, Minnesota (where streets are now named after him and Bob Dylan who was raised there), and grew up in Yakima, Washington. “My family was very musical,” Gary recalled. ‘My Mum, Leona Mae, and Dad, Arlon James, were both wonderful musicians and singers. There was always music in the house. Mum taught music, and Dad sang in Barbershop Quartets which sounded so good to my ears as I listened to the harmonies.”

Gary began playing guitar in his teens, and when he left college in California, he played in several local bands before joining The Outcasts, a local rock group who produced two singles which were unsuccessful. Then came a new group called Gary and The Remarkables, renamed The Union Gap in early 1967. They kitted themselves out with Union Army-style Civil War uniforms as a visual gimmick, and that became their trademark.

Gary explained: ‘I had found out there were approximately 500 records going out to the radio stations every month. Everyone was trying to get into the Hot 100, the Top 40, in every market. I thought, if we can make a great record that’s one thing, but if we can look different and have somebody go ‘Wow, what is that all about?’, that might give us a leg-up. The band thought it was really stupid, but it looked cool on stage, and within two weeks of us wearing those outfits people liked it.”

They recorded a demo, which was heard by CBS record producer and songwriter Jerry Fuller who signed them to Columbia Records. Their first single Woman Woman reached No.4 on America’s Billboard Hot 100 and was a million-seller.

“That’s my favourite of all the hits because it’s a great record, and kind of like your first child’ Gary said. “It was very success­ful in the US and eventually caught on in Britain. Jerry wrote Young Girl as the follow up. The lyric was a little controversial then. I never saw Young Girl as anything other than a guy who is saying to the girl: ‘Hey, you told me you were old enough, and now I learn the truth, you better go away. But I think it’s human nature to want to look for the darker side of things.

“When it first came out in 1968, we took it in to the big radio sta­tion in Chicago, and when the guy playing it heard the lyric ‘I’m afraid we’ll go too far’, he said ‘We can’t have this kind of lyric on the air and this is banned from WLS!’ I sat there and watched him throw it in the trash. Then a Canadian station started playing it heavily, and WLS had to start playing it. So they did ban it briefly but, to this day, I think maybe it was a stunt. After that point, it became very popular.

“At that time, they had censor­ship on American television and certain things weren’t allowed, like seeing two people sitting together on the same bed. The Ed Sullivan Show said we couldn’t sing the lyric ‘Cos I’m afraid we’ll go too far’, but instead “How can this love of ours go on?” which I did, because it was sung live.’ ”

Young Girl got to No.2 in the US, but topped the charts here and returned to No.6 in 1974. Its follow-up, Lady Willpower, was also a US No.2 and made a UK No.5. Further Stateside success occurred with Over You and Don’t Give Into Him.

“In America, when I was inter­viewed, I’d be asked ‘What’s all this about unrequited love?’ I’d always explain: ‘Hey, it’s a suc­cess formula. They are likeable hooky singable songs.’ Four of them – Woman Woman, Young Girl, Lady Willpower and Over You – together sold a total of about 10 million records in 1968. So you have to admit there’s something to it!”

Gary Puckett & The Union Gap worked with countless other top artists, including The Beach Boys, The Turtles, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. “You name it, we were fortunate to work with them all,” said proud Gary. “We did TV shows with the likes of Andy Williams, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, and of course, Ed Sullivan. The Royal Command Performance at The White House in front of Prince Charles and Princess Anne was pretty spe­cial. To meet them, and stand in their presence was to me a great moment in time. President Nixon was fairly embroiled in Watergate then, and when I met him, he looked sallow and like he had a lot on his mind.”

Over the decades, Gary has befriended other music stars, including Bobby Hatfield, Bill Medley, BJ Thomas, and Mark Volman. But, in 1969, he fell out with Jerry Fuller.

“Jerry and I started to butt heads in relation to what we were doing. The point was at the record Don’t Give In To Him, which I wasn’t crazy about and didn’t think it would have the suc­cess of our other songs. Jerry said ‘We’re going to do this, like it or not’. We did the song and I was right – it didn’t have the suc­cess in terms of sales. After a similar situation with the song Heaven Down Below, Jerry and I had a parting of the ways, but we are still friends, and all these years later Don’t Give In To Him has become one of my favourite songs.’

In 1970, Gary began recording as a solo act, but with limited success. The Union Gap remained his live backing band until they, too, parted company a year later – though they, too, have since rekindled friendships.

By 1973, Gary had essentially disappeared from music, opting instead to study acting. “I was in a number of things but most of them as they were small parts. My acting career was a lot of fun but just didn’t go anywhere.”

Gary’s music comeback began in 1981, since when, he’s become a regular on the oldies circuit. He was on the bill for the first major Monkees reunion tour in 1986, and c

ontinues to released albums – the most recent being in 2016: Gary Puckett & The Union Gap Band Live In Las Vegas. In 2010, he performed for the first time in the city of Union Gap, Washington, where he was given the key to the city.

“They took us out to dinner and said: ‘You don’t know what you’ve done for this city.’ I replied; ‘What do you mean? I just grew up in this area and all I did was go and make some records’. They said: ‘No, you put Union Gap on the map’.”

Gary admits that, these days, not everyone is familiar with his name. “Sometimes people say ‘I have no idea who you are’. I go ‘Yeah, you probably do’. Then I sing ‘Young Girl, get out of my mind….” and they reply: ‘I know that song!’

Since May 18, 2000, Gary has been married to long-term love Lorrie with whom he lives in Clearwater, Florida. They have daughters Sydney, 28, and Michaela, 32, and grandchildren Brandon, 4, and Bentley, 15 months.

“I’m comfortable in my shoes today,” he said. “There are times I wish we’d had more hit records. But I’m not an angry or bitter person about my career or any­thing. I have a wonderful wife and family. We have a beautiful place to live. I have a huge fan base out there. I don’t really need to work any more.

“My wife is very smart and she took hold of the financial part of it some years ago, and through her own grit k

ept us through the downturn and all that. I could quit today and we’d be okay, but I don’t wanna quit. I love the music and the fans, if not the travel so much any more. I know there’s more left in me.”

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