The right look helped Gary Puckett get heard 50 years ago
As the old saying goes,“Clothes make the man.”
It turns out clothes also can help make the band.
Gary Puckett said the Civil War-era attire helped his band, the Union Gap, stand out back in 1967. The fact that he’s still able to tour with those songs 50 years later indicates there was more to the band than an unique look, but it helped in the beginning.
“I thought it was a good idea to have a visual image,” Puckett said during a telephone interview from his home in Clearwater. “At that time, so many were wearing the same thing on stage that they were wearing on the street. Radio stations only had a top 40, and there were 400, 500 trying to get on that top 40. I thought with the right visual image, they might be curious enough to play it.”
The label, trying to save some money, didn’t want to put the band’s photo on the sleeve for the single “Woman, Woman,” but the band prevailed. A Columbus DJ who happened to be a Civil War buff decided to give it a listen out of the stack of 45s he was sent and started spinning the single. Ohio was the first market to embrace the band.
The label sent the band to Ohio, where it played regular gigs at Otto’s Grotto in the basement of the Sheraton in Cleveland, and “Woman, Woman” eventually made it to number four on Billboard’s top 40.
Puckett returns to northeast Ohio on Tuesday for a Warren Civic Music Association concert at Packard Music Hall.
His last Warren show was just down the road at the Warren Community Amphitheatre in 2007, when he headlined the Generation Us concert, which was organized by his keyboard player at the time, Howland native Mariano Longo. Puckett said he has fond memories of that show, where his band, The Kellys and singer Treasure Guffy performed backed by a 30-piece orchestra.
“It was terrific,” he said. “That’s Mariano’s forte, large orchestral arrangements.”
Puckett and his band — Jamie Hilboldt, keyboards and vocals; Woody Lingle, bass and vocals; and Mike Candito, drums and vocals — are back to wearing suits in the style of the original Union Gap, and the setlist draws from those late ’60s hits as well as popular songs by others that band recorded on those early albums, songs like Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman,” The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” and Bob Dylan’s / Manfred Mann’s “Quinn the Eskimo”
“Our producer liked the idea of recording hit songs by others,” Puckett said. “He believed our fans would want to hear us do those particular songs.”
That producer was Jerry Fuller, who wrote many of the band’s songs, including its two biggest hits, “Young Girl” and “Lady Willpower.”
Both songs peaked at number two on the top 40 in 1968. However, “Young Girl” seems to have had a longer afterlife. It’s the song that listeners are more likely to hear on an oldies station and the one that those who weren’t listening to top 40 radio in 1968 is more likely to know, maybe because it’s been sung on such shows as “Full House” and “Glee.”
Puckett said he didn’t know why “Young Girl” has remained more popular, but he was willing to speculate.
“I think ‘Young Girl’ is a little happier, and it’s real easy to sing,” he said. “‘Young Girl’ is tucked away in a lot of people’s minds and memories. There’s just something about it. I do remember Jerry Fuller, after we did the vocal for ‘Young Girl,’ we walked into the control booth and he said, ‘I think we’ve done it again.’ ‘Done what?’ ‘Made a hit record.'”
That said, “Lady Willpower” is Puckett’s favorite, and it’s his grandson’s favorite too.
There also are those songs that, for one reason or another, never made it on the charts. One that Puckett remembers is “Pleasure of You.”
“Jerry and I both thought it was a very strong song,” he said. “He (also) recorded with a guy Jack Bedient & the Chessmen, but it didn’t go anywhere. I always thought that was one of those songs that might have gone somewhere.”
Puckett will celebrate his 75th birthday on Tuesday in Warren, and he’s leaving after the show for a vacation to Italy with his wife and some friends to celebrate. He also would like to start working on a new album before the end of the year.
“We’ve started songwriting, looking at songs and figuring out what we want to do,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been needing and wanting to do for a long, long time.”