Gary James' Interview With Carl Giammarese of
The Buckinghams

In 1967, this Chicago quintet took the song "Kind Of A Drag" all the way to the number one spot on the charts. Other songs followed, including "Hey Baby They're Playing Our Song". Carl Giammarese spoke with us about The Buckinghams.

Q - Carl, I see on your website, one the FAQs is "How can I book The Buckinghams for a private party? Do you get many serious inquiries about that?

A - Oh Yeah. Occasionally somebody will see us in concert somewhere and decide 'we'd really like that. They'd be great for our event.' It might be another festival or private party. So, we get inquiries. You know, most of the time people can get that question answered when we play a show. We always do autographs after the show and Susan Rakis (The Buckinghams' publicist) has cards of our agent and information on how to book The Buckinghams. So, we can usually answer everybody's questions, but sometimes it's an after thought. We usually answer them. We have an exclusive agent - Paradise Artists out of California.

Q - So, it isn't about corporate parties then. If someone wanted The Buckinghams for a 25th wedding anniversary party, you would respond?

A - Exactly. We don't do many of those type of parties, anniversary or whatever, because usually our price range is a little bit above what most people would pay for something like that, or be able to pay. But, we certainly have done that. We did an anniversary, a wedding anniversary party and it was really nice. We had a great time. It's not unusual to have that happen.

Q - Where did this title "The Most Listen To Band In America"* come from?

A - Well, the year was 1967. That was probably the most successful year we had as far as recording goes. We had several Top Ten records that year. To be honest with you, I can't even remember who exactly said that, but, it stuck. Somebody wrote and article and I think it might have come out of Billboard Magazine if I remember correctly. I don't know how they determined that, but, it was probably based on how much attention we were getting that year. I think they mentioned that on a couple of TV shows we did too. So, the term kind of stuck to us and it was probably very true in that year, 1967.

Q - Are you surprised that your material charted as high as it did, considering the competition you had? You were competing with The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" and The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper".

A - Of course it took us by surprise when "Kind Of A Drag" took off the way it did. We thought it was a great song. We thought we came up with a unique, very creative arrangement and recording of the song, but we didn't know we had something that would be that successful. It took off so fast, it didn't give us much time to think about it. But, I think the songs that followed it, like "Don't You Care", "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Susan" - I wasn't surprised that they did so well and reached the Top Ten, Top Twenty, 'cause they were great songs. I think they were recorded really well and we had a lot of momentum going with the exposure we were getting. Once again, we didn't have a lot of time to think about it 'cause we were so busy that year.

Q - Did you write "Kind Of A Drag" and "Hey Baby They're Playing Our Song"?

A - No, I did not. The band didn't write those songs. It was written by a friend of ours in Chicago. His name is Jim Holvey. Jim wrote "Kind Of A Drag", "Don't You Care", "Susan" and "Hey Baby They're Playing Our Song". He was a friend of ours in Chicago who played in another band. We knew he was a songwriter and we were asking him for songs. When he finally gave us "Kind Of A Drag" and we had such success with that song, he continued to write for us and came up with several more, which was great. Timing was everything. We got him right when he was writing the hits and giving us such great material.

Q - Do you have any idea how long it took him to write those songs? Was it a first write?

A - Oh, gosh. My guess would be that he wrote them pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to sit down and discuss it with him.

Q - Did all of the guys in The Buckinghams grow up in the same neighbourhood?

A - Four of us were Northsiders on the Northwest side of Chicago. So, four of us were in a radius of fifteen to twenty miles maybe. One of us, Marty Grebb, was from Blue Island, which was the South side. So, he was maybe twenty miles straight South of the city. But, we were all Chicago guys. Chicago is a big city. We were spread out a little bit. Me and John Poulos, the original drummer, lived only a few blocks apart.

Q - Am I correct in stating that before The Buckinghams, you were part of a duo with Dennis Tufano? How successful were you in that duo?

A - Well, first of all, that was a duo that was started after The Buckinghams. Dennis was the original lead singer. In the late 60s, we started writing songs together. Finally, when The Buckinghams broke up in 1970, we went on to create this duo. At first we were known as Dennis and Carl. We started playing a lot of smaller venues...clubs around Chicago. It was more of an acoustic act, a little more like America, a little more laid back. Then we were experimenting in the studio and writing songs. Finally, we attracted the attention of a well known record producer. We had done a demo with a producer friend of ours and we took that demo and started shopping around for record deals. Our manager, John Poulos, who was the original drummer in The Buckinghams, approached producer / record label president Lou Adler. He produced Carole King. He had just come off the Grammy Awards that year, winning all those Grammys for "Tapestry". He produced Cheech and Chong. He had a small label called Ode Records, which was part of A&M at the time. So, we approached him and he really liked the demo we did. He signed and produced us. Over the course of six years, we wound up doing three albums with him. We just never could quite click with the big hit again. We had one charted song that I wrote called "Music Everywhere" that was in the Top 50 nationally. But, like I said, it was a great learning experience. We got an opportunity to be out in California and work with a tremendous amount of talented musicians. We met a lot of people out there. We toured a bit, opening for some of the big acts of the 70s, but never had the success we had with The Buckinghams. So, finally, I think it was around 1977, we broke up.

Q - Who did you open for?

A - Oh, we opened for Carole King, Cheech and Chong, Bread, Aerosmith. That was in the earlier part of the 70s.

Q - Opening for Areosmith? That must've been one tough gig!

A - Yeah. (laughs) I think the toughest was opening for Cheech and Chong 'cause the type of audience that was appealing to them wasn't really listening to laid back, serious acoustic mellow music. There were nights when we would get a lot of applause and great response and there were other nights when they would get impatient to see Cheech and Chong. It was like "Let's Boogie!" Cheech and Chong. It was just one of those things as an opening act you get stuck with.

Q - What was it like for The Buckinghams to do The Ed Sullivan Show?

A - Ed Sullivan was the pinnacle of success back then. If you landed The Ed Sullivan Show, you felt like you made it...the big time. When we were offered the show, it was like tremendous! Our new single at the time, "Susan" was just debuting and that was the song we did on the show. It was very exciting. After years and years of watching so many acts and so many phenomenons like The Beatles and Elvis Presley make their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was just phenomenal. And there we were appearing on there. You felt great!

Q - Your record label was USA Records?

A - Well, USA was our first label. That was what "Kind Of A Drag" was on.

Q - Who owned that label?

A - It was a Chicago based company. Paul Glass was the owner I believe. It was independently distributed by MS Distributors which I don't believe is still in business. After "Kind Of A Drag", it was a nice position to have the number one record in the country and not have a record deal any more! (laughs) So, we kind of had our choices out there. Our manager signed us with Columbia Records and that seemed like the most logical move at the time So, from "Don't You Care" on, we were recording on Columbia which today is Sony. Our stuff is still re-issued on Sony. We still have a relationship with Sony. And then they bought all the old stuff from USA. So, they own the USA catalogue which is the "Kind Of A Drag" album.

Q - Could The Buckinghams have changed their musical direction in 1970? Did you really have to break up?

A - Well, it's easy to look back in retrospect and say I shouldn't have done this or I shouldn't have done that. But, at the time, you think you're doing the right thing. We were five kids who were arrogant to a degree. We thought we could do anything. Conquer anything. We wound up leaving our manager. Finally, we realized late in the 60s how important it was to own your own songs and publishing. He was taking all that from us. We couldn't come to an agreement with him. But, he was also our record producer and he had a close connection with Columbia. In retrospect, maybe it would've been better to work out our difference with him somehow, but it was very difficult to do. We were trying to change musically by 1970. We wanted to do different things and the label wanted to hear "Kind Of A Drag" over and over again. That wasn't giving us much creative freedom. We tried doing some things on our own. I think all the guys in the band were starting to get restless and looking at doing other things musically. Marty Grebb, our keyboard player, went with The Fabulous Rhinestones and they had one hit after that. I think he played with Chicago for a while. Looking back now, yeah. I think if we had worked out our differences and worked harder at it, trying to take The Buckinghams into the seventies, we could've had a few more hits and kept it going. But, at the time, you feel like you're doing the right thing, so unfortunately, The Buckinghams didn't exist any more after 1970.

Q - Do you have any recorded product out as we speak?

A - Well, about five years ago, we released an album called "Terra Firma" on Nation Records, which is an independent label with national distribution out of Chicago. It's a small label. We did it 'cause we wanted to try something new and realized how hard it is for an older act like us to get airplay on the radio. Everything programmed is alternative rap or contemporary. It's very difficult when you're an old act to give you the airplay you need. You see artists that have been around for ever with bigger names than us, who can't even get airplay. The record industry and radio is very, very tough now. We also did a 'live' CD and still sell them at shows now and we do quite well 'cause we do a lot of concerts every year. We still play about 80 shows a year. We sell merchandise which includes CDs at all our concerts and that does very well. And of course, we still get a tremendous amount of airplay on oldies radio with all the old hits. So, that always helps. But, as far as anything new, I'd love to do new stuff again, but, it's almost impossible to get airplay on it. That's the problem.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Billboard Magazine named The Buckinghams as "The Most Listened-To Band of 1967" *

The Buckinghams placed five songs on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967
"Kind Of A Drag" (#1), "Don't You Care" (#6), "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (#5), "Hey Baby" (They're Playing Our Song) (#12), Susan (#11)