Gary Puckett And The Union Gap were one of the most successful bands of the 1960s. In 1968 they enjoyed six consecutive gold records and actually sold more records than any other recording act, including The Beatles. They played a Command Performance at the White House for Prince Charles and Princess Anne by special invitation from The President!
Gary Puckett And The Union Gap's "Greatest Hits" album is one of CBS' Best Selling Collector Series albums today. In 1974, "Young Girl" was re-issued by popular request in England where it reached #5 and achieved a Silver Record Award for the second time. This is a full six years after the song was initially released.
In 1986, Gary was invited to tour with The Monkees on their national reunion tour, which established itself as a major hit of the 1986 touring season. In 2003, thirty years after Gary Puckett disbanded The Union Gap, he released the CD "In Europe". Originally recorded in Europe, the CD has new versions of "Young Girl" and "Lady Willpower", with a European flair.
Q - As I always say, anybody with the name Gary is alright in my book.
A - (laughs) OK. Good enough.
Q - You have a pretty full schedule. You're quite a popular guy.
A - Well, I've been very fortunate. Popularity? I don't even know what you call that stuff. I'm lucky to have made some great records and people seem to like 'em still.
Q - How many dates will you be playing?
A - About 120. Right now, things are just wonderful.
Q - I was rather surprised to read that you make four times as much money from your 1-800 number and your web site than from all of the CBS and Greatest Hits packages. How can that be? Is it because you're in control?
A - I think the reason I can make more money is because when they do it, they get the lion's share. When I do it, yes, I guess you could say I'm in control, in that regard. Obviously we're not a worldwide machine as GP Music, But CBS doesn't seem to have that interest in me anymore. So, you kind of have to go about your business your own way I guess at some point.
Q - You started out in a band called The Outcasts and then changed the name to The Union Gap. You were playing the clubs of San Diego in 1967?
A - Right.
Q - What kind of material were you playing?
A - We were playing all the stuff of the day basically. We were playing The Beatles, The Stones. We liked a lot of the Stax groups...the Eddie Floyds, the Otis Reddings, the Wilson Picketts, Carla Thomas. Those people. We played all that music. The stuff that was popular at the time, the Rock 'n' Roll stuff. Plus, we kind of dug back to my Rock roots, which were Jerry Lee Lewis's and Elvis's. But, we were a club band, so we were trying to appeal to the people in the moment. So, we played whatever was popular on the air.
Q - You formed The Union Gap in January, 1967?
A - Yes.
Q - When did it become Gary Puckett And The Union Gap?
A - It took until our second record actually. We recorded our first record, which was "Woman, Woman" on August 17th, 1967. One month later, September 17th, 1967, it was released. It took a little while because in those days they released records as two-sided. In other words, there was an "A" and a "B" side and radio stations could choose, which they've since seen there's not much wisdom in that because the radio can choose and it splits up the airplay. So, they were playing both sides, which is a two-edged sword. There's a good and bad. You don't gain momentum if they're playing both sides. In our case, we were getting "Woman, Woman" in some places and "Don't Make Promises" in others. So, the record company said maybe we should try again. But we were fortunate in so much as there was a guy in Columbus, Ohio that thought that the record sleeve was pretty good. He liked the picture of the band. He was a Civil War buff. He said if the record's half this good, it's gotta be a good record. It went to number one on the station there in Columbus and that's when Columbia Records perked up their ears. But, I had called it The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett. To them, it didn't sound like a band. It sounded like an orchestra with a singer, which it was basically. With the success of "Woman, Woman" and "Young Girl" following it, they decided it should be called Gary Puckett And The Union Gap.
Q - How did that go over with the guys in the group?
A - Honestly, I don't really remember too well. They understood that I was the band leader. They understood the outfits were my idea. I had put it together. We didn't always agree on points. In fact, there was one member of the group that almost left because he didn't think I could see beyond the nose on my face. That was his prerogative. He ended up staying with the group for several years and gained some success through it. There came a point when I think they started taking exception to it because the pay scale changed. I was kind of splitting it all down the middle and then my management said, you're really the force behind this. You should make a little more money, kind of thing. So, when that started to happen then I think there started to be dissension in the ranks.
Q - So, the guys in The Union Gap became hired hands almost. Were they put on salary?
A - You could sort of say that, but they were never salaried in that sense. It was simply split into percentages and my percentage was higher than theirs and that's all it was. They did take exception to that part of course when my money started to change. I don't blame them for that. I had to re-structure a year ago, a little over a year ago. And everybody left because I was going to re-structure. And, I understand why. You just don't tell somebody they're gonna get a pay cut and expect them to stay on and smile at you and say that's OK. So, that's the kind of business changes you sometimes go through in your life.
Q - And the guys in the band think by going out and starting up their own band, they'll make the money.
A - Yes. That's happened to me several times actually. (laughs) I had a group that I worked with for quite some time that decided they were going to call themselves The Heartbeat Of The Gary Puckett Band, which was fine with me. They went off and lasted three weeks, I said guys, I don't know what to say. You just sometimes go through your changes and you have to do what you have to do.
Q - You should've told 'em the problem was the name of the group. It was too long. It wouldn't fit on the marquee.
A - (laughs) That's a good one. A little too long.
Q - Since you came up with the idea to wear Civil War uniforms, were you a Civil War buff?
A - Well, not exactly a buff, but I certainly had an interest in it at that point in my life. I used to really enjoy the actual photos because it was a new technology to that point in history and I thought it was quite remarkable to be looking at faces that had lived well over 100 years ago and were fighting a war here on our own soil. In fact, it had more impact on our history than really World War II did in the number of deaths. So, I used to be a little fascinated with it and I decided at one point it would be a great idea if we wore uniforms that were just like the Union Army. I just kind of liked Blue and I grew up in the North. I didn't feel like being a Rebel as such. I just wanted to have a good looking band. I wasn't choosing sides in that moment. I just kind of liked blue better.
Q - Is it true that your drummer, Paul Wheatbread was the only member of the group to have had previous professional experience? He was a regular on Dick Clark's Where The Action Is.
A - Yeah, apparently so. He told me he worked with Neil Diamond, Paul Revere. I don't know that he was in Paul's band. I think they kind of did shows together and he was in a group that had the potential to be very successful called The Hard Times. I don't think they gained the success they thought the group might. But, yeah, he was a regular on that program an had some celebrity from it all.
Q - When did the hits stop coming for Gary Puckett and The Union Gap?
A - I don't know...sometime in 1970 I think. I can't even really be sure. The music was starting to change. Preferences were starting to change. Do you know what I'm saying? Disco was around the corner. The 60s were over.
Q - Could you have made the transition at that time? Change your music. Change the way you dress.
A - Oh, sure. But I was too headstrong. The record company just wanted me to shut up and sing. I should have listened to them. They wanted to make me rich and famous is what it amounts to. (laughs)