Gary U.S. Bonds is one of only a handful of artists to enjoy hit singles in the 60s and 80s. He charted nine Top 40 songs during that period, including "New Orleans" and "Quarter To Three", which he co-wrote in the early 1960s. In 2004, Gary released his first studio CD in 20 years, titled "Back in 20", on MC Records. Gary U.S. Bonds talked about that CD and the early days of rock and roll.
Q - Gary, did the guy who signed you to Legrand Records ever tell you where he came up with the "U.S. Bonds" part of your name?
A - I never did get the complete picture of what that was all about. I know that at one point, there was a place next door to the studio on Princess Ann Road called Mr. Cod's Delicatessen. What Mr. Cod had in there was this huge, cardboard picture, stand-up picture of Uncle Sam. A U.S Saving Bond. They were doing a lot of promoting at that time, of United States Savings Bonds. He also had the big American flag back there. He also had a big Savings Bond on the other wall. He was one of those patriotic guys. I'm only guessing that Freank Grida (owner of Legrand Records) got it from that. You know..."why don't I call him U.S. Bonds." It wasn't Gary U.S. Bonds in the beginning. It was just U.S. Bonds. In fact, the record came out "By U.S. Bonds" instead of "Buy Bonds". I guess that's where he got it from But, I never did find out from him.
Q - How did this gentleman from Legrand Records discover you? Did you audition for him? Did he see you some place?
A - No. He used to come by on his way to his record store. He used to pass the corner I lived on. Usually, me and the guys would be out there singing. I guess, like they did in a lot of the major cities...stand on the corner singing. One day he stopped by and said "Look, you guys sound pretty good. I'm planing on opening up a studio in a couple of years. Would you be interested in recording for me?" Of course we said yes, you know. (laughs) Then, by the time he did get it open, it was a couple of years later. Most of the guys had left town, gone in the service. So, I was the only one left there, and got the opportunity to go in and record. Just me.
Q - I like to hear stories like that. Standing on the street corner, singing, being discovered by a record guy.
A - I don't think that's gonna happen again. (laughs) You're standing on the street corner today, you're not making a record, you're selling crack. (laughs) You're doing something that's probably not legal.
Q - Do you own the publishing rights for the songs you wrote?
A - Back then?
Q - Yeah.
A - No.
Q - Did you have to give them up?
A - I didn't have to give them up. I just didn't know anything about it. He happened to keep all of that. I think the only thing I got out of that was the writing credits. I didn't know anything about publishing when I first started. I keep saying I was down in Norfolk Viginia and there were a lot of people in New York who didn't know about it either. They got robbed that way also.
Q - Obviously, you own your publishing rights these days.
A - Oh, yeah. You're only gonna get me once. (laughs) From then on, I'm OK. I know how to spell it now.
Q - How did life change for you when "Quarter To Three" was released?
A - I was in Norfolk, Viginia, so we didn't really know what was going on in the major music cities like New York or Chicago or L.A. We were just trying to figure out how to make the music that we liked. We couldn't copy anybody. Not only didn't we want to do that, we didn't know how to do that. Let's see, I stayed in the same house. It was a few years later before I even bought another house and moved the family into it. And, even got a new car. There was no need for it there, until there was so money being made I said "wait a minute, I can do something with this money." So, the first thing you buy as a kid is a car, 'cause you gotta impress the girls. So, I went out and got the big convertable Cadillac. On my way back from the Cadillac place, I'd stop by Fine's Men Shop and buy some cute rags to put on. (laughs) I did the normal kid thing. I'd go down to the little drive-in burger shop that I used to hang out at, put on a smile and wait for the girls. "Oh what a nice car" (they'd say)
Q - Did people say "aren't you Gary U.S. Bonds?"
A - Of course, back then they knew it. Again, it's Norfolk, Virginia, not New York. It's not this big metropolis. Once it happens, it only takes a couple of hours and there's hundreds of people that know all about you. Within a week or two you're very well known around the area. You give it a good month and you're ready for the parade. (laughs)
Q - And they're playing your records on radion announcing "Our own Gary U.S. Bonds!"
A - Yeah. Jack Holmes was the DJ at the time on WRAP Radio...first one that played it. He was also the first one to let everybody know that U.S. Bonds was Gary Anderson.
Q - You did these Dick Clark Cavalcade Of Stars Tour didn't you?
A - Oh yeah.
Q - What was that like? Who did you share the bill with?
A - Oh, my god. We did a lot of...There were the Dick and Dee Dees, Bobby Rydells, Fabians, The Willows. Groups like that. Mostly white groups at the time, when I was doing it.
Q - You were the only Black entertainer on board?
A - Yes. I got to not go in to a lot of places they went in. They'd bring my food back to me. They'd think they were doing me a dis-service. I'm getting waited on hand and foot here. (laughs) This is really great. They go in to the hotel and check in, and the bus driver would just drive around back and let me out. I'm in a hotel room by myself, having the time of my life. Whenever I need anything, somebody goes and gets it for me and brings it to me.
Q - You're talking about the tours that took you into the deep South.
A - Yeah. I'm talking about Virginia on over to Texas to New Orleans.
Q - What would have happened if you'd gotten off the bus with Fabian and followed him into a restaurant? Would there have been a scene? Would you have been asked to leave?
A - Probably not, unless somebody else got reallt ticked off about it. More than likely they wouldn't serve me or anybody that was with me. During those times you had to go around to the back door or to another door or sit in another area or whatever.
Q - It's hard to believe that a situation like that existed in the United States in the early 1960s. And it wasn't that long ago.
A - No, it wasn't that long ago. We're talking in the 60s.
Q - How many one nighters would you do on those Dick Clark tours?
A - Oh my god. We'd probably do five or six days before we'd have any kind of a day off. At least a month.
Q - Were the dates close together or were you on that bus for a good long ride?
A - Oh yeah, there were rides that sometimes we didn't get into a hotel at all. You stayed on the bus and you slept. You got off the bus and you ate and you went. Maybe a day later or two days later, you'd go into a hotel. But, we were young. We were kids then. We could take it. Now, just order my coffin. (laughs) Give me three days and call the undertaker. I'm ready to be dumped.
Q - What if you needed to take a shower after riding all that time on the bus, what would you do?
A - That was pretty good. Whatever filling station you could get into and do what quickie you could do with a face cloth and a towel maybe. It got a little funky every now and then. But again, we were kids and nothing really mattered. we were having fun.
Q - Did you have "groupies" back then?
A - Oh, yeah. They were there. You were always there ahead of time. You got rehearsal. You always got to go get something to eat. You're just hanging around. You weren't onstage for no more than 10-15 minutes because it was a Cavalcade Of Stars. You'd have maybe 10-12 acts on that. Everybody got to do 2-3 songs and that was it.
Q - You were working as a lounge act after the Cavalcade Of Stars tours?
A - Not after "Quarter To Three". That came later, after I came up to New York. In the 70s, we didn't have a chance to record anything 'cause I left Legrand Records. I got sick of their shenanigans. I just kind of did my little Holiday Inn act which was pretty cool too. It taught me how to deal with audiences on an intimate, up-close basis. I learned most of my tricks of my trade that I've used over the last years from that. When I started out, I had never done anything at all. I came out green as you could get. I learned as I wennt along how to do it. There was no video on 'How To Be A Star.' (laughs)
Q - And there still isn't. Each person handles success ina different way.
A - On success, no. It's much easier to know how to perform. You got televsision now. Back then, even though we had television, what else did we have? The only thing we had was the Dick Clark Show and Ed Sullivan. The only thing they didn't learn how to teach you to do is get robbed. They still know how to rob you. (laughs)
Q - And that's because the singers and musicians are pre-occupied with matters other than business.
A - I was one of those. There was too much going on for me. Business? I don't want to know anything about business. I just want to make all this money and chase girls, or let girls chase me. (laughs)
Q - What was it like to have Bruce Springsteen produce your album? ("Dedication" - 1981)
A - Bruce was a sweetheart. He's such a nice man. He's a real laid-back kind of guy. He's got a lot of funny stories. He's neat to sit down and talk to. He's the kind of guy who will actually sit down and listen to you. You don't get that much out of these big, big stars today. They got too much ego. They want to talk about themselves. (laughs) He really listens. He's a super-talented guy. He loves what he does, which is performing and writing. He's a nice guy. Andd, now I see him as a family man and I never thought that would happen. But, he's a great family man. He's always out with his kids doing stuff, which is cool. He's one of the few big, big acts that I see that can go out and people don't bother him. (in New Jersey) He's out to restaurants and nobody bothers him. That's because he makes himself accessible. It's a funny thing about people, if they know they can touch you, they won't touch you. But if you try to get away, they want to jump all over you. I don't know whether to hurt you or what. (laughs)
Q - Was there a follow-up to the "Dedication" album?
A - In '82, we had "On The Line" album. Then after that I got dropped by EMI because of my management that I had then. Unfortunatley I made another mistake by signing with a management corporation that was in charge of me singing with EMI. So, without my knowledge, they went in and re-negotiated my contract and wanted a ridiculous amout of money up-front, like a million dollars and EMI of course said no.
"We love 'em. He's doing great, but we're not going to put that kind of money up-front." The only feedback I got was "hey, EMI dosen't want you anymore." I went through 3 or 4 years going "I wonder what the hell I did. It couldn't have been that bad." The records were doing good. I met one of the CEOs at EMI and I asked him. He said "step into the other room and I'll tell you all about it." Then he disclosed what it was.
Q - What kind of venues are you playing these days?
A - Just the casinos and corporate parties. That's all I've been doing for oh, God, 20 years. We just got back from a European tour.
Q - Gary, what has been your contribution to Rock and Roll, as you see it?
A - I really don't know. You'd probably have to ask somebody that's involved with it. As far as I'm concerned, I tried to keep it alive. I tried to keep it as fun as I possibly can and I try to have as much fun with it. I know it's been good for me. I try to be as good to it, as its been to me.
Gary U.S. Bonds has placed 9 songs in Billboard's Top 40, including
"New Orleans" (#6 - 1960) "Quarter To Three" (#1 - 1961) "School Is Out" (#5 - 1961) "School Is In" (#28 - 1961) "Dear Lady Twist" (#9 - 1962)
"Twist, Twist Senora" (#9 - 1962) "Seven Day Weekend" (#27 - 1962) "This Little Girl" (#11 - 1981) "Out Of Work" (#21 1982)*