Gary James' Interview With
Of The Grass Roots
They've sold over 30 million records. They were on the Billboard charts for 307 consecutive weeks between the years 1967 - 1972. Their hits include songs like "Things I Should Have Said", "Midnight Confessions", "Wait A Million Years", "Temptation Eyes", "Sooner Or Later" and "Two Divided By Love". They appeared on over 40 U.S. television shows including The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams, Sonny And Cher, Good Morning America, VH1 Hitmakers, MTV and a record 16 appearances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
Lead singer Rob Grill talked with us about The Grass Roots.
Q - Rob, you're out on this Happy Together tour. This is not the first time you've gone out on something like Happy Together is it?
A - No. We actually did the Happy Together tour in 1985, which was the second one. They did one in '84. They had The Turtles, Gary Puckett. We came onboard in '85 and that's when it really took off, not necessarily because we were on it, but because it had time to build up steam.
Q - People like to see all those big acts on one bill.
A - You look at it (like) this; people would probably not have come out to see one of the acts, unless it's at a local pub. Maybe two, but four, what the hell, let's go. It's that kind of thing. So, I think that's a big part of it. It sold really well and it was produced well.
Q - Besides being the singer and bass player for The Grass Roots, you're also the manager and producer.
A - Yeah.
Q - Aren't you wearing too many hats there Rob?
A - I got a whole closet full of them. (laughs)
Q - You're a busy guy.
A - Not as busy as I need to be. There's a lot still sitting on a shelf. We're not recording anything like we used to. Right now, in the next week, we are and we're excited about it. We recorded us 'live' again and perhaps put out a 'live' CD. We released a 'live' album off of the first one. We didn't call it the Happy Together Tour. We just called it The Grass Roots' Golden Grass. Basically, just because it was all hits.
Q - Then you'll take this 'live' CD and sell it online and at your shows.
A - Yeah.
Q - That's what a group like The Grass Roots can do because you have name recognition.
A - Exactly. By the time our portion of the show is over, everybody's excited because they forgot we did all those hits. It's a nice surprise to them and they go buy it. And it's even a better surprise when they play it because it really turned out well.
Q - When I think of The Grass Roots, I think of the story I read about you that goes back to 1967. I believe in the Summer of that year you made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Tell me if this story is true or not...
A - I'll tell you one way or another.
Q - You were doing a sound check and having some trouble getting the sound levels. Johnny Carson walks in and he doesn't understand what's going on. He threw a fit. He got so upset he said "Never again am I going to have Rock groups on The Tonight Show. They're too much trouble." And so for the longest time he didn't have Rock groups on The Tonight Show. You were the group he was talking about, right?
A - I didn't realize we were the last one.
Q - For awhile.
A - I didn't realize we ruined it for everybody else. (laughs)
Q - Is that story true?
A - I don't remember hearing that. But there's a lot of stories that I probably didn't want to hear that I did hear. (laughs)
Q - That's one of the stories you probably didn't want to hear.
A - Probably. (laughs) I will say this; the week before us they had The Byrds on. The Byrds came out and they had their 12 strings (guitars) and they turned their backs to the audience. After a minute of tuning their guitars, David Crosby said "we tune because we care." (laughs)
Q - I hope the audience understood that.
A - I doubt it. But it came off well. We put a package together that introduced the band to buyers and then we sent it out in a package after The Tonight Show and it actually got us a lot of gigs.
Q - You must like living out of a suitcase. What keeps you going after all this time?
A - Well, for one, that's how I make my living. That's what I'm best at and what they pay me for. You know what I'm saying? That's what I do for a living. Basically it's because this is what we do. When I came back, we're able to go out and do a lot of shows and do nothing but our own hits, which is a great thing. People come up to us afterwards and say "Who did that song?" We go "We did." "Oh, really?" On and on like that. So, it's a great thing like that.
Q - Were you part of this L.A. bar band, The 13th Floor?
A - No. I joined right after. The lead singer in that band was Kenny Fukomoto. I joined right after that.
Q - Had you been playing the L.A. bars in the mid-1960s?
A - Oh, I was playing in the bars, yeah. I was not playing with The 13th Floor.
Q - Were you playing The London Fog and The Whiskey?
A - Yeah. And The Witch...Sea Witch, whatever it was called. London Fog. Whiskey A Go-Go, we were the house band for awhile. That was after I joined The Grass Roots.
Q - Would you have crossed paths with Jim Morrison?
A - Sure.
Q - Did he come to see The Grass Roots? Did you see The Doors?
A - Yeah, I went and saw them. Whether or not he saw us, I don't recall. I remember him being kind of an ass. Arrogant. That might have been part of his shtick. That was his front. He would come out and throw shit. He used to throw shit around in the dressing room. He used to say "This is crap. This is junk." I often wondered, is he really an asshole or was he doing it just to be an asshole? He had a perception of being one.
Q - What was your big break? Was that when P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri gave you their songs to record?
A - Yeah, probably so. They called us back in the studio. We auditioned for them back in late '66. They said "maybe." The really liked the sound of my voice. They had another lead singer for The Grass Roots whose name was Bill Fulton. I don't know if you knew that.
Q - I always associate your name with The Grass Roots.
A - Oh yeah, yeah, because I sang all the hits. Bill Fulton went on later to become a guitar player for Tower Of Power. He was the lead singer and lead guitar.
Q - What do you think The Grass Roots contribution was to Rock 'n' Roll?
A - Well, it's hard to say. You ask it with an open mind and I receive it with an open mind. We had an awful lot of hits that were very Pop-oriented. It was Pop Rock. In other words, it wasn't Bubblegum like The 1910 Fruitgum Company, which was definitely Bubblegum. I never liked any kind of Bubblegum. We've always enjoyed making hits. That's what we went into the studio to try and do. We weren't trying to do anything but go in there and make hits. And we had a lot of 'em on the charts, at one time for 307 weeks. As one was coming down the charts, we'd release another one that would go up the charts. It was quite a ride.