Gary James' Interview With Bob Miranda Of
"See You In September" is one song that has never stopped receiving airplay. Since its release in May of 1966, that song continues to enjoy wide spread popularity.
The group that recorded "See You In September" was called The Happenings. They're still around, performing all over the world. Happenings member Bob Miranda talked with us about his group.
Q - Bob, how nice it must be to have a hit record that is still remembered. That must've been one of your dreams when you were starting off in the business.
A - It was. I think all artists have that in the back of their minds. A "hit" record is really the vehicle, at least it was back then. I guess TV has changed that a little bit and video stuff. Having a hit record and hearing it on the radio was the dream back then. I think it still is, basically.
Q - How did The Happenings get their start?
A - We started out, I guess it was around 1963 or '64 as The Four Graduates. We all came from Patterson, New Jersey. Two guys from Central High School. We met one night at a dance in East Patterson. We actually met in the men's room 'cause that's where all the singers were. The echo. We sounded pretty darned good, so we decided to get together and do some rehearsing and see how it would go. So, as The Four Graduates we rehearsed our butts off for a few months and started getting some work up in the Catskills, just for peanuts really. Just to get exposure. We did that for a couple of years. I finally decided I needed to get some kind of job in the music business, no matter what. So, I just walked the streets of Manhattan and got some interest in the office of the group The Tokens, who had a production company and they offered me a staff writing position for $25 a week, to write songs for their publishing company. This was around 1964. In 1965, they started putting together a record company called B.T. Puppy and were looking for artists. So, I brought in my three other Graduates and we auditioned for them. They loved us! We sounded a lot like them, maybe even better. They gave us a record contract. Before we put out the first record, we decided that The Four Graduates name was dated. So, we changed it at that point. We had a whole list of names. I remember The Corduroys, The Bitter Lemons, really bad names. We decided on The Happenings and put out a record in 1965 called "Girls On The Go", which was a moderate hit in Springfield, Massachusetts and nowhere else.
Q - OK, so when did "See You In September" enter the picture?
A - On the second session we did with them, "See You In September" was on that session and a couple of songs I had written. The record company was affiliated with Jubilee at the time, a 50 / 50 partnership. One of the executives decided it was a smash if we could get it out in time. Release it in April / May of 1966 this was. And they did and it just kept going up the charts, all the way to number one. It was amazing.
Q - Did The Four Graduates ever have a record deal?
A - We had a few records out on the Rust label, which are collector's items now because we made it as The Happenings. Those records are kind of valuable. But, we had no legitimate hits on Rust as The Four Graduates.
Q - Since you are part of a vocal group, did you have to carry your own band?
A - We didn't carry our own band until we started having hits. Then we became self-contained. We hired a drummer, a guitar player. On some jobs we still had musicians we hired.
Q - Who wrote "See You In September"?
A - Sid Wayne and Sherman Edwards. I never met the guys. I think they have both passed away since then. As I understand it, they were from New Jersey, Lake Hiawatha I think. They had written quite a few things that were mostly Broadway type things. "September" was kind of an offbeat thing they did. It was actually a moderate hit by The Tempos in 1959. Sort of a slow Cha-Cha. We always thought it was a great song and kind of a shitty record. We always looked for that. If you want to revise something and put your own sound to it, I think you should look for a great song that was not a great record. If you think you can make a better record out of it, then it's worthwhile to pursue it. Some of these classic things are better left alone. (laughs).
Q - I know what you mean. If you tried to cover an Elvis song...
A - Well, if you took it in a totally different direction. I heard "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" as a reggae thing that was a hit by a group several years back. If it sounds fresh and new, I think you can do that.
Q - Your career was probably helped along by AM radio.
A - That's true. That was the time, right then. We were a sweet sounding vocal group, but right on our heels was Acid Rock, Psychedelic and all kinds of things.
Q - You just squeaked in there, then.
A - If you look at some of the charts when we were on there, we're in there with Led Zeppelin. It was amazing that we had the hits we had when we had them 'cause the musical time was a crazy time.
Q - How did life change for you when "See You In September" became a hit?
A - My life changed quite a bit. We started doing a lot of traveling. I didn't move anywhere else. I still lived in New Jersey at that time. We all did. It changed mostly because there wasn't leisure time. We had to spend most of our time either working or preparing for work for the studio. So, I think the focus of our life changed and the time we were allowed doing nothing kind of disappeared. You get swept up in that. You have to take advantage of that situation when it's happening, otherwise it's foolish. You never know when it's gonna end.
Q - You toured as a headliner or as a support act?
A - We toured as a headliner. I remember some of the concerts we did. Joan Rivers opened for us! Rich Little opened for us. We were with William Morris and having number one records for a while, for three or four years. We were headliners. We played a lot of college concerts, some nightclubs, Vegas. I remember playing Vegas when Bobby Darin was there and Fats Domino in the 60s at The Flamingo. That was quite a time.
Q - You followed "See You In September" with "I Got Rhythm" and "Mammy". Is that correct?
A - No. We followed "See You In September" with the old Steve Lawrence song, "Go Away Little Girl". It was actually written by Carole King. Steve Lawrence I think actually had a great record with that and I always thought it was a great song too. However, a few years had gone by. It was such a great song we thought we could come up with a fresh approach to it and I think we did. When Steve had a hit with it, it wasn't a group sound. On all our records we applied these vocal hooks. "Go Away Little Girl" was a good follow-up for us. A lot of people ask for that song still.
Q - How far up the charts did it go?
A - It was a Top Ten record. Maybe 6 or 7, something like that.
Then we had a couple of bombs. We had "Goodnight My Love". We tried to do Neil Sedaka' s "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do". It made it maybe Top 40, but not a legitimate hit. It wasn't until maybe a year later when we came up with "I Got Rhythm". "I Got Rhythm" was a natural for us. There was so much space for us in the song to put these unique vocal hooks. I wrote an introduction to it. That took a lot of balls, re-writing Gershwin. But, you know we just put it in the workshop for maybe two weeks. We then went in the studio with it. We just knew when we played it back that it was a hit. It just sounded so natural and everything seemed to be there. Lyrically, although the song was some thirty years old, it was still current. Also the kids back then never even heard of that song. They'd say who wrote the song? And we'd say George Gershwin and they'd ask if he was in the group. Most of 'em anyway didn't know who the hell Gershwin was at the time.
Q - How many shows do you perform each year?
A - Well, it's hard to say, really. This past Saturday we were in the Pueblo Memorial Auditorium. We did a concert there. The week before that we did six nights in one place, in Council Bluff, Iowa at a casino. So, it's hard to say how many nights a year we work. We mix it up; one-nighters, weekends and also full weeks. It's really a versatile group. A lot of these groups from the 50s and 60s are able to do a good 20 minutes and that's about it. We could be up there for four hours if we had to, doing 50s, 60s or 70s music. So, we like doing that stuff. I think that's a key to the audience appreciating what you're doing...to be able to pick up on the act enjoying what they're doing. I think that's really evident, I know it is for me when I go to see somebody. I can tell if they're bored to death with what they're doing. We like to think we have a good time up there.
Q - You have a CD out that self-produced?
A - Yeah. It's been out for a few months already. It's on September Records, which is our own label. You can get it on the website and from the stage as well. We re-did the hits, "September", "Go Away Little Girl", "Mammy", "Rhythm". We also put a lot of songs on there we do in our act. We have a medley from West Side Story and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, that we do in there. We have "God Bless The U.S.A.", the Lee Greenwood song which we've been doing since 1988, but it took on a whole new meaning since September 11th. We get one verse into that song and people are on their feet. We've got that on there and a couple of original tunes that I wrote. A song called "Number One", which we get a lot of requests for. We don't expect a million selling CD 'cause we don't have the distribution and obviously we're not keyed into the market right now. We're not the N'Sync guys. So, we're doing what we like doing and are attuned to what we think people want to hear from us. We do a lot of other people's songs. We do Four Seasons. We do Beach Boys. We do Rascals. We do Motown as well as our own. We really mix it up as well as doing these killer ballad production things. It's really quite a cross section of music.
© Gary James. All rights reserved.
The Happenings placed 4 songs on the Billboard Top 40.
"See You In September" (#3 - 1966) "Go Away Little Girl" (#12 - 1966) "I Got Rhythm" (#3 - 1967) "My Mammy" (#13 - 1967)