The Grass Roots





The Grass Roots had a series of major hits, most notably "Let's Live for Today", "Midnight Confessions", "Temptation Eyes" and "Two Divided by Love", that help define the essence of the era's best AM radio. Although the group's members weren't even close to being recognizable, and their in-house songwriting was next to irrelevant, The Grass Roots managed to chart fourteen US Top 40 hits, including seven Gold singles and one Platinum single, as well as two hits collections that effortlessly went Gold. The group's history is also fairly complicated, because there were at least three different groups involved in the making of the songs identified as being by The Grass Roots.

The band was originated by the writer/producer team of P.F Sloan and Steve Barri as a pseudonym under which they would release a body of Byrds-style Folk-Rock. Sloan and Barri were contracted songwriters for Trousdale Music, the publishing arm of Dunhill Records, which wanted to cash in on the Folk-Rock boom of 1965. Dunhill asked Sloan and Barri to come up with some material and a group alias under which they would release it. The resulting "Grass Roots" debut song, "Where Were You When I Needed You" sung by Sloan, was sent to a Los Angeles radio station, which began playing it. The problem was, there was no actual band. The next step was to recruit a group that could become The Grass Roots. Sloan found a San Francisco band called The Bedouins that seemed promising on the basis of their lead singer, Bill Fulton. Fulton recorded a new vocal over the backing tracks laid down for the P.F. Sloan version of the song. The Bedouins were, at first, content to put their future in the hands of Sloan and Barri as producers, despite the fact that the group was more Blues oriented than Folk-Rock. However, the rest of the group was offended when Fulton was told to record their debut single, a cover of Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of a Thin Man", backed by studio musicians. When that single, released in October of 1965, became only a modest hit, The Bedouins, except for their drummer Joel Larson, departed for San Francisco to re-form as The Unquenchable Thirst. Sloan and Barri continued to record. "Where Were You When I Needed You" was released in mid-1966 and peaked at #28, but the album of the same name never charted.

Amid the machinations behind "Where Were You When I Needed You" , no real Grass Roots band existed in 1966. A possible solution came along when a Los Angeles band called The 13th Floor submitted a demo tape to Dunhill. This group, consisting of Warren Entner (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Creed Bratton (lead guitar), Rob Grill (vocals, bass), and Rick Coonce (drums), was recruited and offered the choice of recording under their own name, or to take over the Grass Roots name, put themselves in the hands of Sloan and Barri, and take advantage of the Grass Roots' track record. They chose the latter, with Rob Grill as primary lead vocalist.

The first track cut by the new Grass Roots in the Spring of 1967 was "Let's Live for Today", a new version of a song that had been an Italian hit, in a lighter, more up-tempo version, for a band called The Rokes. "Let's Live for Today" was an achingly beautiful, dramatic, and serious single and it shot to the #8 position in America upon its release in the Summer of 1967. An accompanying album, "Let's Live for Today", reached #75. The group began spreading its wings in the studio with their next album, "Feelings", recorded late in 1967, which emphasized the band's material over Sloan and Barri's. This was intended as their own statement of who they were, but it lacked the commercial appeal of anything on "Let's Live for Today", sold poorly, and never yielded any hit singles.

Eleven months went by before the group had another chart entry, and during that period, Sloan and Barri's partnership broke up, with Sloan departing for New York in an attempt at a performing career of his own. The band even considered splitting up as all of this was happening. The Grass Roots' return to the charts (with Barri producing), however, was a triumphant one. In the late Fall of 1968, "Midnight Confessions" reached n#5 on the US charts and earned a Gold record. "Midnight Confessions" showed the strong influence of Motown, and the R&B flavor of the song stuck with Barri and the band.

In April of 1969, Creed Bratton left the band, to be replaced by Denny Provisor on keyboards and Terry Furlong on lead guitar. Now a quintet, The Grass Roots went on cutting records without breaking stride, enjoying a string of Top 40 hits that ran into the early '70s, including "The River Is Wide" (#31), "I'd Wait A Million Years" (#15), "Heaven Knows" (#24), "Baby Hold On" (#38), and peaking with "Temptation Eyes" at #15 in the Summer of 1971. Coonce and Provisor left at the end of 1971, to be replaced by Reed Kailing on lead guitar, Virgil Webberon keyboards, and Joel Larson, of the original Bedouins/Grass Roots outfit, on drums. They arrived just in time to take advantage of the #16 success of "Two Divided by Love" which was the last of The Grass Roots' big hits.

The Grass Roots soldiered on for a few more years, reaching the Top 40 a couple of times in 1972 with "Glory Bound (#34) and "The Runaway" (#39), but their commercial success slowly slipped away during 1973. They kept working for a while, but called it quits in 1975. Rob Grill remained in the music business on the organizing side, and by 1980 was persuaded by his friend John McVie to cut a solo album, "Uprooted", which featured contributions by Mick Fleetwood and Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. By 1982, amid the burgeoning oldies concert circuit and the respect beginning to be accorded The Grass Roots, Grill formed a new Grass Roots, sometimes billed as Rob Grill And The Grass Roots, and began performing as many as a hundred shows a year.

In 2006, former manager Marty Angelo published a book entitled, Once Life Matters: A New Beginning, which was filled with stories about his life on the road with Rob Grill and The Grass Roots back in the early 1970s. Former drummer Rick Coonce died of heart failure on February 25th, 2011 and Rob Grill passed away on July 11th, 2011 in an Orlando, Florida hospital. He had been in a coma since sustaining a head injury several weeks earlier when he fell after suffering a stroke in Lake County, FL. He was 67. Up until his death, Grill and a newer lineup of The Grass Roots continued to play many live shows each year. His estate retained full ownership of the group name and Dusty Hanvey, Larry Nelson, Joe Dougherty and Mark Dawson were still touring as The Grass Roots in 2014 as part of the Happy Together tour. Again in 2015, they joined The Turtles, The Association, Mark Lindsay, The Buckinghams and The Cowsills for that year's Happy Together trek across America. In December of that same year, The Grass Roots were inducted into the American Pop Music Hall of Fame, along with Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, The Association, Dion, The Lettermen, Paul Revere And The Raiders, The Temptations and Three Dog Night. In 2016, The Grass Roots were part of the Flower Power Cruise joining Peter Asher of Peter And Gordon, Blood, Sweat And Tears, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, The Guess Who, Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits, Jefferson Starship, Mark Lindsay, Gary Puckett And The Union Gap, The Turtles and Christian Nesmith. In 2017 they were slated to headline a dozen shows across the U.S.

In the entire history of Rock n' Roll, only nine bands (including The Beatles) have charted more hits on Billboard's Hot 100 than The Grass Roots. They set an all-time attendance record for a one act U.S. concert of 600,000 people on July 4th, 1982 in Washington, DC. During a six-year period between 1967 and 1972, The Grass Roots set a record for being on the Billboard charts an unbelievable 307 straight weeks and have sold over 20 million records worldwide. Over the course of their career, The Grass Roots were awarded two Gold albums, one Gold single and charted a total of twenty-one times. Among their charting singles, they reached the Billboard Top 10 three times, the Top 20 five times and Top 40 fourteen times.

The Grass Roots Greatest Hits:

Where Were You When I Needed You - #28 - July 1966
Let's Live For Today - #8 - June 1967
Things I Should Have Said - #23 - Sept. 1967
Midnight Confessions - #5 - Sept. 1968
Bella Linda - #28 - Jan. 1969
The River Is Wide - #31 - May 1969
I'd Wait A Million Years - #15 - Aug. 1969
Heaven Knows - #24 - Nov. 1969
Baby Hold On - #35 - June 1970
Temptation Eyes - #15 - Feb. 1971
Sooner Or Later - #9 - June 1971
Two Divided By Love - #16 - Oct. 1971
Glory Bound - #34 - March 1972
The Runaway - #39 - July 1972

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Rob Grill