The Buckinghams turn overnight sensation into a long-lived career

By  Steve Orchard

The Buckinghams. Photo: William Morris Agency.
The Buckinghams. Photo: William Morris Agency.
For a band whose fame lasted little more than a year and a half, The Buckinghams have parlayed that brief period of success into several decades of good-time rock and roll.

The band’s very first single — “Kind Of A Drag” — rocketed to #1 and spent two weeks there in January 1967. Four other hits would follow before the run was over.

Still touring, original members Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna figure they do 65 to 85 shows a year. Giammarese believes the band still puts on a high-energy show.

“Usually we do a tribute to the ‘Solid Gold ’60s Tour’ that we did, songs like ‘Good Lovin,’ ’ ‘Gimme Some Lovin,’ ’ and maybe a Beatles tune — some of the songs that were popular right around the same time era from when we were making hits,” says Giammarese.

Giammarese and Fortuna, the group’s bassist, have been with the band since its inception in the mid-’60s. In addition to “Kind Of A Drag,” the band also hit the Top 10 that year with “Don’t You Care”(#6) and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”(#5). Two other records would reach the Top 15: “Susan”(#11) and “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)”(#12).

Giammarese is appreciative of the fact that the crowds never seem to tire of the band’s hits or their music.

“That’s the great thing,” he says. “You know, it’s amazing. I look back, and we reunited for Chicago Fest in 1980, and you could feel that excitement and energy that ’60s music was popular again, and our audience was looking for that again. And I thought, ‘OK, maybe we’ll play a few years, and hopefully they’ll (the fans) want to hear this music for awhile.’ But, it kept building and building and building, and it’s pretty much never let up. We’ve been in demand every year since.”

“Kind Of A Drag” was the band’s first single, and it shot straight to #1 in early 1967. Giammarese says it was pretty cool rubbing shoulders and competing with the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the record charts.
“Well, it was pretty amazing,” says Giammarese. “Up until then, we were a Midwest band that mostly played around Chicago and some Midwest states. When WLS radio was in its heyday, they supported us, and they would play local bands’ music, put it in regular rotation, and we were getting some airplay in Chicago with some previous singles before ‘Kind Of A Drag.’ And we were like, ‘Wow, this is great!’ But then all of a sudden, USA Records finally releases ‘Kind Of A Drag,’ and it was our first original tune, and it took off almost overnight.

As it turned out, “Kind Of A Drag” had legs, and it didn’t back down on the charts while going up against some of the biggest acts of the day.

“By the beginning of 1967, it was a #1 record,” says Giammarese. “And when you looked at the Billboard and Cashbox record charts, and you saw our song ahead of The Beatles songs, and The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra… I mean, back in those days, the playlists were very eclectic, which was really great. You’d have all different artists. And I remember when it knocked The Monkees’ single ‘I’m A Believer’ right off the #1 spot, and we were just… I don’t know how to explain the excitement.”

Giammarese adds that it was an exciting and scary time from then on.

“That’s because we finally realized that we’d made it, and ‘We’re #1’ and all of a sudden we were thrown into the national arena and touring on a national level, and we had never really been that far, really, out of Chicago, and here we’re flying around the country and doing all these great shows with these great artists,” explains Giammarese. “It was just overwhelming to some degree. But we were very excited about it and thrilled just to be out there.”

Following the success of “Kind Of A Drag,” the band turned to an up-and-coming producer named James William Guercio. He would go on to produce early albums for Chicago and Blood, Sweat And Tears. Giammarese says it was the band’s good fortune to have him come aboard.

“Well, as a producer, you can’t even measure how much he brought to the table, because he was a wonderful record producer,” says Giammarese. “Up until we met him, he hadn’t really had much success producing. He traveled with the duo Chad & Jeremy as their bass player, and he helped pen one of their hits (“Distant Shores”). But we met him through a friend of ours in Chicago.”

Having a chart-busting record gave The Buckinghams options it never had before.

“Here we were: We had the #1 record in the country, and our contract with USA Records was up, which was actually a good thing because… well, its nice to have the #1 record and be free to go anywhere you wanted,” says Giammarese. “So we were looking for new management and a new producer, and Jim Guercio came along and it seemed like a good fit at the time. So, he took us over and signed us to Columbia Records and started producing us and our first record with him was ‘Don’t You Care,’ along with the album Time And Charges.”

Guercio was a forward-thinking producer who didn’t subscribe to the old way of doing things.

“He was just many steps ahead,” says Giammarese. “You know, its funny… today I’m much more of a musician and producer than I was back then — we were all just learning — but now I look at his vision and what he did, and I understand what he was doing. The new album we just did (Reaching Back) is sort of a retro revisiting of that sound like Time And Charges and some of our other recordings. And he was a master at what he did, and he really honed in on and knew what we needed to do and what our sound was. And of course he used ‘Kind Of A Drag’ as an example, and he built off of that, and he realized that we had that ‘horn’ sound going for us. And, of course, he went on to produce Chicago. Unfortunately, we had a falling out with him late in ’67, early ’68, over publishing and writing. It didn’t continue to work out, but he certainly produced some great records for The Buckinghams.”

Dennis Tufano was the band’s original lead singer, but Giammarese says he took over the lead spot back in 1983 when Tufano decided he didn’t want to tour anymore.

“We all sang backgrounds with him and traded off on some songs on lead vocals, but Dennis was the primary singer. Dennis and I had a lot of similarities in our style and sound. That was established back when we were ‘Tufano And Giammarese.’ We were a duo that did three albums with Ode Records and Lou Adler back in the ’70s, and at that point and being a duo, we used to trade off on lead vocals on all the recordings.”

That the duo even had a charting single with “Music Everywhere”(#68, 1973).
Of it, Giammarese says, “That’s a song that I wrote, and we were really excited about it, but unfortunately it didn’t move up as far on the charts as we had hoped it would and… it was a nice recording, but recently I found a recording of that song that we did as a demo in Chicago that landed us the recording deal with Lou Adler. I wish we had used the demo as it had a little more ‘fire’ to it and had a different feel.”

It’s funny how things work out.

“We had recorded the demo being backed up by Poco, and Timothy B. Schmit was in the group at the time, and now, of course, is part of The Eagles fame, and it just really rocked. I was surprised when I hadn’t heard that recording for years.”

So what are some of Giammarese’s favorite Buckingham’s songs?

“Well, my favorites… I mean, ‘Kind Of A Drag’ was such a great recording, and that was the one that got us on the charts, but my favorites are ‘Don’t You Care’ and ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,’ he says. “‘Don’t You Care’… I love the song and the way that it was recorded. It brings back so many great memories of going from Chicago and being in New York and Columbia Studios. It was our first opportunity to record on a 16-track recording machine. It was several steps up working with Guercio for the first time.”

As for “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” Giammarese had other reasons for loving that song.

“‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ was on that same album,” he says, “and I just like the feel of that song, and it kind of brings us back to our R&B roots, and it’s a nice, loose, R&B sounding song that we took… it was originally a Cannonball Adderly jazz instrumental many months before that, and we were able to put lyrics to it and turn it into more of a ‘pop-bluesy’ R&B song and actually had a bigger hit with it. I love doing that song and I love performing ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ live, too. So those are probably my two favorites.”

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