AUTHOR'S NOTE: Just five men ... but a wealth of recorded material and compositions that few who listen to popular music over the airwaves could have missed. Adult soft-rock, country, '60s beat, rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz, soul, reggae … the five musicians who were part of Bread have just about covered the entire spectrum of popular music since the birth of rock ’n’ roll – and perhaps without even knowing it, the listening audience has almost certainly had the musical talents or compositions of one these five drifting over the family airwaves or music systems.
Numerous million-selling releases, Academy Awards, a Grammy Award, studio sessions numbering into the hundreds, sold-out concerts worldwide and cover versions courtesy of a diverse range of artists should make these individuals household names. But today, the members of Bread remain almost as unknown as the faceless wonders they were when they first combined forces or when, as individuals, they first appeared on the music scene, back in the halcyon days of the post-rock ’n’ roll boom.
CHAPTER TEN: “Games Of Magic…”
With a fourth "slice" (Larry Knechtel) now back in the rack, Bread resumed their position on the promotional circuit. A September 28th appearance on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, the phenomenally successful CBS-TV variety show, hosted by David’s former session partner, saw the revised line-up performing a rendition of “If” before a live audience. Shortly afterwards they returned once again to their touring schedule, finishing up the promotional Manna tour. Larry clearly added that extra edge to the band, assuming the onstage bass duties as well as filling in on keyboards as and when required, and this in turn allowed David to remain center stage, switching between acoustic and electric guitars, remaining in the focal spotlight, and supporting James when the light switched to stage left. However, some of the reviews from the tour suggested that the positive elements that Robb had initially brought to the live sound were now notably absent, to the detriment of the shows.
“Royer is a bright innovative performer who added an unmistakable touch of cerebral class to Bread. He not only wrote good and occasionally excellent lyrics to Jim Griffin’s music, but also contributed greatly to what was at the time one of the tightest and most outstanding three-guitar blends in popular music. New member Knechtel is a fine studio musician who helps his colleagues come very close to duplicating the original Bread sound… however, the group’s sound during the 50 per cent that Knechtel is on keyboards, particularly organ, is more than different. It’s a cut lower than before since the keyboard tends to overpower the melody lines of those strong guitars. Give the group a few more months to get their sound together and they’ll doubtless be back to their usual all-out performances”.
November 29th, 1971
Orange County Newspaper
The October and November schedule took in a variety of venues across the country, culminating in a show at the Long Beach Auditorium on the 26th where, alongside the usual hits and choice album cuts such as “Easy Love”, “Truckin’”, “The Other Side Of Life” and “Too Much Love”, they highlighted a new, as yet unrecorded Griffin-Royer composition entitled “She Knows”. A delicate ballad, created in the mold of David’s hit recordings, this surprise added bonus to the set list would not see a studio release for a further two years, despite its obvious quality, and yet the song that many of the audience were waiting to hear was often chosen to feature as the closing number of the show, and would do so for many a Bread concert hereafter. The recent Top 10 single, “If”, would always receive a huge cheer, and loud screams from the many teenage girls present, once the initial quivering guitar chords rang out over the vast arenas and concert halls, and with Mike often appearing on bass for the song - what else could the drummer do on this final ballad? - it would draw the performance to a tumultuous conclusion after 70 or so minutes onstage.
With the 1971 tour completed, the band were once again free to go back into the recording studio, picking up from where they had left off prior to Robb Royer’s departure. For the next few weeks they toiled daily in the studios, choosing to work between the more familiar Sound Recorders studios and Sound Labs, a new complex created by Armin Steiner, across the street in Hollywood. Once again, Steiner himself was also on hand to control the board. This time around the chosen material was a refreshingly diverse gathering of songs, attempting to broaden the boundaries away from the previous 50-50 sharing of responsibilities. In order to assist their creativity, or more often than not to avoid hindering them, they were extremely fortunate in that Elektra Records, and Jac Holzman in particular, left them to their own devices, trusting the four individuals, along with Armin Steiner, to create commercial material that would generate the sales they had previously experienced to date.
“That’s one thing I will say about Jac Holzman and Elektra Records,” reminisced David. “They never, never tried to tell us what to do. We were free to go in and do pretty much what we thought was best.”
And best was what they managed to do, for the resulting collection stands as, perhaps, the finest combination of material to appear on any Bread album. From the opening driving chords of the preview single, “Mother Freedom”, notably without any given credit to Robb despite his bass duties, through to the raw edge of James’ “I Don’t Love You”, this was a slick production from start to finish and, more importantly, gave the band their most successful run of chart positions to date.
“In the studio everything is really under the microscope. Little time discrepancies, or little things where you buzz or hit the string with your finger. Little bad habits that you never hear in a live concert. On a record they just stand out. Everything must be smooth and perfect,” David was to comment later when questioned about the band’s tendency to strive for studio perfection.
Following on from the relatively unsuccessful release of “Mother Freedom” had come the next single, a newly re-recorded version of “Baby I’m-A Want You”, abandoned earlier in the summer but now re-arranged in a different key with an acoustic guitar accompaniment instead of piano, and featuring Larry Knechtel’s debut appearance on bass. James provided the lead guitar lines, using his favorite Gibson model. “I did the solo with my Gibson ES 335. I think I used a chorus effect on ‘Baby I’m-A Want You’ from my Roland amp, or maybe a separate chorus box through my other amp. It was a famous bass amp that Gates and I used for guitar as well as bass because it was warm sounding.”
Released as Elektra 45751 on October 23rd, 1971, the single stormed into the Billboard Top 3, while making the U.K. Top 20 at the same time, confirming what was already clear: the public wanted to hear a David Gates ballad. The song would also go on to receive a Grammy nomination the following year, ultimately losing out at the 15th Grammy Awards ceremony to Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway’s “Where Is The Love”.
Gates: “One song led to the next, which led to the next, and we became a soft-rock group. We did try a bit of rock and roll and up-tempo things but when ‘Make It With You’ was the big million-seller hit it sort of forced us to consider that. We had to remember these ballads were what got us where we were and we needed to come back to them from time to time. My strength as a writer has always been the ballads.”
With a Top 5 smash in the bag, and the single going on to garner the band’s second gold award for record sales, they prepared the fourth album for release. In order to capitalize on the success of the recent single, Elektra naturally named the new twelve-song album after the hit, and the Baby I’m-A Want You album appeared in stores around the globe during January of 1972, accompanied simultaneously by the follow-up 45 release. As with its predecessor, “Everything I Own” b/w “I Don’t Love You” raced up the Billboard charts, topping out at #5 and giving David yet another successful ballad, albeit one with mixed emotions for him.
“That was written in memory of my father. I worked on the lyric so that it could be taken in a general sense and not be real obvious. Recording the song went really well, I was quite motivated to get that one done right. Larry played a real interesting and complicated part on the harpsichord, and we doubled the kick drum to get that thick sound. I just tried to put as much emotion into it as I could.”
This particular song stands out more than others, perhaps for the raw fragility in David’s tone during the opening bars. One can almost feel the emotion of his thoughts as he sings the first four lines, dedicating his pain on to vinyl, before the chiming unison of the acoustic guitars and the gentle bass riff introduce his colleagues’ accompaniment into the sound. Although the original inspiration behind the lyrics was not hidden away, many were to take the song at face value, with a number of successful cover versions appearing in subsequent years, leading much of the listening public to remain blissfully unaware of the song’s true sentiments.
With the LP fresh on the shelves, the band now undertook further heavy promotional work in support of the new studio release, with three prime-time U.S. TV slots scheduled over the first few weeks of the year. On January 15th the long-running American Bandstand show chose to devote an entire one-hour episode to Bread, the first time the popular ABC-TV program had done such a thing. David, James, Mike and Larry performed eleven songs for the cameras, including three from the new album. This was followed on February 8th by performances of “Baby I’m-A Want You”, “If”, “Let Your Love Go” and “Make It With You” for a Valentine’s Day NBC-TV special, Love Love Love, filmed for Hallmark Television from the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles. In addition, they also taped an appearance on the syndicated Tommy Smothers Organic Primetime Show. Meanwhile, across the ocean, the British public was also given the opportunity to see the band represented on television, albeit with just one member in front of the cameras. On January 15th, the same day as the American Bandstand show appeared on U.S. screens, the 35-minute David Gates In Concert recording, taped the previous July, was aired on BBC2, featuring him performing a selection of his own compositions: starting with a wonderful version of “It Don’t Matter To Me”, and running through “Look At Me”, “The Other Side Of Life”, “She Was My Lady”, “He’s A Good Lad”, “Come Again”, “Make It With You”, “Diary”, “Baby I’m-A Want You” and finishing with a delightfully delicate “If”.
Supported by a four-piece British backup band, along with a fourteen-strong string section, this well-received solo performance was recorded especially for the British viewing audience and would go on to become an essential foothold in re-establishing the group in the British press later that year. Such was their current concentration on the American market that the initial impact they had made with “Make It With You” in the U.K. charts had now lost much of its impetus, and a fresh assault on their British audience would come the following year. This particular appearance would certainly start the ball rolling once more, with a Radio Times review commenting that this was “every pop fan’s dream”. Unforgivably, the recording was returned to the BBC vaults after the initial airing where it remains, virtually untouched, to this day.
By the time all of this promotional activity was actually ready for public consumption, the foursome were already heavily into their American promotional tour to support the album. The 1972 outing was an extensive 47-date tour, commencing with a preliminary three dates in Illinois and Wisconsin during January, and then kicking off with three full months on the road starting in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania on February 18th, finishing three months later at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. In between, the band travelled the width and breadth of the country, performing to sell-out crowds nightly. The set list, naturally, was heavily reliant on material from the new album, with “Mother Freedom”, “Everything I Own”, “Down On My Knees”, “Dream Lady”, “I Don’t Love You”, “Just Like Yesterday”, “This Isn’t What The Governmeant”, “Diary” and the title track all featuring among the mix. In addition, it was on that tour that the band first began to perform the classic Simon and Garfunkel hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, with the intricate piano introduction recreated note for note by its originator. The set would then culminate each night, just before the band broke into the opening chords of “If”, with the four musicians inviting the audience to liven up with a rebel-rousing medley of old Chuck Berry favorites, a trick they had been doing since the band’s early shows with Robb Royer. “Johnny B Goode”, “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Reelin’ And Rockin’” would be churned out, night after night, proving that, when they truly needed to, the band really could rock ’n’ roll with the best.