We spoke with vocalist and guitarist Carl Giammarese about The Buckinghams, his post-Buckinghams ‘70s duo Tufano & Giammarese, his solo work, The Beatles concert Abbey Road on the River, the Happy Together Tour 2019, The Chicago Cubs, and rescue dogs.
By Warren Kurtz
Photo courtesy of Carl Giammarese, thebuckinghams.com
GOLDMINE:I have enjoyed The Buckinghams Gold CD with new versions of ten of your singles and two of your flip sides, including your cover of The Zombies’ “You Make Me Feel So Good,” which they had as the flip side of their first hit single “She’s Not There” and you had as the flip side of your first hit single “Kind of a Drag.”
CARL GIAMMARESE:The Buckinghams Gold CD is what we are selling now, mainly at our shows and a bit online. There are the early Midwest covers of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy” and The Beatles’ “I Call Your Name” plus “I’ve Been Wrong,” which are the songs leading up to “Kind of a Drag,” and all of our hits. The CD has an inside flap for our autographs at the table after the concerts. People want a memento from the evening and this seems to be a nice souvenir.
GM:I also have the original versions of most of these songs. One obvious improvement is “Susan” without the noise in the middle. I was almost ten years old when I originally bought the single and I thought that section was cool, but over the years it does seem to get in the way. I know that Dick Bartley and other D.J.s have trimmed it out for oldies radio programming.
CG: Yes, our new version is without the psychedelic interlude. That was always a controversial part of the song that none of us in the band really like. 1967 was a crazy year for us. We were making most of our hits that year. We were on the road, constantly touring, with well over 250 dates that year. Whenever we could, we would go into New York to record a new single. Columbia assigned us James William Guercio as our producer. He would meet us in the city and we would cut basic tracks, some overdubs, and all the vocals. Then we would leave it up to him to sweeten the songs with strings and horns. He would mix it and in those days send us a test pressing of the finished product. We did the basic tracks for “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” and “Susan” at the same time. When we finished “Susan” there were so many bars of click tracks of empty space and we kept asking Jimmy, “What will you be doing in this section?” He said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this idea. You guys will love it.” So, we went back on the road and were out for awhile. We were in upstate New York playing a show there. Jimmy had sent us a copy of the test pressing and we went to a friend’s house and put it on her record player. We thought it sounded really cool. We were listening to it and all of a sudden it gets to that part and we ask, “What the heck is this?” We thought it was a defect or something and we played it again and it got to that part and it was the same thing. Then the recording comes out of it with the “love, love, love” part that we did. We immediately called Jimmy up and he said, “It’s really cool.” We didn’t like it. To us, it didn’t fit the song. It reminded us a bit, maybe, of the end of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” but that made a lot more sense. Jimmy had a lot of power in those days as the producer and manager and went on to produce and manage the group Chicago. So, we lived with it. The radio stations didn’t like it either. They were editing that part out. We never tried to duplicate that section live, of course, and that is the version you get on The Buckinghams Gold CD, without the avant garde craziness.
Left to right: Carl Giammarese, Larry Nestor, Nick Fortuna, Jon Jon Poulos, and Dennis Tufano, 1966 promotional photo, courtesy of thebuckinghams.com
GM:After five national Top 40 hits, from 1966’s “Kind of a Drag” to “Susan,” I would have thought that your next 1968 single, “Back in Love Again,” would have been a hit. I am so happy that you have included that on The Buckinghams Gold, because I think it is as good as “Susan.”
CG: It is a great song and was written by our keyboard player Marty Grebb. It was our first opportunity to break away from the James Holvay compositions, who gave us four of our hits. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” was not a Holvay song, but the others were, and we were starting to write more on the albums, so Marty wrote that song and its flip side, “You Misunderstand Me,” which I thought would have been a better choice for the A side of the single.
Flip side: You Misunderstand Me
A side: Back in Love Again
Top 100 Debut: June 8, 1968
Peak position: No. 57
GM:Maybe “You Misunderstand Me” was a year ahead of its time. When I listen to it now, it sounds more like the sound of a genre that has seen been categorized as beach music, which had a tremendous output in 1969.
CG: Going back to the A side, “Back in Love Again” is a really good song. It had some unusual chord changes, but I felt that the quality of the recording had gone down a little bit, moving away from Guercio. We had parted ways with Guercio right before we did “Back in Love Again” as we recorded the album In One Ear and Gone Tomorrow and both sides of that single were on that album. Columbia assigned us a new producer, Jimmy Wisner. As good as he was with others, he just wasn’t right with us. I still wish I could have gone into the studio and remixed that album. Timing was everything too. Music seemed to change in just a couple of months. The pop groups like The Buckinghams, The Association and The Turtles were losing audiences as people quickly stopped listening to us and moved on to heavier groups that Clive Davis was signing to Columbia like Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin and Santana. Things really started changing with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. I thought the last album we did with Guercio, called Portraits, was a masterpiece, with the way the songs fit together and the way the songs were recorded. I got to play a lot of guitar on the album, but we were thought of as a pop group and it was hard to break from that. Columbia stuck the singles “Hey Baby” and “Susan” on that album, but they didn’t really fit. At our live shows we occasionally do a couple of songs from the Portraits album. All the Columbia albums had a stronger sound than our early Kind of a Drag album on the local Chicago U.S.A. label, which had more of a garage band sound, although we were more of a basement band, rehearsing in our parents’ basements, moving from house to house. I remember rehearsing “Kind of a Drag” in my parents’ basement and my mother coming downstairs and saying, “You know that song has something. You might have a hit with that.” I thought that was just my mother talking, who thought everything was great. “Kind of a Drag” went to No. 1 nationally for two weeks. We then changed record companies to Columbia. “Don’t You Care” followed and was also a really big hit single, so Columbia was really pressing us to get another album out. Guercio was under the gun, so he put together songs that we could record quickly. Fortunately, Guercio used to play bass with a couple of soul artists including Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Larry Williams and Johnny Watson had a minor hit with “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” on the soul charts and he said, “This is a great song for you guys.” The song was originally a jazz instrumental by Cannonball Adderley that Joe Zawinul wrote and then Watson and Williams put together a version with lyrics. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” brought us back to our Chicago roots. Our recording came together really quickly and was just meant to be a cut on our Time and Charges album, but when Columbia management heard it they said, “After ‘Don’t You Care,’ runs its course this has got to be your next single” and it became our second biggest charted single that we had, with “Kind of a Drag” being our biggest hit single.
1970s Tufano & Giammarese albums, courtesy of carlgiammarese.com
GM:After The Buckinghams ended, you and Dennis had the duo Tufano & Giammarese. Marty also played on your the second album, called The Tufano & Giammarese Band, which also included a slower version of “Kind of a Drag.”
CS: Lou Adler did a great job as a producer for our first Tufano & Giammarese album on his Ode label. It included a song that I wrote, “Music Everywhere,” which was a minor hit. The recording included Carole King on piano and a great collection of guys like Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon. After The Buckinghams broke up in 1970, Dennis and I struggled with what to do next. We embraced the singer/songwriter movement that was going on at the time and were playing small clubs around Chicago with two acoustic guitars and a conga player on percussion. We had the opportunity to go into the studio. Our original drummer John Poulos was managing us at the time and he was good friends with the producer Jack Richardson out of Canada, who had produced The Guess Who. At that time Jack was also producing the group Poco and he allowed us to go into the studio with a couple of the Poco guys, Timothy B. Schmit on bass and George Grantham on drums. I played guitar and Dennis and I did the vocals. We cut a demo of “Music Everywhere” and a couple other songs. We were trying to get a record deal and John sent it to Lou Adler, who had just achieved the Grammy Album of the Year award with Carole King’s Tapestry. We were lucky that Lou listened to our recording, loved it and said, “I want to sign these guys.” We flew to L.A. and played our repetoire of songs in the recording studio, after a Carole King session. There were many artists coming in and out, watching and listening to what we were doing, including Jackson Browne and some of The Eagles. The first album had moderate success. The single “Music Everywhere” reached No. 68 nationally. It didn’t do as well as we had hoped.
GM:That first album also included “Just a Dream Away,” which I enjoy.
CG: Thank you. That is one that I wrote, but Dennis and I used to put both of our names on the songs, just like Lennon and McCartney. These were songs that we did in our live shows and Lou Adler gave us a great opportunity. He was on the cutting edge of music at the time. We were writing some great songs, but we weren’t writing hits.
GM:You mention Lennon and McCartney. You included a slower version of The Beatles’ “I’m a Loser” on your duo’s debut album.
CG: Dennis had come up with that arrangement. I was blown away on the mood and the structure which seemed to lend itself better to the lyrics of the song. I am the last person who would want to criticize John Lennon as we all wanted to be like The Beatles at the time. I just love them, but their version of “I’m a Loser” seemed too upbeat for the lyrics. Dennis had a more haunting feel for it. It was the only cover song on the album. When Lou Adler played the album at his Christmas party that year, the guests were a who’s who of music, including John Lennon, and John commented on how much he liked that version of the song.
GM:On the second album my favorite song is “Gone Like the Wind.”
CG: I still remember rehearsing that song. We were using a friend of ours’ house for rehearsals in the north shore of Chicago. With the second album, Dennis and I decided to form a band and call it The Tufano & Giammarese Band with John Forrest on bass, Tom Osfar on drums and Darryl Warren on congas and percussion. We went back to Canada to see Jack Richardson, who we had originally done our demo with. We were in Toronto for a little over a month and recorded the album at his Nimbus 9 studio. The band was having fun. There were venues along Lincoln Avenue in Chicago that allowed you to play original music including The Orphan and The Bulls. It was great that we could perform songs off the second album live. The record includes the song “Honest Man” which my wife Barbara wrote some of the words to. We have been married 49 years.
GM:The third album ends nicely with a pair of my favorite songs, “On the Road” and “My Woman.”
CG: I wrote both of those songs about being on the road and missing my wife. I spent a lot of time in L.A. and Barbara had her own career as a successful fashion model, traveling all the time, so it was hard for us to spend as much time together as we wanted. For the third album, Dennis and I broke up The Tufano & Giammarese Band, which didn’t make those guys happy, but he and I had another opportunity to go to L.A. with Lou Adler behind us and some of the greatest musicians, including Jerry Scheff on bass, Richard Tee on piano, Waddy Wachtel and Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, guys from Tom Scott’s L.A. Express and Tom doing all the arrangements and production. Tom was great, known as “One Take Tom.” Also, it was Dennis’ idea to do the ELO song “Night Rider” as the opener. We came up with an arrangement for it, as our only cover song on the album. There was a really good buzz about the album from the label, saying that we really had something, then things got crazy. Lou decided to end the Ode/A&M arrangement and move Ode over to Epic. Our album didn’t get distributed and promoted and the whole thing just fell apart. Dennis wanted to be an actor and stay out in L.A., so we broke up our musical partnership. I headed back to Chicago and got connected with some friends of mine in the jingle business and had a pretty good run singing on over 300 national commercials for McDonald’s, United Airlines and others, which kept me busy for a number of years.
GM:You mentioned your wife, Barbara. Speaking of her, on your solo album, Living in the Moment, “You Make Me a Better Me” is one of my favorite songs and there are so many wonderful songs on this CD. I enjoy the ¾ time on “Hold on to Your Dreams,” which reminds me of Burton Cummings. “One More Time” reminds me a bit of The Stampeders along with “Whisper and a Sigh.” Maybe there is some ingrained Canadian influence from your time in Toronto in the ‘70s.
CG: It seems like every time that I pick up a guitar I am writing a song. Even though I am a seventy year old guy and not sure how to reach an audience, I still want to create music. I almost do it for myself now. Luckily we have a great Buckinghams fan base who enjoy all this music and I end up selling some. I do it mostly because I enjoy writing, being in the studio and experimenting. Going back to “You Make Me a Better Me,” all of us who have a significant other supporting you through life’s challenges, is basically what it is all about. I am very fortunate to have a person like that in my life that helped me through and supported me during some very dark moments in my life back when I was in my 20s. I don’t know if I could have gotten through it without her. She is the person who made a difference in my life.
GM:Another CD from The Buckinghams on your website is The Joy of Christmas which begins with your composition “Christmas Twelve Months a Year.”
CS: We are lucky every year, because of that album we are able to do a handful of Christmas shows and it’s really fun. It’s not a total Christmas music show, but us playing our show and mixing in a handful of Christmas songs. That’s one of the songs that we always do. The song is about trying to live as a better person and get along better not only at Christmastime, but twelve months a year.
Photo courtesy of Ken Franklin
GM:That song has a winter image, and then there is “Chicago Cubs Family (Fly the W)” that you sing, which Ken Franklin co-wrote with Liz Chidester and Joe Vitale.
CG: Ken approached me about this song. I am a big Cubs fan. I can’t wait for the season to start each year. Every year The Buckinghams go out to Wrigley field and perform the national anthem at least once. It is always a thrill to get that opportunity. At one point they were looking for a new Cubs song. Ken connected with Liz, who is a singer/songwriter in Chicago and she had begun the song and then he contacted Joe and me. We came up with an arrangement. Joe created a drum track and plays great organ on it too. I put my vocal and guitar on it and I enlisted a friend of mine, Chuck Morgan, who is our Buckinghams trombone player and teaches music at Joliet Junior College. Chuck got a whole bunch of his students to sing on the recording. Joe mixed it and we’re still trying to get the Cubs to use it. We’ve received positive feedback so far.
Carl with his Cairn Terrier Lucy
GM:The Chicago Cubs imagery is fresh in my mind. We lived in Chicago for four years and our daughter Brianna was recently at a Chicago Cubs themed wedding. My wife Donna is a senior rescue dog advocate and I know that you and Barbara are involved with the Puppy Mill Project.
CG: We connected with these people some time ago. The Mothers in the Mills were putting together a hard cover coffee table book of famous personalities in Chicago that owned dogs and some cat owners too and it was all about raising money for Mothers in the Mills, with the whole idea to take these dogs out of puppy mills. They just use these dogs and never get out other than to produce. They are used just for breeding and it is a terrible situation. With the money that they raise, it takes dogs out of the mill. So we got more and more involved with it. They do a fundraiser each year and I try to get people to contribute and Barbara and I contribute to it, too. On the back of my Living in the Moment CD my dog Lucy is with me. She’s a real pistol, too, a great personality. Terriers can be kind of crazy. When she’s around children or grown ups, she just loves them and they can do anything to her. Even her vet and groomer are amazed that she is totally calm. She is thirteen years old now and she has never snapped at or gotten nasty with a person. Other dogs, that’s another story. It’s a terrier thing. She has a few dogs who are friends but not many. We love her. She is like our child and we never had any kids, so when we pass on we’ll probably leave everything to different animal organizations.
GM:Donna, Brianna and I enjoyed seeing you and Nick on the Happy Together Tour here in Florida a few years ago, where you showed the old outfits. I enjoyed Nick singing “Expressway to your Heart.”
CS: The Buckinghams have been on the Happy Together Tour maybe five or six times over the years, going back to 1985. I love being on the tour because you have the opportunity to play at some major venues that those of us on the tour probably could not play at on our own. We’re playing to 3000 to 7000 people a night, but the only negative side is that The Buckinghams have a great band. Nick and I have Bruce Soboroff on keyboards for over 33 years and our other two guys, drummer Rocky Penn and guitarist Dave Zane, have been with us for almost nine years now. It’s a great show that we do with high energy. Years of experience that have taught us to be entertainers in addition to having the music be authentic and played well. We connect with the audience and tell stories, getting people to laugh a bit and have fun. We have a great time when we can do a 75 to 90 minute show, but on the Happy Together Tour, each act is playing 20 to 30 minutes at most and just do the hits with one backup band. It hurts because we have to tell our band that for three months we’ll play a few days with them but for most of the time we are on tour with another band. We’ll probably wind up with 50 to 55 dates between late May and August. Also, the full Buckinghams band will be playing at Abbey Road on the River on May 25 in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which is near Louisville. It is a yearly show that that is a tribute to The Beatles. They ask you to play at least a couple of Beatles songs. We covered a few Beatles songs back in the day including “I’ll Be Back,” in addition to “I Call Your Name” that we mentioned, along with “I’m a Loser.” We used to play a medley of twenty Beatles songs in twelve minutes in our shows many years ago and we might take a little piece of that. I hope to see you when we return to Florida. Thank you so much for doing this interview. It has been a lot of fun.
See Buckinghams Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna on the Happy Together Tour 2019, photo courtesy of thebuckinghams.com
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.