by Shirley Pena
Legendary performer and songwriter Gary U.S. Bonds can now add yet another title to his resume: published author.
On Monday, June 17th, Gary U.S. Bonds will make a special in-store appearance at West Hollywood's popular book store "Book Soup." His upcoming in-store appearance, which will include a book signing, marks the West Coast launch of Gary's brand new autobiography "BY U.S. BONDS - THAT'S MY STORY." In it, Gary recounts the early days of R&B, rock & roll, his successful collaborations with Bruce Springsteen and much more!
Co-authored with noted writer Stephen Cooper, its 248 pages literally flew by in half the time it normally takes me to read a celebrity "tell-all" book! Gary's story is both entertaining and truly inspiring; he is a true gentleman. His wonderful book is written in a direct manner that's easy for the reader to follow.
The book boasts a foreword by Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for The E-Street Band. However, what really impressed this writer was its eighty photos from the Bonds family's personal collection, all specially selected by famed photo editor Mark Weiss.
Bonds' book, perhaps better than any other I've had the opportunity to read lately, fills the gaps in when recounting that pivotal period during which R&B gave birth to rock & roll. It also paints an honest and engrossing portrait of the hardships that Black artists were forced to deal with during that dark period in America's history.
Among the book's highlights:
Bonds' "first big break" and special relationship with the late Dick Clark
Bonds' suing of friend Chubby Checker for plagiarism
Bonds' arrest and conviction due to false allegations by a former neighbor
The "real" Garden Party incident, which led to the writing of the classic song by Ricky Nelson
Bonds' surprise meeting with Bruce Springsteen, and how it led to Bonds' successful career "comeback"
The Los Angeles Beat sat down with this iconic artist from "The Golden Age" of rock & roll, last Friday afternoon. Here are his memoirs:
Gary, your book was so full of surprises! I was especially fascinated by the story of how Dick Clark played an important role in getting DJs to play your early records.
Mr. Clark and I struck up a friendship with the single "New Orleans." When I went to Philadelphia in 1960, I had a meeting with Dick Clark-he graciously had a meeting with us at his Bandstand studio-and he listened to "New Orleans" and asked us what the problem was.
I told him that the DJs across the country had said the record was "inferior" with "terrible sound" and they didn't want to play it. Only "Daddy Jack" in Norfolk, Virginia was playing it. He said, "Well, let me hear it" and we played it for him. Dick said, "Well, it sounds pretty good to me! Can I put it on the show?" and I said "Are you kidding me?
Ha! You didn't have to think twice, eh Gary? (We laugh)
Yeah! And he did, and we got action from it! It was the day after that when he played it again; he played it on his show twice. It was rare that he played a record twice on his show! All of a sudden, all the DJs across the country thought it was a great record. He changed their minds suddenly! They thought, "If Dick Clark likes it, then it must be OK!" I thank Dick Clark for that, my friend!
Is it true that you actually sued your old friend Chubby Checker for $100,000 dollars for "stealing" your record "Quarter To Three?" What was that all about?
That wasn't Chubby and I, that was the record companies! Chubby didn't know anything about it, and I didn't know anything about it until we saw it in the magazines! Chubby told me, "Bonds, I've got nothing to do with this, man!"
What happened was Chubby went into the studio to record one song with lyrics, called "Dancin' Party." His recording company at that time said, "Let's change the lyrics to "a quarter to three" so they took that track, put the "Quarter To Three" lyrics on there and somehow my record company found out they had done it. I just don't get it, but obviously the companies had a good time doing it, and in the end Chubby didn't lose $100,000 and I didn't gain $100,000 (laughs)!
The case was settled out of court, and it got a lot of publicity for both of you in 1963! As the old saying goes, "All publicity is good!"
I know, but at the time it did hurt our friendship!
Well, I'm glad that you guys are still friends!
Ah well, you know (smiles)!
I've gotta ask you about this story, because prior to my reading your book, I'd never heard about it. What's the whole story about the hit and run charges involving an "invisible" dog?
That was in Norfolk, Virginia. I'd just had a friend of mine who was a real estate agent-he was Black but he looked White-he went and bought a house for me in a "White Neighborhood" which in those days was a "no-no" back in Norfolk, Virginia. But I wanted to live in a nice house-it was really cool-so he went and bought it for me.
We moved in, and the neighbors didn't take kindly to that; at least some of them! At the time, I had just bought a brand new convertible Cadillac, and they didn't take kindly to that either!
So one day, I'm leaving the house with Earl Swanson-my new sax player at the time-we've got the top back and we're cruisin' around the corner, going to the studio, when suddenly a lady jumped out in back of us, in the middle of the street, yelling "My dog! You hit my dog!" I said, "Earl, did you see a dog?" and he said, "I didn't see anything!" So I backed up, thinking to myself "Well, it's possible, I guess" and we pulled over to the side by the house. Immediately when I did this, her husband came out of their house with a shotgun and marched us through the house with our hands above our heads and they called the police...
THEY called the police?! It should have been you who were calling the police!
And the police came, and we're in the house, standing in front of this guy's fireplace while he's got the gun pointed at us! So when the police arrive, he goes out the front door while Earl and I go out the side door. We meet the police out there, and we're trying to explain to them what just happened. The police tell us, "You boys..."-with the "N" word involved as they address us-"had better just shut up and get in the car!" So the police take us to jail; they had me in cuffs!
Oh my God, Gary!
So I had to go to court, and the judge gave me six months!
SIX MONTHS over a dog?!
Here's the kick: the woman never had a dog! She never owned a dog in her whole life! After the incident was over with, I checked with other neighbors and got this confirmed!
Those rotten so-and-sos!
My lawyer and my mother went back and talked to the judge. The judge knew my lawyer, and he felt really bad for my mother. They got it down to six days instead of six months, but I still had to do six days in jail over a non-existent dog!
We had to move out of Norfolk, so that's what I did. I sold the house for almost nothing, and me and my wife-I had just gotten married-just moved on up to her hometown: New York. We've been here ever since.
Well, I'm sure that New York is glad to have you, Sir!
And I'm glad to be here!
In your book, I really enjoyed your recounting of the actual "Garden Party": the now famous incident at the Nader-produced "oldies" concert held at Madison Square Garden.
Well, it was a wonderful night. It was one of Richard Nader's rock & roll revival shows. I had gone on just before Ricky Nelson did, so I was in the dressing room changing my clothes when I heard him onstage. He started singing a song that I'd never heard before by him, so I rushed and got my clothes on quick, and got to the side of the stage to listen.
He was singing a great song, it was really good! I wanted to hear his new stuff, but obviously the people in the audience didn't want to hear it! They started to boo him, but meanwhile Ricky had already played all the stuff that he was supposed to play that night anyway. He was simply interjecting his set with his new songs, which were fantastic. That audience literally booed him right off the stage! They didn't want to hear it, they just wanted to hear the old stuff!
Ricky stormed off that stage and didn't get the chance to say anything to them! That's why I'm so glad that he recorded that song "Garden Party." That was really a good way to get back at those people for doing that to him. They had to go out and buy that record because it was GREAT! The revenge was sweet!
Now, about your meeting and working with Bruce Springsteen. The story I heard was that when you first met Bruce, you had no idea who he was. You had no idea that he was a famous artist.
I didn't know who he was. He just came there with a bunch of friends, wearing his jersey. I thought that he was just another patron in the club that night.
How we met was I was onstage, performing. A man came up to me and asked me, "Can my buddy come up and sing a song with you?" I thought it sounded like a good idea, because it would give me a chance to get offstage and grab a quick beer. I told him, "Sure, give me his name" and he did. I then announced to the audience, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a young man out here! Let's get him up to do a couple of numbers with us! He's from New Jersey and his name is Bruce Springsteen!" and the audience went WILD! The place went berserk, and I'm going, "Well, WHO the hell is he?! WHY are they screaming like that?! I don't get it!"
Ha! You thought that you were just giving a local kid a break!
He must have sang about an hour and a half with me up there! We had a blast, and struck up a friendship that evening which has remained that way since 1976!
Wow! It's been THAT long?" Gary, it doesn't seem like it!
I know, I know! It really has!
"Dedication" is just...it's a brilliant record! In the recording of that, do you have any special memories?
Well, that was the "kickoff." That was the one that...Bruce was recording that at the time. He called me up and said, "Bonds, I'm recording this song but it sounds so much like you, man! Come down here and listen to it!" So I went down there and sure enough: it sounded like a Gary Bonds song! That's when he said, "You know, YOU should do this! Why don't you just do this song!" I did, and after we got through with that he went, "Ah man! We gotta do MORE of these!"
The next day, he came out to the house-my house-and wrote "This Little Girl" on my stupid little piano! We went back and recorded that and about ten more, and we got an album!
When they told me that it had been a full seventeen years between that and your previous work it just didn't seem true!
I know, It doesn't seem like it! All of a sudden, I've been an "oldie but a goodie" twice,
WHAT: Gary U.S. Bonds & Stephen Cooper presents and signs "By U.S. Bonds, That's My Story." Free tee shirt, magnetic bookmark and a CD copy of Gary U.S. Bonds' new single with each purchase of By U.S. Bonds!
WHEN: Monday, June 17th at 7pm
WHERE: Book Soup: 8818, Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA.
TELEPHONE: (310) 659-3110