By Dave Gil de Rubio
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap may have enjoyed their heyday from 1967 to 1969, but it hasn’t kept these pop legends from continuing to tour and entertain their legion of fans.
But beyond merely being your standard oldies act, Puckett and his crew regularly donate a portion of proceeds from their shows to various charities throughout the country. The Minnesota-born frontman has an affinity for military veterans and first responders. The Wounded Warrior project is a favorite, as it provides free programs and services for veterans and fills gaps in government care.
“I’m always pleased to see that we’re doing something for those who are ‘America’s Finest,’ as I like to call them,” Puckett says. “I also do a tribute to veterans that’s been part of my set since way back in 1984 on the very first Happy Together Tour.”
The tour – which also features The Turtles, Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night), The Association, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Cowsills – comes to Talking Stick Resort on Friday, July 13.
Founded in 1967 by Puckett, the Union Gap enjoyed a string of five Top 10 hits for the next two years. Like any other oldies act, Puckett promises to keep the nostalgia flame burning bright with those much-loved songs serving as the creative kindling for anyone coming out to catch his band’s set.
“The people want to hear the music of their youth and the music that they expect from me,” Puckett says.
“I play all the hits and we play a lot of the songs that were on the first three albums for the Union Gap. So it’s built around music that they may recognize, but not necessarily were our hits – though I do all the hits – ‘Woman, Woman,’ ‘Young Girl,’ ‘Lady Willpower,’ ‘Over You’ and ‘This Girl Is a Woman Now.’ But we also do some songs like The Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Mighty Quinn,’ because it’s so much fun and I think it was on our second album. We do Petula Clark’s ‘Kiss Me Goodbye’ – stuff like that. Songs that everybody knows and loves.”
As the son of two musicians who got their start playing in Dick Halverson’s Big Band straight out of high school, Puckett was introduced to music at a young age, when he started taking piano lessons at the age of 6 and learning about the three B’s – Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.
Born in Hibbings, Minnesota, Puckett moved to Yakima, Washington with his family while still a teenager. A chance discovery of a guitar in his grandparents’ attic – plus an affinity for an array of 1950s rock ‘n’ rollers including Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis – had the aspiring musician looking to this as a viable career choice by the time the Puckett clan relocated to Southern California in the early 1960s.
While balancing college and working a day job at a car parts store called Foreign Auto Supply, the Minnesota native pulled together a portfolio with lyrics, band pictures and a demo and started shopping it around to record labels. A chance encounter with Jerry Fuller, an A&R man who’d written Rick Nelson’s “Traveling Man” and was starting a new gig at Columbia Records, led to Puckett’s music industry break. It also was around the time this ambitious young musician came up with the Civil War motif for his new group.
“I knew it was a very competitive business. I knew that everybody wanted to be on that Top 40 and everybody wanted to get on the Billboard Hot 100 chart,” he recalls.
“I thought that was competition beyond compare, so I thought we might want to go for a visual image along with a record that we might be able to make. (The idea was that) maybe somebody would look at it, be curious and wonder what the record sounded like and that’s exactly what happened actually. I always thought the Civil War-era period of history for the U.S. was so interesting (and the uniforms) were spectacular to look at.”
Hits started rolling in over the next couple of years. The band shared bills with The Buckinghams, Grass Roots, The Association and The Beach Boys. By then, Fuller’s controlling ways in the studio led to creative chafing that came to a head when Puckett and the band refused to take part in a 1969 recording session for which the producer had arranged for a 40-piece orchestra to play on a song. The date was canceled and Fuller never again worked with the group, whose days as a hit-making act soon came to an end. And while Puckett admits he might not have been ready to take the lead with his group, he also pointed out that tastes and times were changing.
“I made some poor decisions at a very bad time when things were changing,” he says. “The ’60s were becoming the ’70s. People were changing their attitudes, their minds, their music, their drugs – they were just changing and moving on.”
What: Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (part of the Happy Together Tour)
When: 8 p.m. Friday, July 13
Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale
Info: 480-850-7777, talkingstickresort.com