STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
A premier vocalist of his generation, Gary Puckett and his group, “The Union Gap,” reigned over the AM radio airwaves of the late 60s and early 70s. The songs “Young Girl,” “Woman, Woman,” “Over You” and “Lady Willpower” catapulted the velvet-throated singer and his band to pop music superstardom.
Influenced by the legendary performers of the 30s, 40s and 50s, it was Elvis Presley that struck a chord for Puckett early on. “Elvis had the biggest impact on me,” said Puckett. “He captured and embodied the whole thing. He had that rockabilly, rock and roll, pop and ballad thing. He was all wrapped up into one for me. I loved listening to “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” and I just looked forward to each and every new song that came out.”
Formed in 1967, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap were signed to Columbia Records on the merits of a demo recording and a recommendation by big time CBS record producer and songwriter Jerry Fuller.
“‘A great song is a great song,’” Puckett recalls Fuller telling him. “He believed in the old big band theory of song, music and voice. That’s the way that he wanted to produce records. When we met, he saw in me a person that could be what he wanted to present to the public. So we created a big band sort of sound, but in a 60s mode.”
The band’s first hit single, “Woman, Woman” (1967), reached number four on Billboard’s Hot 100 and earned the group a gold record as well as fan adulation around the globe.
Over the next two years the hit singles kept coming. “Young Girl,” “Lady Willpower” and “Over You” (1968), “Don’t Give In To Him” and “This Girl is a Woman Now” (1969) all broke the Top 20 on the record charts. “Young Girl,” surprisingly, was the only single to make it to number one, and that was in the U.K. as a reissue some years later.
“A great hit song means it’s ‘singable’,” said Puckett. “It’s simply likeable and it’s ‘hookable.’ It’s got that thing that gets under your skin or into your mind then kind of goes over and over again and over again. Songs that deliver you a melody that you can sing — that’s what makes hit songs.”
The band’s meteoric rise earned them a 1969 Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist,” but the award went to Jose Feliciano.
As often happens in the music industry, after years of success an eventual falling out over creative differences between the group and Jerry Fuller brought an end to their professional relationship.
The group moved forward, but “Let’s Give Adam and Eve Another Chance” (1970) would be their last single to make the Billboard charts. Soon thereafter, Puckett launched his solo career.
The members of the Union Gap, who had continued to back Puckett, left to pursue individual interests one year later.
Puckett continued to perform live and worked at re-recording the group’s earlier hits until 1973, when he took an extended hiatus from music all together. He studied acting and dance for a period of time and enjoyed performing in theatrical stage productions in the Los Angeles area.
After a successful comeback tour in 1981, Puckett became a regular on the oldies circuit as a solo act. He also frequently performs with “The Association,” “The Lettermen,” Peter Noone, B.J. Thomas and Flo and Eddie of “The Turtles” on their “Happy Together” tours.
“Fortunately, my fans remain fans of the music,” said Puckett. “They still love to come out and hear the music of our generation and our era.
Going back into their memory banks, it’s always a joy to see them sitting there smiling and singing along.”
“Those records still sound great today,” added Puckett. “I don’t know whether I would call them oldies. I do because they are old, but to me they fit right into the scheme of things. The music still sounds alive and current to me, and I’m thankful for that.”
“I’d like people to experience the warmth of their own memories and their own love of the songs,” added Puckett. “We don’t do anything that’s glitzy. We try to be as good as we can be musically. We try to stay as close as we can to how things sounded. We try to stay as traditional as we can. I’ve found that people really enjoy me telling little stories about the tunes throughout the show. It’s really about where you are and what you were doing. Twenty, thirty, forty years go by and you go, ‘Oh yea, I remember that, and I remember so and so.’ That’s what it’s about for people.”
IF YOU GO
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap will perform two shows at 3 and 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21 at the Sellersville Theater, 24 West Temple Ave., Sellersville. Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or online at www.st94.com.