116 3rd St SE
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Gary Puckett & The Union Gap may have enjoyed their heyday from 1967 to 1969, but that hasn’t kept these pop legends from continuing to tour and entertain their legion of fans.
The band will be part of the Happy Together Tour, coming to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 5, 2021. The Turtles will headline the concert, and others slated to add their blasts from the past are The Association, Classics IV, The Vogues and The Cowsills.
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 particular favorite, since it provides free programs and services to address the needs of wounded warriors, and fills gaps in government care.
What: Part of the Happy Together Tour, also featuring The Turtles, The Association, Classics IV, The Vogues and The Cowsills
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5, 2021
Tickets: $49.50 to $79.50 at creventslive.com/events/veue/paramount-theatre
Band’s website: garypuckettmusic.com/
And given how the demand for its programs and services has grown from serving a handful of injured veterans to now serving tens of thousands, the organization continues to receive hundreds of new registrations from injured veterans, their families and caregivers each month. It’s a cause for which Puckett is happy to raise money.
“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 said in a recent phone interview. “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.”
Founded in 1967 by Puckett, the Union Gap enjoyed a string of five Top 10 hits for the next two years, beginning with “Woman, Woman.”
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. I play all the hits and we play a lot of the songs that were on the first three albums for the Union Gap,” he said.
“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,’ ‘This Girl is a Woman Now.’
“But we also do some songs like The Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody.’ 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,” he said. “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’s introduction to music came at an early age. He started taking piano lessons at age 6 and learning about the three B’s: Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.
Born in Hibbings, Minn., also the birthplace of Bob Dylan, Puckett moved to Yakima, Wash., with his family while still a teenager. Discovering a guitar in his grandparents’ attic, plus having 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 music as a viable career by the time his family 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.
Then came a chance encounter with Jerry Fuller, who finds and signs new talent to record labels and had written Rick Nelson’s “Traveling Man.” Fuller was starting a new gig at Columbia Records, which led to Puckett’s music industry break. Around that time, this ambitious young musician came up with the Civil War motif for his new group.
“I knew that 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 said. “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,” he said.
“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. One day it occurred to me that maybe we could wear Civil War outfits and thereby be the same, but be different — have different stripes and things about the outfits.
“I took the band down from Seattle to Portland and then down to Vallejo (Calif.). From there, we went to Los Angeles, where we went to a place called Western Costume and rented one Civil War outfit. Then I took the band to Tijuana, Mexico, and had a little tailor make these spectacular outfits for us.”
Hits started rolling in over the next couple of years. The band shared bills with The Buckinghams, The 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 in 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 said. “The ’60s were becoming the ’70s. People were changing their attitudes, their minds, their music, their drugs — they were just changing and moving on.”