Gary U.S. Bonds has lived the history of rock and roll, recording Top 10 hits and performing in rock and roll package tours in the early ‘60s, through the heady days of rock with hits in the ‘80s with assistance from Bruce Springsteen, up through the 2000s with stadium appearances featuring The Boss and icons such as Jeff Beck and Bill Wyman.
Over the years, he’s crossed paths with old time legends ranging from Sam Cooke, The Drifters and B.B. King to Little Richard, Ray Charles and the Isley Brothers. He was backed by the Beatles in the ‘60s and by the E Street Band in the ‘80s. He’s had his work sampled by modern day rappers. He’s had periods where he’s fallen on hard times, playing at Holiday Inns, and played to 50,000 people in Yankee Stadium. The man has seen it all, and lived to tell about it.
And tell about it he does, with a new book called By U.S. Bonds. The tome is a must for anyone interested in the history of rock and roll. By retelling his personal history, one also gleams insight into how the world of music has developed over the years, from touring to record labels, and from rip-off managers and agents to friendships with superstar artists and sports figures.
Gary was a pioneer in rock and roll, and pretty much invented “party rock.” He’s been cited as a major influence by legends such as John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen, and it’s a travesty he’s not yet been inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
I caught up with Gary and asked him about the book, touring and more. You can see him at the Bergen PAC on Dec. 19 and the Count Basie Theatre on Dec. 21 for his New Jersey Christmas shows.
What inspired you at this time to write your autobiography?
Family, friends and industry people have been asking me for years to tell my story. I attempted several times to do it on my own. But I wanted to tell “my” story and not just lend my name to a "ghosted" book.
I met Steve Cooper. He traveled with me for almost two years. He laid back and watched and listened. I got comfortable with that. I also wanted to tell a story that was a bit different. Not a "who did what to who" with a lot of name-dropping and half-truths and rumors about well-known personalities. I wanted to do something that was personal, about me, my family and my music. Tell it from the standpoint of someone who not only sings, but someone who is also a husband and a father.
When we finished it, we thought it was more an inspirational love story than a typical rock ‘n’ roll bio. I'm proud of it. But it was tough work.
What was the reaction of the people who you and Steve interviewed for the book?
Everyone was receptive to sitting with us and telling their stories. I'm lucky. I've kept my childhood friends my whole life and managed to become real friends with those I've worked with. Many have passed on, but I tried to recall those moments we shared as accurately as possible.
When we started the project, we went back to Norfolk, where it all started. That was a help. We have hours of tapes and hundreds of photos. We did video as well.
How has the reaction been to the book?
The critics have liked it. We've gotten a good response from the fans, both here and abroad. When the first reviews came out, Barnes & Noble bought the book through their Small Press division. Some schools have added the book to their libraries and I'm very happy about that. We just released the book in the UK. Echoes, the British R&B magazine, has a great review coming out in December, and The American named it one of their "Christmas Reads."
How did people you wrote about react to what you said about them?
I've heard from a lot of the people we interviewed. They appreciate that I accurately reported what they said. When I was speaking with Paul Shaffer, he asked whether I would be "dishing" anyone. I told him I had no need to do that to tell my story. He said he did the same in his recent book.
Anything new on the horizon as far as recording?
We are always working on new material. We did a single with the book called "That's My Story," and I had a chance to do that live on Fox 5 Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto. We should have a new blues album out in the next few months.
Any truth to the rumor that you and Southside Johnny will be teaming up on an album of classics?
If I can get Southside to get his butt into the studio, I think you will finally hear that long-rumored duet album. I would bet that it does happen.
I know you are doing some Christmas shows this month; are there any other touring plans in the works?
We're looking forward to a March trip to the UK. We're committed to appearing at Albert Lee's 50th anniversary show, which will feature an all-star band paying tribute to one of the greatest pickers and a sweetheart. It will be filmed and we're hoping to do some club dates while we're there. We might join the Happy Together tour for some dates.
This book is a synopsis of your first 50 years in the music business. At the rate you are going, you will probably have another 50. Will there be another book?
I promise. The sequel will be out before the next 50 years. We have enough left over from the first, but the next 50 will be a blast. Pre-orders will be taken shortly!
By U.S. Bonds is available now. To get a glimpse of one of the real heroes of rock and roll, see Gary U.S. Bonds with John Eddie on Dec. 19 at the Bergen PAC and at the Count Basie Theatre with Darlene Love on Dec. 21. For more information, go to garyusbonds.com.