I’d Wait a Million Years! The Grass Roots and The Buckinghams LIVE! at The Great Auditorium

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

When grown-ups reminisce and think back to their formative years in junior high school, many remember things like switching classes, changing into gym uniforms, worrying about one’s locker combination, or perhaps, even fondly recalling a first crush.

Me?

I remember the Grass Roots.

?!?

Yes, the Grass Roots.

You see, it was following the summer of 1970 when, after completing sixth grade in elementary school, I was now ready to become a proud seventh grader! I’d carefully read the junior high manual the school mailed me and as a result, I was 100% prepared for just about anything that might come my way.

Except for the fact that the junior high manual the school mailed me did not in any way, shape, or form prepare me for the life-changing experience that was about to befall me.

Early in the school year, the school put on a talent show to welcome all of the new students — yours truly included.

And, evidently, for this talent show, some of the more established members of the student body — a group of “big” eighth graders — got a band together and performed a song LIVE! by The Grass Roots — “I’d Wait A Million Years.”

And I was absolutely transfixed!

I’d never heard the sound of a LIVE rock band before!

That energy!

That guitar!

Those DRUMS!

Oh, man!

The rapping sound of that snare…the tight thud of that bass drum… and, for me, the most compelling thing I think I’d ever heard live in my life…

…the sound of that crystal clear ride cymbal, rocking steady like an old-time locomotive — it’s voice shimmering majestically into the atmosphere, ringing proudly, truly, justly — throughout the auditorium and right into my ears.

I’d never heard anything like it… and I knew I needed to know MORE about this.

A little later that year, one of our seventh grade teachers asked us to do some research on potential careers.

And based on my recent memory of hearing the music of the Grass Roots performed live in a way I’d never quite experienced, I decided to research “Music” as a career.

In the school library, I checked the card catalog and used the Dewey decimal system to find several books on the subject.

“Hmm…,” I thought, “there’s performing….teaching….sales… This all sounds pretty good to me.”

And, as it turns out, I did go on to study music in college… and play it, compose it, arrange it, and even produce it.

And, yes, now I even write about it.

And all after hearing a couple of 8th grade kids playing that marvelous, magical music of the Grass Roots…

Fast forward 46 years.

I’m standing outside The Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ, where the one and only Grass Roots and The Buckinghams will perform on this grey and drizzly July 30, 2016 evening.

I arrive several hours before the show in order to — perhaps, if I’m lucky — get a chance to interview a few of the members of these two legendary American vocal groups.

As I enter the historic building and make my way backstage into the green room, I see Dusty Hanvey, lead guitarist for The Grass Roots, whom I’d been lucky enough to interview earlier in the week for an advance article on this concert.

“Pleased to meet you in person, Marc,” he says with a smile!

“Yes, definitely, Dusty. Pleased to meet you, too!”

Dusty’s already heard my story about the influence of The Grass Roots’ music on my life’s direction.

Dusty cheerfully introduces me to Mark Dawson, lead singer and bass player of The Grass Roots!

Over the past year, like many Grass Roots afficiandos across the country and around the world, I’d gotten a chance to know Mark a bit from his radio program, Making Noise With Mark Dawson, from enjoying his extremely entertaining “Ukulele Song” on YouTube, and by visiting his cool website, markdawson.us.

Naturally, the first thing I have to tell Mark upon meeting him in person is my story about being in the seventh grade and experiencing an epiphany upon hearing The Grass Roots’ “I’d Wait a Million Years” performed live by a bunch of 14-year-olds!

Upon hearing the tale, Mark smiles… pauses for a moment… and exclaims, “Well, you know, that’s a great Grass Roots song! It has a double-time chorus that just brings you in — you can’t help but to be drawn into it!”

Mark — who joined the Grass Roots later on in their half-century history when their original lead singer, Rob Grill, personally selected him to play bass in the group — went on to reveal that his major musical influences as a youngster were, “1. The Beatles. 2. The Guess Who. And 3. The Grass Roots.”

Grill gave Mark the opportunity to do something very few people in this world ever get to do — fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a member of a cherished childhood band.

But beyond that — as fate would have it — due to the untimely passing of Grill, Mark was also charged with the responsibility of taking over the lead vocal chores of the group.

“Rob left us way too early,” explains Mark.

Down the stairs, excited music fans are making their way to their seats, waiting for the concert to begin.

Before long, The Grass Roots — Dusty Hanvey on guitar, Larry Nelson on keyboards, Joe Dougherty on drums, and Mark Dawson on bass — take their places on stage at The Great Auditorium, a magnificent 122-year-old wooden structure which easily holds up to 7000+ music lovers.

Following the Great Auditorium ritual of reciting a prayer and singing our country’s national anthem, the Grass Roots open the show rockin’ it to the rafters with a song which, ironically, sounds very familiar!

And just what song might that be?

The Grass Roots’ 1969 hit — also made famous by a bunch of 8th grade kids at a junior high school talent show — “I’d Wait A Million Years,” Joe Dougherty’s shimmering ride cymbal driving home the point that waiting under fifty years to hear this incredible song played live again is definitely less than a million!

Following enthusiastic applause, the band goes on to perform a bouncy and upbeat cover version of a song which was originally offered to The Grass Roots, but ended up becoming a breakout hit for the rock trio, Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds — 1971’s “Don’t Pull Your Love (Out On Me, Baby).”

And after a performing a rollicking version of their own tune, “Heaven Knows,” Mark Dawson takes the mike and asks the audience some pertinent questions:

“Do you remember AM car radio?”

“How about 8 track players?”

The audience nods and smiles.

Dawson goes on to add, “You just can’t beat the fidelity of LPs!,” and then makes the audience belly laugh by saying, “Welcome to Rock ‘n Roll’s version of the Senior Tour!”

Segueing into their infectious 1971 Top 10 single, “Sooner or Later,” Dawson invites the crowd to sing along as he joyfully handles the lead vocal while expertly playing his electric bass, affectionately known by his fans as “Blue.”

Says Mark about his famous bass, “I put Blue together about 12 years ago. I found the blue body and the neck and the pick-ups, and, eventually, it just morphed into what it is today.” Adds Mark, “I play it exclusively at Grass Roots shows — it’s really solid and roadworthy,” and he goes on to talk about how his beloved instrument has taken on a life of its own with fans saying, “Now people even ask me if they can hold Blue.”

With trusty Blue at his side, Dawson and the band skillfully perform a tune which guitarist Dusty Hanvey says is his favorite Grass Roots song to play, the highly syncopated and percussive, “Things I Should Have Said.” On this great up-tempo number, Hanvey’s guitar and Dawson’s bass seem to talk to each other and create a scintillating musical conversation on stage while Dougherty’s precision drumming holds down the solid rock GR beat.

Dawson introduces a song which he guarantees will “put a little smile on your face” — Edison Lighthouse’s 1970 hit, “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes).” No stranger to making people smile, Mark reveals that it’s a guiding principle of his life saying, “I am a firm believer if you can bring a little bit of joy to someone, it’s a good deed,” going on to further whisper, “and it makes me feel good, too.”

Dusty Hanvey takes over the microphone and introduces the next number, the Roots’ 1967 gold record, “Let’s Live For Today.” He poignantly dedicates the song to all of the veterans in the audience, particularly those who served in Vietnam because, according to Hanvey, “they were the only veterans to return home without a hero’s welcome.”

As the band plays, the audience joins in on the powerful “Sha-la la-la-la-la live for today” chorus. Hanvey takes the unmistakable guitar riff and brilliantly morphs it into a wailing solo — one perhaps influenced by some of his musical heroes including guitarists Pat Metheny, Robben Ford, and AC/DC’s Angus Young. Played against Dawson’s dynamic walking bass line, Hanvey makes his guitar sing as the adoring crowd claps their approval, momentarily sidestepping into a different feel and then right back into the heart of the mighty song again.

After going back to their roots and performing the first tune the group ever recorded, “Where Were You When I Needed You?,” the boys play Mark Dawson’s favorite Grass Roots song, “The River is Wide.” According to Dawson, the record was released “the same day as Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon walk,” and it’s his favorite tune because, as he explains, “That song touched me in a different way.” On this number, flourishes provided by outstanding keyboardist Larry Nelson make this number extra special and Dawson’s lead vocal is exquisite.

The band follows this with a radiant performance of their 1970 Top 20 hit, “Temptation Eyes,” Dawson and Hanvey demonstrating to the delighted crowd that they’re simply having a blast together on stage.

With the fans clapping, singing along, and dancing in the aisles, The Grass Roots conclude their portion of the program with an electrifying rendition of their 1968 Top 5 hit, “Midnight Confessions,” leaving the entire audience on its feet!

Before the Buckinghams present their portion of the evening’s program, I take a few moments to chat with Carl Giammarese, co-founder and lead singer of the band, who says that although he hails from Chicago, he and the Buckinghams play in New Jersey all the time.

In fact, according to Carl, the group has played with The Turtles and other well-known 60s-era icons on the “Happy Together” concert tour on at least five different occasions, each time, he says, “hoping Bruce Springsteen will show up.” (Coincidently, in addition to being a member of The Grass Roots, Mark Dawson is currenty the bass player for 2016 edition of the Happy Together tour!)

Giammarese reveals that the group got started back in Chicago when they auditioned for the The All Time Hits variety show on Chicago’s WGN television. Originally, they were known as The Pulsations, but it was suggested they change their name to The Buckinghams to cash in on the burgeoning 1960s British Invasion of music.

Some people, Carl asserts, believe the name of the group comes from a famous fountain in their hometown.

“There is a Buckingham fountain in Grant Park in Chicago,” explains Giammarese, “but that’s not where the name came from.”

That notwithstanding, for their first album, Kind of a Drag, the group decided to “shoot Polaroids in front of that fountain for the cover,” says Carl, “but the quality was so poor, the fountain looks like a blur of lights.”

As a child, Giammarese found himself mesmerized by the sound of the guitar. He listened to the music of Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Harvey Mandel (who later went on to perform with Canned Heat), and Mike Bloomfield, the great blues player, and he learned how to play.

According to Giammarese, the addition of horns to the band’s famous sound was really a fortuitous accident.

Explains Carl, “Our record producer — a trombone player — just happened to have a big band and he wanted to use his horn section.”

Their unique sound went on to influence another local band, he says, “The Big Thing,” which, after being inspired by The Buckinghams, went on to create “their own band with a horn section” and change its name to Chicago.

Giammarese says he’d love for “all the ‘Joisy’ fans out there” to know that some of the group’s biggest supporters happen to live right here in the Garden State. Appreciative of the countless Buckingham enthusiasts all over the world, however, Carl notes, “We couldn’t still be doing this without such a loyal fan base.”

And members of that fan base are waiting in the Great Auditorium as The Buckinghams — Nick Fortuna on bass, Dave Zane on guitar, Bruce Soboroff on keyboards, Bruce (Rocky) Penn on drums, and Carl Giammarese on lead vocals and guitar — hit the stage running with a brisk and lively version of their 1967 Top Ten hit, “Don’t You Care,” Carl’s smooth vocals taking up the lead while the band — complete with a pumping horn section featuring Jersey players Jimmy Ward on trumpet, Ed Fazino on saxophone, and Rich Goldstein on trombone — sturdily backs him up.

After a bouyant rendition of the catchy, “You Misunderstand Me,” the group launches into their blue-eyed soul interpretation of the James Brown classic, “I’ll Go Crazy.” On this number, the guys are just playing and living for themselves as guitarist Dave Zane goes crazy with his rockin’ and rollin’ guitar solo.

Following a rousing “We Were Living A Dream,” featuring a duel between Zane’s guitar and Fortuna’s bass as the horns accent with their parts, the group performs a rockin’ rendition of the Outsiders’ 1966 Top 5 hit, “Time Won’t Let Me.” Starting with that infamous snare drum roll and ending with that impossibly high screaming trumpet, the band has the audience right in the palm of its hand.

Giammarese and the Buckinghams go on to perform a medley of songs by the group whose sound they helped to shape — Chicago — including stellar interpretations of “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Make Me Smile.” The entire time, audience members are singing along to all the parts — vocal melodies, harmonies, and horn lines — some with toes tapping and hands clapping while others simply air-drum to the music.

Giammarese takes a moment to tell the audience about the group’s various 1960s television appearances when they performed on American Bandstand, The Joey Bishop Show, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Thinking the Buckinghams were a British group, Giammarese relates that the Smothers Brothers’ art decorator adorned the television soundstage with British flags, and bass player Nick Fortuna further reveals that the show’s producers even offered them a specially-selected lunch of “fish and chips.”

Following the song they performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, the lovely “Susan,” the group launches into a beautiful version of The Beatles’ “This Boy,” the captivating vocal harmonies delighting the audience at The Great Auditorium.

Moving on to rock and soul, the group performs an exciting version of their own 1967 Top 5 hit, “Mercy Mercy Mercy” in addition to a soulful interpretation of the 1967 Gamble and Huff-penned Survivors’ hit “Expressway to Your Heart,” both featuring outstanding lead vocals by Buckingham’s co-founding member and bassist, Nick Fortuna.

Before their grand finale, Giammarese takes a moment to thank the smiling audience at the Great Auditorium, telling them, “We are blessed to still do what we do because of your support.” Launching into a riveting version of their 1966 #1 hit, “Kind of a Drag,” they leave this elated Jersey audience on its feet.

Reflecting on the group’s jubilant audiences like this one at the Great Auditorium, Carl relates, “Jersey fans are so into it; they’re so dedicated to the music.”

And Mark Dawson — who performs in Jersey twice this August as part of the Happy Together tour: at BergenPAC on Aug. 16 and The Paramount Theater on Aug 13 — echoes Carl’s sentiments about playing in the Garden State when he admits, “I love all the venues in NJ,” and further adds, “Coming to the Shore is a blast. It’s just a different vibe.”

Both of these admired musicians make it a point to acknowledge the dedication and support they receive not only from their fans in New Jersey, but from points all across the United States from Maine to California, Florida to Arizona, and beyond.

And just what do audience members say about them?

Two members of the crowd at the Great Auditorium, Victor and Madeline, reveal they just happened to come down to Ocean Grove on a whim and bought tickets for this evening’s show.

Exclaims Victor after the performance, “I forgot how many great hits these groups had! You remember exactly where you were when you first heard each song.”

And adds Madeline, “This show brings back memories of those days of innocence. It is uplifting and memorable. And we want to come back — this is a great theater!”

Like Victor, Madeline, and me — in addition to the rest of the joyful throng who have just witnessed this wondrous night of music — if you, too, want to transport yourself back to the magical days of your youth and reexperience a treasure trove of wonderful and transformative moments from your own life, be certain to catch a live performance by Grass Roots and The Buckinghams.

For information on upcoming concerts by these American pop legends, please go their respective websites, the-grassroots.com and thebuckinghams.com. And for more on other great upcoming performances at The Great Auditorium — including 1960s sensation Engelbert Humperdink on Aug. 6 and Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Michael Bolton on Aug. 13 — please go to oceangrove.org.

Oh, and please do yourself a favor:

Don’t wait a million years.

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