Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cher at 75 — When You Only Need One Name

In the past 75 years, Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere Bono Allman has had a longer-lasting career than most of her contemporaries. One would have to go back as far as Buddy Ebsen to find a versatile entertainer of the same longevity and versatility across TV, film, stage, and music. Then, there’s Dolly Parton, whose endless talent makes for an enduring career in music and film, not to mention substantial philanthropy in her hometown.

Anyone born in the 1950s has likely heard of Cher, the singer/actress/entertainer whose impact on the music, stage, and movie worlds spans at least one major radio hit for every decade in which she was been a working entertainer.

There are just a handful of performers who are identifiable by just their first name alone—Cher, Dolly, and Oprah to name a few.

Cher is in an illustrious group of performers who have won all but one of the EGOT quadfecta (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). All she needs is the Tony to join the 16 people who have won all four awards. This group includes: Julie Andrews, Mel Brooks, Common, Viola Davis, Dick Van Dyke, Audrey Hepburn, Helen Mirren, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rita Moreno, Lily Tomlin, and Kate Winslet.

The singer whom people have enjoyed mocking at times yet whose fan base carries greater longevity than some of those mockers have been alive has been nominated for seven Grammys and the winner of one. Who’s laughing now?

Her first Grammy nomination was in 1965 for best new artist. Six years later, she was nominated for Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” and best Pop Vocal Performance by a duo, group, or chorus for the single, “All I Ever Need is You” in 1971, and the Record “Believe” was nominated for Record of the Year, Pop Vocal Album of the Year, and Dance Recording of the Year in 1999, winning for Dance Recording. In 2003 she was nominated again for Best Dance Recording for “Love One Another.”

With just the single “Believe,” Cher set records that were listed compiled in a 2020 article by Rhino Records:

“Oldest Female Artist to Achieve #1 hit on Billboard Hot 100

Solo Artist with longest time span between #1 hits (1974’s “Dark Lady”)

Longest gap between first #1 song (“I Got You Babe”) and 1999’s “Believe”

#1 on both 1999 Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Dance Club Play charts

#1 for seven weeks in the UK (won three Ivor Novello Awards—Best Selling UK Single, Best Song Musically and Lyrically, and International Hit of the Year)

First female solo single to be certified Triple Platinum in the UK (2014).

Now we’re in the new 2020 decade, surely Cher has one more Billboard charting hit awaiting her. No matter, Happy 75th birthday, Cher! You continue to set the bar higher for those who are on their journey now. Keep rocking, girl!

Then there is the entirely noncompetitive yet valid competition she won hands down every time—most unique style in the room, any room. Over the years she was on television and at awards shows, it was designed brilliantly by Bob Mackie.

Every key photographer in the country, Richard Avedon, Annie Liebowitz, Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh, and so many others captured her essence for just a moment through their lenses to last through seven decades of people discovering her talent.

For a young girl who grew up disconnected from others thanks to dyslexia, she managed to complete tenth grade before busting out of the doors. She found herself dealing with the fears and pleadings of her somewhat jealous mother, whose ego and beauty once reigned prominently under the same cameras her daughter would be destined for. Cher loved her through it all–eventually as she understood what it was like for women to prevail in a field that finds few friends when you look left and right.

At the end of the day, on this 75th anniversary of her birth, Cher still doesn’t take herself too seriously. The forthright, blunt, surprising, creative, stubborn, kind performer has left at least one legacy as a given long before she is past her age of entertaining audiences.

Personally, I’ll just wait for the next Farewell Concert Tour— I always love attending those. You can’t keep a good girl down. Happy Birthday, Cher, and thank you for all the entertainment that made life just a bit better for your gifts and talents.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Jerry Elarde — Chicago Musician Releases New Music 55 Years After Last Release

In 1963 in Chicago, a band was formed. Yes, yet another group of teenage boys assembled in hopes of creating a sound that would remind teenage girls of the hits of the day across Chicago radio. They'd recognize and appreciate those songs these bands recreated when performed at weekend sock hops and teen dances held at some of the busiest venues in town, such as Dan Belloc's Holiday Ballroom, the Aragon Ballroom, the Embassy Ballroom, or Dex Card's Wild Goose to name a few. At the time virtually every teenage guy who’d heard The Beatles on the radio had joined or formed a band. Most of the bands were headquartered in someone’s garage, or more likely their basements, safely nestled away in their obscurity. Others, but only a select few, made it out of the basement and into paying gigs where they began to draw a reputation and a following.

This time in Morton Grove, one group that was founded named themselves "The Kingsmen." This band was the inspiration of Gerald (Jerry) Elarde, drummer and a vocalist who was a student at Niles West High School. Jerry invited his cousin, Carl Giammarese, to join a band he was putting together.

Carl readily accepted, as he'd been playing guitar since age 15. Elarde invited two of his Niles West schoolmates to join in: Nick Fortuna and Curtis Bachman, both of whom lived in Morton Grove. Carl, Nick and Curtis were (wait for it) guitarists, and Curtis was willing to play the bass. These personnel would come into and out of each other's lives several times in the ensuing decade; this was just the first of many musical groupings.

Curtis was fascinated by multiple instruments, including the drums. As a younger musician he recalled going over to Morton Grove neighbor Tom Radtke's house and watching him practice on his drum kit, since Curtis didn't own drums. Eventually Radtke (who grew up to be a first-call drummer in Chicago as an older teen and adult) needed a new kit for a new gig he'd signed up for, so Curtis bought Radtke's old Pearl white finish kit for $100 and then refinished them to a sky blue. Before Jerry had his first set of drums, he would then go over and play on Curtis's drum kit. Eventually, Jerry got his own drum kit. Interestingly, all three drummers would become music professionals for their primary careers.

Elarde’s home was one of the early rehearsal sites, but they also shared rehearsal time at Bachman's home, as their parents could only handle “practice” for just so long before the cover songs of early British invasion music and numerous other song styles made their way upstairs into the family home. Giammarese said, "In our earliest days, we had Jerry playing the drums and singing and then Nick, Curtis and I were all on guitars, our little Silvertone models, and we played through one amplifier! It sounded awful!" But such are the commonalities of the early beginnings of bands. From awful to well-known to beloved to superstars--there are many levels you can achieve, with practice.

The Centuries (as the quickly renamed band became better known to the public) got fairly well known in neighborhoods, especially in Morton Grove, where just Jerry's relatives alone in attendance could create the perfect large crowd! They got better and their band came to the attention of longtime icon of Chicago’s radio stations, pitchman Carl Bonafede. Also known as the Screamin’ Wildman, Bonafede had name recognition across 50,000 Watts of wherever radio stations broadcast. He worked every weekend record hop at Dan Belloc’s Holiday Ballroom and was constantly listening to every group in town in search of new talent to record and bands to book. Stars were waiting to be born!

Bonafede was also notorious for his rapid-fire speech pattern that allowed him to cram three minutes’ of information into 60 seconds of radio advertising. Bonafede had business cards printed up noting he was the band’s manager, with his phone number for booking and the promise they were up and coming stars of rock and roll.

They did a little traveling outside the neighborhoods, but realistically they were just another teenage band in Chicago. One day in 1964, Bonafede was in his station wagon, his band in tow, and they were speeding to a gig, with still a long way to go. A policeman spotted the “speedwagon” and pulled them over. The usual questions ensued.

“Officer, you’ve got to let us go. We’re late for a concert and my boys here have to get there in time. Teenagers are piled up over there waiting to hear them play,” said Bonafeded. The officer replied warily, “Who are they?” Bonafede said, “They’re the Kingsmen!” and the officer brightened up a bit and said, “The Kingsmen? “Louie Louis? That Kingsmen?”

Bonafede, ever one to take a mile if you give him an inch, said, “Absolutely! Yeah, these are’The Kingsmen’! Boys, sing him a little of your hit song!” To which, the “other” Kingsmen started singing “Louie, Louie, whoa whoa, we gotta go now, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” The officer let Bonafede go without a ticket, and off they went, laughing and singing “Louie, Louie” the rest of the way to the gig.

Not long after that, Bonafede realized that he was lucky that the policeman didn’t know the real Kingsmen were from Portland, Oregon, and was grateful his group had changed their name to “The Centuries.” But when Carl Bonafede has his promo mind in full gear, you have to have a demand-driven adjective describing your band. He billed them, in all his advertising glory, as “The Fabulous Centuries!”

Bonafede got the guys into the Spectra Sound recording studio owned by Dan Belloc, to record two songs, both of which were written by Geoff (Jeff) Boyan. At the time Boyan was a popular songwriter who performed as part of the duo, Ron and Geoff as well as in other groups in Chicago. Boyan had a good handle on songs the crowds like to dance to at the ballrooms.

Years ago, Carl Giammarese told “Forgotten Hits” that the two songs “Yeh; It’s Alright” and “I Love You No More” were recorded in late 1964 at Lawrence and Western…I think it was the old St. Louis Insurance Building.”

Chicago music researcher Joseph Pytel, who maintains Carl Bonafede’s archives online, posted both songs on YouTube. Curtis Bachman has the lead on “I Love You No More”:

Hear Jerry Elarde sing lead on “Yeh; It’s Alright”, and to hear a young Carl Giammarese play a fiery guitar solo or two, check out these “Spectra-Sound Recording Stars”:

Because Carl Giammarese has been a lead vocalist since 1982, it’s easy to forget what an amazing guitarist he was at age 17. Fortunately, in this video you get to see some rare footage of the teenagers, including Jerry Elarde, the drumming vocalist, Carl, Nick, and Curt. Giammarese said, “I’ve always admired Jerry’s great singing voice, but it blows me away he could sing and never miss a beat on the drums at the same time.”

Life can change in the blink of an eye. Eventually Curt Bachman left The Centuries to join Jean Terry and the Tri-Dells for a few months. It was not at all uncommon for band members to come and go in various bands while people searched for sympatico sounds and personalities and found their groove together. But Curt was the only one playing the bass at the time, and it left the band without a key element.

At this point, Jon-Jon Poulos and Dennis Tufano would try to convince Carl to join the group then called The Pulsations, and that was one of the toughest choice Carl would ever have to make. It was anything but easy for him, but Jerry was gracious and understood and put love of family over personal feelings.

Later, The Pulsations needed a bass player so Carl, with the approval of Jon-Jon and Dennis Tufano, invited Curtis to join them, and he accepted. The new configuration sounded great and George LeGros sang primary lead vocals with Dennis Tufano on harmony. Curtis played with them for a while, especially through the first 3 weeks of their 13 weeks on the "All Time Hits" TV show.

Two more personnel changes would happen before the end of their TV residency: Curtis had a real affinity for a heavier sound and ultimately left them, and the continued TV audience recognition, to join another band, Truth, which had a slightly harder sound. So, with that vacancy at bass, ultimately, at Carl’s suggestion, The Pulsations invited Nick Fortuna to play bass (which Nick learned fast as he’d been playing rhythm guitar far longer) for the newly rechristened Buckinghams as they were now known. Nick had his first experience with the bass as he auditioned for and got the gig working for Chicago's well known act, Baby Huey (and the Babysitters). John Poulos was already the drummer and primary founder of The Pulsations.

Their manager was (wait for it) Carl Bonafede. And of course Bonafede billed them in promo pictures and posters as "The Fabulous Buckinghams -- Royalty in Rock and Roll."

Undaunted, Jerry formed several of his own combos and became a very well-known musician in upscale Chicago restaurants and venues. Everyone in Chicago enjoyed his music throughout his career. Coincidently, many years later, Jerry and Curtis would play together again at one of the lovely restaurants in Miami (FL)'s famed hotel, The Fontainebleau. Some things just come full circle.

Flash forward to many decades later. Recently, Carl invited Jerry over to his Twenty-four Seven recording studio and suggested they record some songs again, since Jerry still had such a great voice and Carl was experimenting with his new recording setup. Turns out that was a great idea. Carl really enjoyed producing the tracks and even sang harmony in sections.

Because Carl's fans have been enjoying new music that he's been writing and releasing throughout the COVID-19 quarantine at home, he decided longtime fans from back in the days of The Centuries forward would enjoy hearing these songs featuring Jerry. Naturally, these days the easiest delivery system is digital streaming.

Carl said, "It's my pleasure to share two songs featuring Jerry Elarde, and they’re live across all streaming media now." Timing on this is fortunate, as Jerry is now making great progress from a recent slight health challenge. Both guys have discussed the possibility of recording more songs together later this year.

Check out Jerry's tunes on Spotify: “I’ll Still Be Loving You” here and “Unchained Melody” here. If you enjoy the songs, give them a “heart” and “Follow” Gerald Elarde as an artist to get notified when new songs are uploaded.