K is for Kind of a Drag

The Buckinghams had a #1 hit with ‘Kind of a Drag’ in 1967, it sold over a million copies and went gold.  It was written by Jimmy Holvay and it was the title track of their debut LP, which managed to scrape a #109 placing on the Billboard 200 album chart.  Holvay wrote four other songs for The Buckinghams and he was a friend of the theirs from Chicago.  Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, in the mid-1960s Carl Giammarese (lead guitar, vocals) was playing with Nick Fortuna (bass) as members of the Centuries.  Later the duo was joined by Miccoli (keyboards), Jon-Jon Poulos (drums), George LeGros (vocals) and Dennis Tufano (vocals), they became a sextet and were now playing as the Pulsations.  They gained popularity while they were still in high school, but LeGros was drafted and they became a five-piece band.

Their break came when they won a “Battle of the Bands” contest sponsored by a Chicago WGN-TV show, All Time Hits, and they were awarded a 14-week gig on the show.  With 1965 being the height of the “British invasion” period, the show wanted the band to have a more British-sounding name.  A young security guard that worked for the TV station gave them a list of names he thought might work for them.  On that list, the band chose The Buckinghams, not only because it sounded British, but there was also a fountain in Chicago called Buckingham Fountain in Great Park.  That security guard would remain a friend of the group for the rest of his life.  Miccolis was fired after ‘Kind of a Drag’, and he was replaced by Larry Nestor.  Nestor’s stint with the band was short-lived, and Marty Grebb (keyboards) came in to replace him the following year.

Their first manager/co-producer, Carl Bonafede, signed them to Chicago’s USA Records.  They worked with big band musician Dan Belloc as co- producer, and arranger Frank Tesinsky who created their horn sound, which became a signature of the Chicago horn sound identifying them as The Buckinghams.  Their first records were covers of hit songs.  They did James Brown and the Famous Flames’ ‘I’ll Go Crazy’, The Beatles’ ‘I Call Your Name’, The Hollies’ ‘I’ve Been Wrong Before’, some Kinks ‘Don’t Want to Cry’, and the Zombies ‘You Make Me Feel Good’ which sold fairly well in the Chicago area, but the band needed a national hit to cement their reputation.  They found what they needed in ‘Kind of a Drag’, which sold more than a million copies and went to #1 on the national pop charts.

Columbia Records offered the group national label distribution, and the band chose James William Guercio, who’d written Chad and Jeremy’s #1 hit, ‘Distant Shores’, as their new manager.  The Buckinghams recorded 12 singles that dominated the AM radio airwaves.  With new management and a major label, the Buckinghams recorded and released many more hits in 1967, becoming one of the best-selling groups in the 1967 and were one of the more successful sunshine pop bands to come out in the 1960s.  In 1967, Cash Box Magazine named them “The Most Promising Vocal Group in America”, and they set off a chain- reaction of demand nationwide in record stores.  In 1967, Billboard Magazine named them “The Most Listened to Band in America.”  The airwaves were brimming with The Buckinghams’ latest tunes, and TV audiences got to see them on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Joey Bishop Show, and American Bandstand.  The Buckinghams were playing to capacity crowds in arenas and festivals, sharing the bill with Gene Pitney, The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Neil Diamond, America, Tom Jones, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, and The Who.  Thousands of teenage girls waited at concerts to rush the stage and rip clothing for souvenirs, which made The Buckinghams became part of American teenage culture overnight.  Their faces were splashed onto national magazines, posters and album covers with a look and style that helped define 60s pop rock.

The Buckinghams recorded in Columbia’s New York and Los Angeles studios, in between more than 300 tour dates, having 3 chart hits at one time on 2 different labels.  The band were pop superstars for about a year and a half in 1967-68, and then three things happened which changed everything for them.  First the music industry changed from a time when singles dominated the industry to the time when the album started to rise of in the late 60s and early 70s, and since The Buckinghams were known as a singles group, this spelled their downfall.  When the 45-rpm disc was the most common format, artists felt obliged to keep their songs to an industry prescribed three-minute mark, and this also suited the AM radio format.  As FM picked up popularity and the singles acts started dying off and the album-oriented bands took over.  The Buckinghams were not alone in this, as many of these single-orientated acts never had hit records again.  The second issue was a trumped-up drug charge where band members Nick Fortuna, Marty Grebb and Jon-Jon Poulos were arrested in August of 1968 in Spirit Lake, Iowa, specifically possession of narcotics (only marijuana was found, and it was in possession of the group’s roadies).  Also arrested on drug charges were the group’s tour bus driver and three roadies.  All seven were held overnight in the Dickinson County Jail and released on $2500 bond the following day, just in time for them to make a concert appearance.

The third thing that attributed to their decline in 1968 was the image of their music being described as wistful, with their biggest hits being full of teenage love and not showing an understanding of what love really is.  They were also not as cool and seemed to be out of touch unlike the hipper bands of the day.  When America’s youth turned their attention to the Vietnam war, and festivals like Monterrey Pop and Woodstock, The Buckinghams were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Some say they suffered from what is sometimes called the Chicago Curse, meaning that they starting out as a well-intentioned Chicago cover band and ended up playing pop drool.

The song featured the powerful vocals of Dennis Tufano and a punchy, distinctive brass soul-styled horn section, creating the foundation of the “Chicago Sound” (aka taking a pop-rock track and plastering horns all over it).  Guercio steered them in an awful pop direction, drowning the band in horns and strings and giving them crappy songs to record.  The group managed to survive a while, but after cranking out three albums in two years, they faded along with other happier pop groups.  They were always a bit more soul-oriented than other pop groups due mainly to Dennis Tufano’s strong vocals and Jon-Jon Poulous’s interesting drumming.

Their original song ‘Kind of Drag’ written by The Mob’s Jim Holvay gave the group considerable national exposure, but no one anticipated the demand, as the single rocketed to #1 across the country becoming a million-seller going gold.  Jim Holvay was a founding member of The Mob, the first rock band to perform at a Presidential Inaugural Concert & Ball.  The Buckinghams churned other hits, however, when the band’s subsequent singles didn’t do well, they broke up shortly afterwards.  After 1968, their fortunes changed this time and the group went from having four Top 20 hits the past year, to only managing to score a lone Hot 100 hit via the single.  They spent several years on tour, sharing the stage with Carole King, Bread, and Cheech and Chong so after they went through a string of personnel changes, having issues with their management as well as each of the members wanting to go in different directions, the band split up in early 1970.

In 1968, Guercio took his experience from The Buckinghams to become a staff producer for Columbia, where he signed the group The Big Thing, who were renamed, Chicago and he also crafted Blood Sweat and Tears’ #1 album.  With guidance from The Buckinghams’ drummer, Jon-Jon, as their new manager, the rock duo of Carl and Dennis were signed to Ode Records by legendary producer Lou Adler.  Grebb went on to play with Chicago related bands like Lovecraft and The Fabulous Rhinestones.  In 1980 the band, minus Jon-Jon Poulos, who had unexpectedly died of a drug overdose earlier that year, suffering heart failure brought on by heroin use just five days before his 33rd birthday, got back together for a reunion show that was sponsored by the Chicago radio station WLS.  They began touring again, while the group members maintained their solo careers.

Marty Grebb ended up touring with Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Chicago, Eric Clapton, and Dave Mason, until he passed away in 1980.  Giammarese found his solo voice and launched a productive career as a studio singer for national TV and radio advertising producers.  Tufano followed his heart to California, and found home base in film/TV work.  Nick Fortuna immersed himself in rhythm and blues, playing gigs across Chicago, with groups including Music Power ‘69, Jimmy V and the Ambassadors, and Baby Huey and the Babysitters.  Fortuna later started his band, Crystal, with Billy Corgan Sr., and other talented musicians.

After performing in several select dates in Chicago, Tufano left for good, leaving Giammarese and Fortuna the only remaining original members.  The duo and a newer influx of members continue keeping themselves busy by going on the oldies “package tours” playing with the Turtles, the Grass Roots, Micky Dolenz, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and Mark Lindsay.  In 2004, they released a CD with The Cyrkle Take 2.  In the new millennium, the Buckinghams continued to release albums of new material, as well as several compilation and live recordings, the latest being Up Close: CD and digital downloads in 2010.  Giammarese and Fortuna are the only original Buckinghams who have still been active up to the present.

In the 1993 movie Hot Shots! Part Deux, Charlie Sheen playing the dazed Topper Harley said, “That’s right, Cindy.  It’s twenty three minutes past the hour, and now here’s the Buckinghams with ‘Kind of a Drag’ –“.  Please don’t ask me why he said that, because he said a lot of crazy things in that movie.  In 2009, The Buckinghams had the honor of being invited to once again headline the entertainment for the Bipartisan Illinois Agricultural Ball for the inauguration of President Barack Obama for the Presidential Inauguration festivities.  Later that year, The Buckinghams were honored to be selected as new inductees into the 2009 class of the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

Kind of a drag
When your baby don’t love you
Kind of a drag
When you know she’s been untrue

Oh oh, listen to what I’ve gotta to say
Girl, I still love you
I’ll always love you
Anyway, anyway, anyway

Kind of a drag
When your baby says goodbye
Kind of a drag
When you feel like you want to cry

Oh oh girl, even though you make me feel blue
I still love you
I’ll always love you
Anyway, anyway, anyway

Oh, listen to what I’ve gotta say
Girl, I still love you
I’ll always love you
Anyway, anyway, anyway

10 thoughts on “K is for Kind of a Drag

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