Gary Puckett to play Casino Ballroom this weekend in the Happy Together Tour

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When Gary Puckett burst upon the national music scene in 1967, he and his band, the Union Gap, sought to “capture the world.”

Riding the wave of their first hit record, "Woman, Woman," they captured a fair share of the pop rock world with powerful and provocative lyrics infused with Puckett’s soaring tenor vocals. While the individual members of his band have changed through the years, Puckett has endured. His music still resonates with audiences, whose makeup extends across generations.

Gary Puckett will perform Sunday, June 26 at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom as part of the Happy Together Tour.
Gary Puckett will perform Sunday, June 26 at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom as part of the Happy Together Tour.

In short, the Puckett brand has maintained its hold on the nostalgia crowd – and his oldies shows do draw crowds. That will be evident Sunday, June 26, at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom when Gary Puckett and the Union Gap perform as part of the Happy Together Tour.

The concert, which begins at 8 p.m., also features the Turtles (after whose biggest hit the tour is named), the Association, the Vogues, the Cowsills, and the Classics IV.

Puckett, who’ll turn 80 years old Oct.17, discussed what he believes is behind his half century-plus of performing and why his popularity has remained at such a high level.

“I don't know; maybe they just think I’m a nice guy or something,” he quipped by phone from his home in Clearwater, Fla.                                                                                    

“We’re fortunate to be able to continue to go out and meet the fans and play the songs for them. I suppose I'll continue to be out there as long as the good Lord will allow me to.”

Written by Jim Glaser and Jimmy Payne and recorded in August 1967, "Woman, Woman" was Puckett & the Gap’s debut single and became a million-seller in short order. Entering the Billboard Hot 100 chart on Nov. 12 of ’67, it peaked at No. 4 in January 1968.

"Woman, Woman" was one of four Billboard Top 10 singles from Puckett & Co. in the U.S. in 1968. The other three, written by Jerry Fuller: "Young Girl," "Lady Willpower" (both reaching No. 2 on Billboard) and "Over You" (No. 7). They sold more singles in America than the Beatles that year – Puckett estimating “14 or 15 million” vinyl discs purchased by their devotees.

All the while Gary dressed himself and the band in Union Army-style Civil War uniforms, Puckett seeking an image unlike that of any other songsters of that era. No bell bottoms for our boys.

A significant portion of the fans showing up for Gary Puckett and the new-version Union Gap these days weren’t born yet when the songs were released decades ago. That means the children and grandchildren of those who listened live in the Sixties have crossed generational lines in reverse, going back in time for their choice of music.

“I notice young people in the crowds and oftentimes I'll ask them how they know the music,” said Puckett, married with two daughters and four grandchildren. “Their answers are varied, but oftentimes they’ll say, ‘Well, I just don't care so much for the music of my generation, so I searched the Internet and I ran across the Sixties, or your music in particular.’

“Or they'll say they learned it from their grandparents or their parents. I find it encouraging, and I’m really happy to know, that young people like our music.

“People (of all ages) continue to come out and sing along.”

Born in Hibbing, Minn. (home to Bob Dylan) but growing up mainly in Yakima, Wash., Puckett was encouraged by his parents to be a dentist. He, and they, took the hint that a career caring for teeth and gums wasn’t in the cards when, during his two years (1961 and ’62) at San Diego City College, A-plusses in astronomy kept him from failing.

Puckett dropped out of college after two years and focused on a life in music. He was 20. He played in local bands through the mid-1960s, when his group called Gary and the Remarkables was renamed Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (after a town near Yakima).

That set the stage for "Woman, Woman" from Columbia Records under a contract drawn up by Fuller, a songwriter and CBS record producer who’d find and sign new talent. Puckett had convinced Columbia to print, on the sleeve that held the 45 rpm record, a picture of him and the band in Civil War regalia. He figured, correctly, that it would help sell records.

“A disc jockey/program director at a radio station in Columbus, Ohio, who was a Civil War historian, got that record in that sleeve in his hand one day,” said Puckett. “He said to himself, ‘This is one great picture. I wonder what this record sounds like?’ So he named it a pick to click, played it on the station, and it went to number one in Columbus.

“Columbia Records has a regional office in Cleveland, which is not far away. Cleveland called me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a hit record in Columbus.’ ”

Next on the label’s wish list was to distribute "Woman, Woman" nationally and make it a hit everywhere that records were sold or played. It was such a good song, it sold itself. Wish granted. Mission accomplished.

Eventually, Puckett and his Civil Warriors became disenchanted with Fuller’s influence. Gary and the Gap wanted to write and produce their own material and not adhere to Fuller’s directives. So band and producer parted ways in 1969, a move Puckett today, in retrospect, concedes was a mistake. Puckett started a solo career in 1970, setting the original Union Gap band free the following year.

Puckett, whose solo efforts lacked the success he had had with the band – and with Fuller – dipped his toes into dance and acting through the 1970s until surfacing on the oldies show circuit in the early 1980s. He has been there ever since, never tiring of playing the oldies.

As Puckett put it in an interview with Charles Gabrean as seen on YouTube, “People say, ‘Aren’t you sick of Woman, Woman; Young Girl; Lady Willpower; Over You; This Girl is a Woman Now; whatever?’ I go, ‘No, because when I see the look on the people’s faces and I see them singing and smiling and how much they love those songs, it just elicits a brand-new response from me of ‘Wow, I see it again. There it is.’ ”  

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Gary Puckett to play Casino Ballroom this weekend in the Happy Together Tour