The Association is an American pop band from California in the folk rock or soft rock genre. During the 1960s, they had numerous hits at or near the top of the Billboard charts (including "Windy", "Cherish", and "Along Comes Mary") and were the lead-off band at 1967's Monterey Pop Festival.
Jules Alexander (born September 25, 1943, Chattanooga, Tennessee) was in Hawaii in 1962 serving a stint in the Navy when he met Terry Kirkman (born December 12, 1939, Salina, Kansas, who had grown up in Chino, California, and attended Chaffey College as a music major), a visiting salesman. The two young musicians jammed together and promised to get together once Alexander was discharged. That happened a year later; the two eventually moved to Los Angeles and began exploring the city's music scene in the mid-1960s, often working behind the scenes as directors and arrangers for other music acts. At the same time, Kirkman played in groups with Frank Zappa for a short period before Zappa went on to form The Mothers of Invention.
Eventually, at a Monday night hootenanny at the LA nightclub The Troubadour in 1964, an ad hoc group called The Inner Tubes was formed by Kirkman, Alexander and Doug Dillard, whose rotating membership contained, at one time or another, Cass Elliot, David Crosby and many others who drifted in and out. This led in February 1965 to the forming of The Men, a 13 piece "folk-rock band", reportedly the very first use of this hybrid term. This group had a brief spell as the house band at The Troubadour.
After a short time, however, The Men disbanded, with six of the members electing to go out on their own. (Some of the remaining players continued on as Tony Mafia's Men, and one of the others, Mike Whalen, joined The New Christy Minstrels.) At the suggestion of Kirkman's then-fiancée, Judy, they took the name The Association. The original lineup consisted of Alexander (using his middle name, Gary, on the first two albums) on vocals and lead guitar; Kirkman on vocals and a variety of wind, brass and percussion instruments; Brian Cole on vocals, bass and woodwinds (born September 8, 1942 in Tacoma, Washington, and had played with the Portland folk group "Gnu Folk"); Russ Giguere (born October 18, 1943, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and moved to San Diego at age 4) on vocals, percussion and guitar; Ted Bluechel, Jr. (born December 2, 1942, San Pedro, California, who was first chair percussionist in the All Southern California High School Band while attending North Torrance High School and eventually moved on to El Camino College) on drums, guitar, bass and vocals; and Bob Page (born May 13, 1943) on guitar, banjo and vocals. However, Page was replaced by Jim Yester (born November 24, 1939, Birmingham, Alabama, who had played with his brother Jerry in the Yester Brothers before joining the army as a radar technician) on vocals, guitar and keyboards before any of the group's public performances.
The new band spent about five months rehearsing before they began performing around the Los Angeles area, most notably a regular stint at The Ice House in Pasadena (where Giguere had worked as lighting director) and its sister club in Glendale. They also auditioned for record labels but faced resistance due to their unique sound. Eventually, the small Jubilee label issued a single of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" (a song originally recorded by Joan Baez, later popularized by Led Zeppelin), but nothing happened. Finally, Valiant Records offered them a contract, with the first result being a version of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings", which was produced by Valiant's owner, Barry De Vorzon, at Gold Star Studios.
The Men were first managed by Doug Weston, owner of the Troubador, before switching to actor Dean Fredericks, who remained on board when the Association was formed and helped get them the Valiant deal. In 1966 Fredericks turned the reins over to Pat Colecchio, who managed the group for the next eight years.
Their national break would come with the song "Along Comes Mary", written by Tandyn Almer. Alexander first heard the song when he was hired to play on a demo version and persuaded Almer to give the Association first crack at it. The song, which brought the group a bit of controversy at first due to "Mary" allegedly being slang for marijuana, went to No. 7 on the Billboard charts and led to the group's first album, And Then... Along Comes the Association, produced by Curt Boettcher, which had originally been started at Gary S. Paxton's converted garage studio with the vocals being done at Columbia Studios. Another song from the album, "Cherish", written by Kirkman, would become the Association's first No. 1 in September 1966 (covered 6 years later with great international success by David Cassidy.)
The group followed with their second album, Renaissance, released in late 1966. The band changed producers, dropping Boettcher in favor of Jerry Yester (brother of Jim and formerly of the Modern Folk Quartet, and later, a member of The Lovin' Spoonful). The album did not spawn any major hits (the highest charting single, "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies" stalled at No. 35), and the album only reached No. 34, compared with a No. 5 showing for And Then... Along Comes the Association.
In late 1966, Warner Bros. Records, which had been distributing Valiant, bought the smaller label (and with it, the Association's contract).
In May 1967, Alexander left the band to study meditation in India, and he was replaced by Larry Ramos (born Hilario Ramos on April 19, 1942, Waimea, Hawaii; died April 30, 2014) on vocals and guitar. Ramos joined the band while Alexander was still performing with them after bassist Cole's hand was injured by a firecracker; Alexander subbed on bass while Ramos played lead guitar. Ramos had previously performed with The New Christy Minstrels and recorded solo singles for Columbia Records. He went on to sing co-lead (along with Giguere and Kirkman) on two of the Association's biggest hit singles, "Windy" and "Never My Love".
With the lineup settled, the group returned to the studio, this time with Bones Howe in the producer's chair. The first fruits of this pairing would be the single "Windy", written by Ruthann Friedman, topping the Hot 100 on July 1, 1967 and preceded by the album Insight Out, which reached No. 8 in June.
On June 16, 1967, the Association was the first act to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival. (The Criterion Collection DVD of the festival includes their performance of "Along Comes Mary" on disc 3.)
The group's winning streak continued with their next single, "Never My Love", written by Don and Dick Addrisi; it went to No. 2 in Billboard and No. 1 in Cash Box in October 1967. It became the group's only double-sided charted record as its B-side, "Requiem For The Masses", made a brief showing on the Billboard chart. Like "Cherish" and "One Too Many Mornings", "Never My Love" had a vocal arrangement that was provided by Clark Burroughs, a former member of The Hi-Lo's. "Never My Love" has since been accredited by BMI as the song with the second most US airplay in the 20th century.
After rejecting the recording of an entire cantata written by Jimmy Webb, which included the song "MacArthur Park", the group, in early 1968, produced its fourth album, Birthday, with Bones Howe again at the controls. This album spawned "Everything That Touches You", the group's last Hot 100 Top 10 hit, and the more experimental "Time for Livin'", the group's final Hot 100 Top 40 hit.
Later that year, the group released a self-produced single, the harder-edged "Six Man Band". This song would also appear on Greatest Hits, released in November 1968.
Comings and goings:
In early 1969, Alexander, who had returned from India and had done a stint with another band called Joshua Fox, returned to the group, which now made the Association a seven-man band. (They acknowledged by changing the title and lyric of "Six-Man Band" to match during live performances of the song.)
The first project with the seven-piece band was music for the soundtrack of Goodbye, Columbus, the film version of Philip Roth's best-selling novel. The title track, written by Yester, peaked at No. 80. John Boylan, one third of the unknown Hamilton Streetcar, worked with the group on the soundtrack and stayed on board for the next album, The Association. Many of the tracks on this album have a country-rock sound, but none of the singles released made any impact, so the group re-teamed with Curt Boettcher in late 1969 for a one-off single, "Just About the Same" (released in February 1970), a reworking of a song Boettcher had recorded with his group, The Millennium. This failed to hit as well.
Despite all this, the band remained a popular concert draw, and on April 3, 1970, a Salt Lake City performance was recorded for The Association Live.
In 1971 Giguere left the band; he would release a solo album, Hexagram 16, that same year. The Association replaced him with keyboardist Richard Thompson (no relation to the English singer-songwriter/guitarist), who had contributed to previous albums and would go on to be known primarily in jazz circles.
1971 also saw the release of Stop Your Motor. The album was their worst selling to date, reaching only No. 158 on the Billboard chart. Stop Your Motor marked the end of the Association's tenure at Warner Bros.
In early 1972, they resurfaced on Columbia with Waterbeds in Trinidad!, produced by Lewis Merenstein (best known for producing Van Morrison's Astral Weeks). The album fared even worse than Stop Your Motor, reaching No. 194, while a single of The Lovin' Spoonful's "Darlin' Be Home Soon" failed to break the Hot 100.
Breakup and re-formation:
For their 1972 tour, the group expanded to nine members, bringing in session players Wolfgang Melz and Mike Berkowitz on bass and drums respectively to add more musical versatility on stage and free up Brian Cole and Ted Bluechel to concentrate on singing only. But on August 2, 1972, 29-year-old Cole was found dead in his Los Angeles home of a heroin overdose. For the rest of the 1970s, the Association was in a state of flux, releasing singles now and then along with sporadic touring.
At the end of 1972, Kirkman departed, as did Melz and Berkowitz. The group was then moved over to the CBS distributed Mums label and put out a new single, Albert Hammond's "Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels", in January 1973. It failed to make much of an impression, though, and Mums folded by the end of 1974.
In early 1973, the remaining quintet of Alexander, Bluechel, Yester, Ramos and Thompson brought in new members Maurice Miller (vocals, drums, percussion, formerly of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band) and David Vaught (vocals, bass, later a member of the Lopez Beatles and who died on March 20, 2013 from pancreatic cancer) and continued touring. But Thompson departed not long afterwards and Art Johnson (vocals, guitar) signed on. Jim Yester was then briefly replaced by his brother Jerry later this same year, only to return by 1974. When Alexander left in 1974 to join Giguere and former Honey Ltd. female vocalists Alex Sliwin, Joan Sliwin and Marsha Temmer in a new outfit, Bijou, Jerry again came in to play with the group until the end of that year.
1975 saw the band now on RCA where they released two singles, "One Sunday Morning" (produced by Jack Richardson) and "Sleepy Eyes". An album called The Association Bites Back was to follow but was never released. Recent releases onto YouTube of some of this unreleased material show that the group was incorporating a more R&B direction on some of the songs. During this period, the band was offered a production deal with Mike Curb, who wanted them to record a disco version of the prior hits, "Cherish", "No Fair At All", and an original song which Larry Brown wrote and sang entitled "It's High Time To Get High". Reportedly, Curb was dissatisfied with the drum tracks and wanted to bring in session drummer Jim Gordon to play, but the band refused, sinking the deal.
Membership was fluid in 1975-1976. Dwayne Smith (vocals, keyboards) joined and appeared on "One Sunday Morning" but was replaced by Andy Chapin by the end of 1975. Ramos departed as well in mid-1975 and was replaced by Larry Brown (vocals, guitar), who was a member for three years. Johnson stayed on board for a short while longer but was likewise gone by the end of 1975. The increased tour schedule led to Chapin's departure in 1976 (he later played for artist Ricky Nelson and perished along with Nelson and his band when his plane crashed on December 31, 1985). Chapin was replaced, first by Jay Gruska, who had just finished a stint with Three Dog Night, and then by David Morgan in mid-1976.
In 1977 Bluechel and Yester and the current lineup recorded new versions of "Windy", "Cherish", "Never My Love", "Along Comes Mary" and "Everything That Touches You" with session players for a new album collection, Back to Back, where one half of the record was Association songs and the other half tunes by The Turtles.
By late 1977, with the prime gigs proving to be fewer and far between, Yester left, leaving Bluechel as the only original member. And by early 1978, keyboardist Ric Ulsky had stepped in and Larry Brown left to concentrate on session work to be replaced by Cliff Woolley. The group had two keyboardists for a short time in '78, Ric Ulsky and David Morgan, before Morgan was succeeded by guitarist/singer John William Tuttle (son of makeup artist William Tuttle; John died on August 17, 1991 at age 41, of a perforated ulcer in Van Nuys, California). Russ Levine (who had played with Bobby Womack, Donna Summer and Ultimate Spinach) also arrived at that time to replace Maurice Miller (who went on to play with Lena Horne but died of complications from diabetes October 10, 2005, in Burbank, California, at age 73) on drums, but the band then dissolved shortly afterwards, leaving Bluechel with a huge debt. To help clear away some of it, in November 1978, he leased the group's name to another company who put a fake Association out on the road.
In September 1979 the surviving key members Kirkman, Alexander, Giguere, Bluechel, Yester and Ramos, along with Richard Thompson and new bassist Joe Lamanno, reunited at the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles for an HBO special called Then and Now (Kirkman was working for HBO at the time) and also appeared at a charity show hosted by Ed McMahon the same year in Dallas called Ed McMahon and Company, which ran on the Showtime cable network in August 1980. This led, in the early 1980s, to a few singles on Elektra Records (one of which, "Dreamer", reunited them with producer Bones Howe and made the Hot 100 with virtually no promotion) and more touring.
In 1980 the surviving originals (with Ric Ulsky returning in place of Thompson and Alexander taking over the bass) went back on the road for a concert tour. With the genuine article back out touring, the bogus band was eventually put out of business.
Happy Together Again and the 1960s package tours:
Jim Yester left again in June 1983 and the group added Keith Moret (bass, backing vocals) as Alexander went back to playing guitar. Moret stayed only briefly until Lamanno returned in 1984.
That same year the group was invited to appear on the Happy Together Again tour, a multi-bill of 1960s acts produced by David Fishof, headlined by The Turtles, and also including Gary Puckett and Spanky McFarlane of Spanky & Our Gang. Gary's brother, Brian Puckett, played drums in the show for Gary and McFarlane and likewise joined the Association for their set as well. Donni Gougeon joined on keyboards in November 1984 in place of Ulsky. But by the end of the year, there was a mass exodus as Kirkman (who had already turned in his notice in September), Bluechel, Lamanno and Brian Puckett all departed.
In February 1985 the band carried on as Alexander, Giguere, Ramos and Gougeon recruited new members: Paul Beach (vocals, bass, who'd also played in the Happy Together Again show band) and Bruce Pictor (vocals, drums, percussion, who'd played alongside Beach in Puckett's group in the early 80s). Gougeon was replaced in early 1987 by Chris Urmston but was himself succeeded by Paul Holland later the same year. In 1989 when Beach quit, Holland switched over to bass as Gougeon then rejoined for a ten-year stint from 1989-1999 before illness in his family called him away. He was replaced by Jordan Cole (The son of the band's original bassist, Brian Cole, Jordan first played with the band on a Caribbean Christmas cruise in December 1998, when he was asked to fill in for Paul Holland on bass). Alexander turned in his notice in early 1989. Larry Ramos's brother Del, who was audio mixing for the group in the 1980s, then began adding his voice to the mix and also assumed bass duties in 1999 after Paul Holland left to tend to his light and sound company. Bob Werner (vocals, guitar, bass), who had been the band's light man and road manager in 1974-75, and fill-in member as needed from 1994 on, was also a member of the group from 1999 to 2007.
Besides the Happy Together tour, the group became mainstays on many other 1960s package tours, including the 1988 Super 60s Tour with Gary Puckett, The Grass Roots, and The Turtles; and Dick Clark's American Bandstand Tour in 1989, sponsored by VH1.
During the 1980s and 1990s the group's recorded output was minimal. They recorded a few new tracks and some covers of popular 1960s songs for a few compilation albums on the Hitbound label made through Radio Shack's Tandy Corporation in the mid-1980s, including their first cover of "Walk Away Renee" that was recorded in collaboration with their original producer, Curt Boettcher, for the Mike Love & Dean Torrance 1983 cassette tape Rock 'n' Roll City, two Christmas covers contributed to another Radio Shack album, Scrooge's Rock 'n' Roll Christmas, and an album of 60s tunes called New Memories (1983). They also re-recorded some of their older material and even more cover songs for another album, Vintage, for CBS in 1983 and put out yet another album full of covers, The Association 95: A Little Bit More, in 1995 from On Track Records (based in New York City), produced by New York City record producers John Allen Orofino and Stan Vincent. A Little Bit More's featured single was their second remake of The Left Banke's "Walk Away René".
In September 2003 they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, joined by former members Yester, Alexander, Kirkman and Bluechel at the induction ceremony at Cafaro Field in Niles, Ohio. Yester, Alexander, Kirkman and Bluechel again rejoined the others for the taping of a PBS 1960s rock music special 60s Experience on December 9, 2004 at Dover Downs Showroom in Dover, DE.
In 2007 David Jackson (bass, guitar) came into the group for a brief stint when Bob Werner was unavailable, then Jim Yester returned to sub for Werner, rejoining again in 2008 after Werner left altogether. In 2008 drummer Bruce Pictor underwent back surgery. Blair Anderson sat in for Pictor until he was able to rejoin his band mates that November.
By 2010, the band included Giguere, Ramos, Jim Yester, Del Ramos, Bruce Pictor and Jordan Cole. The Association continued to tour, mostly on bills with similar styled acts of the late 1960s, like The Grass Roots, The Buckinghams, Tommy James, and Gary Puckett.
During the summer of 2011, the Association appeared in a heavy touring schedule throughout the U.S. as part of the Happy Together: 2011 tour, along with The Grass Roots, Mark Lindsay, The Buckinghams, and The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie. The Happy Together appearances featured only Giguere, Ramos and Yester who were backed up by the Happy Together show band.
In January 2012 Ramos was sidelined due to illness, so guitarist Godfrey Townsend (from the Happy Together and Hippiefest back up bands) subbed for him temporarily. The following month Alexander came back to the band as Ramos' stand-in and stayed after Ramos returned in March.
In 2013 Alexander, Giguere, Ramos and Yester became part of the Where the Action Is tour that included Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Mitch Ryder.
In January 2014, it was announced that both Giguere and Ramos would be retiring from touring. Ramos' final performance with the group was a cancer benefit concert on February 24, 2014, at the Blue Fox Theater in Grangeville, Idaho. Upon returning from spending his 72nd birthday in his homeland of Hawaii, Ramos died from melanoma on April 30, 2014. After Ramos' death, former member Paul Holland was brought back into the group, this time as a guitarist/vocalist.
In the summer of 2015, the Association again joined the Happy Together tour.
Shindig Magazine named Now Sounds re-issue of The Association the best of 2013.
Three songs were certified as having sold over one million copies, and were each awarded a platinum disc: "Cherish", "Windy", and "Never My Love".