The Grass Roots
The Grass Roots is an American rock band that charted frequently between 1966 and 1975. It was originally the creation of Lou Adler and songwriting duo P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. In their career, they achieved two gold albums, one gold single and charted singles a total of 21 times. Among their charting singles, they achieved Top 10 three times, Top 20 three times and Top 40 eight times. They have sold over twenty million records worldwide.
Until his death in 2011, early member Rob Grill and a newer lineup of the Grass Roots continued to play many live performances each year. Since 2012, band members chosen by Grill are carrying on the legacy of the group with nationwide live performances.
The founding years:
The name "Grass Roots" (originally spelled as one word "Grassroots") originated in mid-1965 as the name of a band project by the Los Angeles songwriter and producer duo of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. Sloan and Barri had written several songs in an attempt by their record company, Dunhill Records (owned by Lou Adler), to cash in on the budding folk rock movement. One of these songs was "Where Were You When I Needed You," which was recorded by Sloan and Barri. Sloan provided the lead vocals and played guitar, Larry Knechtel played keyboards, Joe Osborn played the bass and Bones Howe was on drums. The song was released under "The Grass Roots" name and sent, as a demo, to several radio stations of the San Francisco Bay area.
When moderate interest in this new band arose, Sloan and Barri went to look for a group that could incorporate the Grass Roots name. They found one in a San Francisco band, The Bedouins, and cut a new version of "Where Were You When I Needed You" with that band's lead vocalist, Willie Fulton (later, an early member of Tower of Power).
In late 1965, the Grass Roots got their first official airplay on Southern California radio stations, such as KGB (AM) in San Diego and KHJ in Los Angeles, with a version of the Bob Dylan song "Mr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man)".
For some months, the group were the first "real" Grass Roots - but the partnership with Sloan and Barri broke up when the band demanded more space for their own more blues rock-oriented material (which Dunhill was not willing to give them). Willie Fulton (lead vocals, guitar), Denny Ellis (guitar, backing vocals), and David Stensen (bass, backing vocals) went back to San Francisco, with drummer Joel Larson being the only one who remained in LA (he was to become a member of a later Grass Roots line-up as well). Fulton, Ellis and Stensen, with original Bedouins drummer Bill Shoppe, for a time, continued to appear as the Grass Roots until Dunhill ordered them to cease since they'd decided to start all over again with another group they would groom to be the Grass Roots. In the meantime, the second version of "Where Were You When I Needed You" peaked in the Top 40 in mid-1966, while an album of the same name sold poorly.
Still looking for a group to record their material and promote it with live dates, in 1966 Sloan and Barri offered Wisconsin-based band The Robbs (for whom they produced some early material) a chance to assume the identity of the Grass Roots, but the group declined.
The years of success:
The group's third - and by far most successful - incarnation was finally found in a Los Angeles band called The 13th Floor (not to be confused with the 13th Floor Elevators). This band consisted of Creed Bratton (vocals, guitar), Rick Coonce (drums, percussion), Warren Entner (vocals, guitar, keyboards), and Kenny Fukomoto (vocals, bass) and had formed only a year earlier. Entner, who had been attending film school at UCLA alongside future Doors members Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, was drifting through Europe in the summer of 1965 singing and playing on street corners, when he met fellow busker and American Creed Bratton in Israel, where an Israeli businessman expressed interest in managing and promoting them. But the duo moved on individually and ended up back in LA by 1966, where they formed the 13th Floor and submitted a demo tape to Dunhill Records. After Fukomoto was suddenly drafted into the army, the group went through two replacements before finding singer/bassist Rob Grill. In 1967 the band was offered the choice to go with their own name or choose to adopt a name that had already been heard of nationwide.
In the beginning, they were one of many U.S. guitar pop/rock bands, but with the help of Barri and their other producers, they developed a unique sound for which they drew as heavily on British beat as on soul music, rhythm and blues and folk rock. Many of their recordings featured a brass section, which was a novelty in those days among American rock bands, with groups like Chicago just developing.
The bulk of the band's material continued to be written by Dunhill Records staff (not only Sloan and Barri) and the LA studio-musicians who were part of what became known as the Wrecking Crew played the music on most, if not all, of their hits. The Grass Roots also recorded songs written by the group's musicians, which appeared on their albums and the B-sides of many hit singles.
As the Grass Roots, they had their first Top 10 hit in the summer of 1967 with "Let's Live for Today", an English-language cover version of "Piangi con me", a 1966 hit for the Anglo-Italian quartet The Rokes. "Let's Live for Today" sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. With Rob Grill as lead singer, they recorded a third version of "Where Were You When I Needed You." The band continued in a similar hit-making vein for the next five years (1967-1972).
The Grass Roots played at the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival on Sunday, June 11, 1967, in the "Summer of Love" as "Let's Live for Today" was at #15 and climbing. This music festival occurred just days before the Monterey Pop Festival but did not have a movie to document it (see List of electronic music festivals).
In late 1967, the band recorded the album Feelings, which featured much heavier input in the songwriting and playing by the group members themselves. But its failure to sell prompted Barri to take full hold of the reins again as he began to move the band in a more R&B, horn punctuated, direction. By this time, Sloan had phased out of his involvement with the band and relocated to NYC to pursue a solo career.
On Sunday, October 27, 1968, the Grass Roots played at the San Francisco Pop Festival as their hit "Midnight Confessions" (their first record to feature horns and with Carol Kaye playing the opening bass-line) was peaking at #5 and then played at the Los Angeles Pop Festival and Miami Pop Festival in December 1968.
Creed Bratton became frustrated by Dunhill's refusal to allow the band to write its own songs and play the instruments on its records (although the members did play alone at concerts). After a disastrous appearance at the Fillmore West in April 1969, a "slightly inebriated" Bratton was asked to leave the band. He was replaced by Dennis Provisor on keyboards and vocals, and lead guitarist Terry Furlong (1969-1971) was also brought in to form a quintet. This was the first of many line-up changes for this version of the band.
The Grass Roots, with their new members, played at Newport Pop Festival 1969 at Devonshire Downs, which was a racetrack at the time but now is part of the North Campus for California State University, Northridge. The group played on Sunday June 22, 1969, a week before their hit "I'd Wait A Million Years" reached the Hot 100. In Canada they played at the Vancouver Pop Festival at the Paradise Valley Resort in British Columbia in August 1969 (see List of electronic music festivals).
By 1971 Furlong had stopped touring with the group to pursue a solo career but would continue to contribute on the records during the rest of their time on Dunhill. His touring replacement was Brian Naughton, who left in 1972. Drummer Rick Coonce was gone as well by the beginning of 1972 and new members Joe Pollard (drums, percussion) and another guitarist named Terry (last name unknown) joined up. Terry was soon replaced by Reed Kailing (vocals, guitars). However, drummer Pollard and keyboardist Dennis Provisor left soon after to go out as a duo (although Provisor was featured on the band's 1972 Move Along album) and were replaced by a returning Rick Coonce and keyboard man Virgil Weber (ex-Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds and Climax). Coonce was back for only a short period before he was gone again, turning the drum throne over to original member Joel Larson. Singers Rob Grill and Warren Entner remained the point of focus during these years.
The group's songs during 1967-1972 include: "Let's Live for Today" (U.S. #8) and "Things I Should Have Said" (U.S. #23) (1967); "Midnight Confessions" (U.S. #5, their biggest hit) (1968); "Bella Linda" (a cover of an Italian hit by Lucio Battisti, "Balla Linda") (U.S. #28), "Lovin' Things" (a cover of a UK hit by Marmalade the previous year) (U.S. #49), "The River is Wide" (U.S. #31), "I'd Wait a Million Years" (U.S. #15), and "Heaven Knows" (U.S. #24) (1969); "Walking Through the Country" (U.S. #44), and "Baby Hold On" (U.S. #35) (1970); "Temptation Eyes" (#15), "Sooner or Later" (U.S. #9), and "Two Divided by Love" (U.S. #16) (1971); "Glory Bound" (U.S. #34) and "The Runway" (U.S. #39) (1972).
By early 1974, the Grass Roots had left Dunhill (now ABC Records) and Kailing, Weber and longtime member Entner (later a successful manager with groups such as Rage Against the Machine and Quiet Riot) moved on, while former members Terry Furlong and Dennis Provisor returned to the fold. Furlong left permanently by mid-1974 to be succeeded by Gene Barkin, then by Reggie Knighton. The resulting group was Grill, Larson, Provisor and Knighton. Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who had penned the group's 1971 hit "Two Divided By Love" and many others, invited the band to join their Haven label, where they released an eponymous album in 1975, The Grass Roots, containing the single "Mamacita", which charted at #71 on the Billboard Hot 100. Follow-up singles failed to chart.