Russ Giguere of The Association
Words He Uses to Describe…
by Jay S. Jacobs
In the introduction to his new autobiography Along Comes the Association, long-time band member Russ Giguere good-naturedly explains to the reader who exactly he is and why he felt the need to write about his life in The Association. It is a joke, obviously the reader knows who he is – they wouldn’t be reading the book otherwise. However, it does have a note of truth to it, as well.
Even though The Association was one of the biggest bands of the 1960s, people in general remember the music, but not necessarily the group. Add to that the Association had six members, and even the group name has a bit of a generic corporate feel. The individual members of the Association never necessarily became household names like their compatriots John, Paul, George and Ringo.
However, if you name the songs, people’s ears start to perk up, recognition in their eyes. “Cherish,” “Windy,” “Along Comes Mary,” “Never My Love,” “Everything That Touches You,” “Requiem for the Masses” and several others… oh yeah, we know them.
We know them well. They played a part in our lives, our loves, our happiness and our heartbreak. In fact, former Association record producer Bones Howe (who also worked with Tom Waits, The Fifth Dimension, The Turtles, Elvis and many others) once told me a story of a woman coming up to him and explaining that her child was conceived to the sound of “Never My Love.”
The Association has played an intimate part in the lives of many people.
And Russ Giguere played an intimate part in the formation and history of The Association. In a group full of terrific singers, he sang co-lead on two of the biggest hits – “Cherish” and “Windy” – and was a part of all of them.
Even before he joined the Association, Giguere was part of The Men, the band that first created the musical art form of folk rock and helped to birth the Laurel Canyon music scene which was recently celebrated in the documentary Echo in the Canyon. He knew everyone in the scene. His best friends were some of the biggest movers and shakers of the day. He briefly dated a young Linda Ronstadt and also had a short relationship with a mostly unknown at the time British actress named Helen Mirren. He even worked at some of the biggest music clubs of the day before throwing himself completely into singing.
Russ Giguere has lived a pretty incredible life. One that he tells about – well at least as well as he can remember it, there were a lot of drugs around back in those days – in Along Comes the Association.
Soon after the book was released, and coincidentally just days after California and the world went on lockdown because of the coronavirus, we gave Giguere a call to talk about his life, his music and living in a shelter-in-place world.
What was it like to look back over your career – particularly since, as you say in the book, your memories were sometimes clouded by the party aspects of being in a band?
I had not planned to write anything about myself. I had planned to write mostly about the band and stuff we did. My agent (Charlotte Gusay) and my co-writer Ashley (Wren Collins) said I should write something about my early days, so I did. That was fun. It was actually sort of interesting. I had never really thought of it. That was nice. I did have sort of a rebellious nature. (laughs) To say the least.
You take a lot of pride in the book that The Men were the beginning of the folk-rock scene. That scene, even before the Byrds.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. In fact, Bob Dylan; his start with the electric guitar was through The Men.
That scene is getting a whole new respect with stuff like the movie Echo in the Canyon. What was the Laurel Canyon music scene like and how exciting was it to be such a big part of creating a new style?
I was working nights at the Ice House (a music club in Pasadena). The only people I saw were at the Hoots at the Troubadour and at the Ice House. So, I was aware of part of it but didn’t really think of it. When Barry McGuire (who went on to sing “Eve of Destruction”) quit the Christys (folk collective The New Christy Minstrels) they took the lead singer of The Men to take his place. Jules (Alexander) and Terry (Kirkman) came to me and asked me if I’d like to join The Men. I had not really heard The Men, although I was there the night the Innertubes performed at the Troubadour. (The Innertubes were a one-night performance of all people singing at the club that night, named that by Troubadour owner Doug Weston.) That was the basis for The Men.
Okay, that’s interesting…
They started taking names and I thought it was just too big. I don’t want to be part of this. So, I didn’t put my name down. But [later] they said, “Would you like to join The Men?” I said, “I don’t know, I’ve never heard of The Men.” He said, “Come on out, we’ll do a few tunes for you.” I came out. It was just me and their manager, Dean Fredericks. They did four or five tunes and they were just exceptional. Just really good. A few of them had not heard me, so I did a few tunes. I joined The Men, quit my job at the Ice House, and was with them a couple of months.
That wasn’t long. What happened?
We were in the middle of a rehearsal. We had our own rehearsal hall. It’s now a yoga studio. It was a large party area that they rented. They had a presidium stage that we kept set up. A guy called a meeting. We all went into this office. (laughs) This guy started reading from this notebook that he had. He was dragging Terry back and forth across the coals. I’d only been with the group two months. I didn’t really know what was going on. I was sitting there thinking I’ll just sit here and figure it out. All of the sudden Jules stands up and says, “I just want to make music. I’m out of here.” (laughs again.) He stands up and walks out. I go, “I’ve got to go with Jules. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” I stood up and walked out. The other guys stood up – you know, Brian (Cole), Ted (Bluechel Jr.) – and Terry said, “You just lost your band.” We met outside, went to Terry’s house, picked a name and started rehearsing the next day.
In the disclaimer at the beginning you jokingly explain who you are. However, that does bring up an interesting point. People know the music, but they don’t necessarily know the group, and they certainly don’t know the individual members like they do John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Oh yeah, well it was six guys. It was hard. But they do know the music and they do know the name of the band. It was sort of nice. We were able to be anonymous and still be [popular]. The music was always more famous than we were. I tell you, the group didn’t mind, as far as I knew. Everyone sort of liked that.
I remember in his prime, Steve Miller refused to use his pictures on his albums and be in his videos, just so he could have a normal life outside of the music.
(laughs) Absolutely. I like that!
Do you like the fact that the music has a life of its own?
Oh yeah, I love that. I love that, indeed. It’s great that it still gets played. I have a barber, a young lady, she’s maybe 25 years old. She heard a song on the radio, and she went to look it up online because she wanted a copy of it, and it was us! It was “Never My Love.” I thought that was great. That was great.
I wrote a biography on Tom Waits and got to know Bones Howe pretty well through the writing and for several years afterwards. What was he like to work with?
I’ll tell you a great story about “Never My Love.” I was an early bird, so I’d sometimes get to the studio [early]. This one time I got to the studio and Bones was in the booth all by himself. He was doing this big splice. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m doing a window splice. I’m taking the keyboard solo from the end and putting it in the middle and taking the one from the middle and putting it at the end.” He called it a window splice. I don’t think anybody else in the group even knows that, because there was no one in the room except me and him. (laughs) He cut out… this big piece of tape with a little cut out of it. A long little cut. So, if he screwed up, he screwed up the record. But he didn’t. He was very proficient. Very proficient.
Early on, you were behind the scenes, it took a while before you gave performing first priority. You were in your early 20s when you started, did you ever imagine that you’d still be in music all these years later?
I had dreamed of it. I knew I wanted to do music, but nothing terrified me like being on stage by myself with a guitar. It just terrified me. I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I knew the only way to do it was to get over that. So, once a month I did a Hoot at the Troubadour. Once a month I did a Hoot at the Ice House. Sure enough, I got over it. One day Doug Weston (the Troubadour’s owner) pulled me aside about a year and three-quarters [in]. He said, “Russ, you’re ready to go professional.” I was really stoked that Doug Weston would pull me aside and say that. It was great.
I can imagine…
Then also, as I told in the book, one day the opening act at the Ice House was late and Bob Stane, who managed the place, asked me to do a set. Jules just happened to be hanging out that night. We had never played together before. I said, “Jules, you want to play bass?” There was always a bass in the dressing room. He said sure. So, I did my first set at the Ice House, my first full set. It was great. It was really an exciting time.
You talk a lot in the book about how The Association in the hippie ‘60s was looked at as a bit different because of your outfits and your relatively short hair. Even the band name was vaguely corporate. Do you feel that those things actually got you noticed a bit?
I’ll tell you, we played venues that no one had ever played before. We opened a lot of venues to rock and roll. They had never had rock and roll in Ravinia [Park]. They had never had a rock and roll band play The Coconut Grove. A lot of these clubs, a lot of these venues, we opened to rock and roll.
Disneyland, that must have been a fun place to play…
Disneyland, before we had a record. We played every land in Disneyland. (Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Main Street USA, etc.) Every land.
Your first big hit was “Along Came Mary,” which got a bit of extra notoriety because some people thought it was about drugs, and some people thought it was about religion. I know you guys didn’t write that song, and as far as you are concerned, it could be either or neither, you bring what you want to the song. However, do you think that touch of controversy helped get it noticed?
I’ll tell you what was funny. It’s in the book. That record became a hit while we were working at Disneyland. Security pulled our manager into an office and said, “We heard the guys have a hit record, and we heard it is about marijuana.” Dean said, “I don’t know about that.” He pulled out his briefcase and he had a review of the song from Marymount College, which was a Catholic school. They picked it as song of the year. (laughs) That stopped that conversation right there.
You sang co-lead on two of the band’s biggest hits – “Cherish” and “Windy.” What is it like to be the voice – or one of the voices – of two such iconic hits?
It’s great. It was great. I was actually singing the lead on “Windy” and I suggested we bring Larry (Ramos) in, because he was the newest member. It established him right off. While I was singing, I thought, and I remember saying out loud – It occurred to me that this song was called “Windy,” and Chicago, where we were quite popular, was the Windy City – and I said “This is really going to kick some ass in Chicago.” And it certainly did. I suggested that we bring in Larry to sing [co-]lead. In fact, “Never My Love” was supposed to be me and Terry, and I suggested that we use Larry instead, to get him established.
It said in the book that “Windy” came very close to not being recorded, and it was only a bit of subterfuge by one of the band’s circle who believed in the song that got it through. Could you talk about how that happened?
That is correct. (laughs) Well, Pat Colecchio (their second manager) said the vote came out [for the song] to be done. (All members of the group voted on each song, and it would only be recorded if the majority liked it.) And it be done as a single. He said it was the only time he ever lied; the only time he ever did anything underhanded with The Association. And I’m glad he did, and so is everyone else.
Colecchio was a great human being. He was such an Italian and such a New Yorker. He was excellent. He was a neat guy. I always liked him. We got on very [well]. He told me one time, “Everyone in the band has to do less work and for more money. Except you.” (laughs) That’s because this was what I wanted to do for such a long time. I was grateful to be traveling and singing. If we were doing 250 concerts a year, I was happy with that. Plus, we were so good, and I felt so good about the work we were doing. I was in heaven.
The Association were the first band to play at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival. What was that scene like? Were you happy to get your part over, so you could watch some of the other acts?
The great fun with the Monterey Pop Festival was that we were generally traveling so hard that we hardly ever saw anyone we worked with. With the Monterey Pop Festival, we opened the festival, but we stayed all three days and all three nights. And saw everybody. It was great fun for us. It was just exquisite. All the acts that played. It was just a great experience.
Who were you most excited to see?
I had discovered Ravi Shankar. I’d never heard Indian music. I was at a party in San Diego when I was about 17 and it was just about coming on dawn at this party. Someone put on A Morning Raga and I was just stoked. I had never heard anything like this. I listened to it, and then I went inside and asked what it was. That day, I bought two Ravi Shankar albums, which I have to this day. A lot of people I think that saw him had never really heard of him. To me, I had not only heard of him, but had fallen in love with his music. That was great.
Who else impressed you?
I met Jimi Hendrix the first day, [when] we got in line for food. He was in line with me. I had no idea who he was. I had no idea what kind of music he did. We just exchanged names and small talk. Then when I saw him, I was just blown away. Three guys made this music. It was great. It was just fantastic. I was down in the orchestra pit, about 20 feet away. I was thrilled.
At one point in the book you quoted the axiom “Fuck art, let’s dance.”
Yeah, yeah. That was a saying then.
What does that idea mean to you?
Sometimes you just want to dance. Just as long as it has a beat, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll tell you, most pop music, I don’t like it. Maybe a sliver of it I like. But sometimes it’s just: fuck that, let’s dance. (laughs) That’s just the way it is.
Ashley interviewed a lot of people from throughout your career and found lots of old press clippings about the band. Did you find out things you didn’t know or had forgotten when doing the book?
It was mainly through Valerie, my wife, who did a lot of the research on the book. I remembered things in different order. Sometimes I remembered them in an order they weren’t. Sometimes I remembered things that didn’t exist. She really is so good at that. She works for SAG/AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) as a historian and writes articles in each of their magazines. She’s really good. She’s really smart. A real bright lady. She really helped me a great deal.
What is your favorite myth about the band?
That myth that Danny Hutton (of Three Dog Night) talks about, that we owned a giant drug store in Las Vegas. (laughs) I’ve heard that before. I always liked [that]. I’ve never told anybody these weren’t true. I just let them think what they want. It’s sort of fun.
What was it like to tour with the band over the years?
It was great. When we reformed in 1980… we actually reformed to do a TV show [called] Then and Now, for HBO [in 1979]. When we first sang together, it was the first time we’d all sung together since 1970, and I’ll tell you, I think every guy was in tears. It was so beautiful. It was so striking. So, we did this HBO special, and then we all went back to our lives. But it created waves, and a lot of agencies were offered bookings for us, and came to us, so by ’80 we took a bank loan and had gotten back together. I was on the road until… let’s see, I left the band in December of 2013. Now I run the band.
Totally off the subject – but let’s face it, it’s everyone’s life right now – how are you getting along in this “stay at home” social distancing period?
I’m a recluse anyway, so it’s not as big a thing as it is with most people. I go out to get my stuff. I’m just adapting to it. I really don’t like it. It’s so dangerous, so dangerous. But I’m adapting pretty well. (sighs) I don’t like it, but I’m adapting to it.
Copyright ©2020 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 11, 2020.
Photos courtesy of Russ Giguere, Rare Bird Books and EK Media and Marketing.
Author photo ©2020 Henry Diltz. All rights reserved.