“Well, I’m a comer and a goer in a six man band,” went the lyrics to The Association’s 1968 semi-autobiographical single “Six Man Band.” Now, founding member Russ Giguere has reflected on his comings and goings in a new book that serves as both a personal memoir and a history of the band. Along Comes The Association: Beyond Folk Rock and Three-Piece Suits, written with Ashley Wren Collins, is a compelling look back at a colorful life in the group that gave the world such enduring hits as “Along Comes Mary,” “Everything That Touches You,” and three songs that made music rights organization BMI’s list of the 100 most played songs of the 20th century: “Never My Love” (No. 2), “Cherish” (No. 22), and “Windy” (No. 61).
Giguere – that’s pronounced jig-air, he’s quick to state – and Collins have crafted the narrative in surprisingly dense (and often annotated) yet compulsively readable prose. The book doesn’t merely recount Giguere’s career as singer-guitarist in The Association but places it into broader context of society and culture. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its requisite share of sex, drugs, and rock and roll beginning with his days as “Light and Sound Technician and Hootenanny Coordinator” at Pasadena’s Ice House to the band’s peak of fame and beyond. Giguere tells of flings with Linda Ronstadt and Helen Mirren, and memorable encounters with a Who’s Who of talent such as Pat Paulsen (whose widow he would marry), Judy Henske, Lorenzo Music, Fred Willard, Jennifer Warnes, Eagles, Judee Sill (whom he asserts wrote “The Vigilante” about him), Curt Boettcher, and Frank Zappa. He even divulges that Zappa once asked fellow Association member Jules Alexander if he and Russ would join his band.
Giguere captures the excitement of the 1960s, a time when anything and everything seemed possible in music, art, and the world at large. “This music is finally the cross between art and money,” Roger (then Jim) McGuinn presciently observes to Russ early in their careers as he picks a Beatles tune on the guitar. It’s one of the many “wow!” moments related by the author throughout the book. Another is when The Association finally forms. Giguere takes readers back to 1964 when he and Jules Alexander played together for the first time. Then Doug Dillard forms the loose, large unit called The Innertubes with Jules, Ted Bluechel, Brian Cole, and Terry Kirkman. They become The Men (with a whopping thirteen members), earning attention from the Los Angeles Times while performing at the Music Box (today the Henry Fonda Theatre); the paper noted on August 27, 1964 that they “have come up with a brand-new formula called folk-rock and if the loud cheers of the audience can be taken as an indication, the aggregation is well along the road to success…” Terry and Jules invited Russ to join the group which would break off into The Association, comprising the trio plus Cole, Bluechel, and Jim Yester. (Larry Ramos joined in 1967, replacing Alexander. When the latter returned, Ramos stayed and The Association became a seven-man band for a time.) Lush, multi-part harmonies became their instantly identifiable trademark.
Three-piece suits and (relatively!) short hair were part of the group’s clean-cut image, but as Giguere reminds readers, that persona was often in marked contrast to their offstage behavior. He gleefully shares stories of smoking pot on a Disneyland Grad Nite while riding Adventure Thru Inner Space and the Skyway (the band had been playing The Golden Horseshoe that night). His image was so squeaky clean, however – and his hair was so blonde – that Hanna-Barbera once tried to enlist him to make personal appearances as the studio’s beloved animated adventurer Jonny Quest.
The Association successfully crossed over into the realm of mainstream entertainment before rock was a lucrative concert industry of its own, bringing a youthful element to venues like The Copa, The Cocoanut Grove, Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, and Tanglewood. Their sophisticated pop broke barriers and bridged the generation gap; no less an eminence than Leonard Bernstein was famously fond of the counterculture anthem “Along Comes Mary” with its tongue-twisting interior rhymes penned by Tandyn Almer. Fans of classic showbiz will find much to like as Giguere meets such greats as Andy Williams, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle, Carol Channing, Joey Bishop, and George Burns.
Along Comes The Association is narrated in an engaging and amiable voice, with frequent digressions and flash forwards as well as random if interesting tidbits (“Between 1965 and 1969, 85 percent of the top 40 Billboard hits were written in a major key…”) These lengthy asides about the disco boom or the I Ching can distract from the momentum of the story though they add journalistic color to the prose. In a nice touch, Giguere has tapped other key players in his life (Danny Hutton, Bernie Leadon, Russ’ bandmates, J.D. Souther, Spanky McFarlane) to add their perspective with fresh quotes and even miniature essays. But he happily brings his first-person insights into the pivotal moments of the group’s history, from arranging “Cherish” and turning down “MacArthur Park” to discovering “Windy” and playing the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival during the Summer of Love. (The “MacArthur Park” story has been reported and challenged numerous times, but Giguere confirms it to the best of his memory.)
Recalling the group’s set at Monterey Pop, Giguere ruminates on the issues of perception that have dogged The Association; he quotes a critic’s belief in an otherwise positive review that they were part of the old guard ceding the limelight to newer acts like The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Country Joe and The Fish. (Never mind that all of The Association members were in their 20s.) Giguere isn’t shy about this rankling him; he rightfully questions why The Association still aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (“We should be in there – we had chart-topping hits that have some of the highest airplay in the world today, we opened Monterey, and we opened many venues whose doors had previously been shut to rock and roll”) and objects to the phrase “sunshine pop” (“‘Sunshine pop’ bands aren’t singing about marijuana or soldiers dying.”) even though it’s most often used positively in connection with the group.
There’s plenty for the “inside the music” fans to savor here. Russ quotes a candid Ted Bluechel and Jules Alexander recounting their dissatisfaction with the working methods of celebrated producer Bones Howe who helmed Insight Out and Birthday, two of The Association’s most justly acclaimed albums. He also reports clashes over the release of the buoyant “Time for Livin'” (written, like “Never My Love,” by Dick and Don Addrisi) as a single. Terry Kirkman felt that the band had to change with the socially progressive times but Warner Bros. Records wanted more love songs. Russ gently chides his bandmate’s long-held belief that the band’s sound should have changed even as he admits that “no one and no band, certainly, is ever all one thing.” With songs ranging from “Requiem for the Masses” to “Windy,” The Association surely wasn’t.
Early in 1970, Russ left the group. Tax shelters and investments had gone bad, and the group members found themselves at odds with one another (“I couldn’t take the petty disagreements anymore”). By 1977, only Jim and Ted were left from the original lineup; by the year’s end, they had disbanded entirely. But Russ’ story doesn’t end with the dawn of that new decade. Initially, he continued playing music in new groups.
The Beachwood Rangers were his answer to The Hollywood Vampires. The friends going by that informal moniker were J.D. Souther, Harry Dean Stanton, and Bill Martin. The band of the same name comprised Russ, Joe Lamanno, Bill Martin, Don Beck, Chester Anderson, and Warren Zevon; a second lineup featured Bill, Don, Dennis Conway, Gary Sherwood, Scott Shelley, and Russ. (This is not the similarly-named group that backed Linda Ronstadt on Silk Purse.) When the Rangers went their separate ways, Giguere formed Hollywood with Steve Edwards, Scott Shelley, Gary Sherwood, Lee Mallory, and Michael Ney. Like the Rangers, Hollywood didn’t make much of a splash. Then Russ performed as one-half of a comedy duo with Bill Martin (Martin and Giguere) and briefly in the band Bijou with his old friend Jules Alexander. When music and comedy weren’t paying the bills, he turned to carpentry. His bandmates, he mentions, were working in fields like sales and computers.
Fledgling cable network HBO reunited The Association for Christmas 1978; the full original line-up (minus Brian Cole who tragically died in 1972 at age 29 of an overdose) hadn’t played together as a group since 1970. The special event was so successful that they chose to re-form. Russ writes about the “secret album” recorded after their reunion, and how only five songs can be located today (an EP would be welcome!). One of his more bizarre stories involves the real band members crashing a concert by a counterfeit Association sent on the road by The Grass Roots’ Rob Grill, to whom the name had been licensed for a time.
The Association splintered again by the end of 1984’s successful but punishing Happy Together package tour, with just Russ, Jules, and Larry left standing. Jules would depart in 1989, leaving Russ and Larry to carry on until Larry’s 2014 death. That year, Russ retired from the spotlight, and he subsequently battled prostate cancer. Today, Jules is back in the fold as is Jim Yester, while a recovered Russ still oversees the band in a behind-the-scenes capacity. Giguere is frank about the effect of drugs on the band’s livelihood over the decades, and proudly declares that he has been sober from cocaine for over 20 years. He remains an enthusiastic proponent of marijuana.
Along Comes The Association is available now from Rare Bird Books. It’s an enjoyable trip back in time with rock and roll survivor Russ Giguere and his fellow masters of melodic pop who had “just the right sound,” indeed. The tome is handsomely designed with a 16-page photo section plus a handful of other images throughout the book. It includes a foreword from David Geffen, who signed The Association to William Morris. Geffen writes, “No group sounded like The Association. They were the real deal.” They still are.