It was great catching The Association on Saturday night at the Aratani Theatre, where they helped the audience relive a lot of the “good ol’days” of the ’60s with many of their hits from the past (though I was disappointed they skipped “Time for Livin’” and “Goodbye Columbus”). The group even acknowledged Larry Ramos’ previous membership in the New Christy Minstrels by performing that group’s biggest hit, 1963’s “Green Green.”
Ramos, who was a “mere replacement member” of The Association in the ’60s, can attribute his longevity in the band to some tough decisions and dedicated hard work. One of the former came in 1965 while the Minstrels were on tour on the East Coast. He caught the red-eye flight back to L.A. for just a couple hours to see his wife Helene (to whom he’s been married since 1964) give birth to their twin daughters in a Lynwood hospital, then had to fly right back. He didn’t see them again for six months.
Realizing he could no longer live such a life now that he was a family man (the group also had to record entire albums in two weeks), he gave notice to managers Sid Garris and George Grief. Ramos remembers they said, “Think it over, Larry, because if you leave, it’ll be the last time you work in show business. You’ll never work in show business again.” In other words, they’d badmouth him.
Ramos quit anyway in January 1966. A little more than a year later, Ramos saw Garris at the Cocoanut Grove, where his new band, The Association, was getting a gold record, probably for “Windy,” the #1 hit Ramos sang with Russ Giguere.
Backstage, Ramos says, “He’s glad-handing me, and he says, ‘You know, we’re so happy when one of our kids makes it.’ And a [little more than a]year before, he was tellin’ me I’d never work in show business again. But that just goes to show what a–holes managers can be. By the way, the same thing was said to Terry Kirkman, the writer of ‘Cherish.’”
You see, even though Ramos hadn’t joined The Association until March 1967, he’d already recorded that song with the Minstrels (which, at the time, included future Byrds member Gene Clark and, after Ramos left, Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes) before The Association! That’s because Mike Whalen, a former member of The Men — Kirkman’s former group — learned Kirkman’s song, sang it on tour with the Minstrels, and wanted to put it out. But Kirkman wouldn’t allow the recording to come out before The Association’s, leading to Garris’ favorite threat.
Although grateful for his big break with the Minstrels, Ramos worked hundreds of hours in the studio, often laying down ghost vocals to teach the other members how to sing new material (they’d hear him in their earphones and sing along to him, but Ramos’ lead voice wouldn’t wind up on the finished version).
Because he was a quick study, he ended up doing that for about 80% of The Association’s tracks (the baritone and higher parts), but he made it clear that, unlike his experience with the Minstrels, he wanted to be adequately compensated for “every minute” of his time, and he was.
In early 1968, Ramos even showed off his impressive dance moves on the “Carol Channing and 101 Men” television special. “She asked, ‘How many of you [in the group]can dance?’” Only he and Russ Giguere raised their hands, they were taught the choreography, and they needed only one rehearsal to get it right dancing with Channing on “Along Comes Mary (Carol).” It was the first and only time Ramos appeared on television dancing.
In the middle of work on The Association’s “Birthday” album, Jimmy Webb (who’d written “Up, Up and Away” for the 5th Dimension, “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” for Glen Campbell) played and sang a cantata — a classical-sounding piece with many different movements — that he wanted The Association to record. It was 20 minutes long and would take up the entire side of the LP, meaning it’d push out some of the tracks they’d already laid down. The band told producer Bones Howe it was too long, but Webb wouldn’t cut it down, so they passed on it.
Shortly after, actor Richard Harris went all the way to #2 with a shortened 7-minute version of that cantata: “MacArthur Park.” Ten years later, Donna Summer’s disco version went all the way to #1. Now, 45 years later, Ramos says he’d like to record that cantata the way Webb had originally conceived it.
Even without Webb’s help, the “Birthday” album spun off the #10 hit “Everything That Touches You” and ”Time For Livin’,” which, like “Windy,” featured lead vocals by Ramos and Russ Giguere, though it became the band’s final Top 40 hit.
But Ramos influenced the course of late ’60s and early ’70s music forever by recommending arranger Bob Alcivar (who’d done work for the Minstrels and written songs with Ramos) to producer Bones Howe. They hit it off, and while Alcivar only did vocal arrangements for The Association for two albums, Howe used him for his entire run with the 5th Dimension from 1968 to 1974 on classics like “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Aquarius,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All,” and even a live remake of “Never My Love.”
In 1968, Jules Gary Alexander, who’d gone to India, asked to rejoin the group and Ramos, who’d regarded himself as Alexander’s replacement, expected to leave, but the others wouldn’t let him. Referring to “Windy” and “Never My Love,” Ramos recalls they told him, “You sang lead on two of the biggest hits!” So The Association expanded from six to seven members.
(In my last column, the Filipino/Spanish/Chinese singer admitted the group initially made racial jokes at his expense. Click here to see Brian Cole, during a TV performance, say Ramos was “Made in Japan.” But it’s nice to know the band later allowed Ramos to make fun of them as well. During another broadcast, Ramos acted as if he didn’t know his fellow members when he mistakenly introduced Jim Yester as Terry Kirkman. He smiled, “I don’t know, they all look alike to me!” to audience laughter. Check it out here. Thanks to J.K. Yamamoto for bringing these to my attention.)
In 1976, musical disagreements forced Ramos out of the group. By November 1978, drummer Ted Bluechel was the only member from the hit-making days left, and he leased the Association name to Rob Grill, lead singer of the Grass Roots, who then called Ramos and Giguere separately to join his line-up.
“He asked me, ‘Would you like the join the Association?’ And I said, ‘You’re asking me to join my own group?! What kind of money you offering?’ and he told me. I said, ‘God, I make more than that working at home with my little trio on the weekends! That’s an insult! There’s no way I’ll go work for you!’ And then I hung up.”
Giguere laughed in Grill’s face and hung up too.
The following year, the surviving six (Cole died of a heroin overdose in 1972) reunited for two dates, and in Houston, they checked out a fake Association at the Playboy Club. (Note: The Kono Hawaii show Gerald Ishibashi promoted happened in 1983, not 1979 as reported last time out).
“We kept hearing them say, ‘Oh yeah, and after we recorded that, we recorded this song!’ And we were getting really pissed off in the back of the room. I said, ‘I believe we need to send these boys a little message.’ So we had a little message written up, and it said something to the effect of, ‘Russ Giguere, Terry Kirkman, etc. would like to have a word with you after the show.’ So we sent it up to them on stage and when he got the message, the guy who read it, his face turned white.’
Backstage: “Man, those guys were so apologetic. ‘Hey, man, we didn’t know you guys were still workin’, you know!’ And we said, ‘Yes, we’re working, we’re doing a show down the street! And we don’t wanna see you guys here tomorrow night. We don’t wanna see you guys performing using this name anymore! Otherwise, you’ll have a meeting with our Samoan attorneys!’” They obeyed.
In 1981, the real group hit #66 with “Dreamer,” their first charter in eight years, but it wasn’t big enough to release an album. In 1983, they recorded some oldies for a Radio Shack LP and re-recorded some of their hits for a Columbia Records imprint (with half covers of recent hits by others) but didn’t release original material again until 1995.
Unfortunately, the original group had fallen apart by 1995. Jim “Along Comes Mary” Yester left in 1983. Halfway through 1984’s “Happy Together” tour, Kirkman and Bluechel didn’t want to continue and suggested they declare bankruptcy. “I said, ‘You can’t declare bankruptcy! We owe people money! I’m not willing to stop working! As long as I’m able to work, I will work, and we’ll pay off the loans that we’ve made.’”
They signed over their rights to the group name and Ramos was made its leader (today, he’s also the manager). Jules Alexander left in the late ’80s, and Ramos and Giguere carried on with replacements.
I met the two around 1998 when they were signed to Dick Clark’s Click Records. Legendary drummer Ollie Brown (who had a 1984 hit with “Breakin’… There’s No Stopping Us” by Ollie and Jerry), had produced albums for the label by the 5th Dimension and the Spinners and wanted The Association to record modern black songs, but Ramos didn’t like any of his suggestions, the label lost its distribution, and Giguere told me Saturday night the tracks were shelved.
In 2006, the group backed up Barry Manilow on “The Greatest Songs of the Sixties” CD’s medley of “Cherish” and “Windy,” giving Ramos his 12th gold record. Yester returned in 2007. When Ramos suffered a heart attack on Aug. 31, 2011, Alexander came back to replace him, and when he was ready to return, Ramos insisted Alexander remain (so, it reversed their roles in ’68, and the band once again went from six to seven).
With four of the six surviving members now together, this is their strongest line-up since 1984. Ramos reports no difference in his vocal abilities, and he’s taking kidney dialysis on the road and hoping for a transplant.
“Russ Giguere comes on stage, and he greets the people, and he acts like he’s the leader of the group and what not. By the end of the show you know who the leader is, and it ain’t Russ! (laughing) I guess I get it from my dad. My dad was a very cool guy, but very quiet. He was the man I wanted to be, you know? And I have kind of followed his footsteps and now… I’ll just be a little like Daddy and be cool and just take [my]time.… And it’s worked very well for me.”
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.