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:. XMFAN.com Radio  Interviews Carl Giammarese of The Buckinghams

T he landscape of modern American musical history is painted with artists and groups that matter. Take The Buckinghams, for example.

1967 A female student dances to Kind of A Drag at the local high school sock hop while a soldier halfway around the world hums the same tune to himself in his muddy foxhole. The student and soldier do not know each other - yet - but the song becomes a small part of each of their lives.

2004 The former student and retired soldier take their grandchildren to the zoo. On the way they smile when they happen to hear the song, and are each taken back to a different time and place. Many things have changed over the years, but there are some things that never will...

Such as the music and people that have meaning in your life.

Carl Giammarese has been a member of The Buckinghams since day one, and has seemingly enjoyed the ride. Carl recently took a few minutes to speak with XMFan about the roller coaster ride known as the music business.

XMFan: What is one of your first musical memories in life?
Carl: My first significant memory is being scared to death before playing to an audience for the first time. I was in a band with Nick Fortuna called The Centuries, and this was our first paying gig at a dance in Chicago at a place called the Vogue Ballroom. I remember we were doing an instrumental song and I had to play this little guitar riff, which I kept flubbing on stage because I was so nervous and my hands were sweaty.

I also have many great memories through the years, like playing different events such as The Hollywood Bowl. One of my greatest memories was playing The Ed Sullivan Show - you really felt like you made the big time when you went on that show. It was great. Of course recording Kind of a Drag, then hearing it played on the radio for the first time was as exciting as... Have you seen the movie That Thing You Do, where they all hear their song for the first time on the radio? It was that kind of excitement.

XMFan: Were you expecting to hear the song, or was it played out of the blue?
Carl: We were told it was going to be played at a certain time and were listening for it. I believe it was on WLS radio in Chicago. It was a great time for radio then and we received a great deal of support from the stations, especially WLS. The Program Director Clark Weber was a big fan and very supportive - he did a lot for us. It was a pretty exciting time.

XMFan: When did you learn to play the guitar and bass?
Carl: Well, really my main instrument is of course the guitar, and along the way I also started playing bass. When I was doing a lot of demo recording it was easier for me to just play the bass rather than find someone that was available. I really like the bass and started getting in to it, and now in our shows I play bass on a couple of tunes where Nick sings lead. The guitar is still my main instrument - of course I like to think of my vocal cords as an instrument, too. I first picked up a guitar when I was thirteen years old and my parents started getting me guitar lessons with a teacher. Being a lefty, I still learned to play right-handed.

XMFan: What kinds of goals and expectations did The Buckinghams have in early 1966?
Carl: Everything changed when The Beatles came along - all of a sudden we all wanted to be Beatles and make hit records, be famous. My goals in '66 were to be in a successful band on the top of the charts, be a rock star and the whole nine yards. That's what we were striving for, even though we were a little bit unsure about how to get there and some of it was just blind luck. A lot of it was we were just lucky to have the right look, the right guys in the band, and the right songs to come along. Then after Kind of a Drag and Don't You Care, things became more formulated and a little more thought out.

So certainly our goal was to be as successful as possible, but I don't believe any of us knew exactly how to get that success. But, you know, after a certain point it became a matter of staying focused and to keep working at it - eventually good things would come.

XMFan: The Buckinghams provided much comfort to our nation during a very turbulent era. Do people ever share stories with you about how the music affected them during that time?
Carl: Oh, yeah - today I'll still have people come up to me after the show and tell me they were in Vietnam and how our music helped them get through it. It gives me a really warm feeling and still gets me choked up a little bit when I think about it because I can really relate to and feel for what was going on at the time.

Of course our songs were not protest songs or heavy tunes - they were basically love songs, the guy-girl breaking up and getting together type music - and I think that kind of music was important to them being over there fighting that war too, because it made them think of their girlfriends back home and gave them something to hold on to. Maybe it was just a lighter note to help them forget about their problems and troubles that were going on there at the time.

I still like to occasionally acknowledge our Vietnam Veterans that are out in the audience, along with prayers to our men and women involved in Afghanistan and Iraq today. It's an important thing to acknowledge because I believe they are over there doing something really important. I hate to get in to politics here, but I don't totally agree on this war - but I do certainly support them one hundred percent. Like I was saying, after the show we sign autographs and meet the fans, and it seems I always have people coming up to me to say how much it meant to them to hear our music while over there. It's gratifying to know we might have done a little something over there to help them.

XMFan: What are a few commercials that have featured your voice?
Carl: (Laughs) Well, I did some McDonalds commercials - there was one in particular with a McDonalds "chant" back in the 70s. It started out, "Big Mac, Fillet-O-Fish, Quarter-Pounder, French fries, icy Coke, thick shake, sundaes and apple pies!" The commercial ended with, "You deserve a break today at McDonalds." I was part of the group that did the tags at the end of the United Airlines commercials - "Fly the friendly skies!" There were a variety of others like Kellogg's and RC Cola. I probably did about 160 different commercials back in the 70s and early 80s. Chicago was a major jingle town and a lot of national commercials were done here, especially from the big ad agencies that were here.

XMFan: Would you give us an overview of Trying Not To Fade, your new solo CD?
Carl: To begin with, I've always loved writing songs. Sometimes I feel like I could just sit at home all day writing songs and be happy. So what happened here was I collaborated on Trying Not To Fade with Michelle, who is the wife of my Buckinghams guitar player, Bob Abrams. She had written a lot of lyrics and poems, some different things. I got together with her one day and looked at some of her stuff, then took some of it and started putting music to it. Before I knew it, along with her lyrics and my music, then a couple of songs where I wrote both the music and lyrics, I had eleven songs. I started putting them together in my studio really without the intention of turning them in to an album - they were pretty contemporary - and I was just going to lay these songs down and hopefully get some of the newer young artists to pick them up. But then as I went along it started coming together more and more, and pretty soon started sounding like an album. I got more involved, more serious with it, and decided to turn it in to an album for myself.

I felt like I identified with the songs and was really part of it, and it was the sound I was going for. I didn't have much hope of having commercial success with it because I know from experience the record companies are looking for the new young artists to sign and aren't very interested in us older artists - unfortunately they don't let the music stand on it's own. I got a lot of positive feedback from record companies and radio, but didn't really get much attention as far as airplay.

XMFan: I believe fans can order the CD from your website? (http://www.carlgiammarese.com/)
Carl: Yes, I do sell it there. I've had a steady flow of orders for it, and the song Oh Lord (Make Me More Like You) was actually played on The Fish, a Christian Rock station in Chicago. It was a song I wrote very quickly, as kind of a dedication to my father who passed away a few years ago. I was surprised when they started playing the song, and a Christian artist by the name of Lisa Ann recorded the song in Nashville and made it a part of her album In His Presence. It was kind of exciting to hear another artist do my song. It was a great experience to do the album and hopefully I'll be doing more in the future. It's not something I did looking for a big commercial success, but was something I needed to do creatively - I love having the creative outlet.

XMFan: What kind of feedback have you received in regards to the new Buckinghams CD Terra Firma?

Carl: Well, it was another disappointment commercially, because we did actually get a lot of airplay on about fifty adult contemporary stations. It was some good new material and recorded nicely. But once again, we didn't really get the attention of... It is so hard to get record labels and contemporary radio stations to support some of us more seasoned artists. I was recently talking with a friend of mine who I hadn't seen in years, Peter Cetera - of course he's a Chicago guy - and we were talking about how difficult it is to get played on the radio. He is such a magnificent talent, and what a great voice he has - and he certainly had much more success than I had - but he still has trouble too. He still does great recordings but it's not easy to get yourself played. It's not just him and us, but all the artists that go back a ways. I don't know which direction (radio stations) are going, but I don't feel they are paying enough attention to bands like us. It's just a shame that a lot more people didn't have the opportunity to hear it.

We also just released a live album, Live & Well..., that is available at our shows and on our website. (http://www.thebuckinghams.com/) It's a very exciting album - it has all our hits and some album cuts from a concert we did in Chicago. Please check it out if you get a chance! (Laughs)

XMFan: Seems like you guys put on a heck of an entertaining show...
Carl: We have a pretty high-energy live show. Nick and I, who are the two original Buckinghams, are joined by Bob Abrams on guitar and vocals, Bruce Soboroff on the keyboards and vocals, and Tom Scheckel on the drums. They've been with us for about twenty years now. The show is directed at bringing back a lot of great memories - we of course do all the Buckinghams hits, some album cuts, as well as some of our favorite songs from the late 60s. We'll do a tribute to The Beatles, or a tribute to the Solid Gold Sixties Tour, which we are doing on and off with Herman's Hermits, The Grass Roots, Tommy James, and Chad and Jeremy. We just have a lot of fun when we're up there, and when people email or see me after the show to tell us how we brought back some good memories listening to those songs again, and that we sounded great, it just makes us feel really good and I know we accomplished what we were trying to do. You know, that's the whole thing - that everyone has a good time. I think we come off like we are having a good time, because we really are. Our audience is the most important thing, and is the reason why we still have success. We realize it, and I don't believe you could fool them by just getting up on stage and going through the motions. It's great that they still come out and support us.

XMFan: What does Carl Giammarese listen to in his car?
Carl: I'm pretty eclectic there, and listen to a lot of different stuff. The fallacy is that people probably think we're a bunch of oldies guys listening to oldies music, but when I'm here in Chicago I listen to contemporary radio stations like 101.9 to hear the new music and new bands. I like some of the mainstream bands like Matchbox Twenty, Counting Crows, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette. I'll listen to Norah Jones when I'm in the mood. I also like some of the jazzier things - I listen to Diana Krall a lot. Lots of classical music, especially on a nice Sunday morning if I'm home. Of course I appreciate all the oldies stuff too, so I'm pretty much all over the board when it comes to listening to music.

XMFan: Any parting words to your fans, both new and old?
Carl: First of all, I want to thank all the fans we have who have been so supportive, and I appreciate all their input. Back when I was nineteen and first doing this, I never thought I'd still be around at this late date doing it - and it's because of them. I think that our music - and not just The Buckinghams, but also the other bands I mentioned before that we play with - is lasting because of a certain strength, a certain thing the songs were saying, even if it was just a simple love song. The melodies and lyrics are lasting and we've proved the test of time. Thank God for oldies radio, and they are still playing our music.

Even the younger fans seem to enjoy us when we play the fairs and festivals. I think they can relate to our music because back when we were starting out, and our parents were listening to the big bands twenty years before our time, we didn't really relate to that very well. Now here we are, thirty years or more after we started, and the younger audience is still interested because we were still garage bands, basement bands, guitar bands starting out and I think a lot of music today still starts the same way. There's still a connection between our music and what's going on today and much of the younger audience is still listening to The Beatles and The Stones. My parting words would be to please keep listening to this music because it's great and you can still be a part of it.

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