Although many bands of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s emphasized instruments over vocal harmonies, The Association came across more as a vocal group than a band, even though they were both.
The Association began with the break-up of an 11 man group “The Men” in 1965. The Men was the first of what was called folk-rock, drums, electric guitar, electric bass, plus the usual banjo, 12 and 6 string acoustic guitars.
Five of the six members of The Association , Jules (Gary) Alexander (tenor, lead guitar), Ted Bluechel (baritone, drums), Brian Cole (bass, bass), Russ Giguere (baritone, percussion, rhythm guitar) and Terry Kirkman (baritone, recorder, brass, saxophone), brought in Jim Yester (tenor, rhythm guitar) to replace Bob Page.
All the band members wrote songs at one point or another, Jules, Jim and Terry being the most prolific.
Jim, Ted, Russ and Jules lived in a 3 bedroom house on Ardmore, just south of Melrose. Brian was married with children and had his own place. Terry was living with his future wife in West Hollywood. Ted’s drums, the bass amp and guitar amps were kept set up in the living room and that’s where they rehearsed for the next 5 months.
In the first year they worked the Los Angeles area, they spent 6 months of that time at one or the other Ice Houses, Pasadena and the newer Glendale Ice House. The Glendale club was the larger of the two and they held 2 attendance records there, the highest and the lowest. They also worked Los Angeles folk clubs, high schools, jr. highs, colleges, jr. colleges, rock clubs, proms and parties like no one ever had. By the time they released their first single on Valiant Records, a Bob Dylan song “One too Many Mornings” (the vocal arrangement was by Clark Burroughs, the HI in the “Hi-Los”), their fan club had over 10,000 members, so they had a local hit and people began to take notice.
In 1966 the band’s first big hit “Along Comes Mary” was actually the B side of “Your Own Love”, a Jim Yester composition. Once the D.J.s started playing “Mary”, it just took off. They followed with “Cherish” by Terry Kirkman which went to #1.
In two years The Association had released 2 chart albums, “Along Comes The Association” and “Renaissance”, had 2 major hits, “Along Comes Mary” and “Cherish” , 2 minor chart singles “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies” and “No Fair at All”. (In 1983 they played the Philippines for the first time and discovered “No Fair at All” had been a #1 hit there.) They guested on Ed Sullivan, The Andy Williams Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace, The Dean Martin Show and all the rock & roll TV shows, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, Hullabaloo, Shindig, and many more. They were touring extensively.
Jules left the band in ‘67 and was replaced by Larry Ramos who had recently left “The New Christy Minstrels”. Larry had been playing professionally since age 5, ukelele at first, then banjo, guitar and bass. Larry was an excellent tenor and a formidable lead guitarist. Warner Bros. acquired their contract from Valiant and they began their next album. Larry sang lead with Russ on “Windy” and “Never My Love” with Terry. The group had two more giant hits in a row and their second Gold album, “Insight Out”. By this time, “Cherish”, “Along Comes Mary” and the album “Along Comes The Association” had also gone Gold.
They were now one of the top concert acts in the world. They continued doing concerts and playing venues that had never been open to rock & roll bands, the Greek Theatre (Los Angeles), the Coconut Grove (Los Angeles), Saratoga Performing Arts Festival (Saratoga, NY), Ravinia (Chicago), Wolftrap (Vienna, VA), Blossom Music Festival (Cleveland), Tanglewood (NJ) and many more. They opened the Monterey Pop Festival (with “Enter the Young” one of Terry’s thematic muthas) and played the Rome Pop Festival.
There were a lot of TV variety shows and they all wanted the group. So they did TV constantly, the Carson Show, the Cavett Show, a Carol Channing Special, Joey Bishop with Regis Philbin as side-kick, the Steve Allen Show, a couple more Hollywood Palaces, 2 more Ed Sullivans, several more Smothers Brothers, and as always, more Dick Clark.
They recorded their next album, “Birthday”. Terry Kirkman’s “Everything That Touches You” hits Top 10, the album and Jim’s “Birthday Morning” and “Time for Livin” all chart.
“Six Man Band” is released as a single and charts. They released “The Association Greatest Hits” which went Gold immediately and soon Platinum (Double Platinum in’93)
Jules returned to the group in ‘69. They were now 7. They wrote and recorded the music for “Goodbye Columbus” (movie, album and single), recorded “The Association” (Stonehenge cover), “The Association Live” (recorded in Salt Lake City) and a number of singles. Russ left the band in ‘71. Brian Cole died in ‘72. Between ‘72 and ‘75 the group recorded the albums “Stop Your Motor” and “Waterbeds in Trinidad” and several singles. By ‘75 the band had pretty much suffered meltdown.
Even though the group broke up, the music had a life of its own and in the late ‘70s they were still getting a tremendous amount of airplay. Terry Kirkman was an associate producer for HBO. They were planning a special called “Then and Now” and asked if he thought the band would get together and do the show. HBO made a generous offer and they could rehearse weekends and tape the show on a weekend so they did the show. From the top they were all moved by the music. There were tears, laughter and they loved it. They had a great time, taped the show, went back to their lives and that was it. The show aired and soon they were approached by a major talent agency telling them they could book them all over the country. By 1980 they were back on the road. Early in 1981 they had their first chart record in eight years on Elektra with “Dreamer”.
By late 1984, Jim, Terry, Ted, and keyboard player and bass singer, Ric Ulsky, left the band. Larry, Russ and Jules brought in new guys and finished the “Happy Together “ tour (160 concerts) and continued on. Jules left in 1989. That year they did Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Concert Tour (90 days on the road).
The current members of The Association are Larry Ramos (tenor, lead guitar), Russ Giguere (baritone, percussion), Jim Yester (tenor, lead guitar), Larry’s brother Del (baritone, bass and plays bass), Jordan Cole, Brian’s son (tenor-bass, keyboards) and Bruce Pictor (baritone, drums). They perform 50 to 70 concerts a year with no plans to retire.
As of this new millennium, 3 of the 100 most played tunes of all time on the radio are Association songs. “Never My Love” #2 with 8 million+, “Cherish” #22 with 5million+, “Windy” #61 with 4 million+.
Warner Bros./Rhino Records has released a new double CD “Just the Right Sound THE ASSOCIATION Anthology” , 50 tunes, 40 page biographical booklet , lots of pictures. The Association Greatest Hits, one of the longest selling albums in Warner Bros. history, is and always will be available.
– The Association