Las Vegas is a long way from Yakima, Washington, for Gary Puckett. A “Union Gap” if you will.
“We’ve been traveling a lot, especially this summer,” said Puckett, who along with the Union Gap Band will perform for three nights beginning Friday at the South Point Hotel and Casino. “Last year, we were on a tour called “Happy Together” that included The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, myself, Mickey Dolenz, and The Turtles. It was a very, popular show.”
Yakima is close to the city of Union Gap – hence the band name.
“Back in day, we didn’t spend a lot of time working in Las Vegas,” Puckett said. “I remember working The International Hotel, which became The Hilton, and now it’s the Las Vegas Hotel. I remember working with Elvis there. He was in the ‘big room,’ which sat close to 3,000 people and I was in their smaller theatre.”
The Union Gap recorded their first song, “Woman, Woman,” in August 1967 and it became their first hit, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was followed by “Young Girl,” “Lady Willpower,” “Over You” and “Don’t Give In To Him.” The band never had a No. 1 song in the U.S., although “Woman, Woman” did reach No. 1 in the UK.
Puckett admits to having his fair share of issues regarding creative control in his career.
“Jerry Fuller was our producer, and I called him ‘The Iron Fisted,’ my way or the highway. I respect him all these years later because he brought us a lot of success, but he and I had differences about what we would record, especially at some point after the initial successes of ‘Woman, Woman’ ‘Young Girl,’ ‘Lady Willpower,’ and ‘Over You.’
“One song that had really become an issue between us was ‘Don’t Give into Him’ and strangely enough it has become one of my favorites over the years because it’s got some kind of odd chord changes in it. I just think it’s a cool song. The issue is that we disagreed…and when we disagreed, the balance of power was always in his corner because he was given control by the record company. I was always trying to get control and I couldn’t!”
In 1970 Puckett began recording as a solo act, but with limited success. The Union Gap remained his live backing band until they were dismissed following an appearance at the 1971 Orange County Fair. Puckett’s recording contract was terminated one year later.
“I remember we alternated shows with Ike and Tina Turner and Redd Foxx, Las Vegas’ bluest comedian,” Puckett recalled. “Playing the Catskills was a big part of our early days.”
Puckett reappeared on the music scene in 1986 when he was chosen to be on The Monkees 20-Year Reunion Tour.
“I’ve always been a fan of The Monkees’ music,” he said.“I just love their recordings.
“In retrospect, I wish I had been a little easier to work with because I know that had I not pushed for that so hard, I would have done better in the long run.”
Puckett did earn something most in the music business fail to achieve – longevity.
“Getting to where I have gotten in my life, having a wonderful family and a beautiful place to live in the Florida area and having all the fans that I have out there is nice. The old shoulda, woulda, coulda…goes by the wayside.
“I know that there’s some good stuff left in me, and now we’re talking about doing some recording projects that will become my ‘later in life’ accomplishments,” he continued. “I’m speaking to someone right now about doing some recording that I really think would be a lot of fun, and I’ve really taken the time to become a better guitar player.”
Puckett and the Union Gap certainly have a cult following from their enormous success back in the 60’s, but he’s ready to go the Rod Stewart and Linda Ronstadt route of recording the old time classics.
“I hope to do that with a certain amount of songs that are not necessarily written by me, but that might even be classics, going back to my parents’ era,” he said. “I know that so many artists have done that…but I’ve found some great songs that they haven’t done.”