Gary Puckett has a pretty good idea why he and his band, the Union Gap, enjoyed a string of four Top 10 singles in a row in 1967 and 1968.
“First of all, they’re good songs,” said Puckett, referring to “Woman, Woman,” “Young Girl,” “Over You,” and “Lady Willpower.”
Puckett also acknowledged the contributions of producer Jerry Fuller (who also wrote those songs, except for "Woman, Woman").
“Jerry knew how to put together hits for AM radio,” Puckett said. “You have a short intro for the DJ to talk over, then have a verse that goes into the chorus, and keep it all to about two-and-a-half to three minutes.”
“Those songs had all of that,” he said. “There was great chemistry and great arrangements.”
Puckett may be leaving out one other reason for those songs’ success: his own distinctive vocals, which were perfectly suited for power ballads. Nearly 50 years later, he still is able to hit the notes with confidence.
This summer, Puckett will put his voice on display in the Happy Together Tour, organized by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (a.k.a. Flo and Eddie) of the Turtles.
The Happy Together Tour has three New Jersey dates this month: the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Aug. 12, the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park on Aug. 13 and the Bergen Performing Arts Center on Aug 16.
Besides Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, the lineup includes the Cowsills, Spencer Davis, Chuck Negron (one of the former lead singers of Three Dog Night), and Mark Lindsay (the voice of Paul Revere and the Raiders).
The format of Happy Together, as devised by Volman and Kaylan, is simple: gather about a half-dozen acts from the 1960s and early 1970s and have them perform their best-known songs. (“Nothing but hits” is the tour’s tagline.)
Puckett said he has enjoyed the first leg of the tour. “It’s been fun,” he said. “I had the chance to meet the Cowsills, whom I had never met before. They’re good people. All of the folks on the tour are good people.”
Since his youth, Puckett has always been surrounded by music. “My parents were musical, and they brought their musical feels to their children,” he recalled.
Puckett was born in Minnesota in 1942 but grew up in Washington Stage and Idaho. “I loved the music of the day,” he said. “Little Richard, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis. But I also loved the pop singers like Pat Boone and Patti Page.”
In high school, Puckett played in a band called the Redcoats. “We were playing in sock-hops when I was 15,” he recalled. (He noted that the drummer, Jack Easton, later went on to join the Kingsmen, the band that had the hit version of “Louie Louie.”)
In the early 1960s, Puckett moved to San Diego, where he joined a cover band called the Outcasts. After that group disbanded in the mid-1960s, Puckett eventually formed the Union Gap, named after a town in Washington.
The idea of a long-term career in music was not part of Puckett’s plans at the time. “I was a neophyte,” he said. “I was just hoping to make a couple of hit records, tour, and have fun.”
After the initial run of their first singles, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap enjoyed some success, notably the 1969 song “That Girl Is a Woman Now.” After a brief solo stint, he took time off from music for most of the 1970s.
For the past 30 years, Puckett has worked the oldies circuit, periodically writing and recording new material. “I enjoy everything about this except the travel,” he admitted. “But you can’t do what I do without touring.”
Puckett said he is grateful that he has been able to maintain his voice over the years, and he credited that to both good health and to a higher power. “God is good, and I’ve tried to live that faith,” Puckett said.