Tag Archives: Grass Roots

Heaven knows

Rob Grill, the lead singer of the Grass Roots for more than 40 years, died quietly earlier this week in Florida. He was 67.

The Grass Roots long ago faded from prominence. Even so, they forged a nice career for themselves, playing across America before tens of thousands of people who remembered those great pop/rock songs of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I was fortunate enough to see Grill and the Grass Roots. It was two years ago, at a free show at one end of the midway at a small county fair. Grill, who battled health problems for years, moved carefully and gingerly on the small stage but was in fine voice.

More than a decade ago, I came to the realization that some of the acts I’d long enjoyed — like the Grass Roots — were not going to tour forever, and that I ought to get out and see them. My friend Meat once called it “a cool midlife crisis.”

I wouldn’t necessarily call it that, but I did make up for lost time, for shows not seen when I was much younger. La, la, la, la, la, la, live for today, you might say.

So today, yeah, it’s nice to be able to say I saw Rob Grill with the Grass Roots, and he was good.

He’s not the only one who’s gone now. I saw Brad Delp with Boston. Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Hughie Thomasson with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Warren Zevon and Steve Goodman and Jeff Healey. I even saw Mel Torme.

“Heaven Knows,” a Top 25 hit for the Grass Roots in 1969, is of course a love song. But in the light of Grill’s passing — and considering those who went before him — it also might express the love between performers and their fans.

With a song in my heart/And a chance to be yours forever
I couldn’t feel more secure/I know I couldn’t feel any better
Oh Lord, heaven knows/How much I love you and how much it shows
Oh Lord, heaven … heaven knows

“Heaven Knows,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. It’s out of print. It’s available on this 2003 import CD and digitally.

It was written by Mike “Harvey” Price and Dan Walsh, the Los Angeles songwriting team that also came up with “Temptation Eyes.”

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Filed under July 2011, Sounds

That ’70s song, Vol. 1

The world opened up to me at Christmas 1969, when I received this:

It is an AM-FM radio. A Panasonic RF-930, to be precise. I still have it. It doesn’t get used much anymore — just the occasional Packers game with the TV sound off — but it still works just fine.

I took that radio home — we’d had Christmas at my grandparents’ house — and put it on top of my filing cabinet. (Why does a 12-year-old kid have a four-drawer filing cabinet? For baseball cards and sports magazines, of course.) There it stayed for the entire decade of the ’70s.

When I got that radio, I listened to WOKY, the Mighty 92. It was a Top 40 AM powerhouse out of Milwaukee.

So begins a series on songs I heard on that radio, first on AM, then on FM. during a decade that began with me in seventh grade and ended with me graduating from college. This may take a while.

“Heaven Knows,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. It’s out of print. It’s one of the cuts on “The Best of the Grass Roots: The Millenium Collection,” a compilation CD.

“Heaven Knows” was on its way out of the Top 40 this week in January 1970, just as I started using that new radio. It was the last of four Grass Roots singles to chart in 1969, following “Lovin’ Things,” “The River Is Wide” and the great “I’d Wait a Million Years.”

I saw the Grass Roots at a county fair last summer. It was the best show I saw all year. They have a few gigs scheduled this year. If they’re near you, go see ’em. It’s a real blast from the past.

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Filed under January 2010, Sounds

Why I smell like fried cheese

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It’s been a dry summer in our corner of Wisconsin, and not only for the crops. There haven’t been many must-see shows.

However, you see the Grass Roots listed as the headlining act at the Kewaunee County Fair — barely a half-hour’s drive away — and you know you’re going to be there.

Then you wonder. What will that be like, some 40 years on? You dig around and learn that the only original member still with the group is lead singer Rob Grill. Then a friend says: “I heard he had brain surgery.” Then you wonder whether the backing band is any good.

Not to worry.

The Grass Roots, with Grill singing lead and playing bass, and backed by a tight three-piece band, are doing just fine some 40 years on. Grill, guitarist Dusty Hanvey, keyboard man Larry Nelson and drummer Joe Dougherty have been together for 25 years now, far longer than the original lineup. Their sound is everything you’d hope for.

For a 65-year-old man who needed brain surgery after hitting his head in a fall, and who then had to go through physical rehab because of it, and who also has been slowed by a knee injury, Grill is doing all right.

They played everything you’d hope to hear, plus covers of “Don’t Pull Your Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds — a song originally intended for the Grass Roots — along with “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse and “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray.

Rain left a small lake right in front of the midway stage, so about 2,000 of us made do.

We filled the area from the Holy Rosary Parish food stand (with dining room!) back to the Farm Bureau and FFA Alumni food stands and back down to the American Legion food and beer stand. Even with the demo derby going on at the same time next door, in front of the grandstand.

My clothes reek of deep-fried cheese curds (which are delicious). I was standing in front of the Legion stand, in prime position to hear …

“I’d Wait a Million Years” (1969, the opening song and still my favorite).

“Let’s Live For Today” (1967, dedicated to all the Vietnam vets).

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Among other great tunes. These two are off “The Grass Roots: Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971, which is out of print.

Single-CD compilations include this 2003 import and this entry in the Millenium Collection/20th Century Masters series.

Photo: Al Hoppe, Kewaunee County Fair.

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Filed under July 2009, Sounds

Walleye Weekend washout

This weekend was Walleye Weekend in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, about an hour south of where we live. I’d hoped to go down Saturday night to hear a most unlikely double bill of the Grass Roots followed by War.

However, that trip never materialized. My brother needed help moving, so I found myself in another part of the state for most of the day. That, and it rained for most of the day.

It’s the second time I’ve missed the Grass Roots this year. They played a gig at an auditorium in a small town about an hour away in April … on NFL draft weekend. When you work for the web site at the newspaper in Green Bay, no one asks off on NFL draft weekend.

So I can’t tell you what the Grass Roots sound like these days.

They’ve gone through lots of lineup changes since they started in San Francisco in 1965, when a bunch of studio musicians backed up P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, a couple of songwriters who came up with “Where Were You When I Needed You.” These days, the only link to the glory days is lead singer Rob Grill, who is 64 and has been with the group since 1967.

Likewise, I can’t tell you what War sounds like these days.

This group also has seen lots of lineup changes since its start in southern California in 1969. That’s when, after several years of gigging in the L.A. area, first as the Creators and then as Nightshift (backing Deacon Jones, the Los Angeles Rams football star moonlighting as a singer!), it became War, the backing band for British rocker Eric Burdon. He was gone by 1971, and the rest — the multiracial, multiethnic War’s potent mix of rock, funk, soul, jazz and Latin music — is history.

These days, War tours with only one of its original members. Keyboard player and singer Lonnie Jordan is 59 and has been with the band since before it was War. (The four other original, surviving members tour as the Lowrider Band, having lost a lawsuit to Jordan and original producer Jerry Goldstein over use of the name “War.”)

A couple of tunes I would have liked to have heard this weekend …

“Baby Hold On,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. Out of print. Also available on “The Grass Roots’ All-Time Greatest Hits,” an import CD released in 1996.

“The World Is A Ghetto,” War, 1973, from “War Greatest Hits,” 1976. Out of print. Also available on “Grooves and Messages: The Greatest Hits of War,” a 1999 CD compilation that includes eight remixed tracks on a second disc.

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Filed under June 2008, Sounds

I hear your mom has an iPod

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That’s how I started my e-mail to a girl I’ve never met. Rachel’s first thought was that it was junk mail. But thankfully, she kept reading.

Rachel’s mom is my cousin Jenny, who’s a year older than I am.

(Jenny and I are in the photo above, dated March 1963. Twelve of what eventually would be 17 cousins sit on the stairs at Grandpa and Grandma’s house in Wausau, Wisconsin.)

These days, Jenny is dealing with a fairly serious medical issue.

When I was with some of my cousins at a family gathering last week, I heard Jenny had gotten an iPod.

So I got Rachel’s e-mail address from the web site Jenny’s husband set up to keep us updated. I asked her what kinds of tunes her mom likes.

Rachel listed 25 singers and bands, then added 11 more, saying “Here are some that I think she’d like (but doesn’t listen to now).” Stopping at 36, she said, “Well, that’s all that I can think of off the top of my head!”

Rachel says her mom “really likes acoustic sounding music with male voices” and “women who can really belt it out,” not to mention “fun 60’s music.” Yeah, I think we can do that.

Here are some of the songs that’ll be going on Jenny’s CDs for her iPod. A couple of acoustic ones, a couple of belters and a couple from the ’60s.

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“Back in the High Life Again,” Warren Zevon, from “Life’ll Kill Ya,” 2000.

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“Beautiful World,” Colin Hay, from “Man at Work,” 2003.

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“Picking Daisies,” Shelly Bhushan, from “Picking Daisies,” 2007.

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“I Want to Take You Higher,” Ike and Tina Turner, from “Come Together,” 1970. Out of print. Also available on this greatest-hits CD.

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“Lovin’ Things,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. Out of print. Also available on this greatest-hits CD.

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“Happy Together,” the Turtles, 1967, from “The Turtles’ 20 Greatest Hits,” 1983. Also available on this greatest-hits CD.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Sunny pop goodness

It comes with the territory — I’ve lived in Wisconsin since 1965 — but I really am tired of being cold this winter.

Maybe that just comes with being older than dirt.

I could use some nice sunny pop goodness. Maybe you could, too.

You’ve heard ’em all, but dig ’em anyway.

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“Green Peppers” and “A Taste of Honey,” Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, from “Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” 1965.

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“I’d Wait a Million Years,” 1969, and “Temptation Eyes,” 1970, both by the Grass Roots, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. It’s out of print, but both cuts are available on this best-of CD.

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“Valleri,” the Monkees, from “The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees,” 1968.

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“Paperback Believer,” Mark Vidler/Go Home Productions, 2004, from “This Was Pop, 2002-2007.” This Beatles/Monkees mashup is among the many swell Vidler creations available at his web site. Go get ’em.

Oh, yeah, I feel much better now.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds