Gary U.S. Bonds

Quick Look:

Born: June 6, 1939

Gary “U.S.” Bonds may be the rockingest soul singer ever. Born in Florida in 1939 and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, Bonds spent his teenage years singing with group of local friends called the “Turks” on the street corner and in local shows. A local record distributor named Frank Guida had been following the group for years, and when he started his fledgling Legrand record label, he signed Bonds to a solo contract.

Bonds’ first recording with Legrand was a Guida composition called “New Orleans.” In order to get the attention of DJs, the single came in a wrapper saying “Buy U.S. Bonds,” giving the appearance of a public service announcement. Hence, Gary was labeled Gary “U.S.” Bonds. Like all other Guida productions, “New Orleans” was either genius or a mess, depending on your view, but was clearly unlike anything else on the radio. Seemingly dozens of overdubs on crude recording equipment resulted in a blurry, wild wall of sound — like you were listening to a party band through a telephone.

“New Orleans” became a national smash, hitting the top 10 Pop and Soul. It was followed by “Quarter To Three,” a Bonds composition and one of the great party songs of all time. Bonds’ screaming vocals over a pounding background sounded like James Brown meeting Little Richard, and the song, while sonically horrible, was infectiously irresistible.

Bonds and Guida continued working together for the next half decade, with Bonds hitting the charts with a number of party songs that bordered on novelty, including “School Is Out,” “School Is In” and “Twist, Twist Senora.”

By the time the 70s rolled around, Bonds was a mostly forgotten artist, though he continued to write for other artists and perform in oldies shows. However, one of his biggest fans began to gain some notoriety of his own. Bruce Springsteen became the most famous and influential rock star in the world, and often played “Quarter To Three” in his shows. When he met Bonds in the late 70s, still performing and sounding great, Springsteen helped Bonds secure a recording contract with EMI and agreed to produce his comeback album, Dedication. The album hit the top 30, propelled by the hot Springsteen composition, “This Little Girl.” It was a great disc, and showed that Bonds’ emotional, gravelly voice had aged wonderfully.

Bonds’ follow-up album (and second Springsteen collaboration) Ofn The Line was even better, boasting some of the best performances of Bonds’ career. It was perhaps the best front-to-back album of 1982. Every lover of Soul or Beach music needs to hear “Out of Work,” “Turn the Music Down,” and the great Bonds/Little Steven duet, “Angelyne.” Best of all is the smoky ballad, “Club Soul City,” in which Bonds shares the stage with soul great Chuck Jackson. It is an essential album.

Unfortunately, when Springsteen became unavailable for another album, Bonds was dropped by EMI. He instead signed with the small Phoenix record label and took full control of writing and production for his next album, Standing in the Line of Fire, which also featured his backup band, the American Men. While slightly less engaging than On The Line, it was a fine rock/dance album, and demonstrated that Bonds could still create solid music without Springsteen. Especially notable were the Bonds composition “Dance” and a great party cover of Richie Valens’ “Come Go With Me.” Standing is unavailable on CD, but is worth seeking out on vinyl.

In 2001, an enjoyable live recording, King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Gary U.S. Bonds, was released, featuring his classic material and a few new tunes.

Bonds surprised the music world by returning in 2005 with Back In 20, his first studio release in two decades, featuring a bevy of guest artists, including Bruce Springsteen and Phoebe Snow. It was a joyous return for one of popular music’s most free spirited artists. And last year, Gary celebrated his 70th birthday with a rocking concert at New York’s BB King’s.  Gary has just finished a 30 date tour of the UK with legendary Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman as part of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings.  Gary is still going strong and laying down, half a century after he first hit the international stage.

By Chris Rizik

Photo credit: By Lioneldecoster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


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