Gary Puckett’s Powerful Voice Still Delighting Fans
By Nick Thomas
Currently traveling the U.S. on the 2023 “Happy Together Tour” with classic pop acts such as The Turtles, The Cowsills, and Little Anthony, (see www.happytogethertour.com), Gary Puckett never tires of performing the songs made famous with his Union Gap bandmates.
The hugely popular 5-man pop-rock group, remembered for their string of late 60s hits including “Woman, Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” and “This Girl is a Woman Now,” now features all new members but retains one of the most distinctive musical sounds of the era with Puckett delivering his characteristic soaring vocals infused with emotion and perfect pitch.
Famous for often performing in Civil War Union Army costumes and named after a town near where Puckett once lived in Washington state, the original Union Gap disbanded in 1971 but Puckett says the current group creates a sound as close as possible to the classic songs.
“The original recordings featured string and horn sections, but there’s just four of us in the group now so our keyboard player is tasked with recreating those sounds,” said Puckett while traveling to New York from his home in Florida. “I think we’ll give fans what they want to hear.”
Turning 80 last year, Puckett says he was around 8 or 9 when his family realized he could carry a tune.
“My folks would get a tape recorder and we would sing songs and record Christmas messages to my grandparents,” he recalled. “Then they would make a little record of it. My voice was way, way ‘up in the sky’ back then, and I remember my mother telling me at one point she just thought all little boys could sing like that!”
Young Gary’s mother wasn’t alone in appreciation of her son’s vocal talents. While later attending college in San Diego, Puckett and the group toured the West Coast playing small clubs and were visited by Columbia Records producer Jerry Fuller.
“He came down to see us in San Diego,” Puckett remembered. “He liked my voice and the idea of wearing the outfits and walked up to the stage at midnight and said let’s go make a record.”
That record became their first hit, “Woman, Woman,” one of several Fuller would produce for the band.
“When he first played it to me it was written as a country song,” recalled Puckett. “So he added a 30-piece string, horn, and rhythm section and turned it into the pop record that established me as a singer in the music world.”
The band amassed six gold records in the space of about 3 years during the late 1960s. But musical tastes were changing as the 70s began closing in and for a decade there was little interest in the group’s music.
“Then in the early 1980s, radio stations began proliferating throughout the United States and featuring 60s music once again,” said Puckett. “I started getting calls from disc jockeys who were playing our songs and promoters who wanted us back on the road giving concerts.”
Puckett has continued to tour either solo or with the band ever since, releasing another nine solo albums over the years (see www.garypuckettmusic.com). Interacting with audiences remains a joy for the singer who is usually available at concerts to meet with fans to sign items they may bring along.
“I love to get out with the fans, it’s always great to see them smiling and enjoying the music we created way back when,” he says. “They are still appreciative of it all and the fact that they are there just honors me and the music.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, in Alabama, and has written features, columns, and interviews for numerous magazines and newspapers. See www.getnickt.org.