The Association

Along Comes Mary, Cherish, Windy, Never My Love

When Terry Kirkman flew to Honolulu with some college buddies after his discharge from the Army in 1963, he met Gary Jules Alexander at a party where the two of them sang some folk songs. Alexander was in the Navy at the time and the two singers were so enamored with each other’s musical tastes that they promised to meet when Alexander’s hitch was completed. A year later, the two singers met at the Troubadour in West Hollywood where eventually they merged into a 13-member group called The Men, one of the first folk-rock groups to hit the scene.

As one could imagine, trying to satisfy the egos and whims of such a large group of talented musicians, the Men decided to split, with members Kirkman (vocals, percussion), Alexander (vocals, lead guitar), Ted Bluechel (vocals, drums, guitar, bass), Brian Cole (vocals, bass, woodwinds), Bob Page (vocals, guitar, banjo) and Russ Giguere (vocals, guitar, percussion) leaving the Men in the summer of 1965 to eventually form The Association. “The name was found by Terry’s soon-to-be wife,” explains Giguere. We looked up the word “aristocrats,” which was the punch line to an off-color joke that everyone in entertainment knew. As she was looking up the precise meaning of that term in the dictionary, she came across the word “association.” “And she said, listen to this: ‘a group of individuals united toward a common goal,’ and we said, ‘Cool.’ That’s exactly who we were. It was that easy.” (1)

With a lineup of perfect harmony (two tenors, two baritones and two basses), the band set out to plot their course. Jim Yester (vocals, guitar, keyboards) learned about the group during an audition at the Ice House in Pasadena and asked if they needed another member. Terry and Jules watched Yester perform and asked for him to call them. Jim replaced Bob Page.

The band played at the Ice House in Pasadena and Burbank, the Troubadour in West Hollywood the Mecca in Orange County as well as the college circuit around the Los Angeles area. When they weren’t playing, they were rehearsing for up to eight hours a day choreographing their entire show.

Hoping that their work ethic would pay off in a record deal, they spun their wheels when the small Jubilee label signed them and issued a single of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (a song originally recorded by Joan Baez, later popularized by Led Zeppelin) as nothing happened. Finally, Valiant Records, owned by songwriter Barry DeVorzon (I Wonder What She’s Doin’ Tonight) and manager Billy Sherman, gave them a contract, with the first result being a version of Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings, a song that had airplay in Los Angeles but went nowhere nationally.

According to Yester, “So some of us were doing demo sessions to bring in extra money. And Jules played on the demo session for Along Comes Mary. The song’s writer, Tandyn Almer was a friend of ours that also hung out at The Troubadour in Hollywood. Jules brought a recording of the song home that night and said, ‘Listen to this!’ And we started working on it the next day. By the time we recorded it, we had been doing it for pretty close to a year on stage. So it was pretty well together.” (2)

As with many songs of the mid-60s, controversy began when some people believed that the word Mary in the title was code for marijuana. "Along Came Mary is a song that is a social protest song about a society that condones alcohol and cigarettes, yet is against grass," Yester said. "Look, anybody can read into the lyrics any way they can. One time, the senior class at St. Mary's College (of California) used that song as its class song because they thought it was about the Virgin Mary. That is the beauty of music. People also say Puff The Magic Dragon is about weed." (3)

Yester also had another variation of the Mary story. “Yeah, we ran into a group of nuns as we were getting ready to go into Disneyland to play a grad night. And we were meeting some resistance from the security people at Disneyland who didn’t want us in there to play “that there drug song.” And there was this group of nuns walking by and they said, ‘Oh, The Association, we love your song about the Virgin Mary!’” (2)

 

L to R: Larry Ramos, Terry Kirkman, Russ Giguere, Jules Alexander,Ted Bluechel, Brian Cole, Jim Yester

Photo by Henry Diltz – Getty Images

Along Comes Mary powered the engine of the group’s first album, And Then…Along Comes The Association until a second single was chosen…the Terry Kirkman-penned title Cherish that drove the LP to the top 5 spot on the Billboard Album chart.

While hoping to write a hit record, Terry wrote the word “cherish”, on a notepad figuring he could build a song around the it. After a rehearsal one night, he saw the word and proceeded to write the song in about a half hour. Putting music to the words, he auditioned the song for some friends only to have one of the listeners send a copy of the sheet music to a member of The New Christy Minstrels. The group liked the song so much that they included it in their act. Their audience also loved it and gave the TNCM a standing ovation every time they performed it.

Obviously, the group asked Kirkman if they could record it. Knowing it was a hit, he told them no. Still, the other members of the Association believed the song needed some work. Conceived as a slow, sad love song, it was unfit for Top 40 airplay in it’s current incarnation. Kirkman rearranged the song and sped it up so that it would fit into an AM radio playlist. Valiant Records executives still weren’t sure about the song and said it “sounded too old and archaic.” They reluctantly signed off on Cherish for the band’s next single.

Within a few months after it’s release on August 27, 1966, the song sold over a million copies and hit # 1 on September 24, where it perched for three weeks. (5) After those sales, no one at the label complained that Cherish sounded “archaic.” Jim Yester later put it this way: “Cherish just showed we can have our archaic and eat it, too.” (6)

The second Association album Renaissance, released in January of 1967, received lukewarm reception as two singles, Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies and No Fair At All peaked at numbers 35 and 51 respectively. (7) A change of direction was needed and it came in unexpected ways.

Warner Bros. Records, which had been distributing Valiant Records, purchased the label in late 1966 on the strength of the Association. However, the band experienced a personnel change. Jules Alexander left the band to study meditation in India and was replaced by Larry Ramos (vocals, guitar), who earned his performing chops with The New Christy Minstrels.

There was still one more element to add to the group. Jerry Yester, who produced the Renaissance album and brother of Jim, was dropped and Bones Howe, who produced hits for The Mamas & The Papas, the 5th Dimension and Johnny Rivers, was asked to produce the Association’s third album. Howe agreed provided that he could have a say in the material recorded and use his choice of studio musicians with the group handling the vocals.

For his musicians, Howe went to his go-to guys, the Wrecking Crew and brought aboard Hal Blaine (drums), Joe Osborn & Ray Pohlman (bass), Mike Deasy, Dennis Budimir, and Al Casey (guitars), Larry Knechtel (keyboards), Gary Coleman (percussion) and Bud Shank (woodwinds).

Album art courtesy of Da Guy from the Album Art Exchange

Meanwhile, the Association was looking for new material. A phone call from Jim Yester’s wife, Jo-Ellen, to singer/songwriter Ruthann Friedman yielded her most current work, a song called Windy. Ruthann wrote the tune while living in an apartment underneath David Crosby’s house on Beverly Glen. “It only took me 20 minutes to write, and I wrote it as an escape. There was a songwriter fellow who I will not name who was…annoying me and I wanted to think about somebody else. So I made up this other person. Everybody has a different story about who Windy was and how it was written. Jerry Yester said I played it for The Association while I was sitting on the floor in the living room. Some say it’s about my hippie lover from the Haight… The truth is Windy is me in my best incarnation. That’s who Windy really is. Windy is the dream me.” (8)

But Windy almost didn’t make the cut in the Association’s repertoire, because the group initially voted against recording it. “There were seven of us voting on the 20 or 30 demo songs we were listening to,” recalls Ted Bluechel. “When we first listened to Windy and voted on it, four guys voted against it and three voted for it. But Pat Colecchio, (their manager) knew it was a hit and he was counting the votes, so he took somebody’s ‘no’ vote and made it a ‘yes.’ We were our own worst enemies for some reason at that time.” (9)

As the new LP, Insight Out was being assembled and the Association was heading out on tour, no decision had been made about the group’s first single release. On the morning before the group was scheduled to leave town, Windy was chosen.

Before the group was scheduled to arrive in the studio to record it, Howe changed the tempo from a ¾ waltz to a standard 4/4-rock beat, opened the song with a bass line and created the arrangement for the “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” background vocals. At one o'clock, the band entered the studio, Russ Gigeure and new member, Larry Ramos were chosen to share lead vocals, and a marathon session began. By 6:30 the next morning, the two men's voices were totally shot, and for that reason, the vocals at the end of the record were performed by everyone who was still awake, including wives, girl friends, engineers and even Ruthann Friedman herself. (10)

Windy hit the top of America's pop charts in early July 1967 and remained there for nearly the entire month. Later, it was nominated for a Grammy Award as best contemporary group performance but lost out to The 5th Dimension's Up, Up and Away.

“If people tell me they’ve never heard Never My Love, I say, ‘That means you’ve never been in an elevator or a supermarket.’ You can’t escape the song. It’s just there,“ said Richard Addrissi, who with brother Don wrote the iconic love song. (11)

The Addrissi Brothers hit the charts with a song they wrote called Cherrystone, which started their record career. Then one night, Don had an inspiration. “Don was thinking of his wife,” said Richard. “He came into my room and woke me up at three in the morning. He said, ‘I just asked Jackie to marry me. She asked me if I thought I would ever grow tired of her and I said, ‘Never, my love.’ Isn’t that a great idea for a song? I jumped out of bed and we started writing.” (11)

The duo, signed with Valiant Records, presented the song to the executives, who told the brothers if you want to make a lot of money, give it to the Association. The Addrissi’s sang it live for the Association in the Valiant offices. The Association loved the song and took it to Howe who added the finishing touches. The single was released on August 26, 1967 and reached # 2 on the charts on October 7 where it stayed for two weeks. (5)

In 1999, the song was recognized as the second most-played song in history, with performances of more than 7 million, according to BMI. The #2 rank on the Top 100 Songs of the Century, listing the most-played songs on American radio and television, placed Never My Love between the #1 song You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', written by Barry Mann, Phil Spector, and , Cynthia Weil and the #3 song Yesterday by Lennon–McCartney. BMI estimated that the song had received, as of 1999, what amounted to about 40 years of continuous airplay in its 32 years. (14)

Numerous artists have recorded Never My Love. What version does Richard Addrissi like the most? “(My favorite) is the one by The Lettermen. They did it a cappella with the most wonderful harmonies. My other favorite version is the one by this group Blue Swede. They had Hooked On A Feeling. They cut Never My Love. I heard it and I looked at my brother and said, ‘That’s the worst f***ing version ever.’ Then it started going up the charts and I started to like it. It hit number one and I said, ‘That’s the best version I’ve ever heard.”’ (11)

From The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the band performs Along Comes Mary. The introduction to the song makes the video worth watching.

 

The video quality from this mid-60s clip is as good as can be expected as the band lip-synch’s Cherish.

 

Windy is sung live to a backing track on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour dated May 28, 1967.

 

On December 8, 1968, the Association performed Never My Love on The Ed Sullivan Show.

1) Childs, Marti. Where Have All The Pop Stars Gone? (Kindle Locations 140-143). EditPros LLC. Kindle Edition.

2) Freeman, Paul, Pop Culture Classics, Along Came…The Association, 2014, Link

3) Karr, Russ, Swerve Magazine, Just Ahead Of The Curve, Link

4) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Hot 100 Charts, The Sixties.

5) Cornyn, Stan, Stay Tuned by Stan Cornyn: The Association­—#1 Best Dressed, September 24, 2013. Link

6) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 26.

7) Stanley, Steve, Ruthann Friedman, Link

8) Childs, Marti. (Kindle Locations 186-189).

9) www.classicbands.com Link

10) Katz, Larry, The Katz Tapes…Interviews With Musicians And More, March 11, 2002. Link

11) BMI Announces Top Songs Of The Century, December 13, 1999 Link

 

Bottom: Terry Kirkman, Russ Giguere, Jules Alexander, Brian Cole. Top: Larry Ramos, Ted Bluechel, Jim Yester.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Copyright  2009