Above / For the sixth time, The Buckinghams will return with 1960s classic rock favorites to perform at Ribfest. They’ll take the Main Stage at 3:30PM Wed., July 4. Ribfest 2018 runs July 4-7 at Knoch Park. (Photo courtesy www.thebuckinghams.com)

The Buckinghams, the popular classic rock band with the British name, gets the celebration started for America’s birthday on Independence Day, at 3:30PM Wed., July 4, when they perform on the Main Stage of Naperville’s Ribfest 2018. 

For at least the sixth time in the past 30 years, The Buckinghams founding members Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna bring their high-energy concert to this iconic Naperville celebration. With an appeal to wide audiences, patrons can sing along because they know the words to favorite hits and classic songs, beloved by three generations of fans. They’re joined by Bruce Soboroff (keyboards), Dave Zane (guitars), and Rocky Penn (drums).

The Buckinghams have been performing for more than half a century

The Buckinghams began in 1965 in Chicago, and garnered national attention with “Kind of a Drag.” Recorded at famed Chess Studios in Chicago, it featured a distinctive horn-heavy arrangement, unlike most of the other national hits. Chicago’s famed radio station, WLS-AM, boosted “Kind of a Drag” locally, with 50,000 Watts of broadcast power.  Soon it caught on nationwide.

The young band had reached the pinnacle of success just as their contract with Chicago label USA Records concluded. The five-member band had just formed when first manager Carl Bonafede entered them in WGN-TV’s Battle of the Bands competition. Not only did they win the contest, they earned thirteen weeks as the house band on a new series, “All Time Hits.” This showcase took them across the Midwest thanks to WGN’s broadcast range.

Carl Giammarese, The Buckinghams’ founding guitarist and lead singer since 1982, finished his senior year of Lane Technical High School spending every weekend on the road, from Chicago to Aberdeen, South Dakota, then Iowa, then back home.

Bassist Nick Fortuna and Giammarese had already played in their first band, The Centuries, together with respected bassist Curtis Bachman and lead vocalist/drummer, Gerald Elarde.

“Nick and I have been friends since we were teenagers, Giammarese said. “It’s great to have a musical partner that you can count on to keep the music and fun going all these years.”

After achieving regional success, the five band members decided they wanted to break into the national scene, as they’d done everything they could do locally. They went searching for a manager who could take them to the next level. Then, one of their roadies mentioned that he “had a cousin who had done some work with Chad and Jeremy (English folk rock duo famous in 1960s) and was now a manager.”

Regional success & new manager take band from Chicago to New York

A meeting was arranged; fast-forward to The Buckinghams signing a contract with Columbia Records, being escorted to New York by their new manager, James William Guercio, aka “the cousin” of their roadie, Burton Jesperson.

The relationship between The Buckinghams and Guercio was positive; both parties built their national reputations together on the strengths of the other. Many record executives claim to have “ears” for hits, yet Jim Guercio really did recognize the elements of how to produce hit records. Guercio studied carefully the horn arrangements that were created by big band leader Dan Belloc and his arranger Frank Tesinsky, specifically for The Buckinghams on their “Kind of a Drag” album.

A string of Billboard chart hits soon followed: “Don’t You Care” (#6), “Lawdy Miss Claudy” (12), “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (#5), “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song” (10), “Susan” (8), and “Back in Love Again” (#46).  The records gained The Buckinghams recognition by Billboard Magazine as “The Most Listened to Band in America,” thanks to songwriting primarily by James Holvay and Gary Beisbier. They were also one of the busiest national touring bands from 1967 to 1969, joining The Beach Boys, Gene Pitney, going city-to-city at breakneck pace.

Manager Guerico departs for The Big Thing / Chicago Transit Authority / Chicago

All good things come to an end, and the band parted company with Guercio, who went on to create gold and platinum records for a group originally named “The Big Thing,” later renamed “Chicago Transit Authority,” again renamed “Chicago.”

Guercio took the knowledge he gained from the success of The Buckinghams’ sound and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Memorable medleys prompt singing, dancing during concerts

In concert, The Buckinghams perform a dynamic medley of “Chicago hits” that audiences say rival the original artists’ records.

“At a Buckinghams concert,” said Giammarese, “we sing a medley of favorite 1960s and 1970s hits by the American Breed, the Grass Roots, The Turtles, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, among others that the audience loves. Often audiences are dancing the entire time.”

After five years together, The Buckinghams had recorded fifteen singles, four albums, skyrocketed to fame and plummeted to obscurity by 1970, as FM radio songs extended beyond three minutes and reflected, not Buckinghams’ songs of love, but songs of fear, protest, and an awakening of youth to the reality of war. The band broke up.  After six years as part of a musical duo, Carl had embarked on a career as a national jingle singer.

Then, the turning point for The Buckinghams arrived as a call from Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne to Carl Giammarese in 1980. Carl then contacted the other original members, and three of them reunited “one more time” for ChicagoFest. Audience attendance records at Chicago’s Navy Pier made it clear to Giammarese and Nick Fortuna that, if they chose to go forward, audiences would follow. Dennis Tufano chose to return home to California in pursuit his first love, acting.

Giammarese has been lead singer since 1982, and The Buckinghams have been part of national TV specials, performed orchestra arrangements of their hits with symphony orchestras, and were part of The Happy Together Tour in 1985 (Top Ten Pollstar Tour) and the Happy Together Reunion Tours in 2010–2012, 2014–2015. Currently they’re also featured in the national tour of “Cornerstones of Rock” with The Ides of March, New Colony Six and other Chicago bands in addition to a full touring and cruise schedule.

Buckinghams’ fans sure to line up on Independence Day

Longtime fans of The Buckinghams will enjoy their favorite music from “1967’s Summer of Love.”

“We’re glad to return to Ribfest this year; it’s always been one of our very favorite concert experiences since the late 1980s,” Giammarese said.

Also on the July 4th Ribfest concert day, patrons can experience the music of The Stray Cats, with special guest Melissa Etheridge. Fireworks by Meijer will cap off the evening’s festivities.

Visit www.ribfest.net for more information and to buy tickets quickly. Early bird ticket sales end May 31, 2018.

Story submitted by Mary Howenstine for Naperville’s Ribfest, July 4-7, 2018. (Photo courtesy of The Buckinghams at www.thebuckinghams.com.