It is said of the ’60s that if you can remember them, you probably weren’t there. That doesn’t apply to the ’70s, since the soundtrack from that decade is not only still playing, but quite often it is being recreated by the original artists on stages all across the globe.
The ’60s represented a period of experimentation and rebellion, but much of the upheaval had settled by the mid to late ’70s. What resulted was a musical landscape that was as diverse and eclectic as it was joyful. The decade of the ’70s wasn’t about following a strict blues-rock path or a radio-friendly pop formula. It was about welcoming whatever unique musical expression stepped forward and clamored to be heard.
It was an album-oriented decade that include hard rock, disco, funk, soul, R&B, folk and country, Latin rhythms and much more. The ’70s might not have included as many tie-dyed shirts, beads and bare feet as the ’60s, but it was definitely dressed to boogie for any occasion.
And the beauty of the ’70s music explosion is that some of the most beloved artists are still at it. Many of the acts that made their reputations in the 1970s are being embraced today both by their original fan bases, and by recent converts.
Here is a look at just a handful of the more notable acts from the ’70s that are still delighting crowds. They don’t mind playing the old hits, because they’re still getting the kind of warm and spirited receptions that they received when the songs were first played. And they’re still having a blast doing it.
Not only were they white, they were also Scottish. The Average White Band was formed in 1971 in Dundee, Scotland. It relied on horns that blew jazz, funk and soul at a time when the prevailing sound coming out of the United Kingdom was raspy British blues from guitar gods like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, and later synthesizer rock and glam.
“We were six Scottish guys who shared the same accents and starting playing music based on the kind of music we grew up listening to, which was soul music,” said Onnie McIntyre, one of the original members of the band who is still on board today.
“We started doing clubs. The first couple of gigs, there were a few reluctant claps after a few songs. But by the end of the set the whole place was cheering. Then we felt we were on to something and felt there was an audience for it.”
The band is probably best known for the 1975 single, “Pick Up The Pieces,” which reached No. 1 in the U.S. “That was pre-disco,” McIntyre said. “I think we helped to herald in the era of dance music.”
The Average White Band has undergone some personnel changes, but still boasts two original members in McIntyre and Alan Gorrie. Today they’re still touring and still packing them in. “This is the best lineup that we’ve had that I can remember,” McIntyre said.
Of course, they’ve had to make adjustments. “I remember when I was in a band when I was 18,” said McIntyre, who now lives in the New York. “We would drive to London for a couple of gigs, then drive back. When you’re younger you can do that kind of thing.
“The hardest jaunts now are the 6 a.m. lobby calls on the way to Europe. But you plan accordingly. You always try to have a night off occasionally. We find a good restaurant and have a couple of bottles of wine with dinner. Your comfort level has to adjust.”
Danny Hutton said it’s a simple answer, really: The secret to longevity in the music business is having good songs.
“It’s about having songs that have a long shelf life, that don’t really date much,” said Hutton, one of the original members of Three Dog Night. “The songs that we did were about emotions, about people.”
Three Dog Night certainly had its share of songs that connected with mass audiences. In the ’70s, they included “Eli’s Coming,” “Joy to the World,” “Easy to be Hard” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” By late 1975, the band had sold almost 50 million records.
After the ’70s, the band experienced periods of inactivity, burnout and personnel changes. But since 1986 it has been touring extensively, and continues to do so.
“We do between 60 and 80 shows a year,” Hutton said, “which is really comfortable. We’ve been to places we never thought we’d go and have had some happy surprises. About a month ago we went to New Hampshire and performed at a NASCAR event. I’d never been to a NASCAR race. We performed for 105,000 people, all of them singing along to ‘Joy to the World.’”
Nowadays Hutton and another founding member, Cory Wells, are together along with original keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon and guitarist Michael Allsup. Paul Kingery on bass and Pat Bautz on drums are also on hand.
Experience has taught the members of Three Dog Night how to pace themselves. The group has three sets of equipment stationed around the country. Band members fly to the concert venue, then fly home. “I usually leave on Thursday, and I’m home on Sunday for dinner,” Hutton said.
The most gratifying part, said Hutton, is knowing that all kinds of people, from Vietnam veterans to little children, still groove to the music of Three Dog Night in 2009. “I was at Whole Foods the other day,” Hutton recalled, “and they were playing, ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come.’”
In 1970, Kenny Loggins met Jim Messina. Loggins was a talented but relatively unknown singer-songwriter. Messina was a singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer who had already been a member of two popular and critically acclaimed groups, Buffalo Springfield and Poco. The two formed a partnership, starting with the hit album, “Sittin’ In,” which showcased their impeccable harmonies and their gifts in the craft of songwriting.
By 1976, they were done.
“Things got a bit strained,” Loggins said. “I was feeling frustrated and I was writing a different style of music, which led to ‘Celebrate Me Home’ (Loggins’ debut solo effort). I felt Loggins and Messina, which started out as this incredible adventure, had put both of us in a small box. I needed another avenue.
“It was actually Jimmy who said, ‘We should probably break up soon, because if we don’t we might never speak to each other again.’”
Recalled Messina: “Personally, it was time. I had been through Buffalo Springfield and Poco with no break, and quite frankly I was worn out. My stomach was bothering me, I had ulcers, after years of stress.”
The pair split amicably, and went on to pursue successful solo careers. And although they got together occasionally to play at each other’s benefits, they remained apart until 2005.
“I remember we did a Christmas show in Santa Barbara,” Messina said. “Kenny asked me to play. At that moment in time, I think there was a realization for the both of us that we’re good on our own, but when we get together there is a magic that happens that nobody else has captured when we worked with them. I think Kenny had a similar reaction.”
The tandem toured in 2005, and now they’re back at it, rehearsing for a full fall tour.
“Thankfully it allowed us time to mellow a little bit,” Messina said. “I think we’re both doing much better at accepting the other for who he is.”
There is also the acceptance of who they were, and what audiences loved about Loggins and Messina. “I have to change my mindset,” Messina said. “I have to accept the fact that that was who I was then, and the people really want to hear what it was, not a radical reinvention of that. We try to stay true to the tunes as they were.”
In 1977, David Hodo needed a week’s worth of work to qualify for unemployment. So he answered an audition for a new musical group that was being put together.
“I thought it was a pretty tragic idea, joining this disco group,” he said. “But I was only going to do it for a week.”
He still has the job.
Hodo is the member of the Village People known as the Construction Worker. At the audition, he had hoped to become the Cowboy, since he had just finished a Broadway show based on the Grand Ole Opry and therefore brought some experience in that milieu. But to his chagrin at the time was handed a hard hat instead of a cowpoke chapeau.
Today he is one of only three original members of the group, the other two being Felipe Rose (American Indian Chief) and Alex Briley (Military Man).
The Village People began as a concept band, and often acts based on gimmicks and costuming don’t last long. But the Village People have represented a boisterously good time to audiences, bringing the world such lively dance club hits as “Macho Man,” “San Francisco” and “In The Navy.”
And, of course, they’ve been reminding generations of fans that it’s fun to stay at the “Y.M.C.A.”
“Last year we performed at Yankee Stadium before they tore it down,” Hodo said. “The grounds crew always comes out and does, ‘Y.M.C.A.’ We followed the grounds crew out for the last number and everybody went crazy. It was amazing when we ran out. When we did the ‘Y’ for ‘Y.M.C.A.,’ every camera went off like it was lightning.”
The Village People are as busy as ever these days. “We do anything and everything,” Hodo said. “You’d be amazed. We do clubs, we do fairs, we do outdoor festivals.
“We’re grateful to everyone who wants to hear a ‘Macho Man’ or a ‘Y.M.C.A.’ We talk to groups that aren’t working at all and they say, ‘You guys are so lucky.’
“It’s because we represent a good time.”
The Tavares brothers of New Bedford, Mass. — Ralph, Pooch, Chubby, Butch and Tiny — had their heyday in the ’70s, with massive soul-disco-funk tunes like “It Only Takes a Minute,” “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel” and “Whodunit.” The band’s star was raised considerably by the film “Saturday Night Fever,” the soundtrack of which contained both the Bee Gees’ version and theirs of the smash hit, “More Than A Woman.”
Over the years, the band ceased recording, although it continued to perform on occasion. Ralph Tavares left the group to pursue a career in the city of New Bedford as a court officer. Tiny left the ranks for a time.
But the old saying, “There are no second acts in American lives” probably forgot about Tavares.
“We were still working,” Pooch explained. “For some reason, the jobs weren’t coming as frequently as they are now. We never retired. We fell off the music scene as far as recording-wise, but we were still working and performing. Myself, Chubby and Butch were still touring, mainly in Europe.
“All of a sudden, for some reason it was like somebody pushed a button, like one of those Staples buttons.”
Pooch said about two or three years ago, the group suddenly experienced a spike in gigs, with most of the interest coming from Europe. “I think interest in us is higher in Europe,” Pooch noted, “because there are much smaller countries there, and they’re not as fickle as the U.S.
“In the U.S., music changes so fast and so frequently. In Europe, when they pick you up they stay with you. It’s not easy to change their minds. They’re more loyal.”
Already this year Tavares has done Holland “four or five times, Belgium a couple of times, England we did a tour of nine days, Spain for five days,” Pooch said. Along the way, the group often crosses paths with contemporaries from the ’70s, such as Maxine Nightingale, Gloria Gaynor and the Trammps.
“I believe it’s a blessing,” Butch Tavares said. “It’s not just fortitude or luck. There are a lot of groups from our time who are not working. I hear from a lot of them. When people see our show, they realize it’s not just another group that’s come and gone. They see the show and marvel and say, ‘How can they do that?’
“It’s word of mouth from agents, promoters, audiences. It’s not us saying it about ourselves. They’re saying it. That’s the greatest thing of all.”