When the Association performs February 21-22 at Yoshi’s in Oakland, it will be without longtime leader Russ Giguere. The singer today announced his retirement, thus ending his 50-year, ahem, association with the hitmakers.
It represents a significant step in Giguere’s life. As he evinced in an interview with me a few years back, Giguere took great pride in being part of the Association. He enjoyed focusing on the group’s firsts, from opening the Monterey Pop Festival to being the first rock group to play such classical enclaves as the Tanglewood Music Festival.
A New Hampshire native, Giguere’s family moved to San Diego when he was a child. After high school, he decided to take his tenor voice to Los Angeles and pursue a music career.
Giguere fell in with what he figures to be Southern California's first folk-rock outfit, the Men. Inspired by the New Christy Minstrels, the group consisted of an unwieldy 11 singers and musicians. ''It was like handling a small country,'' Giguere said.
It was internal strife that led Jules Alexander to leave the Men and take Giguere, Terry Kirkman, Brian Cole, Jim Yester and Ted Buechel Jr. with him. After five months of rehearsing, this
new group began playing folk clubs, colleges and proms in Southern California.
Dubbed the Association, the band caught the attention of talent scouts at Warner Bros. Records, which signed the act in 1966. The group's contribution to that year's folk-rock was a sound
that fused vocal harmonies worthy of the Beach Boys to backing tracks that leaned
heavily on Kirkman's knowledge of wind and reed instruments.
The Association scored two hits that summer, ''Along Comes Mary'' and ''Cherish,'' and released its debut album, ''And Then ... Along Came the Association,'' that fall.
The pop establishment quickly adopted the Association as a safe alternative to the era's more subversive musical elements. The group was honored with seven Grammy nominations.
Then there was Monterey. Giguere was as much a fan at the landmark festival as he was a performer.
''We did a lot of touring back then,'' he said. ''We were one of the hardest-working rock 'n' roll bands.''
As a result, the group's members usually had little opportunity to see their contemporaries in action. After opening Monterey, then, they stuck around to catch Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, the Mamas and the Papas and all the rest.
''I stayed for all three days and all three nights,'' Giguere said. ''We got to see all these bands we had heard of. I stood in line with (Jimi Hendrix) to get lunch. He was just a real sweet guy.''
The Association reached the top 5 twice in the months following Monterey, with ''Windy'' and ''Never My Love.'' There was one more hit, ''Everything That Touches You,'' but acid rock was the rage by 1968 and the group's lightweight approach was out of step.
The Association did receive a Golden Globe for its score to ''Goodbye, Columbus'' (1969). After the hits stopped, the band fell apart.
''No one was ever asked to leave,'' Giguere said. ''They all just left on their own and at various times.''
Giguere departed the Association in 1970. He recorded an unsuccessful solo album for Warner Bros., and later turned to comedy and screenwriting. He reformed the band in 1979 for an HBO special. The group has thrived ever since and ''Never My Love'' remains the second-most recorded song of all time, behind the Beatles' ''Yesterday.''
''I am just flabbergasted and happy as a clam, of course,'' Giguere said. ''And of the 100 most-played songs of all time, we have three of them. You can't beat that with a stick.''
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