The story goes that one night a couple of Jersey musicians by the name of Springsteen and Van Zandt wandered into an oldies gig at a rundown bar in 1980. Onstage was one Gary Anderson, who had racked up quite a few top ten hits in the 60’s under the name Gary U.S. Bonds, but had pretty much been written off in a music business climate that had no mercy for anyone over the age of 28 years old.
As luck would have it, Bruce Springsteen was about to have his first Top Ten hit single, “Hungry Heart,” from a double album – The River – that did extremely well in the marketplace. He was beginning to exhibit early signs of supernova fame (which would come to full fruition about five years later). Hence, he and bandmate/collaborator/partner in crime Steven Van Zandt were well positioned to extend a hand to Bonds, who hadn’t released a long-playing album in about 20 years.
Two brilliant albums were made in quick succession (1981, 1982) with the Jersey Glimmer Twins, Dedication and On The Line, for EMI Records (both are now available as a double CD from American Beat). By the way, this period was only one of Bonds’ many musical comebacks – though possibly the best known and highest profile of them all.
Therefore it was entirely fitting that Van Zandt served as M.C. at B.B. King’s in Manhattan as Gary Bonds celebrated both his 70th birthday and his 50th year in show business -- surrounded by family and friends, looking very fit and superfine, and still with that extraordinary voice that once blared out from jukeboxes exhorting folks to dance until a quarter to three.
Birthday testimonial films from luminaries like Dick Clark, Neil Sedaka, Joan Jett, Jon Bon Jovi, and Muhammad Ali were shown prior to the crazy swingin’ of the redoubtable Roadhouse Rockers, and Bill Wyman announced on the screen that Bonds will be joining him on tour in the UK in late October for six weeks.
Starting with "Jole Blon," a Cajun nugget that Van Zandt and Springsteen dug up for the Dedication album, the show was off to a rollicking start. Dipping into the early 60’s for a medley of his early hits ("Twist Twist Senorita/School Is Out/Dear Lady Twist") and Gary proved the line “do the twist and you’ll never grow old” to be completely true.
Yank Barry, chairman and founder of the Global Village Market, presented a plaque to Gary to honor his decades of work helping to provide food and medicine to children in need around the world. A series of stellar special guests and friends of Gary’s appeared to do guest spots; Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, and Darlene Love showcasing a few of their best known songs. But this was no oldies show; these songs sounded just as fresh as if they were recorded yesterday. As Darlene tossed off her read of Etta James’ “At Last,” all I can say is Beyonce, step aside.
The final segment of the show spotlighted Gary’s newest material on a new album to be released soon, Let Them Talk. His longtime background singers, his wife and two daughters, came onstage to join in. The Roadhouse Rockers wuz rockin’ – keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and three-piece horn section. Besides a few great new rockers, there was also a fine ballad, “I Love You So."
To wrap up the festivities, Gary was joined onstage by Ben and Chuck to do a spectacular version of the Springsteen-penned soul ballad “Your Love” from Dedication. Southside Johnny came up for “Fannie Mae” and Darlene Love and Little Steven joined in for “Havin’ A Party.” “New Orleans,” “Quarter to Three,” and “This Little Girl” were the encore trifecta and a packed house of happy smiling folks went off into the night.