We wish all our American readers a very happy July 4th! And who (besides perhaps America) could it be more appropriate to feature today than a guy with the country’s name in his – Gary U.S. Bonds ? He had a huge comeback in 1981, hitting #11 this day 40 years ago with “This Little Girl.” It was his first foray onto hit radio in 19 years.
Bonds, born in Florida as Gary Anderson, was one of rock’s early teen idols. A producer came up with his new name, thinking it would be memorable and if seen in headlines, one that might get notice because people might think it was about government savings bonds! He quickly rolled out five top 10 hits between 1960-62, including a #1, “A Quarter to Three.” But as with many of his peers – think Dion, Neil Sedaka – his career quickly lost momentum in the ’60s as tastes changed and they didn’t. Or at least not enough. While Bonds put out a number of singles through the psychedelic-half of the decade, few paid any attention and by the ’70s, he was a second-string bar performer. He did have an important fan though in Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen grew up listening to Bonds’ early hits and often played “Quarter to Three” in his own concerts. He met Bonds at an Atlantic City bar around the end of the ’70s, asked if he could sit in for a set, which Gary agreed to, not knowing who Springsteen was! But he noticed the crowd reaction when Bruce appeared beside him. The two became friends and Springsteen offered to help rejuvenate Bonds’ career. Which he did in a big way with the ’81 Dedication album. Bruce wrote three tracks on it, including this retro-sounding hit, which came out of a song he’d worked on but not finished for Darkness on the Edge of Town. The Boss also let his E Street Band, Max Weinberg, Clarence Clemons and all, perform on it. Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and Rob Parissi, Wild Cherry’s one-time star performer, worked together to produce it.
The combination worked. The album sounded like a throwback but still modern and relevant. As allmusic pointed out, Bonds’ “elastic tenor” was heard “in much more clarity than it ever was” before. The album sold well and “This Little Girl” hit that #11 peak at home and #7 in Canada, and a respectable #26 in Australia. Springsteen continued being Bonds’ musical fairy godmother by writing his next (and last) big hit, “Out of Work” from his following album, On the Line.
Bonds just turned 82, and considers himself an “Honorary New Jerseyian.”