You know the songs; sweet, melodic pop, AM radio hits from the early 1970s.
This band had 11 charting singles. These were songs from the heart, nothing complicated in their words or meaning.
Soft rock is what you call it. Like the Carpenters, Seals & Croft, America, James Taylor and Cat Stevens.
In the 1960s, Robb Royer, James Griffin and David Gates worked about the L.A. music scene. Gates became known as a producer and arranger, where he met up the Royer and Griffin. Gates also worked as a session player and arranger with Elvis, Pat Boone, Merle Haggard and Bobby Darin. His song “Saturday’s Child” was recorded By the Monkees and he has a hit with “Popsicles and Icicles.” Gates produced an album that had Royer as a member. Royer and Griffin has been staff songwriters with Viva Publishing.
As their music orbits connected, Royer, Griffin and Gates formed Bread. Their debut album, Bread, was released in 1969 but had no charting singles. The trio used Jim Gordon to play drums. Aside from Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, Gordon was the most successful session drummer in music. He would co-write “Layla” with Eric Clapton, and later begin a life prison term for killing his mother.
After the first album, Bread would hire drummer Mike Botts, who stayed with the group till the end, and through several reunions.
The group’s songwriting was split mainly between Gates, and the team of Royer/Griffin. Interesting to note, Royer and Griffin would work together up until Griffin’s death, long after Royer had left Bread. Gates and Griffin would be locked in a competitive battle that would break up the band and linger for years and lawsuits.
Their second album, On the Waters, proved more successful and provided the number one hit, Gates’ “Make it With You.” When you think of soft rock, that’s one of the first songs you remember. The credits list only Gates and Botts playing on the song, with Gates handling everything but drums.
Hey, have you ever tried
Really reaching out for the other side
I may be climbing on rainbows
But baby, here goes
Dreams, they’re for those who sleep
Life is for us to keep
And if you’re wondering what this song is leading to
I want to make it with you
I really think that we could make it, girl
The next album, Manna, peaked on the charts at number 21, and featured another Gates hits, “If,” which reached number four on the charts. The flip side of Gates’ written singles were given to Royer/Griffin.
If a picture paints a thousand words
Then why can’t I paint you?
The words will never show
The you I’ve come to know
If a face could launch a thousand ships
Then where am I to go?
There’s no one home but you
You’re all that’s left me too
And when my love for life is running dry
You come and pour yourself on me
These sweet, almost saccharine singles, were balanced on the albums by more upbeat, heavier rockers. Well, heavy for Bread.
Their fourth album, probably their best, featured a change in the lineup. Royer left and was replaced by legendary session player, Larry Knechtel, who was known as member of the L.A. Wrecking Crew. Knechtel had appeared on tens of top ten hits and had garnered a Grammy Award for his arrangement of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon and Garfunkel. That’s him playing the piano on the song. Knechtel also played bass on sessions for The Doors debut album. Knechtel was accomplished on bass, piano, organ, guitar and harmonica.
Baby I’m-a Want You reached number reached number three on the charts and placed four songs in the top forty, all written by Gates. “Baby I’m-a Want You” (number 3), “Everything I Own” (number 5), “Diary” (number 15) and “Mother Freedom” (number 37). Gates had a soft, silky voice, perfect for the love songs that radio gobbled up, as well as boyish appearance. “Mother Freedom” was a rocker, a pounding, dirty-guitar driven number, but still very melodic and featuring Gates’ refined voice. Even when Bread tried hard to rock-out, they sounded like The Monkees. They were never going to be Frank Zappa or the Alice Cooper Group.
Baby I’m-a want you
Baby I’m-a need you
You’re the only one I care enough to hurt about
Maybe I’m-a crazy
But I just can’t live without
your lovin’ and affection
Givin’ me direction
Like a guiding light to help me through a darkest hour
Lately I’m a-prayin’
That you’ll always be a-stayin’ beside me
Next up was Guitar Man, released in 1972. The album cracked the top twenty, and yielded three charting singles. “The Guitar Man” (number 11), “Sweet Surrender” (number 15), and “Aubrey” (number 15). The guitar solo on “The Guitar Man” was handled by Knechtel, showing his versatility.
The band split up after that, reuniting in 1977 for Lost Without Your Love, which was kind of a disappointment. A single of the same name charted but music had changed a lot in the five years they had been gone.
Bread would not record together again, but they would regroup and tour in various configurations. Each went on to solo careers, during and after Bread. Interestingly, Royer, Griffin and Knechtel formed a band called Toast. I kid you not.
Royer and Griffin co-wrote the song, “For All We Know” which was included in the 1970 film, Lovers and Other Strangers, winning an Academy Award.
David Gates went on to a very successful solo career, writing and performing “The Goodbye Girl” from the same film.
Griffin and Royer headed toward country music, Griffin co-forming the band, The Remingtons. Knechtel released two solo albums and continued his session work, as did Botts. Gates released several albums in the spirit of his Bread work, and toured.
Royer continues to work, based out of Nashville. Griffin and Botts both passed away from cancer. Knechtel suffered a fatal heart attack. Gates retired to Washington State.
Collections of Bread songs have done well, selling in the millions. The songs live on, reflecting a sensitive and nostalgic time of the early 1970s.