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'70s Hit-Maker Bread to Serve Slices of Past

Pop music: It was the chance to play abroad that gave rise to the band's 25th anniversary tour, an opportunity front man David Gates, in Costa Mesa on Friday, says 'was just too good to pass up.'

July 09, 1997|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When singer-songwriter-guitarist David Gates bid adieu to the L.A. rat race 10 years ago, it wasn't long before he grew fond of the slower-paced, rural lifestyle provided by his 6,500-acre ranch near Lake Shasta. Spending more time with his wife--and up to 550 head of cattle--felt like a natural transition to the Oklahoma native.

Sure, once in a while Gates got the urge to write some new songs. In 1994, he was coaxed out of semiretirement to record a solo LP titled "Love Is Always Seventeen" (Elektra Records). But a reunion of his old band--'70s soft-rock hit-makers Bread--was the furthest thing from his mind.

Then a phone call a couple of years ago from a South African-born, Los Angeles-based concert promoter named Selwyn Miller changed all that. The longtime Bread fan was the catalyst behind the group's ongoing 25th anniversary world tour, which arrives at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Friday night.

"Selwyn called me and said, 'Ya know, Bread is still very popular worldwide. Have you ever thought about doing any touring outside of America?' " recalled Gates during a recent phone interview. "And I told him we always wanted to, but we broke up before we ever got the chance."

After mulling it over, Gates began to like the idea more. In February, all four members gathered (for the first time in 17 years) in a Nashville hotel room and agreed to a reunion tour. Miller became the group's manager.

"I really had no great desire to play in the States again," Gates said. "But to do the tour we never got to do, and play our hit songs in all of these foreign countries, was just too good to pass up."

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At first glance, some may mistakenly lump Bread into the let's-milk-our-oldies circuit frequented by America, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago and the like. Sure, they too offer plenty of oldies. But the quartet hasn't performed them live since it disbanded for a second time in 1978, and its current tour materialized only because of Gates' desire to finally play abroad.

Before committing to this reunion, Gates--the group's leader and principal singer-songwriter--wanted one thing understood. This was to be a low-pressure, two-year commitment to tour in celebration of the group's 25th anniversary. The band, which also features singer-songwriter-guitarist James Griffin, drummer Mike Botts and multi-instrumentalist Larry Knechtel--plus touring lead guitarist Randy Flowers--was not re-forming to make records and tour like they once did.

That agreed to, David Gates & Bread is performing selected dates in 12 U.S. cities while between legs of an extended world tour. The trek began in the fall in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and moves later this year into Southeast Asia and Europe.

At 21, Gates was itching to leave college back in '62 to make a name for himself as a musician. So he struck a deal with his father, musical director of Tulsa's public school system. He had two years to make something of himself in the music business, or he'd return to his studies as a music major at the University of Oklahoma.

Gates packed his wife, Jo Rita, and two small children into a beat-up, 10-year-old Cadillac and drove to Los Angeles. Before long he was a string arranger and pop songwriter, and he got his first big break by writing the Murmaids' 1963 hit song, "Popsicles and Icicles."

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Gates also composed and/or arranged songs for the Monkees, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Connie Stevens and Shelley Fabares. But it was a growing desire to sing his own songs that lead him in 1969 to form Bread, which was originally a trio consisting of Gates, Griffin and vocalist-guitarist Robb Royer.

A year later, the band crashed the pop charts with its first No. 1 single, "Make It With You."

Bread's smooth, mellow love songs and ballads, which subsequently included "If," "It Don't Matter to Me," "Baby I'm-A Want You," "Diary," "Aubrey," "Guitar Man" and "Everything I Own," among others, were radio staples in their heyday, charting 11 Top 40 hits between 1970 and 1974.

Their hits still can be heard today on classic rock and adult-contemporary radio stations, and so far this summer, the group's been consistently filling 2,000-seat concert halls.

What's behind the enduring appeal? Gates believes that "each tune's sing-a-long structure" keeps Bread's catalog from gathering mold. Or simply put, it's those darn catchy hooks.

"The quality song survives because the melody and chorus . . . make you want to hear it repeatedly without getting tired of it," explains Gates, 57, who wrote all of the band's Top 10 hits. "Timeless songs are those that are hummable without wearing your ear out."

Yet by 1974, Gates broke up the band because Bread was "unable to match the quality of songs we'd had on our first five albums." (The foursome did reunite for one more album, 1977's "Lost Without Your Love," and its supporting tour.)

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