Normally a rock band forms, and then has a hit…but with The Grass Roots, the hit came first.
It was the mid 1960’s, and Folk Rock was the hot thing. P.F. Sloan (the P stood for his real name, Philip, and the F for his nickname, “Flip”) was writing hits (usually with co-writers like Steve Barri)…such as “Eve Of Destruction” for Barry McGuire, “You Baby” and “Let Me Be” for The Turtles, “She’s A Must To Avoid” for Herman’s Hermits, and “Secret Agent Man” for Johnny Rivers.
(A young P.F. Sloan in the 1960’s. Folk Rock is serious stuff!)
Sloan also worked as a studio musician with L.A.’s famous Wrecking Crew. He came up with the cool guitar intro for “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas & The Papas.
In 1966, P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri wrote “Where Were You When I Needed You”. They recorded the song with studio musicians. It had P.F. Sloan on lead vocals, and became a hit. The band name on the record was The Grassroots, but they didn’t exist! So, they had to find a band that could tour and record albums. After a failed attempt with a working local band, they finally found the musicians they needed.
Rob Grill was the lead vocalist and bass player, Warren Entner sang some of the lead vocals and played guitar, Creed Bratton also played guitar, and Rick Coonce was the drummer. The lineup later changed, but this was the group that had most of the hits.
Rob Grill re-recorded the lead vocal on “Where Were You When I Needed You”, and by mid 1967 they had a #8 hit with “Let’s Live For Today”…which fit right in with the “Summer Of Love”.
Then in 1968, “Midnight Confessions” went to #5, sold over a million copies, and was their biggest hit.
The Grass Roots were the first national act I ever saw in concert. They were in Lincoln, Nebraska at Pershing Auditorium in 1969. The concert was good, but I was a little disappointed the band didn’t tour with any brass players. Their hits like “Midnight Confessions”, “The River Is Wide”, “Lovin’ Things”, and “I’d Wait A Million Years” featured horns prominently.
Informative digression: There was another show in Lincoln that night. A popular Midwest touring band (with horns) was at the Student Union…The Fabulous Flippers. Too bad they couldn’t have added the horn parts for The Grass Roots! The Flippers had the regional hit “Harlem Shuffle”. Years later the song was covered by The Rolling Stones.
(The presentation of their name became The Grass Roots.)
Creed Bratton was ousted from The Grass Roots, partly because he resented the fact their label, Dunhill Records, limited most of the songwriting to outside professionals instead of band members. Keyboardist Dennis Provisor (on the left above) was added to the group. Hits with that lineup included “Temptation Eyes” (#15) and “Sooner Or Later” (#9). In all, they had fourteen Top 40 hits from 1966 through 1972.
You could find variations of The Grass Roots out on tour in later years, but the main lineup was never together again. There are good collections of their hits available, but you have to watch out for re-recorded versions. Almost all of the collections on iTunes are re-recorded. The only good one I could find on iTunes is the 20th Century Masters-The Millennium Collection: The Best Of The Grass Roots.
Even though The Grass Roots were started by studio musicians, once the band formed, they had a good string of hits in the late 60’s. There were some excellent songs with great arrangements, and I particularly liked the lead vocals of Rob Grill and Warren Entner. Their hits are fun to sing along with, although now some of those high notes…
2 Replies to “The Grass Roots…First a hit, then a band”
Great article, they still are one of my favorites nothing transports me to that era like their songs. The PF story was the first time I heard that, does it have anything to do with another Flip I know?
It is my understanding that the way the Grass Roots recorded was similar to the Monkees. Once they had the band (Grill, Entner, Coonce & Bratton) they went out on tour with these members. But when the records were recorded they used studio musicians in place of the band but Grill & Entner did supply the vocals.