Life is weird sometimes. Have you ever been sitting around with nothing else to do, and a song comes on the radio, and you think to yourself, “I wonder if that guy is still alive?” And so you start researching the artist, and then you say, “wow, I had no idea?” Does that ever happen to you? Yeah, me neither.
Actually that was a lie. It happens to me all the time. Just this morning, listening to my Pandora radio station built around Neil Diamond (shutty), a David Gates song came on the radio. David Gates—I haven’t thought of him in a long time. I wonder if he is still alive? One quick Google search later, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would. If you’re still reading this, I’ll assume you’re curious.
Of course I was already aware that Gates is a Tulsa native. The people on pop radio talked about it all the time. Plus there was that time at Westside Elementary in Cleveland (was there an Eastside elementary?), but I’ll get to that in a minute.
David Gates’s dad was a school band director. I had no clue. In high school, he formed his first band with some buddies, called The Accents. Clever. The band’s piano player was a fellow student at Tulsa Rogers High school—his name was Claude. Claude Bridges. You don’t hear of too many guys named Claude these days. After the band parted ways, Claude changed his name, using his middle name as his last name and became known as Leon Russell. Who knew? The Accents recorded a single (hey kids—a single is a small vinyl record, played at forty-five rotations per minute —45 rpm—and contained two songs, the A – side and B – side), which contained a song called Jo-Baby. Gates had written it for his girlfriend, Jo Rita. He married her in 1959. As of this morning, they will wake up still married. A pop singer who stays married for sixty-three years—that’s pretty rare!
After moving to LA (that’s in California), Gates formed a band called “Bread,” which became one of the most popular groups of the 1970s, with a string of hit songs, and multiple albums certified Gold or Platinum. For a time, one of the members of Bread was Warren Ham, who would later join Kansas with Kerry Livgren (during the John Elefante era) and became the lead singer for Livgren when he formed the band known as AD.
Today, David and Jo Rita live on a 1400 acre cattle ranch in Washington state. They raised four kids—three of them are attorneys and one is a cardiothoracic surgeon. A Tulsa kid who is in the hall of fame, wrote a ton of hit songs, helped launch to the careers of other talented people, who has been married for six and a half decades, raising four successful members of society…no big deal, right?
I said I would talk about “that day” in elementary school. Do any of my friends from school remember this? My sister was a huge music fan, and went to many live shows (I remember the Abbott and Costello moment between her and mom when she had tickets to see “Guess Who”), and one day she proudly announced that she had scored two tickets to see Bread when they were in Tulsa. I guess I was excited for her, but only because I knew the songs from the radio. Mostly I didn’t care.
Also, there were some new kids at school. I don’t remember their names, or where they came from, or where they went to after leaving Cleveland, or where they are today. I remember that they were brother and sister, possibly twins, but I don’t know, and that they had red hair and freckles. Strike one. He wore round glasses like John Denver. Strike two. And there were from … somewhere’s else—strike three, you’re out. If you aren’t from Cleveland, you’ll never be from Cleveland, see. I know this because I’m not from Cleveland, so I never felt like I was from Cleveland. It always felt like there was a certain pecking order and the only way I would ever see the top of it would be if every single Cleveland native moved away. Not that I cared—it wasn’t that important to me, but I learned that the most effective way to move up the order was for someone to move there after you did. For example, the red headed kids previously mentioned.
I’ll admit that I liked the fact that I was above them on the Cleveland social ladder. Of course, now I see how stupid that was—who cares?? But then, it seemed so important. If I could live that part of life over again, I would stand up for those red headed strangers. Of course, they would likely have said no to that, even though it looked to me like they were teased and bullied mercilessly. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what it looked like.
When you’re just little, you have no life of your own, so you live vicariously through your older siblings. Case in point: one morning at school, some of us were bragging about how our older siblings had seen Bread in concert the night before. That day had me feeling pretty good about my position in that little contest. I don’t know know today, like I didn’t know then, where Kristen’s seats were in the Tulsa Convention Center, but that didn’t stop me from taking the position that Kristen was squarely seated at front row center. I was all set to assume my place as King Turd up on Sh!t Mountain (thanks Sturgill), when all the kids on the playground noticed the sound of a diesel engine approaching—not a normal thing back in nineteen and seventy-whatever. Every eye was looking, scanning to see where this noise was coming from, when up the street came a huge tour bus. HUGE, like you might see sitting outside a concert arena when a popular band is in town. The bus was painted in a typical 70s-era color scheme, and the destination placard over the top of the windshield said, BREAD. You could have collectively knocked every single one of us over with a feather as the bus stopped, the door opened, and like a prom king and queen (who were brother and sister…wait, gross, never mind, forget that metaphor…) like a prince and princess, off the bus stepped that red headed brother and sister. They were walking tall and proud, and I’m pretty sure I detected a strut in their step as they approach to the school. It was like they were saying, “yeah, we be bad.” As they walked, the brother looked at no one in particular, pointed his thumb backward toward the bus as it drove away and just said, “Bread.” No duh. We know. Apparently their family had grown up with David Gates, they’d all hung out together before the show, and when Gates found out that his friend’s kids were struggling to fit in at their new school, he said, “let us drop you off on our way out of town.” And that’s just what they did.
I don’t know if it worked. Somehow I doubt if it did. I wonder what happened to them. Do any of my Cleveland friends remember?