Say “Bread” and fans of pop music in the late 60’s and 70’s will think of soft melodies like “Lost Without Your Love” and meaningful lyrics, like “If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?”.
They had their biggest success with heart-tugging songs about relationships and love, lost and found, standing out in sharp contrast to the other groups popular at the time, like “The Doors” or “ Jefferson Airplane”.
But there is much more to Bread and the men who made up that group. We’re going to tell you some of their stories.
Who Was Bread?
First the personnel. David Gates may be the most recognizable name, but James Griffin was an equal partner, and was supposed to write half the singles released by the group. That’s not the way things worked out, but more about that later. Griffin and Robb Royer frequently wrote as a team and these three men formed the core of Bread.
Their first albums featured the talents of legendary session drummer Jim Gordon*, but when the group went on tour after its second album, drummer Mike Botts became a permanent member of Bread. Royer would leave in the early 70’s to be replaced by Larry Knechtel, tho Royer would continue to work with Griffin thru the years.
Gates had been a producer, session musician and songwriter, arriving in Los Angeles from Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1962. His song “Jo-Baby”, written while he was courting his wife in Tulsa, had been recorded by Chuck Berry and the Murmaids had their one and only hit with his song, “Popsicles and Icicles”.
Griffin had come to L.A. the same year, from Memphis. He had signed with Reprise Records and released an album called “Summer Holiday”. Griffin had had some success writing songs for other artists, including Bobby Darin and Bobby Vee. He had also appeared in a couple of movies – For Those Who Think Young and None But the Brave.
Some sources say that Gates had produced an album for Royer’s group “Pleasure Fair” and that Royer introduced Gates to Griffin. Others say that Griffin hired Gates to produce an album for him and that’s how they met. Regardless, by 1968, Bread was starting to come together. Griffin is quoted on his Website as saying that he was tired of getting his songs recorded by others who would miss the point or change the hooks or the tempo.
What’s With the Name?
Gates, Griffin and Royer debuted as Bread with the self-titled album in late 1968. Gates is quoted on the SuperSeventies.com Website as saying:
A bread truck came along right at the time we were trying to think of a name. We had been saying, “How about bush, telephone pole? Ah, bread truck, bread.” It began with a B, like the Beatles and the Bee Gees. Bread also had a kind of universal appeal. It could be taken a number of ways. Of course, for the entire first year people called us the Breads.
That first album did include an early version of “It Don’t Matter to Me” but it took another album and another year for their music to catch on, at least on the charts. That one, “On the Waters” went gold and the single “Make it With You” hit Number 1, tho for just one week. Album number three, “Manna”, was released in 1971 and produced the smash hit “If”.
By this time, Royer was ready to move on. Knechtel slid onto the piano bench and took over the keyboards. He had had great success as a member of “The Wrecking Crew”, a name given to the amazing group of session musicians hanging around L.A. in those days. Knechtel would remain with Bread thru the rest of the group’s recording life and two reunions. The single “Baby I’m a Want You” was released in late 1971 and was followed by the album of the same name. It was the most successful album Bread had, peaking at number 3 in 1972. It included the touching “Diary”. Their next album, “Guitar Man” featured the sweet “Aubry” and the title cut. It hit number 5 on the album charts.. but then.. Bread went flat.
Bread started to deflate in 1973. Gates has said that he wanted to spend more time with his wife and chlidren, but it was clear that the tension between Gates and Griffin was becoming unbearable. The key issue seems to have been that Gates and Griffin had originally agreed to split the singles 50/50, with Gates writing half and Griffin writing half. But that wasn’t the way things were turning out. Griffin was writing and singing songs on the albums, but all the singles were Gates’ work. So the members of Bread went their separate ways. Gates went solo and had more success at first, with his First Album and Never Let Her Go.
In 1976, the group reunited for the first time, producing the classic Lost Without Your Love, their last top ten hit from their last album. But the magic didn’t last long. Tensions between Gates and Griffin built and the group disbanded in 1977. Gates toured with other musicians, using the name Bread. Griffin objected, in court, saying he was co-owner of that name and he had not agreed to the use of it. It was 1984 before the legal dust had settled.
The 80’s and 90’s
Gates continued recording, performing and writing songs including the popular theme for the movie of Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl. By the late 80’s and early 90’s, demand for his music had dropped off. Griffin went to Nashville where he kept up his writing partnership with Royer and also formed the group Black Tie with former Eagle Randy Meisner and Billy Swan, in 1986. Griffin later helped to found the country-rock group, The Remingtons.
Bread Rises Again
Gates released an album in 1994, Love is Always Seventeen, and then, two years later, Bread got back together again. It was an 18 month deal, a World Tour. Gates did most of the interviews, telling reporters that this was unfinished business for the group. They hadn’t done a World Tour when they were on the charts and this was their chance. Could it be a long-term thing, he was asked, maybe a CD in the works? Maybe, he said. But it wasn’t to be. After appearing in South Africa, the Middle East, Japan, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and Australia, once again, Gates, Griffin, Knechtel and Botts went the
ir separate ways.
Gates is still living in northern California at last report, working out of his recording studio on his ranch. He’s represented by Mars Talent and toured Asia in 2004, though as of this writing, their Website has no dates listed for him in 2005. (Gates’ fans may want to check again, just to make sure none have been added).
Botts has been working most recently with Dan Fogelberg and recently released his first solo CD, “Adults Only”.
Larry Knechtel continued doing what he did best.. playing music. He’s the pianist on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Waters”. At last report he was living in Eastern Washington and still playing clubs in the Yakima area.
Jimmy Griffin had been working with the Hollies’ Terry Sylvester and John Ford Coley in early 2005. He died of lung cancer on January 11th. He was 61 and is survived by his wife, Marti, daughter Alexis, son Jacob and legions of fans.
Additional Websites we recommend for more on Bread, include:
- David Gates:
- James Griffin:
Researching a profile of artists generally turns up many sidebar stories, but few as compelling as that of the man keeping the rhythm on the first Bread album. Jim Gordon was such an incredible talent, that he frequently replaced a band’s own drummer in the studio. He played with Derek and the Dominos and co-wrote “Layla” with Eric Clapton.
But Gordon’s talent was no match for his descent into drugs and alcohol. He was diagnosed “schizophrenic” and sent to prison for murdering his mother during a psychotic episode in 1983. Rolling Stone magazine told his story in 1985.
Tulsa, Oklahoma has produced a remarkable number of musicians, broadcasters.. and at least one amazing Website: Tulsa TV memories. Gordon, Gates and his wife Jo-Rita all came from there and Gates and wife are mentioned in one of the many guestbooks on the site.. guestbooks that have become a virtual gathering place for stories and memories about broadcasting in Tulsa.
Many tv and radio news anchors and reporters either got their start in Tulsa, like Paul Harvey and Jim Ruddle. Or they passed thru that town at some point in their careers. The guestbooks are full of the best kind of shop talk for those who love broadcasting or have worked in any part of the business. Even if you were never anywhere near Tulsa, you may find yourself spending hours just browsing the guestbooks. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!