Who Is The Grass Roots?



The Grass Roots are an American psychedelic folk rock group hailing from Los Angeles, California. They became prominent between the years 1966 and 1975, and during those years they scored three Top 10 hits: “Let’s Live For Today” (1967), “Midnight Confessions” (1968), and “Sooner Or Later” (1971).

Originally it was a project from a pair of songwriters and producers P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri, the Grass Roots (originally called “Grassroots”) were the realization of their ideas as they had written and recorded number of songs for Dunhill Records. One of these songs they did was “Where Were You When I Needed You” which was sung by Sloan. The next step was to look for a musicians to make an actual “Grass Roots” group.

They recruited a San Francisco band called “The Bedouins” and seemed to find an adequate singer in the Bedouins’ lead vocalist William Fulton. Then the first Grass Roots recorded a new version of “Where Were You When I Needed You”. It became a Top 40 hit in 1966, Still on the lookout for a suitable band, the two men found a good group named The 13th Floor.

The new Grass Roots scored their first Top 10 single “Let’s Live For Today” in 1967. When their third album Feelings failed to sell, Sloan drfited from the band and started a solo career. Their subsequent single “Midnight Confessions” went to Top 10 in 1968. Since then the band had undergone many other personnel changes. Their first and last charting single on Haven was 1971’s “Mamacita”, which peaked at 1971. The Grass Roots achieved one single that went gold, a couple of gold albums, and have racked sales from 20 million records globally. They continue to perform up to this day, with newer members.

It all started as a project…

The project that would evolve as The Grass Roots was first conceived by songwriters/producers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri in 1965. The duo had been hired by the publishing arm of Dunhill Records called Trousdale Music, with the label’s intention to take advantage of the bourgeoning 1960s folk-rock movement.

The resulting Sloan-Barri collaboration, “Where Were You When I Needed You?” was sung by Sloan, and was eventually sent to a local radio station in Los Angeles. The song was billed as “The Grass Roots,” but the problem was that there wasn’t a real act yet called “The Grass Roots.”

In search for the true “Grass Roots” band

A band playing against a rainbow background image

To solve this problem, the duo started to form an act from a band they just spotted, the Bedouins, who were led by singer Bill Fulton. Although the San Francisco-based Bedouins’ repertoire was based on blues and rock, they consigned themselves to the folk-rock visions of Sloan and Barri and seemed to be contented by it. In effect, they became the first reincarnation of The Grass Roots, releasing their first single with the cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man),” which was also played by other session players. It was a modest hit in 1965.

Unsatisfied and offended by their Grass Roots stint, the rest of the Bedouins — except drummer Joel Larson — left for San Francisco to form a new band. The “Grass Roots” became virtually non-existent again, and for a while it was an alias again for Sloan and Barri, who continued to record. They finally released the song “Where Were You When I Needed You” as a single in 1966, where it charted at #28. The album of the same name, however, didn’t chart.

Ending the search for the real “The Grass Roots” band, they encountered another act called The 13th Floor, who submitted a demo tape to Dunhill. The 13th Floor are not to be confused with another rock outfit The 13th Floor Elevators, who came from Texas. The 13th Floor consisted of lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Warren Entner, lead guitarist Creed Bratton, singer/bassist Rob Grill, and drummer Rick Coonce. They were accepted by the label and through the band’s own decision, decided to play under The Grass Roots moniker instead of their own name. Rob Grill was designated as the lead singer.

The newer Grass Roots lineup scored their big hit with “Let’s Live for Today,” which reached at #8; however, its album of the same name only reached #75 on the Billboard 200. A third album Feelings was released in 1968 under The Grass Roots name, but its sound deviated from the Sloan-Barri influence, establishing its own style. Unfortunately, it didn’t take off.

The partnership of Sloan and Barri severed, leaving Barri to take the band under his helm. When the band was on the brink of splitting up, they released another single “Midnight Confessions” in 1968. Surprisingly, it became a Top Ten hit, peaking at #5. The song’s entirely different style — Motown pop and R&B, as opposed to the folk-rock of earlier Grass Roots recordings — had become in favor with Barri and the band. The success of “Midnight Confessions” prompted The Grass Roots to continue their career.

Personnel changes and eventual split

In the spring of 1969, personnel shifts occurred. Bratton left the band and new members Denny Provisor (keyboards) and Terry Furlong (lead guitar) joined the fold. This made The Grass Roots a five-piece. During that year The Grass Roots scored three Top 40 hits with “The River Is Wide,” (at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100), “I’d Wait a Million Years” (at #15) and “Heaven Knows” (at #24). In 1970, the group continued to chart with hits such as “Baby Hold On” (at #35) and “Temptation Eyes” (at #15). “Sooner Or Later” became The Grass Roots’ third and final Top Ten single, reaching at #9.

The following year Coonce and Provisor left the band, and new guitarist Reed Kailing and keyboardist Virgil Webber joined. Also returning to the Grass Roots lineup was the Bedouins’ Joel Larson. This newer lineup scored a few more hits in 1971-1972 such as “Two Divided By Love” (at #16), “Glory Bound” (at #34), and “The Runaway” (at #39, their last Top 40 single). After that, their performance on the charts started to slip away, and The Grass Roots broke up in 1975.

The Grass Roots’ re-formation, and present career

During those intervening years Rob Grill joined forces with friend John McVie and the latter’s Fleetwood Mac mates Mick Fleetwood and Lindsay Buckingham in recording Grill’s solo effort Uprooted in 1979.

The revival of interest towards the 1960s bands helped fuel the oldies concert circuit. Grill was not one to miss this opportunity so he re-formed The Grass Roots in 1982. The new incarnation of The Grass Roots was sometimes billed as Rob Grill and the Grass Roots. Since the re-formation, the band was busy playing several dates every year, mostly on the oldies/revivalist package tours.

However, by early 2000’s Grill’s health had begun to deteriorate, with various health problems including a degenerative bone disease. In June 2011, Grill suffered a head injury as he suffered a stroke, and the following month he died from complications resulting from that injury. He was 67.

The current lineup of the Grass Roots consists of Dusty Harvey (lead guitar, backing vocals; member since 1984), Larry Nelson (keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals; member since 1984), Joe Dougherty (drums, percussions; member since 1990) and Mark Dawson (lead vocals, bass; member since 2008). The newest incarnation is still engaged in a heavy touring schedule.

The Original Members

The Grass Roots has had many member changes, and up until 2011, Robert Grill was the only early member. After he passed, the lineup personally chosen by him continued to play their songs and carried on the legacy of the group by playing live nationwide. The three original members include Steve Barri, Joel Larson, and P.F. Sloan.

Joel Larson

Joel Larson was the original drummer for the band. He took up drumming at the young age of 12 and honed his skills for nearly five years by being an active member of the rock music scene that picked up steam in the early sixties. He joined the Grass Roots in 1965, remained part of the band for a year, and then returned in 1972. This time he stayed with the band for seven years, up to 1979. 

Steve Barri

Steve Barri is an American songwriter and record producer who was a part of the original Grass Roots lineup. He stayed with the band until the early seventies and is majorly responsible for the success as he was their songwriter and frequently collaborated with P.F. Sloan to produce their first album. Together, the two produced hits such as Eve of Destruction. They also collaborated on songs for other artists and produced the mid-60s hit You Baby and A Must To Avoid. 

P.F. Sloan

P.F. Sloan, also known as Flip, was an American singer and songwriter who is credited on many Billboard Top 20 hits by artists such as Jonny Rivers, the Grass Roots, Barry McGuire, the Turtles, the Searchers, and more. Sloan worked under Dunhill Records, and most of his recording efforts for the company are under the name The Grass Roots. He worked with Steve Barry to produce songs such as Where Were You When I Needed You.

Their Influence on Pop Culture

The Grass Roots have influenced pop culture as they are mentioned and recognized years after their peak. Their song, Let’s Live for Today, is popular for having an identical melody and virtually the same arrangement as an earlier song called Be Mine Again. The band has also made over 50 national television appearances on popular shows such as Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Ed Sullivan, Sonny & Cher, MTV, and more. 

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