Of Human Bonds

Imagine: a war to end all wars, today's music stars pitted against yesterday's. A battle to the death in the name of rock and roll.

From the beginning, it's a massacre. Ouch! Vanilla Ice drawn and quartered by Carl Perkins. Yikes! The Pet Shop Boys bayonetted by Eddie Cochran. Kerrunch! Paula Abdul flattened by the USS Ain't That a Shame. And there he is, standing victorious on the battlefield as the first chords of "Quarter to Three" swell behind him...the one, the only, the legendary Gary U.S. Bonds.

In the early Sixties, when rock and roll roared along like a reckless train, the teen-age Bonds ruled the charts with a string of hits - "New Orleans," "School Is Out," "School Is In," "Dear Lady Twist," and "Quarter to Three." It was the old school, pumping piano and messy guitar flavored, like R&B. But after 1962's "Copy Cat," Bonds dropped out of the Top 40, and soon stopped recording.

After almost twenty years in relative obscurity, playing classic rock tributes, reminiscing, Bonds got some surprise dividends from his early labor when Bruce Springsteen - who often performed "Quarter to Three" in concert - joined him on-stage at a nightclub show. The Boss repaid his debt to the Ur-Boss by throwing his weight behind a Bonds comeback album. With production work by E Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, the 1981 EMI release Dedication yielded a hit in "This Little Girl Is Mine," a Springsteen song that went to number eight. Bonds released two more LPs in the second leg of his career, rescuing his good name from the Oldies bin.

That good name, of course, is not his real name; record producer Frank Guida cooked it up in 1960, when he credited "New Orleans" to "U.S. Bonds" without consulting Gary Anderson, the young Norfolk, Virginia, singer who performed the song. Anderson first learned of his new identity when he heard his single on the radio, and he wasn't thrilled: "Would you want your mother to name you `U.S. Bonds'? It wasn't a nice name when you think about it, early Sixties, teen-ager, and you've got all your friends around. You want to be called Butch. `U.S. Bonds?' What a pansy name. Then it started to make money for me and I liked it a little more."

The older, wiser Bonds, who spends about half the year touring either solo or as part of classic-rock packages, is working on another LP he hopes to have completed by the summer. Most of the album will be new songs co-written with his daughter Laurie - "I know there's another Laurie Anderson," he laughs, "but this one is a little darker" - although he has also recorded a duet of an old Coasters song with Ben E. King. And while there's no Bruce this time around, other stars may twinkle in his stead. "I'm hoping to get some assistance from Sting. And a very good friend of mine from AC/DC, Brian Johnson, may help out," says Bonds.

Coming this summer, disbelievers: Brian Johnson and Gary U.S. Bonds, in throaty tandem. Welcome back to rock and roll. It's almost worth having Paula Abdul die for.