1958 - 2008
One day, a few years ago, Gary Littleton told me that music did something for him that was far beyond just enjoying it; that it was more like a religious experience when he heard a song that really hit home for him. That was the first time I ever heard someone describe my feelings toward music so succinctly and accurately.
Gary has had many accomplishments in his life, both professionally and personally. He was an esteemed engineer who held over thirty patents with Texas Instruments, and in more recent years he did extensive research in holistic, medical, metaphysical and spiritual areas. But from what I know of Gary, his most heartfelt and impassioned interest was in music. From the early Seventies until very recently Gary has been a fan, a supporter, a benefactor, a catalyst and a nucleus for music, bands and musicians that Gary loved, and there were many.
Gary did most of his work in the background and for as overpowering and strong willed as Gary could be at times, he always stepped back when it came to supporting those of us muscicians who were close to him. But without Gary there are many things that would never have been done, many songs that may have never seen the light of day and many artists who would have come and gone with hardly anyone to notice. Gary spent a great deal of energy and some amounts of money in his life to help us get the exposure he so strongly felt we deserved and to make sure we were recognized in some way. For that I am eternally grateful and there are many others who should be.
That is a summary of Gary in context of this site, but I encourage you to read on to discover more detail on Gary's contribution to the music and ongoing support of Amnesia, Just Boys, Pinups, Fools Face, Shazam and others. If you don't have time, then thank you for reading this far.
I met Gary Littleton during my short stint with Amnesia in 1974. Amnesia was a melodic rock band formed around the songwriting of Ralph Smith and Gary was an ardent fan and supporter of both the band and Ralph's music throughout his life. At that time Gary would show up at gigs, sometimes clad in just a raincoat, with a toilet plunger as his sole accessory. I absolutely did not understand what it meant, but I really admired him for it. Gary was also into photography and had a certain flair for staging silly shots, always done in black and white. He volunteered his eye and camera to take some band photos for Amnesia, one of which is on this site. At that time Gary impressed me as being basically a force of nature. He'd blow in like a storm and there was no missing him or ignoring him in a room. If his persona wasn't large enough to catch your attention, his incredibly thick mop of black hair would. Failing all else, Gary would simply plop on his favorite record of the day and turn it "to eleven" and proceed to announce that it was the best song or artist ever, and he was usually right.
After Amnesia I didn't see Gary again until 1976 around the time Just Boys was forming. We soon graduated from aquaintances to friends and I quickly got drawn into the vortex of Gary's zany, irreverent and black humoured world, but at the same time, Gary started to introduce me to music I had either missed completely, overlooked or failed to take time to appreciate. This happened throughout my friendship with Gary, but I mention it here because of the impact it had on me as a musician and songwriter.
While I had written songs prior to being in Amnesia, my time in that group allowed me to learn much more about the craft of songwriting. Ralph Raymond Smith was a formidable songwriter and musician at our ripe ages of about twenty two, writing songs that were very well crafted and musically and lyrically impressive. Working close to that for a while was a tremendous influence on my songwriting and from that point on I understood how to write a well crafted tune. As Just Boys emerged in 1976, Gary was busy making sure I heard the music he felt was so important. Among many, many others, Gary introduced me at that time to Cheap Trick, Pezband, Stackridge and Rick Springfield, usually via records he had "gotten" for me from the record shop he worked in. Equally important was that Gary reintroduced me to Raspberries, Badfinger and Artful Dodger, bands I had never gotten deeply familiar with. All of these influences started to infuse themselves into the songs I was writing and that Just Boys started to perform.
Having always been fairly honest with myself about my talent and skill level, it is still a mystery to me why Gary found something appealing in my voice and my songs at that time. But he did, and he has reaffirmed that to me for nearly thirty two years. Gary's belief in me and his support and engouragement allowed me to gain self confidence and grow as a songwriter. For several years, if a song of mine didn't pass The Gary Test, I just assumed it was no good and either tossed it into the bin, or put it to the side.
In late 1976 Gary suggested that Just Boys go into the studio to record a demo, and I think he even paid for it. The result was a four song demo done at RecNac Studio in Tampa. The tunes were raw, brash and somewhat melodic. In other words, right up Gary's alley. Those songs are available on the Just Boys page on this site. Later, in 1977 Gary again decided the band should go into a better studio to record and again I think Gary paid for all, or most, of the cost. The result was two songs that ended up being the Just Boys single. Gary had by this time become an unofficial manager on days he felt like doing it, otherwise he would support from behind the scenes. But either way, Gary's contribution to Just Boys was significant. His ever ambitious nature and excitement about the two new songs made him suggest we start Counterfeit Records (a name Gary came up with) and release the single. Through Gary's connections and contacts he also arranged distribution through both Bomp and Jem Records, and a nice ad in Trouser Press. At that time record companies seemed as unapproachable as The Wizard Of Oz, but Gary's cheekiness and "give a shit" attitude at least got us in several doors and brought some actual interest from Arista Records founder; Clive Davis.
In the mid Seventies, Tampa was not a great place to be if you weren't playing either disco or country rock. Amnesia had a hard time finding places to play and had now moved off to New York in pursuit of opportunity. Just Boys and a few similar groups were now facing the same challenges. There were a few groups struggling to find an audience, including Just Boys, Snails (Richard Barone of later Bongo's notoriety), Ritz (including Tim McConnell, later known as Tim Scott McConnell) and Shades (Dennis Dalcin later of The Look and The Lears). To solve the problem, the unstoppable Mr. Littleton started to create a scene in Tampa and ground zero for that became Mi Back Yard, a former riverside tavern/fisherman's hangout. Gary, along with Robert Vaughan, started hosting weekly shows (advertised by a series of posters that are very reflective of Gary's personality at the time) and the place quickly had crowds of well over a hundred people on weekend nights. Ultimately this resulted in newspaper and magazine coverage and for a brief time, under the direction of Gary Littleton, Tampa had a music scene for all of us.
After a third series of recordings Just Boys thought it best to go to Los Angeles to try to take things to the next step, and left in mid 1978. Gary had been studying electronics and was getting close to graduating. Have I mentioned that Gary was a complicated, brilliant person with an analytical mind and an insatiable thirst for knowledge?? We didn't talk much for about a year, but in 1979 Gary called to see if I might be interested in moving to Houston (where he now lived) to join a group called The Pinups. Ultimately I did and Gary again worked behind the scenes to help and support that group, though not to the extent that he had Just Boys.
In late 1979 I formed a group that was to become True Hearts, and once again Gary stood behind me, the music and the band. Gary instigated the recording of an album's worth of songs, of which we ultimately only released an EP on the Counterfeit Records label in 1980. Two of Gary's favorite songs of mine came from these sessions and he had them on his website to his dying day. Quite an honor for me with Gary's discerning taste in music.
After True Hearts disbanded in 1982, Gary's musical interests started to shift, and as a result he became less involved with my music on a daily basis. He was always there though, anticipating his copy of anything new that I recorded and equally enthusiastic about sharing whether he liked or didn't like it. During this period Gary took a particular interest in hearing my demo tapes, done on anything from a four track, to a cassette deck, to an answering machine. He would either make copies, or simply steal my tapes when my back was turned. Some of these "missing" tapes took around twenty years to make their way back to me. As part of an ongoing restoration project of all my recordings over the years, I assembled an album titled "Work With What You've Got". The album was a collection of restored and remastered versions of some of these demos. I am happy to have been able to share that with Gary before he died.
Gary's ultimate realization of his zealous interest and contribution to music was Audities. During the mid 1990's Gary and Anthony Henderson started Audities as fanzine devoted to pop music in the Badfinger, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, etc tradition. However, Audities covered a much wider spectrum than just these groups, and one of the main intentions was to give exposure to artists who were not on major labels. In 1997 Gary contacted me and said that Audities was going to put out a compilation album of unsigned artists and asked if he could include a couple of songs from the True Hearts era. I had been on a five year hiatus from playing and writing (that's a nice way to say I had gone into a deep funk about my music "career") and as flattered as I was, I felt I'd be happier contributing new material. Gary agreed, and so, very unwittingly, pulled me out of what had been a very dark period and was the catalyst for restarting my creative engine. The resulting album was "Audities Insanely Great Pop, Volume 1". Very sadly, the completed album was never released, and I know that was a fact that bothered Gary up to the end because he occasionally spoke about finally putting the album out. Audities was a great endeavor and a great service to artists in the pop genre, but it was a supernova that came and went all too fast.
In the post Audities days Gary went through a great deal of changes in his personal life, and professional life. At the same time he was becoming deeply interested in things other than music and putting the bulk of his energies into those new interests. Our conversations were less frequent, and sometimes touched only a little on music. But there were still other times when music would be at the forefront. Gary was still excited to share a new song or artist he'd found, and he was still anxious to get a copy of any song I had recorded. Occasionally he really liked one of them and that approval always brought me back to 1976 when Gary was the only person in the world who thought I wrote "great songs". I think it was Gary's scrutiny that pushed me to try to write better. With his excellent taste and what he used as comparisons, the bar was set pretty high.
After suffering a debilitating stroke in 2007, Gary's love of a great song still endured, but he no longer had the energy or will to be very involved. I remember that in May of 2008, I told Gary about a song called "Sweet and Low" by Augustana. He pulled it up on the internet and listened to it over and over for about a half hour, finally saying, in his now difficult speech, "that's a good song". This was a big compliment, coming from him, and it was the Gary I knew and loved. Gary died on June 28th, 2008. It was a great loss to me as his friend, but also to me as an artist/songwriter, and to other artists like me. Gary and I shared a joy of certain music that gave us a bond I have with no one else. Gary was also the person who gave me support, hope and inspiration through much of my long musical career as a songwriter, and I feel that loss deeply. Still I'll always recall things both musical and non-musical when I think of Gary and I'm grateful to those memories, including;
Crashing his red Nova into my Rambler... repeatedly, corn grits and fried chicken at the soul food place in Ybor City, afternoons of mischief with Al Tuttle, his Kraco car cassette playing Raspberries with full treble, no bass and on ten, his raincoat and plunger outfit, his generosity with albums and other things pilfered from work, his weekly announcements of the (new) "best song ever", and most of all, when he really liked one of my tunes and it got the slot for "the best song ever" for that week. To quote a song title by Scott McCarl, who I met through Gary; "Thanks for the ride".
On July 7th, 2017, The Circus Of Mirth album, by Heirs Of Fortune, was released. Heirs Of Fortune are Ralph Smith and Robert Watkins from Amnesia, and Robert Woodrich and me from Just Boys. The album is our way of remembering, and commemorating Gary, who believed in all of us when we needed it, and helped us all in our endeavors. Gary contributed too much to be forgotten.