Friday, March 9, 2012

Bullet -- "White Lies, Blue Eyes" (1971)

White lies in her blue eyes
Evil's the game she plays

Most of the time, the band comes first and the hit song second.  But in the case of Bullet -- the band whose 1971 single, "White Lies, Blue Eyes," was a top 40 hit -- the single was released before the band was formed.  

Roget Pontbriand was a teenager when he was asked to play trumpet and keyboards and sing backup vocals for Bullet.  Later he played with KC and the Sunshine Band, Wild Cherry, and the Michael Stanley Band.  

Roget Pontbriand
Roget eventually left the world of pop and disco and became a jazz musician, performing with a lot of big-name recording artists.  Today he's a university professor of music and a composer and arranger.  

2 or 3 lines interviewed Roget for the great pop/rock music reference website, Songfacts.  Here are some excerpts from that interview.

Q: At first, I thought your name was "Roger," instead of "Roget" -- I'm guessing that happens a lot.  I'm assuming you're of French ancestry.  Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Roget Pontbriand:  Both my father's grandparents were French, but I was born in Queens and lived in the Bronx until I was 8.  Then my family moved to Thomaston, Connecticut. Mine was the first "mixed" generation.  Both my paternal grandparents were French.
Q: When did you start playing an instrument?  Did your mother or father push you to take music lessons, or was it something you chose to do on your own?
Roget Pontbriand: I asked my father for a trumpet when I was 5.  When he asked me why I wanted a trumpet, I told him I was going to be a jazz trumpeter when I grew up. I taught myself to play the trumpet by listening to jazz records.
Q:  Who were your favorite bands/musicians when you were a teenager -- what kind of records did you listen to?
Roget Pontbriand: I loved jazz and Motown.  All my Connecticut friends listened to 70s rock.
Q:  Your became a professional musician at a very young age.  What did your parents think about that?

Roget Pontbriand: My parents did not approve of music as a career for me. I began to spend less and less time at home when I was a teenager, and moved out when I was 15.  I moved back to New York City when I turned 17.
Q:  Tell us about Bullet.  How did the band get started, and what was your role in the group?
Roget Pontbriand:  When Ernie Sorrentino recorded "White Lies, Blue Eyes," Bullet didn't really exist.  When the song started to move up the charts, a booking agent named John Apostle was asked to put a band together.  At that time, I had been playing with Joey Stann and the late George Ruiz  at an upper Manhattan club called Churchill's Plum.  John knew us and asked us to be part of Bullet along with Sorrentino and a drummer named Mike Micara.  Joey played organ and sax, and George was our bass player.  I played trumpet and keyboards and sang backup vocals. We shot the promotional photos for Bullet in Central Park the day after we met Ernie.
Bullet's agent, John Apostle, sang bass in the New York doo-wop group, The Capris, but was also a very successful booking agent, personal manager and concert promoter.  Apostle managed the careers of The Brooklyn Bridge, The Belmonts, The Crystals, Jay and The Americans, Tommy James and the Shondells, and Wild Cherry, and promoted concerts at Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and various other venues in the New York City metropolitan area.  Tommy James met his current wife, Lynda, at Apostle's offices, where she was working as a secretary.

Q: "White Lies, Blue Eyes" entered the Billboard top 40 on Christmas Day, 1971, and stayed there for five weeks -- it peaked at #28.  
Roget Pontbriand: We performed it on American Bandstand, the Merv Griffin show, the Mike Douglas show, and several other TV shows.  
Q:  What did Bullet do after "White Lies, Blue Eyes"? 
Roget Pontbriand: We recorded two other singles.  "Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong," which had amazing energy and should have faired better, but did make it into the top 100, and "A Little Bit Of Soul" (a cover of the Music Explosion's 1967 hit).  The group toured for two years -- with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and the Temptations, among others.

Here's "Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong," which I think sounds a lot like a Grass Roots song.  The song is introduced by "Music Mike," a record collector who has a YouTube channel that features a lot of pop singles from the 1960s and 1970s, many of them relatively obscure.  (I don't know if Music Mike was ever a top-40 DJ, but he sure sounds like he was.)

Q: Do you have any good stories about life on the road with Bullet?
Roget Pontbriand: At our first concert, the roadies drove the truck into a snow drift and got stuck, so we had to rent equipment.  Another time we got stuck in a blizzard in Minnesota.  Our tour manager had gone ahead to our next stop.  We ran out of cash and had to leave a guitar at a toll booth.
Q:  After Bullet broke up, I understand you played with KC and the Sunshine Band, which was a Miami-based group.
Roget Pontbriand: My tenure with KC and the Sunshine Band was short.  The valve trombone player had quit -- some kind of power play was going on -- so I was hired by TK Records to replace him.  Two weeks later I was offered a position with Wild Cherry playing trumpet, which was my preferred instrument.  The former Sunshine Band trombonist was more than happy to return to them, so everyone was happy.

Rob Parissi formed Wild Cherry in 1970.  The band, which originally was a straight rock group, built up a devoted fan base in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the upper Ohio River Valley.  But disco was becoming popular, and the band's fans started asking them to play more dance music.  

One night at the 2001 Club in Pittsburgh, a table of black fans asked Wild Cherry if they were ever going to play any funky music, and the group's drummer uttered the phrase, "Play some funky music, white boy," when they were taking a break between sets.  The story goes that Rob Parissi borrowed an order pad and a pen from the club's bartender and wrote the song in five minutes.  "Play That Funky Music" was a top 10 hit in 1976 in both the US and the UK, and sold two million records.

Q:  I understand you got a lot of attention on one of your TV appearances with Wild Cherry.
Roget Pontbriand: When the group appeared on Dinah Shore's daily talk show, the sax player and I exchanged boots. His left boot was blue and his right one was orange -- with a lightning bolt up the side.  So my left boot was orange and my right one was blue.   All Dinah could talk about was those boots!  It didn't make our lead singer, Rob Parissi, very happy.  He wanted all the attention for himself.

Here's "White Lies, Blue Eyes," which is a classic three-minute, AM-radio pop song.  I'm guessing that I heard the song on the radio when it was new, but I can't swear to it.

1 comment:

  1. Seems to me I remember Bullet recording a Lennon/McCartney song "It's For You" also.