Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rob Grill of The Grass Roots - Rest in Peace

I grew up in a home surrounded by music. My mom loved the big bands and standards, but most notably, she loved Frank Sinatra. My dad loved Eddy Arnold, Patti Page and Connie Francis; and and my older siblings loved the Four Seasons and the Beatles. My deep rooted passion for music goes way back to my childhood.
I have a good memory. I'm one of those trivia kooks who can tell you when a song came out, what label it was on and who sang lead. There were 45s and 33 1/3 records laying around the house and at any given point you could hear Glenn Miller, the Rolling Stones or Marty Robbins. My childhood friend, Kathy and I would often walk six blocks south and 2 1/2 blocks east to the local Ben Franklin to purchase records. One of my first 45 purchases was a single by the Grass Roots. Today, you wouldn't dream of letting two little kids walk a mile away from their home to do anything, let alone buy records, but those were different times. It was long before you had to end up worrying that your child might end up on the side of a milk carton. We practically knew someone on every block we walked through to get there and when we got there it was like a variety of gift boxes to open.
When I mention the Grass Roots to anyone under a certain age most members of the under the certain age demo have absolutely no idea who I am talking about. I usually look at them with near pity in my eyes thinking you have no idea what happy sounds like. Their music may not have had complex chord progressions, but all these years later whenever I hear one of their songs - I feel good. I still love Cat Stevens, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and of course, the aforementiond Beatles, but none of them actually make me bounce around and sing along with a loud joy-filled singing in the shower mood.
All these years later - their music still works. It is pop music at its finest. The Grass Roots were my boys for several years. They were my little girl emotional attachment group. They would go on to have fifteen top 30 hits for Dunhill Records and ABC Records (yes, that ABC - at one point ABC owned a record company). They sold over 20 million records between 1966 and 1973. Their healthy output included such classics as "Midnight Confessions," "Wait a Million Years," "Temptation Eyes," "Sooner or Later," "Heaven Knows," "Come on and Say It," "Two Divided by Love" and their last big charting song, "Glory Bound." "Glory Bound" has this raucous finale with Rob Grill's voice going into the aching category that few could reach. They still hold the record as the act with the longest running non-stop presence on the Billboard charts. They had a song in the top 100 for some 307 weeks straight. No act has ever accomplished that feat.

I will admit to this - I loved Rob Grill. Even as a little girl I knew he was a cutie pie! He was the voice of The Grass Roots and this kid loved that voice and that face. Over the course of my career in the entertainment industry I've had the privilege (although, sometimes not such a privilege) to meet lots of famous people. Unfortunately, I never met Rob Grill. In a way, that may have been a good thing. He might have been a jerk and then I would have disliked him and his music and I wouldn't want to have gone through all these years without listening to their music.
The Grass Roots were on television a lot during their heyday. They appeared on "The Tonight Show," "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America." I vaguely remember their appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (even though I'm probably confusing a viewing in its original format with a clip pulled from the web). They appeared on "American Bandstand" a record setting 16 times. I must admit I don't remember seeing them all 16 times, but knowing how I rarely missed Dick Clark's show I probably saw them at least a few of those times. One of my first two albums in LP form would be their Greatest Hits collection. Somewhere there is even a photo of me holding it up proudly. By the time The Grass Roots started their disbanding I was not ready to move on, but they were, so my new emotional attachment band became the Eagles. I still love the Eagles, but my first group treasure were the Grass Roots. I covet their music to this day. I have treasured their Anthology collection and wouldn't dare let it go.

Yesterday morning at 11:00am Rob Grill died in a Florida hospital. I heard the news for the first time late last night. Then this morning WBBM AM 780 News in Chicago did a nice tribute to him in their top of the hour network news break . He died in the arms of his wife, Nancy listening to "Let's Live for Today." I'm near to crying as I write this post.

Rob Grill (who had several hip replacement surgeries) took a horrible fall a few weeks back and that led to a massive stroke. He had his first stroke three years ago and he learned to walk with a cane. He pretty much couldn't sing like Rob Grill anymore, but he still could play that bass guitar, but the recent stroke ended up putting a hold on that bass playing.

I take this story even more personally since I had my own health story close call 18 months ago. Out of nowhere I developed a severe internal carotid artery occlusion on my left side. I was completely healthy (ate right, exercised, never smoked, rarely had alcohol and never used drugs) and yet here I was being told I would be dead shortly if I didn't do what they wanted to do. The medical team decided to place a stent in my artery since my occlusion was trickier and more deadly than most. I didn't want to stroke out, but their fear was I would stroke out and die. I am all too aware of the fact that I am at greater risk for stroke than the average Joe or Mary, but I am so aware of my body that I am hopeful I will see a sign before it strikes. Although, as we see with the death of Rob Grill, sometimes it's our time. Everyone who lives will die. It's just the one pure fact of living a life.

My life has changed a great deal in the last couple of years. My wonderful career in television was literally given up and walked away from when my dad passed away after struggling with Alzheimer's disease for many years. I decided to move home to be with my now aging mom. I haven't regretted the decision once. Life is indeed brief and fragile.
When I was a young girl I could have asked "Where Were You When I Needed You" and now all these years later I could say that the voice of Rob Grill is still here and still giving me great moments of smiling happiness. I don't think I could clean my house without him. I didn't fear death due to my deep faith and I hope my dear Rob Grill didn't fear it either. Mr. Grill, you brought me great musical comfort as a child, as a teen-angst ridden high-schooler and I carried you through college, grad school and every move to new jobs in new cities. When I want to get moving, I pull you up on my iPod. I yell out every lyric to every song and it brings back my own glory days of youth. Rob, may you rest in peace and may you be glory bound.


Lisa said...

Beautiful post, Judith, as always. You really know how to tap into your personal experiences to bring us all closer to the people you write about. I certainly remember these songs on the radio as a kid, and how lovely that your first record buying venture was such a cherished moment. Thank you also for reminding us of the fleeting beauty of life and how we can all appreciate what we are given.

Wonderful tribute, Judith.xoxo

Suzi said...

One of my favorite bands when I was growing up. Great tribute.

Marcel said...

He was my generation,almost a blur.
My memory is not sharp as most of my time was spent escaping to other places and worlds the 60's way down in Miami.
It's like the end of an era,another reminder that our time here is so,so temporary.
So many fail to prepare for the final journey.

Jane said...

What a lovely, lovely tribute to a lost era and a talent that many may have forgotten. I remember this song well back in 1967 when I too was a little kid. Back when AM radio still ruled, coke came in green glass bottles and I got more joy out of our old black and white TV (Star Trek was still on the air!) than I do now with 500+ channels on an HDTV screen.

Another gem, Judith. You sure can knock them out of the park!

Anonymous said...

I recently visited The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland,OH. For the life of me,I can't figure out why The Grass Roots were never inducted into the Hall of Fame. Right after I returned I posted several songs of theirs on Facebook,stating this concern and how they deserved being inducted. I never realized that Rob Grill had suffered a stroke or anything. Today I find out that he passed away yesterday. What a talented musician and group....my dream and desire is that they be recognized and be inducted as they so deserve to be in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. May you rest in peace Rob Grill. I had the privelege of seeing you perform for the first time about 10 years ago at a local festival. Your golden voice shall always be heard...

Ruth said...

I just learned of Rob's death this morning and am still fighting tears. I love this tribute to him! I got to meet Rob briefly 3 times and count those meetings among my fondest memories. He was recovering from hip surgery one of those times and using a cane - but as gracious as any long-term fan could ever have hoped. My deepest sympathies to Nancy, his family... and all of us who'll treasure his music forever. Rest in peace, Rob... and thank you.

Anonymous said...

Almost two weeks later now, but in case you check back here someday, I'm just leaving a youtube tip about the most amusing footage of Rob Grill interacting with his audience that I ever saw, filmed in Sylvania, Ohio on 31 May 2010.

If you haven't seen it already by now, search for:
"happy together" toledo 2010
and look for the GrassRoots clip that runs 9:05 It covers the end of their performance at what started out as the "Memorial Day Monsoon". Deb Lindsay, spouse of Mark, referred to it as the "Soggy Together" tour stop!

Audio quality isn't spectacular, but you can definitely make out the back-and-forth going on during the PRICELESS first 50 seconds or so.

No matter how deep the sadness runs in GrassRootsLand at this most unfortunate turn of events -- OOPS! My boombox just started playing "Don't Pull Your Love"! (GrassRoots show veterans will get the significance of that.) Anyway, no matter how deep the sadness runs (since we know we won't see him anymore), remember how hard Rob Grill always worked to make sure we had a good time at every one of his shows.

So when you hear his music, smile, tap your feet, and sing along -- like those crazy wet Ohioans.

Jeff M. in Richmond VA said...

I saw the Grass Roots several times in Upstate NY; in 1977 when they played at a local club, we met Rob and his guitarist at the time. (The guy with the curly hair) They were friendly and talked to us for about half an hour at the bar.
They were always part of a Happy Together Tour or an oldies reunion, which limited their setlist, but in 1992, The Grass Roots were supposed to play a full solo show in Glens Falls NY at a ski resort. They would have played a full 2 hours and we could have heard all their great songs! The ski slope was going to be the outdoor amphitheater seating (blankets & lawn chairs)and the band would be at the base. We were psyched!! Then it started raining that morning and poured all day long...the concert was cancelled and never rescheduled. I was devastated!
Rob Grill may be gone, but Grass Roots music will live forever!!!

Anonymous said...

I only just found out about Rob Grill's death last night while googling. I was away on vacation in California when Rob passed so never heard anything as I wasn't watching television. I was blessed to have seen Rob in concert quite a few times and the last time was in Tampa with an oldies' tour about 1986. He was my absolute favourite and I am shocked and saddend by his passing. Sandra

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the posting that said The Grass Roots should be in the R&R Hall of Fame. I saw Rob and the band perform several times at concerts in the St.Louis area and they always put on a great show. The last time I saw Rob perform was on the Alton Belle Casino. After the show he signed "The Grass Roots Live At Last" CD for me. You could tell the performance that night had taken it's toll on him. Rest in peace,Rob. You were one of the greatest.

Fig Bar Inspector said...

I know I am very late to comment on your memory and tribute but just stating my two cents worth. The GrassRoots was among my favorite bands growing up in the late 1960's and the early 1970's. There was nothing complicated about their music. Straightforward pure pop. Maybe a knock by the critics (R&R-HOF) is How much of an influence was their music to future acts. That influence may not be there but just as you have stated their music always produced warm fuzzy feelings for me. Steve Barri and PF Sloan wrote the bulk of their single hits and were in control of the musical arranging. One of the first groups to include horns in their music.

I do not think it was lost on the fact that Rob and Warren and Dennis and even Creed was easy on the eyes of a lot of females. There music always put me in a happy place. I did get to see them a few times live and they always had a good show. It is always sad to hear about the death of someone who made an impact on your growing up years. My music taste did change and I traded allegiances several times but I would always come back to The GrassRoots. It is just so hard to stay depressed and to listen to their music.

Unknown said...

He was most definitely a real ladies man.