Greetings from Bootleg City! It’s been a couple years, and although I’m no longer the mayor here, there’s something even more special about being a private citizen. For example, whenever regular citizens of Bootleg City come up to me on the street and ask for my opinion on local politics, all I have to say is “Respect my privacy” through a megaphone — mine fits on my belt loop, which is convenient — and they’re forced to leave me alone. I also enjoy tweeting “Leave me alone” once every hour just to remind people of my need for privacy.

photoWhen I was mayor I’d pretend to want to hear my constituents’ views, but honesty is the best policy. I learned that from Donald Trump during his presidential campaign last year. He tells it like it is, “it” being whatever will earn him cheers in red states that must be populated with a higher percentage of narcissistic trust-funders attracted to eastern European models than I’d originally thought. I used to wonder: don’t they see through this guy? Well, of course they do, and I finally realized why — he’s transparent.

I don’t mean that President Trump believes in transparency — in his defense he probably thought Russian president Vladimir Putin wanted to help him win the election because they both believe that one hand washes the other, or at least the other’s money — but it’s pretty obvious that he hates you, he hates me, and he hates himself. Finally, a president I can recognize every time I look in the bathroom mirror!

I’m transparent too. I ran for mayor of Bootleg City 12 years ago because I wanted to graft my way to Trump-size riches. (It’s not called Charity City, after all.) But that didn’t happen, so next weekend I’m headed to Sin City, where I plan to make some real bread. I’ll be participating in an international bread-making competition with a grand prize of $2,500, and if I win I’m betting it all on blackjack, because even though I fundamentally believe that all jacks matter, I want to be on the right side of history.

After a long day of making bread I’d love to be able to see Bread, the band, in concert, but the performance featured below took place in Las Vegas on July 5, 1997, as part of a five-continent reunion tour the soft-rock heavyweights of the early ’70s had begun the previous year. Do you like Bread? I love Bread. But I have to keep an eye on my intake of Bread or else I get sleepy — David Gates’s voice on hits like “Make It With You,” “If,” and “Baby I’m-a Want You” is a natural stress reliever.

Gates formed Bread in 1968 with songwriting partners and fellow multi-instrumentalists James Griffin and Robb Royer. The trio recorded their self-titled debut the following year with session drummer Jim Gordon before recruiting Mike Botts on drums for the follow-up, On the Waters (1970). Royer dropped out after Bread’s third album, Manna (1971), by which point Griffin and he had won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, with Fred Karlin, for “For All We Know,” from 1970’s Lovers and Other Strangers (the song became a top-five hit for the Carpenters). Royer continued to write songs for Bread with Griffin, but he was replaced in the lineup with veteran session musician Larry Knechtel, who’d recently won a Grammy for his and Paul Simon’s arrangement of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” on which Knechtel plays piano.

photoWith Knechtel, Bread recorded two more albums, Baby I’m-a Want You and Guitar Man, both released in ’72, before calling it quits due to exhaustion — five LPs in just three years, with a tour to promote each album — and trouble finding the inspiration to write new material. Gates and Griffin, the group’s two vocalists, pursued solo careers without much chart success, so when Elektra Records, Bread’s label, asked the band to record a new album to satisfy audience demand — The Best of Bread had gone all the way to number two on Billboard‘s Top LPs & Tape chart in ’73 — they reunited and came up with Lost Without Your Love (1977). Then they broke up again.

Actually, they went on tour to support Lost Without Your Love, but after the second leg Griffin was asked to leave the group, allegedly because of substance-abuse problems, while Gates, Botts, and Knechtel continued on as “David Gates & Bread” until Griffin, who owned the band’s name with Gates, filed a lawsuit forbidding them from using it. More than ten years later tensions were still running high between Griffin and his former bandmates, according to Michael Azerrad in a “Where Are They Now?” piece he wrote for Rolling Stone in ’89: “Griffin would be willing to work with the other members but says, ‘I don’t think the feeling is mutual.’ He’s right — Knechtel won’t even speak to him, and Botts says, ‘We couldn’t forgive and forget that easily.'”

It’s a wonder Bread got back together, but by 1994 Knechtel, Griffin, and Robb Royer were all residents of Nashville and playing together in local clubs as Toast, and with that ironic moniker, a trail of Bread crumbs was left for Gates and Botts to follow. (Royer chose not to rejoin.) Soon Bread was rising again. But a quarter-century later would audiences find Bread fresh or stale? And would Bread need to play in refrigerated venues to prevent mold from becoming an issue?

On the 1997 bootleg I found at Guitars101.com Bread sticks (and olive oil make a fine appetizer, yes indeed) with what works. A point of contention for Griffin during the band’s heyday was that Elektra routinely chose Gates’s immaculately produced ballads as the A-sides for singles over Griffin and Royer’s more up-tempo numbers (“Why Do You Keep Me Waiting,” “Truckin'”), but as Gates once said, “Ultimately, soft rock was what we did best, and you can’t really argue with success.”

In addition to all the easy-listening perennials you’d expect, Gates sings the title track from his 1994 album Love Is Always Seventeen (I can’t say I appreciate him getting in my head with the line “Forty-two has a way of creeping up on you”) and relays a funny joke told to him by Andy Williams, while Griffin performs an original composition titled “Say When” and Botts sings a bar-band-ready song of his own, “The Wait.” He also asks the crowd, “You remember records?” as he introduces an “unplugged” segment of the show with an anecdote about drummer-less folk groups of the ’60s, adding, “I still have some. I do. I don’t have anything to play ’em on,” a dilemma that those of us with considerable CD and cassette collections find ourselves facing 20 years later as records and record players return to prominence. Obsolescence has a way of creeping up on all of us, but everything old is new again. And you never know, so never say never, especially if the bread you’re being offered for a reunion tour adds up to a lot of dough.

Botts and Griffin both died of cancer in 2005, and Knechtel succumbed to a heart attack four years later, making Bread’s ’96-’97 tour its final reunion. David Gates turns 77 in December, but because life-expectancy rates are better than they used to be, and because age ain’t nothing but a number when it comes to being president of this country, I’d like to encourage Mr. Gates to consider throwing his cowboy hat in the ring in 2020. His between-song banter in Las Vegas 20 years ago gives the impression that he’s a gentle man who’s also a gentleman, a guy who can tell a joke without being mean, and a leader (of the band) who puts people (in the paying audience) first.

David, we-a want you. David, we-a need you. We’re-a tired of what we see in the bathroom mirror, and not just because the overhead light casts such an incredibly unflattering glow.

Bread at the Flamingo Hilton Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 5, 1997

Make It With You
Look What You’ve Done
It Don’t Matter to Me
Diary
Love Is Always Seventeen
Fancy Dancer
For All We Know/Bridge Over Troubled Water
Baby I’m-a Want You
Been Too Long on the Road
Sweet Surrender
Say When
Mirror, Mirror
Didn’t Even Know Her Name
Too Much Love
The Wait
Aubrey
The Guitar Man
Goodbye Girl
Love & Bide
Lost Without Your Love
Mother Freedom
Everything I Own
If

Click here to download the bootleg.

And, courtesy of a bootleg I downloaded from the website BigO in 2014, I’m including the audio from Bread Is Back, a 1977 promotional video featuring performances and backstage chatter from the band’s reunion tour that year, plus a bonus track of Bread performing “Make It With You” on the October 3, 1970, episode of The Andy Williams Show:

Yours for Life
Fancy Dancer
Baby I’m-a Want You
The Guitar Man
interlude
Been Too Long on the Road
Look What You’ve Done
Lost Without Your Love
Mother Freedom
Make It With You

Click here to download the bootleg.

P.S. What’s bigger than a breadbox? Not Bread’s The Elektra Years: The Complete Albums Box since the band only made half a dozen slices, but it goes on sale October 27 all the same.