Brighter than Sunshine: Jim Yester on The Association’s Past and Future
Jim Yester remembers his band, the Association, playing before a crowd that could fill up the Rose Bowl, but it’s the small venues he likes best.
“The largest crowd the Association played before was probably the Wisconsin State Fair,” he says. “I don’t remember what year, but there were more than 100,000 people there. It was an interesting experience, but, as a performer, it’s much more rewarding to perform for a more intimate crowd. It’s hard to really connect with a crowd that big. It was a great show,and the response was really great, but still not my preference.”
The Association hit it really big in the 1960s with a string of radio-friendly pop hits,including “Cherish,” “Along Comes Mary,” “Windy,” and “Never My Love.”
I secretly loved the first three songs mentioned above, but with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Cream and many other bands exploding with a harder edge at that time, I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. I remained quiet through the punk and new wave eras, and then finally embraced and saluted a talented, creative band with excellent harmonies, great choruses, and catchy pop hooks.
So I ask Yester whether he ever was bothered by critics who said the Association’s music was too pop, and whether the band broke at the wrong time—a time when harder-edged rock and roll became the flavor of the day.
“We never paid that much attention to critics,” he says. “As for the timing, it was what it was. You can’t Monday morning quarterback the timing of history. I still don’t get the sunshine pop label, but, if that’s what someone thinks we are, that’s their choice, not ours.”
Besides Yester (tenor vocals, rhythm guitar), the original Association lineup included Terry Kirkman (baritone/tenor vocals, recorder, drums), Gary “Jules” Alexander (tenor vocals, lead guitar, vocal arranger and unofficial musical director), Russ Giguere (tenor/baritone vocals, rhythm guitar), Brian Cole (bass vocals, bass guitar), and Ted Bluechel (baritone vocals, main drummer, rhythm guitar).
The key to the band was always its vocals. All members sang lead, and all sang background vocals. Alexander left for India after the Association’s second album and was replaced by Larry Ramos on tenor vocals and lead guitar.
“We did a lot of dual leads,” Yester says. “Terry and Russ sang lead together on ‘Cherish,’ Larry and Russ on ‘Windy,’ Terry and Larry together on ‘Never My Love,’ and Terry and I on ‘Everything That Touches You.’”
On the Association’s huge hit, “Along Comes Mary,” Yester sang lead. “My vocals were overdubbed twice, so there are three of me.”
Yester says it’s difficult for him to name favorite Association songs.
“It’s hard to have favorites,” he says. “Which of your children are your favorites? I probably enjoy ‘Cherish’ and ‘Never My Love’ more than others, because you can feel the audiences’ reactions to them. ‘Cherish’ is also such a difficult and complex song. It’s always a pleasure to do it really well. The same goes for ‘Requiem.’”
“Cherish” and “Along Comes Mary” catapulted And Then…Along Comes the Association, the group’s 1966 debut album, into the pop-music stratosphere. Filled with gorgeous vocal harmonies and produced by legendary producer Curt Boettcher, who helped develop the mid-1960s sunshine pop sound, the album reached No. 5 on the charts. It was followed the same year by Renaissance, which was more in a folk-rock vein and produced by Yester’s brother, Jerry Yester.
“The biggest difference between the two albums,” Jim Yester says, “is that we had been playing and performing most of the songs on the first album for quite a while before we recorded them. On the second album, most of the songs were chosen and arranged for the album and performed afterwards. There also were no studio players on the second album. We played everything. It may not have been as polished as the songs with studio players, but it was more of what the band really was.”
Before their debut album on Valiant Records, the Association released a single on that label—a cover of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings.” It “was one of the first songs we worked on in the early days, before performing in public,” Yester says. “Clark Burroughs of the Hi-Lo’s came by the band’s house one day, had an idea for us doing the song, and helped with the vocal arrangement. I still do not know how or why he showed up—whether he met our manager, who asked him to help us, or whether he just heard about us and came on his own.
“Several years later, he was hired to do the vocal arrangements for Insight Out (the Association’s third album). I always wished that could have continued. He had a great feel for what we could accomplish vocally. ‘One Too Many Mornings’ was the song that got us our first record contract. We auditioned one afternoon at the Troubadour (in West Hollywood, California) for three execs of Valiant Records, a new record company. ‘One Too Many Mornings’ was the song that impressed them enough to sign us, and Barry DeVorzon produced it. It went to No. 16 in L.A. Afterwards, we convinced Barry to let a friend of ours, Curt Boettcher, produce the next sessions.”
Yester says he was told by Kirkland and Alexander that Dylan was at the Troubadour when they were playing in a pre-Association group, the Men.
“I was not there, because I had yet to come back to L.A. after serving in the Army,” Yester says. “Bob Dylan was there and was impressed by the use of electric instruments in a mostly folk genre. He asked the group about it, asked to try one of the guitars, and played for a little while. Shortly after, he made the infamous switch to electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival.”
Yester says the best concert he attended as a spectator was in 1960 or 1961.
“Probably the one that had the most effect on me was at the Hollywood Bowl—Henry Mancini and his orchestra with Peggy Lee, then Mancini and orchestra doing all the Peter Gunn music, followed by the Kingston Trio. My brother Jerry and I had begun singing as a folk duo, and the concert convinced us that was what we wanted to do.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint the concert that influenced him most musically, Yester says. He then points to “Fats Domino playing boogie piano when I was a teenager and Django Reinhardt’s brother in a club in Paris when I was touring with a folk comedy trio while in the Army in Germany in 1963.
“I have seen so many incredible artists in person, in concert, in my living room that it’s hard to say which one affected me most,” Yester says. “They all affected me, and, hopefully, I learned something from each of them in some way or another.”
More than 50 years after the Association released its first album, the band continues to tour with original members Yester and Alexander and often plays on bills with other 1960s groups.
Why does the band keep going?
“Because we can!” Yester says emphatically. “Because that is what we do—what we love to do!”
Is there any chance of a new record?
“That has a lot of variables to deal with,” Yester says. “Geographics. We all live very far apart: Texas, California, Washington, New Jersey. Also, record companies do not want to talk to our generation of artists. So we either have to market it ourselves, or go to the ’net, which is another multi-headed monster to deal with. So time will tell. We have some great material waiting in the wings, and Jules has a nice studio at his house. So hope springs eternal.”