The American Breed
by David Galassie
Out of the 1960s Chicago sound that spawned The Buckinghams, The
New Colony Six, The Shadows of Knight, and The Cryan' Shames, came The
American Breed, a very popular band on the Chicago club scene.
Formed in 1966 in Cicero, Illinois, the Breed first saw life as
Gary and the Knight Lites. Gary Loizzo was their vocalist, Al Ciner
played guitar, Lee Graziano was the drummer, and Chuck Colbert played
Playing a more pop version of the soul music of the time, the
group was distinctive in that their bassist was
an integrated rock and roll group was something totally unheard of at the
There had been integrated
doo wop groups before but never rock and
roll bands up to this point. The likes of culturally diverse bands such
as Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Sly and the Family Stone were several
The group eventually made a connection with record producer Bill
Traut, a one time jazz sax player. Together with another producer, James
William Guercio, Traut helped give rise to the "Chicago Sound," a
jazz-rock combination of horns and string arrangements at a time when
three guitars and a drum set were considered cutting edge.
The band recorded one single with Dunwich Records, as the Nite
Lites. Working on their behalf, Traut obtained a contract for the band
with Acta Records, changing their name in the process to the American
While with Acta, the group cut several singles which failed to
chart well beyond the Chicago area. It wasn't until their fourth single,
"Bend Me, Shape Me" that their music took off. The song climbed as high
as #5 nationally in early 1968 and that success led to appearances on
American Bandstand and other national TV programs.
The song, penned by Scott English (later famous for writing
"Mandy") and Larry Weiss ("Rhinestone Cowboy"), was originally a demo
track by the Outsiders, famous for "Time Won't Let Me", but, as often
happens in the rock chronicles, the band rejected it outright as a
potential single release and the American Breed snapped it up.
Several more songs charted as the years went by, but none captured
the public's fancy as "Bend Me, Shape Me" did. Soon after, the inevitable
personnel changes began. Later, in 1968, Kevin Murphy joined as
keyboardist and Andre Fischer replaced Lee Graziano on drums but by 1969,
the group had totally disbanded.
The next year, Ciner, Colbert, and Fischer pulled together a funk
group, billing itself as Ask Rufus. Joined by Kevin Murphy (keyboards),
Paulette McWilliams (vocals), Ron Stockard and Dennis Belfield, the group
eventually signed with ABC Records in 1973.
Success was passable, at best, until a singer named Yvette Marie
Stevens replaced McWilliams. Better known by the name she soon adopted,
Chaka Khan helped the band, now known simply as Rufus, earn a Grammy in
1974 for "Tell Me Somethin' Good."
Though the original American Breed didn't set the rock world on
fire, their jazz-rock fusion set the standard that other bands soon
followed to much more success. Chicago; Blood, Sweat and Tears; and War
come to mind. And that the band evolved into the musical force, Rufus
only adds credence to that claim as they became funk royalty in the
About the author: David Galassie is a human
resources specialist in Columbia, South Carolina. In his free time, he
pursues genealogy, Wisconsin history, comic books, animation art, and
music. A frequent contributor to Rewind the Fifties, he chronicles
obscure rock and roll bands and one hit wonders as well as other popular
culture of the 1960s. He has been published in many online journals and
even once in a real magazine you can buy on the newsstand.
Go to Rewind the Fifties Home