The American Breed

by David Galassie
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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 bass.

Playing a more pop version of the soul music of the time, the group was distinctive in that their bassist was African-American; having an integrated rock and roll group was something totally unheard of at the time.

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 years away.

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 Breed.

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 1970s.

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.

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