Power-Pop Pioneers: The Grass Roots

All about the band who turned blue-eyed soul into anthemic rock

The Grass Roots
The Grass Roots.

Who were the Grass Roots?

They began as a bunch of faceless session vets playing soulful pop, but the Grass Roots were no mere bubblegum band -- they developed a mix of blue-eyed soul and big, brassy rock that would one day morph into the power-pop phenomenon  

Where you might have heard them "Let's Live for Today" and "Midnight Confessions" remain the most likely candidates for Grass Roots songs you might have heard on radio, movies, or TV; the former was featured in Season 2 of "American Horror Story," while "Confessions" is heard in a Season 4 episode of "The West Wing" and on the radio in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown

The Grass Roots' most popular songs:

Formed 1966 (Los Angeles, CA)

Styles Folk-rock, Blue-eyed soul Bubblegum, '70s pop

Claims to fame:

  • An important development in the formation of "power pop"
  • Somewhat unusual for their time in that they employed three lead vocalists
  • Their 1967 smash "Let's Live for Today" is one of the defining statements of the "Summer of Love"
  • Formed specifically to record the songs of legendary songwriter P.F. Sloan
  • Equally adept at blue-eyed soul, folk-rock, and bubblegum music, mixing the styles often

Principal Grass Roots Members:

Rob Grill (born Robert Frank Grill, November 30, 1944 in Los Angeles, CA; died July 11, 2011 in Mount Dora, FL): lead vocals, bass (1966-1975)
Warren Entner (born July 7, 1944 in Boston, MA): lead vocals, guitar, keyboards (1966-1975)
Dennis Provisor (born November 5, 1950 in Los Angeles, CA): lead vocals, keyboards (1969-1971)
Rick Coonce (born Erik Michael Coonce, August 1, 1946 in Los Angeles, CA; died February 25, 2011, Coombs, Vancouver Island, BC): backing vocals, drums (1966-1971)

History of the Grass Roots

Early years

The Grass Roots were originally a project formed to release the folk-rock songs of one P.F. Sloan, a Southern California songwriter who was in the middle of a hit streak as a songwriter, musician, and producer with hits like Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," The Turtles' "You Baby," and Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction." It was that last Dylanesque smash that convinced his parent label, Dunhill, to record as The Grass Roots.

The band's first single, oddly enough a cover of Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," went nowhere, but a demo of the follow-up, Sloan's "Where Were You When I Needed You," gained favor among Bay Area DJs, leaving Sloan with a potential hit and no backup band to promote it.

Success

Sloan found a local blues-rock outfit called The Bedouins and convinced them to be The Grass Roots, but they soon balked after learning they wouldn't be allowed to do their own material. Then Sloan found the L.A. band The 13th Floor, who agreed to the deal. The first hit, a cover of a British hit called "Let's Live for Today," was one of the standouts of the "Summer of Love," but when the band insisted on recording a second album of their own material, it stiffed, leading Sloan to head for a solo career in New York. Sloan's songwriting partner, Steve Barri, took over and led the band in a horn-filled, blue-eyed soul direction, leading to another major hit in "Midnight Confessions."

Later years

Original guitarist Creed Bratton left soon after, unhappy with this new direction, but the Grass Roots continued on, scoring a number of Top 40 hits in a similar vein, and one last big smash in "Sooner of Later." The band moved to a smaller label in 1975 and went through a number of personnel changes, including the departure of leader Rob Grill (who nevertheless stuck around as manager).

Grill eventually tried a solo career, but when that failed, he revived the Grass Roots name and toured the oldies circuit on and off for two decades. He died in 2011; the group that tours now under the name features members who signed on in the '80s.

More About The Grass Roots

Grass Roots facts and trivia:

  • Other members included Creed Bratton (backing vocals, guitar, 1971-1974), Reed Kailing (backing vocals, guitar, 1971-74), Terry Furlong (guitar, 1969-70), Joel Larson (drums, 1966, 1972-75), Virgil Webber (keyboards, 1972-74), P.F. Sloan (lead vocals, guitar, 1966), Steve Barri (backing vocals, percussion, 1966)
  • Warren Entner and Rick Coonce appeared as contestants on the game show The Dating Game in 1968
  • Entner, who went to film school with the Doors' Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, went on to manage Quiet Riot, and later, Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine
  • Bratton eventually turned to acting, playing a fictional character with his exact same name on NBC-TV's hit comedy "The Office"

Grass Roots hit singles and albums:

Top 10 hits
Pop "Let's Live for Today" (1967), "Midnight Confessions" (1968), "Sooner or Later" (1971)

Notable covers Unsurprisingly, power-pop '60s-influenced bands tend to cover the Grass Roots, including The Replacements ("Temptation Eyes") and the Bangles ("Where Were You When I Needed You"). The Lords of the New Church did a goth-rock version of "Let's Live for Today" in 1983, and Scott Baio ended his self-titled 1982 album with a take on "Confessions"

TV and movies The Grass Roots were one of the few rock acts allowed to appear on Hugh Hefner's classic TV show "Playboy After Dark"; they also appeared as themselves, singing an original called "Feelings," in the classic family comedy With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)