Gary U.S. Bonds’ birthday bashes had become a New York tradition — a night where surprise guests from Chubby Checker to Southside Johnny would stop by B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square to wish the “Quarter to Three” singer well.
When the blues club closed last year, Bonds thought that tradition may have come to an end. But this year, Bonds isn’t throwing one bash for his 80th birthday. He’s throwing three. (Four, if you count his show in New Jersey in April.)
“We can do it, you know, because nobody cares how many we have,” says Bonds, calling from his home in Wheatley Heights. “Everybody’s just wondering who’s going to show up. Because there’s usually a surprise guest or something and we’d never know who it was going to be.”
Bonds says he’s sad that his friends the late Ben E. King, of “Stand By Me” fame, and the late Joe Terry of Danny & the Juniors, aren’t around to celebrate this year. However, he is hopeful that other friends will be able to make his shows at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on May 26, My Father’s Place at The Roslyn Hotel on June 1 and The Cutting Room in Manhattan on June 7, the day after his actual 80th birthday.
“Usually, I never know who is coming,” he says. “They’ll call me right before and say, ‘Hey, is it OK if I come down and sing a couple of numbers?’ It’s great that way. It’s a surprise for me and for the customers. The band doesn’t like it that well, but it’s always a surprise.”
Bonds, who will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his hit “New Orleans” next year, says he is working on a new album in his home recording studio and he has plans to play some European festivals later this summer, as well as returning to My Father’s Place at The Roslyn Hotel every three or four months. “It’s going to be nice,” he says. “I just keep traveling and rocking and rolling, yelling and screaming and hoping they yell and scream back at me.”
In the meantime, Bonds, who already had one comeback in the 1980s with the hit “This Little Girl” with help from Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, will enjoy this sudden, unexpected boom in birthday bashes. “Maybe I can just keep doing it in every city,” he says, laughing. “I can just keep celebrating every month. By December, I’ll be 93 years old.”