Hey, Breadheads: You can come out of the closet. Used to be that being enamored of the '70s ballad kings was one of those love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name sort of things. But now, Friends and Lovers: Songs of Bread, a just-released tribute album, finds hip musicians like Cake, Josh Rouse, and the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow revealing that the mellow maestros' music moves them, too.
''Bread used to be a guilty pleasure,'' says Auer. ''But a whole new breed are coming to appreciate their soft-and-delicate-to-the-nth-degree approach. I was listening to [their 1971 hit] 'If' the other day, and it was eerie how much it reminded me of Radiohead.''
You can bet that, in their time, Bread (who lasted from 1968 to 1976) wanted to blend art and commerce as much as Thom Yorke's bunch. David Gates (above, in striped shirt), who wrote and sang all the L.A.-based band's big hits (among them ''Make it With You,'' ''The Guitar Man,'' and ''Everything I Own''), contends that when he got together with Rob Royer and the late James Griffin to found Bread, the game plan was not to be the quintessential group of dainty, romantic folkies.
''In my early Hollywood music business days, I did more song-writing and production for R&B than any other genre,'' muses Gates, whose background is more hardcore than you'd suspect: In 1966, he produced several songs for blues-dipped Dada daddy Captain Beefheart, who covered a Gates composition called ''Moonchild.'' And an examination of Bread's catalog reveals the band could actually rock out quite convincingly (check ''Mother Freedom'' on Best of Bread).
At 64, Gates who still plays the occasional gig is at peace with Bread's legacy as Soft Rock Poster Boys. Sort of.
''The term 'soft rock' was born about a year after Bread hit it big'' with 1970's ''Make It With You,'' he says. ''Was 'soft rock' uncool? Is 'hard rock' any better than 'soft rock' or 'punk rock' or whatever rock du jour? Look who's still on the radio after all these years.'' In other words, the meek shall inherit the airwaves.
Still-fresh Bread: On the Waters (1970); Manna (1971); Baby I'm-A Want You (1972)