The group was formed in Cicero, Illinois as Gary & The Knight Lites. The group's greatest success was the single, "Bend Me, Shape Me," which reached number five on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1968. The song, written by Scott English and Larry Weiss, had previously been recorded by an all-girl band known as the Shape and had been a hit on the British charts for the British group Amen Corner. It had also been recorded by the The Outsiders after they had reached the top ten with "Time Won't Let Me" in 1966. Contributing to the success of the American Breed's version of "Bend Me, Shape Me" was the excellent arrangement of the song by the band's record producer, Bill Traut, who added horns among other changes. The group also appeared on the 16 December 1967 episode of the television show American Bandstand, along with Pink Floyd.
On January 20, 1967 a freak snow storm that dumped twenty inches on Chicago changed the group's fate when Kenny Myers, former Senior Vice President of Mercury Records, found himself stranded and met with Producer Bill Traut in his studio at Universal Recording. After Traut played Meyers some of the band's tapes, Meyers was impressed enough to sign them to his new record label, Acta (a subsidiary of Dot Records, itself owned by Paramount Pictures, whose record holdings later evolved into the Famous Music Group) and suggested they change their name. "They told us Gary and the Knight Lites sounded a little dated," Loizzo told Chicago Tribune in 1994. "So we put a bunch of names in a hat and pulled out American Breed". The band's first single was "Ï Don't Think You Know Me," written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
The band enjoyed its greatest success in 1967 and 1968. They released five singles that reached the charts, including "Step Out Of Your Mind", "Green Light" and "Bend Me, Shape Me". The latter track was their biggest seller, and sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The track also peaked at #24 in the UK Singles Chart.
The success of "Step Out of Your Mind" allowed the group, originally signed for singles, to make albums and quit their daytime gigs to pursue music full time. The band also found themselves in high demand in the lucrative radio jingles market, recording commercials for Coca-Cola, the American Navy and Bell Telephone, among others. Their television commercial for American Airlines ("Fly the American Way") was also a big success in the top twenty TV markets and their songs were also featured on the soundtrack to the films No Way to Treat a Lady (1968) and The Brain (1969).
Loizzo went on to open his own recording studio, "Pumpkin", where he worked on producing commercials and other groups, eventually receiving a Grammy nomination for his work with Styx. Colbert, Graziano, McWilliams and Murphy (after a brief stint in the military) regrouped as "Smoke" and then "Äsk Rufus" (the name soon abbreviated to Rufus). McWilliams was later replaced by Chaka Khan and the band later scored their first Top 10 hit under the Rufus name with "Tell Me Something Good" in 1974.
The original four members of the band (Ciner, Loizzo, Colbert, and Graziano) briefly reunited in 1986 and recorded the album Once Again, featuring a new version of "Bend Me, Shape Me."
A compilation album, Bend Me, Shape Me: The Best of the American Breed, was released in 1994. "Bend Me, Shape Me" continues to receive airplay on oldies radio stations.
In celebration of the 2005 baseball championship of the Chicago White Sox, the American Breed issued a CD single entitled "Rock with the Sox." The single was produced by Gary Loizzo.
Since that first regrouping in 1986, the band has continued to make periodic reunion appearances at shows and fairs, mostly in and around their native Chicago.
Their lead singer, Gary Loizzo, died of pancreatic cancer on January 16, 2016, aged 70.
What does tomorrow bring?
Tune in to find out!