Rick Coonce created a driving beat that was heard around the world. As a member of The Grass Roots, he was part of a highly successful rock group that enjoyed heavy airplay on the radio from 1967 to 1972 and even into the new millennium as interest in classic bands renews. He was born in Los Angeles, California on August 1, 1946 at The City Of Angels Hospital. He attended a Catholic school for six years while his mother worked to support the family. His father played the fiddle, his mother sang and his older brother started with guitar lessons, so Rick had a keen interest in music at a very early age. He asked his mother if he could take guitar lessons but she insisted he should play the accordion. He took accordion lessons for awhile but noticed that the girls had no interest in it, so he could not see a future there.
At age 12, Rick decided he wanted to play drums instead. His mother surprised him with a special Christmas present of a used snare drum and a hi-hat cymbal and stand. Rick started right way into adding to his set. He got a bass drum and other pieces as he could. Nothing matched but he was on his way. At age 16, Rick started teaching drums at the Adler Music Store. He got to know the owner named Herb Wall very well and was offered a new set of drums with nothing down and payments each month. He went to high school in Simi Valley and started getting active in bands and playing wherever he could. He worked at the Sunkist Orange packing house and then played gigs after work. His group was named The Beethovens and with all Mexican-American members except himself, they played anywhere they could to get noticed. Freddie Trujillo played lead guitar, John Sepulvada played bass, Mike Vasquez played sax and Ruben Arvizo played rhythm guitar. There was a joke among students at the high school he attended that Rick never got beat up because he was a white guy. The band was affectionately called “four beans and a tortilla, but don’t touch the drummer!” They covered many Beatles tunes and the singers in the band could do the Lennon & McCartney harmonies very well. Rick was strongly influenced by Mexican folk music and rock legend Ritchie Valens. Rick’s older brother attended the same high school that Valens went to, at the same time.
In 1966, The Beethovens played at a Battle Of The Bands in Hollywood and took second place. A future band mate, Rob Grill was a singer in one of the other competing bands that night. They actually did better than The Beethovens but were disqualified because one of their band members was professional, so Rick’s group moved up a notch! Creed Bratton & Warren Entner were in the audience that night and saw Rick play. They called Rick later and asked him to join their band called The 13th Floor. Kenny Fukomoto played bass and sang in the group. Through Rick’s good relationship with the music store owner Herb Wall, the struggling new group was allowed to use the stores equipment as long as they returned it intact. They played wherever they could and put together a demo tape and sent it to Dunhill Records. P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri heard the demos and liked them. The 13th Floor was on their way to a recording contract but then came a hitch. Kenny Fukomoto was drafted into the army. The group needed a bass player and singer so they visited the Musician Union #69 in Hollywood and there they saw a posting for Rob Grill. Rob tried out for the open slot in the band and he was dynamite!
In 1967, the group changed their name to The Grass Roots to take advantage of prior name recognition and recorded “Let’s Live For Today”. The iconic song went straight to the top ten charts like a rocket, scoring number eight. The song captured the times so well, it kicked the group into stardom. The group continued to produce hit after hit and toured the US extensively. They were on the Billboard charts an amazing 307 straight weeks from 1967 to 1972. Rick’s drumming created the base beat and the band evolved a unique sound with the help of their record company and producers like Steve Barri. Just a few of the big hits that continue to get airplay to this day are “Midnight Confessions”, “Wait A Million Years” and “Temptation Eyes”. Rick appeared with the group on many TV shows such as American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. The Grass Roots appeared in a major motion picture starring Doris Day called “With Six You Get Egg Roll”. Rick also composed songs with The Grass Roots, co-authoring “Feelings” and “Get It Together” (a theme song for the ABC TV show) and self composing “Truck Drivin’ Man”. Rick was able to work with drummer legend Hal Blaine, who was an incredible influence on him.
Starting in 1969, Rick worked with Dennis Provisor who is a singer-songwriter and keyboardist and replaced Creed Bratton. He also worked with two rotating lead guitarists, Terry Furlong and Brian Naughton. Rick’s legacy with the Grass Roots can be described with many action words. He always gave a visually and sonically exciting performance because above all, he loved what he was doing. You only need to see a vintage clip of the band in action to see his unbounded enthusiasm. If you were fortunate enough to see the group play live back in the day his performance was memorable and lasting. He always approached any situation with a good sense of humor and a positive attitude and it was infectious with the other members of the band and the fans. As well as keeping the all important central beat of the band, he was at the heart of the good chemistry that the group evolved since 1966.
After six years with The Grass Roots in 1971, Rick left the band and immigrated to Canada. When he applied for citizenship they told him that there was a point system. They asked him what his occupation was and he said musician. They immediately gave him the full ten points because they said they needed more musicians! He played in many groups since moving there. He loved the island that he lived on and had a farm and recording studio. He was approached by a friend to start working as a child protection social worker and did that important work in Canada for 27 years until his retirement. With his great sense of humor he was able to break the ice with many troubled children and families, helping them to find a road to a better life. Rick was a dedicated family man with a loving wife, two children and two grandchildren to fill his days. He loved spending time with his family and enjoyed the peaceful living at his home on Vancouver Island. He continued to write songs in his studio and had a great love for music, as always.
Rick passed away on February 25, 2011.