Born Gary Levone Anderson in Jacksonville, Gary U.S. Bonds lived in Norfolk, Virginia, in the 1950s when he began singing in church, and with a group called The Turks. He joined record producer Frank Guida's small Legrand Records label, and Guida changed Anderson's name to U.S. Bonds in hope that it would be confused with a Public Service Announcement advertising the sale of government bonds and thus get more radio airplay. In fact, promotional copies were sent to radio stations in sleeves inscribed "Buy U.S. Bonds."
His first three singles and first album Dance 'Til Quarter To Three were released under the "U.S. Bonds" name, but people mistook it for the name of a group, so to avoid the confusion subsequent releases, including his second album Twist Up Calypso, were released under the name Gary (U.S.) Bonds. The parentheses were discarded in the 1980s.
Bonds's first hit was the song "New Orleans" which hit #6, followed by "Not Me," a flop for Bonds (but later a hit for The Orlons.) He then struck it big with his (only) number one hit, "Quarter To Three" in June 1961. "Quarter To Three" sold one million records, earning a gold disc. His other hit records in the early 1969s include "School Is Out," "Dear Lady Twist," "School Is In," and "Twist, Twist, Señora."
His records often featured solos by the saxophonist Gene Barge. (Remember the line from Quarter to Three, "Blow, blow Daddy!?" That was a shout out to Barge.)
Believe it or not, in a 1963 tour of Europe, he headlined above The Beatles when they were relative newcomers. Maybe it's not so surprising since "Quarter To Three" appears on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.
While Bonds is mostly known for R&B and rock and roll, he often ventures into other musical streams. His song "She's All I Got," co-written by Jerry Williams, Jr. (better known as Swamp Dogg), was nominated for the Country Music Association's "Song of the Year" in 1972 when it was a big hit for Johnny Paycheck. He is also an honoree of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.
Bonds released an album in 2004 called Back In 20, the title referencing his repeated sporadic resurgences - every other decade. After he stumbled upon an album by Delbert McClinton, he fell in love with McClinton’s sound, and Bonds and his group, the Roadhouse Rockers, found their direction for Back In 20; blending party rock with blues. The album features guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen - who Gary met in 1980 - and Southside Johnny.
In 2009 he released a new album Let Them Talk and toured the UK as a special guest of former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. Most recently, in 2010, Bonds contributed duet vocals on the song "Umbrella In My Drink" on Southside Johnny's album Pills and Ammo.
Bonds continues to be a mainstay of the nostalgia concert circuit touring with the Roadhouse Rockers. He was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006.