Former Buckingham sings for fallen first responders

By Bill Dwyer For Chronicle Media

Dennis Tufano, the original voice of the Buckinghams, will headline a benefit show for The Fallen Police and Fire Fighter Fund at 7 p.m. Friday, July 19, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 N. Lawrence, Chicago. (Photo by Jim Summaria)

Anyone who grew up in Chicago in the 1960s may know Dennis Tufano’s voice from the radio, and, if they were lucky, from seeing him in concert as the lead singer for the Buckinghams.  

On Friday, July 19, Tufano will headline a benefit show for The Fallen Police and Fire Fighter Fund of the 100 Club of Illinois.  

The evening starts at 7 p.m., at the Copernicus Center, 5216 N. Lawrence, Chicago. Opening the show will be comedian Tim Walkoe, with special guest Joe Cantafio, the co-founder of popular ’70s rockers Jade 50s.

Concert attendees will have the opportunity to meet Tufano after the show. The show, “As Long as I’m Singing — The Music of Bobby Darin & More Starring Dennis Tufano,” will likely also feature a few of the numbers he made famous as “The Original Voice of the Buckinghams.”  

He has a lot to choose from, including, “Kind of a Drag”, “Mercy Mercy Mercy”, “Don’t You Care”, “I’ll Go Crazy”, “Hey Baby (They’re Playin’ Our Song)”, “Back In Love Again”, and “Susan.”  

While supporting the needs of families of fallen first responders is enough of a reason to attend July 19, the chance to see a part of Chicago’s ’60s musical history is both the cherry and the icing on the cake.  

Giving back to those who put themselves on the line for others is something that holds great meaning for Tufano. He comes from a family with several retired cops and firefighters. 

“I’ve got cousins in Chicago who are retired firefighters and police,” he said during a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “I’ve done numerous shows for wounded warriors and police and firefighters.” 

What allows Tufano to honor his heroes with his singing is being blessed with a voice that truly stands out in a crowd. For several years in the late ’60s in Chicago, Tufano’s voice stood out from a talented crowd of Chicago musicians. Asked if he ever imagined, as a teenager back in those halcyon days in late ’60s Chicago, that he’d be singing before crowds of people decades later in his late ’70s, he let out a laugh and said, “No! Not at all. We were just kids, and it really didn’t sink in.” 

But music has always been the force in Tufano’s life that illuminated his path, for all its ups and downs and twists and turns. Recalling the first time he stepped on stage to sing at the old Holiday Ballroom on Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park in the mid-’60s, he marveled at how music always seemed to be the thing that made it all work for him. 

“I was just swallowed up by the music and the magic of it all,” he said.  

It would be music that always was there when he needed it, in the best of times, and through the worst that life would throw at him.  

When the ’60s gave way to the ’70s and the magic faded, Tufano found himself without an outlet for his muse after the Buckinghams disbanded. Broke and disheartened, he left for Los Angeles, long-haired, bearded and “in patched blue jeans.” He would make a living the next 16 years acting in films and videos and doing voiceovers and other technical work few people outside the industry know or care about.  

In the early ’80s, Tufano started working with jazzman Tom Scott, singing on several of his albums. Through him, Tufano learned of a talent call for back-up singers for a three-month tour by Olivia Newton John. Once again, Tufano’s voice stood out, and Newton John chose him to sing two duets with her on stage. His performance made it into an HBO special, and he achieved a degree of renewed notoriety he hadn’t expected. 

About 11 years ago, Tufano was visiting his sister in Chicago, just hanging around the house. He was walking around singing old Bobby Darin songs and feeling the inspiration, when his sister made an observation that opened up yet another path. 

“My sister said, ‘You realize your voice is in the same (register) as him,’” Tufano recalled. He went out and bought “every boxed set” of Darin’s music he could find. 

“That was my reentry into being a singer,” he said. He spent some seven months working his way through Darin’s catalog, finding the songs that called to him and felt like a good fit for him.  

Tufano credits a strong and loving set of family and friends that always urged him to get back up from life’s disappointments. To cop a lyric from another great crooner, more than once Tufano found himself “riding high in April, shot down in May.” But no matter how many times he got knocked down, even when his dreams seemed to die, there was always music.  

“The music always sort of crept back in and pulled me back in,” he said “Somehow the music always gave me a little nudge. To make it work. It always came back and helped me.  

“Grateful? Oh yeah. I’m definitely grateful.”  

Next week he’ll just be grateful to be able to give back through his gifts. 

“I just love going up on stage,” he said. “I just give it up to the music.”  

Whatever else has come into Tufano’s life through music, above all he cherishes the results he sees in others every time he steps off the stage. 

“When I finish working, people are smiling,” he said.