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Gary Loizzo, lead singer of American Breed, dies at 70

Gary Loizzo was the voice of 2 minutes and 5 seconds of pure pop perfection.

Lead vocalist for the 1960s Chicago rock group the American Breed, he sang their hit, “Bend Me, Shape Me,” which has had more lives than a cat in commercials for Pepsodent, Gap jeans and Mercedes-Benz.

It also was featured on “Futurama” in the 2001 “Bendless Love” episode of the cartoon.

A Lindblom High School alum who went on to a long career as a producer and Grammy-nominated recording engineer, Mr. Loizzo worked with Styx, REO Speedwagon, Liza Minnelli, and Jim Peterik of the Ides of March and Survivor. He operated Pumpkin Recording Studio from his Orland Park home. He also wrote jingles and sang on numerous commercials for the Gap, Dean’s yogurt, and Terry’s Lincoln Mercury and other auto dealers.

Mr. Loizzo, 70, died Jan. 16 after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer.

In 1964, he was among millions of American kids who were transfixed when the Beatles were introduced to America on the Ed Sullivan Show. “He was a huge Beatles fan. He got a guitar as a teenager and figured out he had a magical voice and went on from there,” said his son, Todd Loizzo.

Gary Loizzo / provided photo

Gary Loizzo | Provided photo

The garages of Chicago started producing bands such as the Cryan’ Shames, Shadows of Knight, the Buckinghams and the New Colony Six. While in high school, Gary Loizzo started his first band, Gary and the Knight Lites. Later, the lineup changed and it became the American Breed.

Sporting a Beatle-esque mop-top, he toured the country with the American Breed in the late 1960s, drawing screams with “Bend Me, Shape Me,” whose lyrics include:

You are all the woman I need
And baby you know it
You can make this beggar a king
A clown or a poet. . . .
Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me
Long as you love me, it’s all right
Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me
You got the power to turn on the light

The American Breed was soon skimming the pop charts alongside the Beatles, Cream, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. “Bend Me, Shape Me,” by Scott English and Larry Weiss, was previously recorded by other bands. But the American Breed version, with its Chicago horns, hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1968.

The group performed on American Bandstand, and appeared on bills with Creedence Clearwater Revival and Kenny Rogers and local groups including Chicago and the Ides of March. The American Breed also had lesser hits with ”Green Light” and “Step Out of Your Mind.”

Kevin Cronin, frontman for REO Speedwagon, praised Mr. Loizzo’s singing. “His sweet clear tenor was a big part of that record’s appeal and landed Gary in the heart of the lucrative Chicago jingle-singing world, as well as allowed him to open Pumpkin Studios in suburban Oak Lawn,” Cronin wrote on his band’s Facebook page.

When Cronin was trying to break into music, “Gary brought me into his little four-track garage studio where we arranged and recorded the earliest versions of future REO classics such as ‘Time For Me To Fly,’ ‘Keep Pushin’ On,’ ‘In My Dreams,’ and ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling.’ Gary taught me about stacking vocal harmonies, doubling guitar parts and song arrangement and was a stabilizing force for my emotional approach to writing and recording.”

The name of Mr. Loizzo’s recording studio came from its transformation. “When the garage door opened, it became a studio, like the pumpkin that becomes a carriage in ‘Cinderella,’ ” his son said.

Gary Loizzo and his wife, Diane / Facebook photo

Gary Loizzo and his wife, Diane | Facebook photo

“He was a wonderful all-around person in his industry and in his homelife,” said his wife, Diane.

He toured as the sound engineer for Styx. The band’s drummer, Todd Sucherman, shared his loss on Facebook.

“He was a man of exceptional taste, wonderful musicianship, eagle sharp ears, but most of all he was a shining example as how to conduct yourself as a man, a professional, a husband and father,” Sucherman wrote. “In 20 years I never saw him lose his cool or raise his voice to anyone, and believe me, the road can be frustrating at times. He just made everyone feel good.”

Gary Loizzo and Styx drummer Todd Sucherman.

Gary Loizzo and Styx drummer Todd Sucherman. | Facebook photo

Mr. Loizzo showed other engineers “how to collaborate, that everyone matters, how to maximize everyone’s talent, how to have patience, how to take your ego out of the end result,” his son said, “and, don’t quit till it’s right.”

Mr. Loizzo, who studied at DeVry University, enjoyed golfing and vacationing in Fort Myers, Florida, relatives said.

He is also survived by his daughter, Dawn Knoebel; two more sons, Vince and Doug; and eight grandchildren. Mr. Loizzo’s first wife, Claudia, died of breast cancer in 1985. Visitation is 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Colonial Chapel, 15525 S. 73rd Ave., Orland Park. He will lie in state at 10 a.m. Thursday until the 11 a.m. funeral service at All Saints Lutheran Church, 13350 S. La Grange Road, Orland Park.