The Brothers Four - by Carol Caffin
In the blip of time between
doo-wop and The Beatles, a new era quietly emerged in American
music. The Folk Era, as it came to be known, was ushered in,
without fanfare, in the late 1950's. The movement was a
product, not of left-wing vagabond poets or freight-train
hopping protest singers, but of a handful of clean-cut college
kids hell-bent on providing their audience with one thing
At the forefront of that movement, one band stood apart:
The Brothers Four. When these Phi Gamma Delta fraternity
brothers began singing and playing at college functions and
campus song-fests, they couldn't have known that, 40 years and
50+ albums later, they'd be still going strong, selling out
concerts all over the world.
Their career began quite innocently. Bob Flick (acoustic
bass), John Paine (guitar), Mike Kirkland (guitar & banjo)
and Dick Foley (guitar) met at the University of Washington in
"This was pure 50's college," remembers Bob Flick, "a lot
like 'Happy Days'." There was a generally good feeling in the
country, particularly among college students.
"There was football, the Korean war was over, pop music was
very big," says Flick. "Singing was just a thing that you did
in fraternities and sororities. A lot of guys sang; we just
happened to have instruments, too, so we became the band!"
Indeed, with a wealth of musical knowledge and an array of
stringed instruments between them, The Brothers were called
upon frequently to entertain at various campus events. Then,
one day in 1958, they received a call from a secretary at the
Colony Club, then one of the most popular live music clubs in
Seattle, who asked them to "come down and audition." The four
fresh-faced lads showed up early, instruments in hand, and
quickly realized that the call was a prank put on by a rival
"Of course, the guy had never heard of us," remembers
Flick, "but, just like in a movie, he said 'well, while you're
here, do a couple songs'." They did and, amazingly, they were
hired to sing at the club.
The Brothers Four worked at the Colony Club throughout 1958
and their show became a hit, particularly with college kids,
who were tiring of the "contrived" records of the day and
welcomed their acoustic, string-driven sound and pristine
harmonies. "We got little money," says Flick, who remembers
frequently "getting paid in beer," but the experience was
worth its weight in gold. Before long, The Brothers Four would
be on their way.
During spring vacation, 1959, The Brothers Four climbed
into Flick's parents' Ford station wagon and headed for San
Francisco, which was "really the happening place to perform."
They set their sights on San Francisco's top clubs, the hungry
i and the Purple Onion, hoping to use their fraternity
relationships to bolster their draw.
The Brothers Four quickly landed a gig at the hungry i, and, as
luck would have it, some of their fraternity pals invited a gentleman named Mort Lewis,
who happened to be jazz legend Dave Brubeck's manager, and who would soon figure
prominently in their career.
By this time, the Kingston Trio had hit big with the unofficial
anthem of the yet-unnamed folk era, "Tom Dooley." Mort Lewis was aware of this
burgeoning phenomenon and was duly impressed with The Brothers Four's
show. He urged The Brothers Four to send him a demo, which he promised to
shop to Columbia Records, which, as Flick remembers, "ruled the charts in all types
of music." Columbia was interested and The Brothers Four were signed
to a deal.
"It was really a case of being in the right place at the
right time," says Flick. With Columbia as their label and Mort Lewis as their
manager, The Brothers Four couldn't have been more poised for success.
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