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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 only: entertainment.

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 1956.

"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 fraternity.

"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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