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The Brothers Four

Not siblings, but in fact fraternity brothers attending the University Of Washington, the all-singing folk group comprised baritone vocalists Dick Foley (guitar), Bob Flick (upright bass) and John Paine (guitar), plus tenor Mike Kirkland (guitar). Inspired by the success of The KINGSTON TRIO (and their hit `Tom Dooley’), this traditional clean-cut campus quartet formed in Seattle in the winter of 1958, although it would be early 1960 when they secured their first chart entry, `Greenfields’, an old EASY RIDERS tune; their inaugural platter, `Chicka Mucha Hi Di’, flopped.
Typical of long-players to come, THE BROTHERS FOUR (1960) {*6} set the template for their blend of easy-going horizontal-listening (cross the aforementioned KINGSTON TRIO with 50s harmony group The Four Freshmen). With a sense of jollity and fun, songs that shone out included `Eddystone Light’ and the calypso-orientated, `Yellow Bird’. With DYLAN, BAEZ and their ilk ready to take the folk-music world by storm, the uni group (rather than a union group) subsequently competed with the likes of The LIMELITERS, The HIGHWAYMEN and The NEW CHRISTY MINSTRELS for early 60s chart space. A second album, B.M.O.C. (BEST MUSIC ON/OFF CAMPUS) (1961) {*7}, was indeed their best performing record, reaching as it did #4, even although it boasted only one minor hit, `The Green Leaves Of Summer’ (from the John Wayne flick The Alamo). From the C&W twangs of `(Ghost) Riders In The Sky’, to the trad-blues of `St. James Infirmary’, their choice of folk-ish cues was simple and a tad safe.
For the rest of the 60s, others hits big and small included `My Tani’, `Frogg’ (a re-vamp of 16th century ditty, `Froggie Went A-Courtin’’), `Hootenanny Saturday Night’ (drawing from the variety TV show, Hootenanny) and `Try To Remember’ (written for the off-Broadway musical, The Fantasticks), although The BROTHERS FOUR concentrated on establishing themselves as an albums group; unjustly one of their few not to chart was SING OF OUR TIMES (1964) {*7}, a record that combined the 60s songs of DYLAN (`Long Ago, Far Away’), TYSON (`Four Strong Winds’) and SILVERSTEIN (`Beans Taste Fine’) with oldies such as GUTHRIE (`Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)’), MacCOLL-SEEGER (`Spring Hill Mine Disaster’), LEE HAYS (`Seven Daffodils’) and JESSE FULLER (`The Monkey And The Engineer’). But by now, PETER, PAUL AND MARY and the British Invasion were all the rage, and although The BROTHERS FOUR continued in their inimitable fashion, declining sales reached a low point in 1970 when they temporarily split; they were still big in Japan where they’d toured constantly since the mid-60s. After the departure of Mike Kirkland in 1969 (after the death of his son), the group had several other personnel changes, while the odd album would surface now and then; a place on the folk-revival circuit was imminent.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Jan2017

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