Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Four Townsmen

The Four Townsmen from

The Four Townsmen, a four-part harmony, doo-wop quartet from Canonsburg (home of Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, and the Four Coins), formed in 1959. The charter members were Chuck Marshall (lead), Pete Kouklakis (tenor), Bob Kraushaar (baritone), and Lou Gadani (bass).

The Canon-McMillan High guys began like all the other hometown bands, performing locally for the talent shows, school dances and record hops.

They finally felt that they had enough material (albeit mainly covers) to expand their dates, and impressed Terry Lee enough (he was spinning at Canonsburg's WARO then) to land a date on his show. TFT eventually ran across Odell Bailey, a local bird dog with a pretty good track record, and handed him a demo tape.

Bailey liked what he heard, and arranged for The Four Townsmen to record their first original song "It Wasn't So Long Before (Graduation is Here)" co-written by Marshall and friend Alan Mark, b/w "Sometimes (When I'm All Alone)." They released the 45 in 1960, on the Artflow label, #145.

And hey, both tunes got some radio love. They were spun fairly heavily on KDKA, and the group grew a regional fan base. "Graduation" was even reissued in 1963, and got play in some out-of-town markets. A career, even if at first blush short-lived, had begun.

They opened for other smooth acts like Bobby Vee at the South Park Fairgrounds, Paul Anka, The Lettermen, and Brian Hyland. They got a week of two-show performances daily at Atlantic City's Steel Pier.

Though their live performances kept them in demand, there were to be no more recordings. In 1963, the times conspired to pull the curtain down on Act One of The Four Townsmen.

Gadani went off to college, and then joined the Peace Corps. Kouklakis enrolled at trade school and Kraushaar joined the Army. So the group called it quits (not that there was much of it left, unless Marshall decided to gig as The Townsman).

But maybe more tellingly, the British Invasion hit America's shores. Doo-wop and vocal groups were replaced by the Brits guitar-driven rock, ending an era in American music. Notably, the Vogues, the Beach Boys and Frankie Valli hung on; most didn't.

Then lead singer Chuck Marshall passed away in 1985. But The Four Townsmen weren't entirely forgotten. Travis Klein of Itzy Records included their tunes on his "Pittsburgh's Greatest Hits" series, and that parlayed into some local radio play. The best was yet to come.

In October of 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum in Sharon opened and The Four Townsmen were represented with a permanent exhibit of their record and memorabilia from the day.

It showed the respect the group had garnered as a doo-wop band in the sixties, even though they will never make it as inductees. To get voted into the Hall, groups must have at least three-part harmony, have 20 years in the business and a gold-record hit song.

And The Four Townsmen only have one out of three. Though their record was a hot number in Pittsburgh, it didn't break out nationally and so never approached gold record status. They're still working on the twenty years; we're betting they reach it.

In 1998, performing at the Vocal Hall of Fame, the group signed up lead singer and keyboardist Hug "Freebird" McKinney of little Washington to join the remaining three founding members.

The reunion gig became a full-scale comeback, primed by a performance at the 50th Anniversary Show for Porky Chedwick at Three Rivers Stadium that year, remembered by local doo-wop fans forever as "Porkstock."

The Four Townsmen were off and running with a string of concert dates and special appearances.

The group had once again charted songs in the top 10 oldies countdowns in the Pittsburgh area, and on New Years Day of 2003 had the number two song on the Mon Valley Memories show with their remake of Frankie and the Fashions "What Do I Have To Do?"

Then out of the blue, original baritone Bob Kraushaar retired in 2003. But that didn't stop the band. They added Nevin Van Riper from Washington without missing a beat.

Another newcomer to the group was Tom Battaglia of Bethel Park, who does the arrangements and plays sax and keyboards during the act. To run the tech part of the show, they brought in Washington's WJPA 95.3 FM jock Pete "I Got The Beat" Povich of "Mon Valley Memories" fame to hook up the amps and check the mics.

Today, The Four Townsmen continue to perform their doo-wop act throughout the Tri-State area. They have independently released two CDs, 1999's "The Four Townsmen Reunited" and 2000's "Just Cruisin'."

The group has shared stages with Charlie Thomas and The Drifters, The Orlons, Johnny Angel and The Halos, The Orioles, The Memories, The Jaggerz, and the Vogues while on the oldies, festival, club, and community event circuits, proving again that a second bite out of the apple ain't a bad thing.

"Sometimes" by the Four Townsmen live at the Mellon Arena Doo-Wop Holiday Reunion Show December 30, 2005

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