Friday, August 27, 2010

Dick Muse & The Laurels

The Laurels from White Doo Wop Collector

The Laurels are the story of Dick Muse, a McKeesport doo-wopper who started out in 1956 with the Condors, whom he met through a connection he knew at US Steel's National Tube Works where he worked in the summers.

The Condors plied the Steel Valley, appearing at the American Legion, the Swing Club, and the White Elephant. In fact, his first moment on stage was at the Elephant, where he sang the Heartbeat's "Your Way" with the band. Muse was with them just briefly before he went on to West Liberty State College.

It didn't take him long to get back into the business. He hooked up with West Virginians Bobby Gaynor, lead (and a great raspy R&B voice); Fred Hulme, first tenor; Noel Schwertfeger, baritone; and multi-instrumentalist Nick Ticich, bass. Muse was the second tenor. They all had one thing in common; they were all Porky addicts.

They dubbed themselves the Laurels, and by 1957 were doing campus gigs, and expanded to local clubs and hops. Their first trip to the Pittsburgh region was a performance at the White Elephant in 1958.

During the show, DJ Tom Nee introduced the group to Harry Latanzio, the owner of Harry's Danceland in Latrobe. The Laurels were signed to open there for national acts like The Coasters and Freddy Cannon.

That led to bookings at the Veterans Club of McKeesport, where they got the audience pumped for the likes of Pookie Hudson and The Spaniels. Latanzio then hooked the guys up with Elmer Willett.

Willett owned the Vogue Terrace club (which become the namesake for one of his acts, the Vogues) and ran a local label, Willett Records, out of Carnegie. The Laurels taped "Every Minute of the Day" and "Lips of Fire" for Willett, but he never released them.

But Lennie Martin and Lou Guarino at World Records liked their sound, and issued "Working Man" b/w "Don't Go" in 1960. They credited it to the Pennants for still unexplained reasons. Oh well, at least they got a 45 out. And just in time. Act one of the Laurels was nearing its end.

Muse, an English major, received his B.A. in 1960. The Laurels disbanded after graduation to deal with the real world, and he went on to a teaching career. Muse was one smart guy, and in 1978 earned a M.A. degree in English from California State College.

But the lyrics of Shakespeare, classic as they were, couldn't quiet the doo wop siren cooing in Muse's head.

Ray Bishop was looking for material to release on his local label, and contacted Muse in 1982 to see if he had anything left from the old days. Muse called Gaynor, Hulme, Schwertfeger and Ticich. The original Laurels, more than two decades after their day in the sun, reunited in the studio to see if they could finally get out a song with their name on it.

Bishop released "I Wonder" b/w "Every Minute of the Day," the song Willett shelved, that year. They followed it with "A Little Romance" b/w "Summer's Gonna Be a Ball" on Bishop's other label, Alexis.

When his original mates returned to their homes - they had no intention of barnstorming again - Muse kept the group going with singers like Richie Merritt, who would go on to sing with The Clovers, and former Condors Julius Davis and Lonnie Brown.

The Laurels' discography grew with the single "Honey I Love You," b/w "So Much In Love" (a cappella), the EP "Barbara/Lonely/Summer/Hydrogen Bomb/Crying in the Chapel," and a final single, "When I'm With You" b/w "Truthfully." Those tracks were released on RAM (Richard Andrew Merritt) Records in 1985.

In 1988, Muse pulled the plug and became a member of The Memories, a showband that featured a revolving cast of local all-star musicians. He started his own oldies group, the DeVilles, in 1990.

Two years later, Muse, with Lonnie Brown, Jeff King, Jim Baker and Larry Davis, once again became the Laurels; later in the decade, Tony Santaguido of the El Monics and afterward, the Marcels, joined the cast. They hit the oldies circuit, crooning old standards like the Versatiles' "Lundee Dundee," Little Richard's "True Fine Mama," Shep and The Limelight's "Daddy's Home," The Five Satins' "In the Still of the Night, and Chuck Jackson's "Woke Up This Morning."

And for a group that waited two decades to make it to vinyl, these Laurels churned out CD's like gushing BP oil, turning out four releases between 1993-98. But the nineties were to be the Laurel's curtain call (we think!)

Muse joined The Skyliners in 1999 after the untimely death of David Proch, taking over second tenor for Jimmy Beaumont-led group.

So far, that gig has stuck with Dick Muse. But if his muse ever gets the urge to conjure up the Laurels once again...


The Pennants:
1961 - "Don't Go" b/w "Workin' Man" - World 102
1961 - "Darling How Long" - unreleased

The Laurels:
"Every Minute of the Day" b/w "Lips of Fire" - unreleased 1958/59
"I Wonder" b/w "Every Minute of the Day" - Bishop Records 1982
"A Little Romance" b/w "Summer's Gonna Be a Ball" - Alexis Records 1982
"Honey I Love You," b/w "So Much In Love" - RAM 1985
"When I'm With You b/w Truthfully" - RAM 1985
"Don't Go" b/w "Darling How Long" - World 102 blue wax reissue by Crystal Ball Records 1989

Laurel albums/CDs:
"They All Sang in Pittsburgh" (compilation albums)
"Barbara/Lonely/Summer/Hydrogen Bomb/Crying in the Chapel" - RAM 1985
"The Test of Time" - 1993
"Our Town Has A Voice" - 1995
"R&B Odyssey" - 1997
"Keeping Tradition" - 1998 (a cappella)
"The Laurels" - 2005 (shortened reissue of "Keeping Tradition")

Old Mon would like to thank Dave Sallinger, Entertainment Editor of the McKeesport Daily News, for his article on the Laurels which was leaned on heavily in this post.

"I Wonder" - The Laurels, 1982


hbabinger2 said...

From your blog to God's ears....Dick Muse has revitalized the Laurels! They're playing all over the area as of February 2011!

Ron Ieraci said...

Does he have a web site? I didn't know they had gotten back together again.

Joyce Will Hutchinson said...

Glad to hear you are back with the Laurels. Good luck to you all.

Jennifer S. said...

The family of Noel Schwertfeger, original Laruels member, is planning a surprise reunion of the group on August 6, 2016. If any former fans would like to connect with them, please let me know and we can make that happen (maybe a Facebook page). Also, if anyone has any memories, stories, etc. to share it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Jennifer S. said...

Also, any old photographs would be great.

eric olayos said...

I was always impressed with Mr Muse’s teaching methods and enthusiasm. Thanx, teach, but now I wish you would have tooted your own horn a little more. You would have had a HUGE following of South Allegheny Glads at every gig you were in.