Friday, October 1, 2010

The Donnybrooks

The Donnybrooks in 1958 and 2010

Hey, everyone knows Washington County's Canonsburg produced Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, and the Four Coins. But there was another pretty strong quartet that came from that town in the late fifties, the Donnybrooks.

Classmates, The Donnybrooks began their career when they performed at an 8th grade graduation ceremony at the old Third Ward School, and continued on during their high school years.

Originally known as The Phaetons and later The Four Pals, they sang at dance halls and clubs around the Tri-State, from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, and from Steubenville to New Ken.

After some initial personnel shuffling, the core members consisted of John Alterio (bass), Ken Paige (tenor), Bob Kobert (stage name Bobby Shawn, lead vocals) and Frank Trebel (baritone). Their style took after other fifties groups like The Four Lads, The Four Aces, and The Mills Brothers.

They appeared a couple of times on the Wilkins Amateur Hour and Art Pallan's Talent Search, popular talent contests with call-in voting that were shown on KDKA TV. They never won a show (the band lost twice to tap dancers!), but the experience paid off; in early 1958 The Four Pals won a talent search contest that was sponsored by KDKA Radio and Westinghouse Broadcasting.

The station flew the group to New York for the final competition, and on the return flight, they got a glimpse of fame up close and personal when they met Cab Calloway and Roger Miller on the plane, introduced to them by KD jock Art Pallan.

More importantly for their future, the KDKA award led to a recording contract with the Pittsburgh's Calico Records. Bill Lawrence, a Calico owner and record distributor, became their manager and gave them a new name: The Donnybrooks. He thought it was catchy and would help them stand out from the pack.

They cut their first release, the ballad "Everytime We Kiss" b/w "Break The Glass," a hand-clappin' Calypso-type tune (Calico 108) in the spring of 1958. The songs were crafted by Canonsburg song writer and school music teacher, Lou Popiolkowski. The tune took off, and it nudged into Billboard Magazine's Top 100 in the summer.

Calico Records then launched the group on a promotional tour of the East Coast, where they appeared on TV dance programs in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.

The Donnybrooks appeared locally on KDKA's Dance Party with Clark Race, WIIC's competing Dance Party with Bill Cardille, and Del Taylor's Bandstand on WTAE. They also performed for the first of the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars tours, and were booked in the night clubs along the Route 51 corridor as well as appearing at West View Park's Danceland and Kennywood Park's amphitheater.

The second 45, "Coming Home From School" (Calico 112), also written by Popiolkowski, was released later in 1958. The flip side, "Mandolins of Love," was inked by another Canonsburg song writer, Tony Ambrose. They kept their homeys in royalties.

As the doowop era wound down, Calico Records went through a reorganization and the band lost their label. They continued their live act until in 1960, when the group broke up to pursue college and other careers.

Bobby Shawn stuck with music, though, and started a solo career a few years later. His repertoire covered big band and jazz standards to pop and rock classics, with a healthy dose of some Italian melodies tossed in.

He appeared at Seven Springs Ski Resort regularly, the Meadows, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and in Atlantic City, along with gigs for the Hilton and Holiday House chains. Shawn has performed at the Miss USA Pageant, Miss Teen USA Pageant, and hosted and sang at the Great American Modeling Search.

He also has four CD's out - "Bobby Shawn Through The Years," "Bobby Shawn Sings," "Playing the Jukebox" and "Christmas With Bobby Shawn." Now he performs locally in various venues, and his current act, The Senior Show, is popular around the Tri-State region; he even has a long-time fan club called "The Shawnettes." Oh, he also takes the lead again for the Donnybrooks every so often, too.

They have reunited for occasional shows over the past decade or so, performing at reunions, special events, private gigs and clubs, and they've made several appearances at the Canonsburg 4th of July celebration. In fact, they're playing at St. Thomas More tonight. You can take the boy out of Canonsburg, but...

And they did C-Burg proud. In 2007 the group became part of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, recognized with the other prominent local acts honored by the Hall.

The Donnybrooks - "Everytime We Kiss" (1959)

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