Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Four Seasons...From Route 51

The Four Seasons from Doo Wop Biography

No, Route 51 doesn't run through New Jersey. But then again, we're not talkin' about Frankie Valli, but a band of harmonizers from the South Hills.

Four grads of Baldwin High hung together in the summer of 1959. Not satisfied with loafing in the parking lot of the Big Boy and watching the waitresses skate by (one of Old Mon's fav pastimes in his Highlander days), they formed a group.

The singers were Bill Stammer (first tenor), Ched Mertz (second tenor), Dan McGinnis (lead tenor) and Don Fanzo (bass). They didn't have a name, but they did have a song they wrote - "Don't Sweat It, Baby."

Mertz had an in with local music impressario Bill Lawrence, and he agreed to let the guys audition for him at Lenny Martin's Carlton House studio in town. They sang "Don't Sweat It, Baby." Lawrence and Martin weren't keen on the arrangement, but liked the lyrics and the singing. They had the group rework the music, and they did. The second audition was a success.

Lawrence offered them a contract, and a deal was struck. In October, they traveled to New York City with Martin and Lawrence to record the song at Capitol Recording Studios. They backed it with "That's The Way The Ball Bounces." And they also picked up their name during the process.

That same week, the Four Seasons Restaurant opened in New York and Lawrence proclaimed, "That will be the name of the new group." The guys dug it too, and The Four Seasons were born, a year ahead of those falsettos from Jersey.

They did more with that slab of wax than launch a song; they launched a label. "Don't Sweat It" was the first release of Lawrence's new Alanna impress. Both got off to a flying start. The Billboard "Review of New Pop Records" of November 23rd, 1959 posted "The Four Seasons bow on the new label with a cute rhythmic reading of a rocker that moves. It has a chance." And it did take off, albeit in Pittsburgh.

It entered the KQV charts in mid-November and stuck in the Top 40 until mid-January of 1960. It reached #4 locally, and was in the Groovy QV's Top Ten for five weeks. They toured in support of the song, traveling through the midwest with Bob Kobert (aka Bobby Shawn of the Donnybrooks, who had the 1958 hit "Everytime We Kiss") taking the lead.

Alanna's second pressing of the record was retitled "I'm Still In Love With You Baby," which as we understand was "Don't Sweat It Baby" with a different name. Whatever the reason for the old switcheroo, the Four Seasons moved on and followed with "Love Knows No Season" b/w "Hot Water Bottle"," but the ballad didn't catch on.

In July of 1960, Mertz married and left the group; Chuck Isler replaced him. The Four Seasons signed with Lennie Martin's new Robbee Records label and as one of his first handful of acts recorded "Mirage" b/w "Nancy's Trampoline." The doo-wop/novelty combo didn't move, and the disc was the final platter the Four Seasons cut.

After that last record, Stammer left the group to answer Uncle Sam's call, and the rest of the gang called it a day shortly thereafter.

Baldwin's Four Seasons left behind this discography:
  • "Don't Sweat It Baby" b/w "That's the Way the Ball Bounces" (Alanna 555 - 1959)
  • "I'm Still In Love With You Baby" b/w "That's The Way The Ball Bounces" (Alanna 555 - 1959 second pressing)
  • "'Love Knows No Season" b/w "Hot Water Bottle" (Alanna 558 - 1960)
  • "'Mirage" b/w "Nancy's Trampoline" (Robbee 106 - 1960)

Old Mon shamelessly stole most of the band bio from Juan Marce Frontera of White Doo-Wop Collector and Dan McGinnis' comments to the post, along with a little legwork. Thanks, guys.

Mirage - 1960:

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