By Jenni Whiteley For the Journal
The past six decades of American history span everything from Vietnam, the Cold War, Afghanistan and Iraq; presidents John F, Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and Donald Trump; actors John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Cruise, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lawrence.
And then there‚Äôs the music. American music in the 1960s was both turning to its folk roots and revolutionizing. From Elvis to Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Supremes, Springsteen, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Bee Gees, The Carpenters, U2, Denver, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Timberlake, Cold Play and Beyonce.
The Brothers Four began their rise to stardom in the 1960s and experienced it all. Best known for their Americana folk music and hits such as ‚ÄúTry to Remember,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúGreen Fields‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúThe Green Leaves of Summer,‚ÄĚ The Brothers Four will be taking Southeast Idaho audiences back through all periods of American history at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center on April 25 at 7:30 p.m. as they sing the American folk music and stories they have loved, learned and performed for nearly six decades.
‚ÄúNo matter what decade you look to, there have always been artists who play acoustic instruments and are storytellers,‚ÄĚ said Bob Flick, lead singer and one of the original founders of The Brothers Four. ‚ÄúWhether it be Billy Joel, Elton John or Jewel and Ed Sheeran. These are the modern troubadours. That‚Äôs pretty much the music we have been doing all these years.‚ÄĚ
The Brothers Four began singing together in 1956 as fraternity brothers attending the University of Washington ‚ÄĒ thus, the origination of the group‚Äôs name. Not one of them was studying music. Flick was studying journalism and communications, John Paine was studying Eastern history and the Russian language, Dick Foley was studying electrical engineering and Mike Kirkland was pre-med.
After a few years of frequently entertaining on various college campuses, in 1958, The Brothers Four received an invitation to audition for the Colony Club, one of Seattle‚Äôs the most popular live music clubs. When they arrived, they discovered that the invite had been a rival fraternity prank ‚ÄĒ a prank that backfired when the management asked them to audition anyway and they were hired.
By 1960, the group had signed with Columbia Records and their hit ‚ÄúGreenfields‚ÄĚ hit No. 2 on the American charts. Between 1960 and 1964, the group was performed between 250 to 300 concerts per year ‚ÄĒ and not just in the U.S.
‚ÄúThis music is easy to understand and simple,‚ÄĚ Flick said. ‚ÄúI think that simplicity is why our songs became so recognizable globally. We have gone to Asia every year since we started and the English of the lyrics is simple and easily understood if clearly pronounced. In China, Thailand and especially Japan, they would broadcast our songs on the English language channels as examples of the English language. We were the first to take this Americana music into Japan. 1962 was the first year we went there. This next year will be tour No. 52 in Japan.‚ÄĚ
In 1961, The Brothers Four also recorded the theme song, ‚ÄúThe Greenleaves of Summer‚ÄĚ for the John Wayne movie ‚ÄúThe Alamo.‚ÄĚ Though the group never got to meet Wayne, Flick said it was a thrill to get to sing the theme song at the Oscars because it was been nominated for an award.
That same year, Flick said the group experienced one of the greatest joys of their career when they sang at JFK‚Äôs inauguration, which was later book-ended by its greatest sadness when they found themselves in Dallas singing at the memorial concert for officer J.D. Tippit who had been killed by Lee Harvey Oswald the same day as Kennedy.
Though music of The Brothers Four remained acoustic, they witnessed the impact that modern electrical sounds had on other artists of the day.
‚ÄúThe ‚Äô60s was an interesting time in music,‚ÄĚ Flick recalled. ‚ÄúWe had known Bob Dylan since when he joined Columbia Record, too. We were there singing at the Newport, Rhode Island, Folk Festival when Bob Dylan plugged in his electric guitar for the first time. Some people were shocked and some people thought it might be a new way to tell these stories. Dylan was brilliant. He learned that that style of balladeering ‚ÄĒ storytelling ‚ÄĒ could be used to put down poetry and imagery in a very modern way that more reflected the current state of contemporary societal concerns. The music was never the same after that.‚ÄĚ
Flick also told of being the opening act for the last Beatles concert in America. Having performed several times on Ed Sullivan‚Äôs show, Sullivan knew them well and asked them to perform with the Beatles at the Paramount Theater in New York.
‚ÄúHow could we say no to that?‚ÄĚ Flick said. ‚ÄúWe didn‚Äôt hang out with The Beatles, but we met them. They said that they weren‚Äôt real happy because the travel was so difficult with all the security. At the concerts they just heard a wall of screaming and sound and they didn‚Äôt feel like they were accomplishing much at the performances. From then on, they became pretty focused on studio performing and creative writing and started making some of their great music such as ‚ÄėSergeant Pepper‚Äô and ‚ÄėHey Jude.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Though Flick said it was tempting to follow the electric craze, the group decided to stay acoustic ‚ÄĒ that is until this year. The Brothers Four is currently finishing an album called The Brothers Four: Renewal that will make a revolutionary statement of its own after nearly 60 years. It will include some of the group‚Äôs most iconic song in a more modern electric context ‚ÄĒ ‚Äúre-imagining for today‚Äôs ears.‚ÄĚ Flick said it should be on the market within the next two months.
Though Flick is the only remaining founding member still touring with The Brothers Four, the current group has been together for over a decade. Mark Pearson joined the group in the late 1960s and Mike McCoy and Karl Olsen in the 2000s.
When asked what made him stay with The Brothers Four for six decades, Flick joked, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just what I do. ‚Ä¶ It‚Äôs very rewarding. We have people come up to us all the time with great memories. When you can change people‚Äôs lives and make people happy with memories as a result of your job, that‚Äôs a pretty darn good thing to be a part of.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúFor example,‚ÄĚ Flick continued, ‚Äúwe went to Vietnam to perform for the troops on two occasions back in the mid-‚Äô60s. A very touching experience occurred in Baltimore recently where a man came up to me and gave me a hat and told me that he had been our chopper pilot there. He had made it back from the war and he thanked us for making the troops happy and think of home. It doesn‚Äôt get anymore meaningful and rewarding than that. For this reason, this is something I can‚Äôt imagine ever retiring from. ‚Ä¶ Our music helps people recall memories from their pasts. That‚Äôs a very special thing to share with people.‚ÄĚ
Tickets range from $10 to $20. More information can be found at www.blackfootpac.com/contact.