Four Freshmen still wielding musical influence

May 26, 1992|By Robert A. Masullo | Robert A. Masullo,McClatchy News Service

Sacramento -- Crosby, Stills and Nash. The Beach Boys. Chicago.

What do they have in common?

The Four Freshmen. In fact, many groups have been influenced by the Freshmen, a musical foursome that has been around since 1947.

"That's one of the things I'm most proud of," said Bob Flanigan, the lone original member of the quartet, on the phone from his home in Las Vegas, Nev. "A lot of people in the music business through the years have thought we were worth imitating. That's a wonderful compliment."

Mr. Flanigan, in turn, credits the trombone section of the Stan Kenton band of the late '40s with influencing the long-standing success of the Freshmen.

"When we started in college [at Butler University in Indiana] we were just singing barbershop stuff, just having fun," Mr. Flanigan said.

"That got boring rather quickly and we nearly broke up. But, thank God, Stan Kenton heard us and thought we had potential. He encouraged us and took us under his wing.

"I knew we had to develop something more than what we were doing, though. So, probably because I played trombone myself, I started paying careful attention to the trombone section [in Kenton's band]. We tried to imitate their sound, their phrasing."

Noting that Frank Sinatra also claims to have learned good singing techniques from a trombonist (in Tommy Dorsey's band), Mr. Flanigan said, "The trombone and the cello are the two instruments most like the human voice in sound and phrasing. A singer can't go wrong copying them."

Not surprisingly, then, of the 44 albums recorded by the Freshmen, the one titled "Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones" is Mr. Flanigan's favorite. It was on Billboard's album best-seller chart for 35 weeks in 1956.

There have been 13 different members of the Four Freshmen over the years. All have been instrumentalists as well as singers.

Today, in addition to Mr. Flanigan (who plays bass as well as trombone), the group comprises Autie Goodman, who plays drums and reeds, and Greg Stegman and Mike Beisner, both of whom play trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone and keyboards.

Among the group's most requested numbers -- and Mr. Flanigan's personal favorites -- are "Angel Eyes," "Blue World" and "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows."

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