Colorradio.com - The Fleetwoods
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"Umn Do Be Do Dum Dum, Dah-um Do Dum" (repeated). That's the opening vocal line from Gary Troxel on " Come Softly To Me" by the Fleetwoods. The Fleetwoods were the first nationally successful of the many fine Northwestern groups, and all three members attended Olympia High School in Olympia Washington. The group , as shown above left, was Gretchen Christopher, Gary Troxel, and Barbara Ellis. Gretchen and Barbara were trying to form a vocal group, but the girls they auditioned were just not right for the sound they had in mind. While working on an arrangement for "Stormy Weather", they felt a trumpet would be the perfect instrument. They found Gary who was recommended by a high school combo called the Blue Comets. Unable to get the sound they were looking for, the story goes that Gary walked Gretchen downtown to her ballet class and began to hum a jazz riff he was working on. It was loosely based on the Del Vikings " Come Go With Me ", and Gretchen sang her newly composed song "Come Softly" against his riff. That was a future hit in it's infancy. Getting their name from the local telephone exchange, the Fleetwoods were born, with three vocalists and no trumpet! "Come Softly To Me" was their first release on the brand new Dolphin label. It hit Number One on the Billboard charts, Number Five on the R+B charts, and had an amazing 16 weeks of total chart action on Billboard (longer, if counting other major charts) . The Fleetwoods had appearances on The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beechnut Show , American Bandstand, the Ed Sullivan Show, and because of their success, several cover versions began to surface. A tribute to the artist for sure, but also a source of lost record sales. They really didn't have too much to worry about. Their second self-penned song, "Graduation's Here" was a Top Forty Hit, peaking at 39 , and next, " Mr. Blue " had the Fleetwoods back at Number One on Billboard, this time , charting for twenty weeks. Some of the early songs (including all on the MR. BLUE album) were recorded a cappella and the instruments were added later, showing the Fleetwoods had wonderful vocal ability and versatility in the song productions. The Fleetwoods had a sound and it was unique. There were certainly other groups before them that had a soft and sweet sound : The Paris sisters, Teddy Bears, and several uncredited vocal groups backing male teen artists like Vince Castro, Ted Newman and others. But it wasn't the same. The Fleetwoods had a new sound. A jazzy sound. Their own sound. And, it took the country by storm. Eleven chart hits, fifteen LP's and their rightful place in the Hall Of Fame, and that only skims the surface of the incredible talent of the Fleetwoods. Check out the label shots below, and see the history that only the labels can tell.
Here is what I believe to be the first pressing of "Come Softly To Me"on the Dolphin label. It was clearly sent out to a radio station, KRMS. It was stamped with the call letters and a faint black stamp indicating the plug side over the title. This would clearly indicate a first issue before the thought of a promotional copy would have come to mind. The three dolphins at the top of the label were the signature, and they had the appearance of fading as they went to the top of the label. The color also was soothing and kept with the oceanic theme. Also of note is that a numeral 1 with a circle around it, appears in the dead wax. This recording was to be the only issue on the Dolphin label. The problem was that a well established record company with the same name had already been operating for some time. They were located in New York, and specialized in spoken word and pop recordings. They were part of the Doubleday organization, and released their first records in 1955. Gretchen Christopher sang the female lead and was co-writer as were all the Fleetwoods. "I Care So Much" was the flip on this 1959 recording.
This is the second issue on Dolphin. No radio station stamp, but there is a numeral 2 with a circle, in the dead wax. Visually, they seem identical. Notice the record was was the first on the label, and used the number "1" as the release issue. This was pretty much taboo at the time. Most labels found a bigger number to start with and thus showing the appearance of a major record company with many releases.
This is the official promo of "Come Softly To Me" on the original Dolphin label. There is no BMI association shown, and just the word Copyrighted is still being used. Notice both sides had writing credits by all three members of the Fleetwoods just like the previous two labels. Bonnie Guitar had arraigning credits and played acoustic guitar on the recording. The record reached number one on the Billboard charts and had a sixteen week total Billboard chart run. "I Care So Much" was the 1959 flip. On the promo above, the first mention of the Liberty distribution deal appears on the right side of the label.
The first stock issue with Liberty and the distribution deal. The previous owner felt the plug side was a good calypso number. No special markings in the dead wax, but it does have a delta number.
The addition of "Vocal With Orch." is added to the label above. No other changes are present.
Lastly for Dolphin, they moved the distribution information to the upper right, and added stamped numbers in the dead wax. D)-45_500 is both stamped and written in.
When your first record goes to number one on the Billboard charts, when it lands you an appearance on Bandstand, and also produces sheet music, the Fleetwoods knew they were off to a good start. In spite of a few cover versions, the Fleetwoods original was the disc of choice for most every market in the USA. To the left is a great early picture with the trio shown standing, and it fills up the cover nicely. Gretchen, Gary and Barbara are shown in the pose in that order. Notice that the sheet was released crediting Dolphin records. Since that was the first label, I'm sure when the sheet music went to "press", it was the obvious label to use. As we will see, Liberty also pressed the song on 45. I wonder if subsequent printings of the sheet music would have credited Liberty? Above are two different versions of the sheet music for Come Softly To Me.
The first release on the Liberty label is shown above, using the slightly smaller typeset than the issue below. All of the basic information stays the same as the last Dolphin label, and the numbering scheme is in-line with Liberty records. They started the label with 55000, with the 55 representing the year Liberty opened for business.
A slightly later pressing of Liberty 55188, with slightly larger letters. The information is the same, but has been reorganized on the label.
Even in 1959, Liberty was no stranger to the new Stereo recordings. That had issued Julie London LP's in stereo, as well as a few other artists, prior to this one on 45. The stereo insignia is prominently displayed at the top of the label, and the record number changed to the 77000 series, keeping the 188 release. This was likely issued concurrently with the mono release.
From 1960 to about 1970, Liberty changed their label design to what is considered the multi colored style. Thus, this design could have been pressed any of those 10 years. It certainly shows that Liberty records continued to have demand for the disc and sold it for quite a long time.
Shown is an official reissue from the 1970's on the Liberty "All Time Hit Series." They reissued some of the great classics of the 50's through the mid 1960's, usually featuring two hits by the artist.
The second effort for the Fleetwoods was released near the end of the school year in 1959. Though not a number one hit like it's predecessor, it was still a top 40 record, peaking at number 39 and on the Billboard charts for 8 weeks. "Graduation's Here" was appropriately timed with the season and was another good effort. "Oh Lord Let It Be" was the flip. This was issued on the newly named Dolton label, instead of staying on the main Liberty label. The white label promotional copy is pictured.
This is the early stock issue of Graduation's Here. It is almost exactly like the promo, with the exception of "Promotional Copy Not For Sale" is not written in the top right of the label. Also, Bonnie Guitar was added on the flip side as the arranger. Gretchen Christopher sings the lead female voice and all the Fleetwoods were shown as co-writers.
A slightly later issue of Graduation's Here. The parenthesis were dropped on the titles, and the writing is slightly bigger. The information is the same, but placed differently. Again, both songs were written by all three members of the group, and Bonnie Guitar was involved in the production. The numbering continued in the same manner as the Dolphin release, and this was the 3rd release for the "labels." The Frantics had issue number 2.
This is the Stereo pressing of Graduation's here. The record numbers have changed, otherwise the main information is the same. This is the second of two 45's that Liberty issued for the Fleetwoods.
The disc was popular enough to issue sheet music for BOTH sides! It appears the same promo picture was used on both sheets, and a close-up of the same picture was used on Lord Let It Be, the only real difference between the two sheets.
The third release from the Fleetwoods resulted in another Billboard number one hit. "Mr. Blue" started the school season off to a great start in September of 1959, and this time it parked on the charts for an amazing 20 weeks! Written by Dwayne Blackwell, it proved to be their most successful record. The flip is a song that the Spades recorded in 1957, and written by Spades member Tommy Kasper, called "You Mean Everything To Me.". For more on the Spades and Slades, please visit my page HERE!
Another record label variation of Mr. Blue. I am always intrigued with the classification showing "Vocal With Orchestra, as the Orchestra did not really exist. The flip actually charted on Billboard just briefly, and was played for a couple of weeks during it's run. A monster two sided record from the trio out of Olympia.
This is the 1959 sheet music for "Mr. Blue." They have used a different picture of the group on the cover.
Here is the promo for the next release, "Outside My Window." It entered the Billboard charts on 2/15/60, which coincides with this stamp date two weeks earlier. A nice ballad with a great story. The flip is "Magic Star" and was written by Fleetwoods member Gary Troxel and arranger/Guitarist Bonnie Guitar.
Here is the stock copy of "Outside My Window." No big changes here, but a nice follow-up for the group. "Magic Star" was a mid tempo tune that is a fun record, as are most all the releases.
Another "sheet music two sider." Both songs had music issued for them. They used the same picture on both, which happened to be the same shot from the Mr. Blue sheet music. The backgrounds were also the same for these, "Mr. Blue", "Graduation's Here", and "Oh Lord Let It Be."
Some groups have what they call classic poses. With the Fleetwoods, there are a few that might be considered that way, but they had so many good pictures that were taken of them collectively and individually. To the left is the first picture sleeve that was produced for the Fleetwoods, and was often included when you bought their next 45 "Runaround." Peaking at number 23 on Billboard and spending 13 weeks on the charts, Runaround was another unique and pleasing effort for the Fleetwoods. The sleeve has the same picture on each side.
Shown above is the promo copy that would be sent to the radio stations, and might also be included in giveaways. A good two sider with "Runaround" as the plug side and "Truly Do" as the flip.
"Runaround" is from May of 1960, and is shown above in the stock form available to the buying public. This copy of the record was apparently owned by one Joe Grillo!
A different picture, a different background, and to my yes, a real retro look with the top font.
Here is a picture of both sides of the Fleetwoods EP. Taking four songs from separate 45's that had been released, it is a good collection of great tunes from the group. The pose is great, and as with all the photos of the group with Liberty/Dolton, they are of excellent quality.
The first issue of the Fleetwoods EP is shown above. The label is consistent with current Dolton product artwork along with the Liberty distribution.
This appears to be the second press of the EP. The label color and design along with the lack of Liberty distribution, make it similar to Fleetwoods issue 74 "You Should Have Been There from 1963."
Another great story record, "The Last One To Know" just barely got into the top 100. It blipped at # 96 for one week in October of 1960. It had the classic Fleetwoods sound, and was a really nice record. "Dormilona" was a change of pace for the group. It is sung partially in Spanish, and it featured an appropriate guitar accompaniment.
A later pressing of the record with the big typeset and print. If you count the two sided Mr. Blue, this was the seventh chart hit in row for the Fleetwoods. They would continue with a few more Billboard hits, but the string was over.
The Fleetwoods next outing was a remake of the 1956 Sonny Knight hit"Confidential." The Fleetwoods bring new life to the song done in their highly established style. The "B" side was a song I associate with the the flip side of the Crows recording of "Gee", called "I Love You So", and included Dolton recording group, the Frantics. Overall, a nice treatment to both songs. This was an early 1961 issue, but did not chart.
The regular stock issue is shown above. Notice the address change for Dolton which is now showing in Hollywood. Also, the writing credits have been changed on the flip to correctly include Sonny Norton (Of the Crows) and Gee record label owner George Goldner.
The Fleetwoods rebounded big with "Tragedy." Issued in April of 1961, it was a cover of the Thomas Wayne record of 1959. This one got up to number 10, and spent a dozen weeks on the national charts. The flip, "Little Miss Sad One", was written by Dick Glasser, and completed a strong two sided record. Above is what I believe to be a promo. It is the cream colored label that was used for promo's, but is not labeled as such.
The sheet music for "Tragedy" had been issued in 1958 for Thomas Wayne, when he enjoyed a hit with the record. In 1961, the Fleetwoods hit caused it to be issued again with the Fleetwoods information. "He's The Great Imposter" also warranted enough sales and demand to be put on sheet music.
The stock copy is shown. All information remains the same, just placed differently on the label. This is an early pressing with small lettering.
A later pressing of the hit Tragedy. Notice that Bonnie Guitar has been dropped, and Hank Levine is credited as the arranger. Dolton is now officially a division of Liberty, according to the label. Even though they had been working with Bob Reisdorff since the beginning , his name shows up as a producer for the first time on one of their records.
It's September 1961, and another chart hit for the Fleetwoods is called "The Great Imposter." Co-written by Jackie DeShannon, this one cruised up to number 30. "Poor Little Girl" was the flip, and was more of a group and small orchestra sound. The Promo is shown above, using the words "Not For Sale" on the label.
The stock issue. I thought that maybe the owner of this record was in the FLeetwood phone number exchange, but no. It would need to start with 35.
A later pressing of The Great Imposter. Fleetwoods member Gary Troxel was one of the writers on the flip side, "Poor Little Girl."
Another story record, "Billy Old Buddy" was slated as the "A" side of their next release from late 1961, early 1962. "Trouble" is the flip, and features the song writing team of Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley for the second record in a row. Shown is the promotional release.
This is the stock issue on Dolton. The lettering and placements have been changed around some.
Another promotional release, "Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day" had the Fleetwoods back into the top 40 in October of 1962. It reached number 36, and was also on an album with a similar title. The flip is "They Tell Me It's Summer", which was written by Randy Newman. That was his first successful attempt at song writing, and he went on to big things later on. Though the Billboard pop charts show October as the release date, this promo is marked with late August. It also got on the easy listening charts in November. As with most Dolton promotional records, there are no lines in the middle of the label.
Here is something you don't see too often. A second promotional release that has different markings. Dolton must have run this through two pressings with the label, and decided to make the fact that it was a promo more visible. This one is prominently stated "Audition Record" just underneath the dolphins at the top.
Here is the stock release of Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day. The information is the same, but re-arranged on the label. Another Fleetwoods record that was a great two sider.
"You Should Have Been There" is a snappy and up tempo tune for the Fleetwoods. A great saxophone throughout the song really adds some fun to the recording. "Sure Is Lonesome Downtown" is the flip, sung about a girl named Donna. This is the first record for the Fleetwoods that changed to the dark blue Dolton design. The Dolphin is still shown, and it still has that feel of the ocean.
A song that was really a standard, "Goodnight My Love" was sung using Barbara as the lead. This came from the album that included Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day, and had not been intended for issue on a 45. It seems popularity and demand spoke for themselves. It was the last Billboard national chart hit for the Fleetwoods. It reached number 32 and stayed around for 11 weeks, starting in June of 1963. "Jimmy Beware" had Gary back at the helm as lead vocalist.
From the end of 1963, "What'll I Do" was another nice record and arrangement by the Fleetwoods. They took an Irving Berlin Classic and did some amazing things with it. Barbara took the lead on this one,too. "Baby Bye O" was a fun upbeat song that once again had the song writing team of Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley. Shown is the promo copy.
Here is the stock release. Notice that this is a new label design for Dolton. In fact, the promo shown above the stock copies were still on the "old" style. It may be possible that there are issues of this record with the dolphins at the top.
New for 1964, "Ruby Red Baby Blue" was backed with "Lonesome Town." Dick Glasser is now the producer. Also of note, the late Baker Knight wrote the flip. The promo copy is shown above, and this time without the label markings to prove it.
Also from 1964, "Ten Times Blue" was next up for the Fleetwoods. I like the fact that this was the second record in a row that showed each of the first names of the Fleetwoods on the label. By this time, everyone probably knew, but it was a nice touch. "Ska Light, Ska Bright" is a really cool Ska influenced record. It shows that the Fleetwoods continued to be innovative. Some nice guitar work compliments the instrumental break. The promo copy is shown. And once again, the promo uses the older style dolphin label.
The stock light blue Dolton 45 of the same songs. The flip is my favorite side, using the Ska theme. It was released a couple of months after Millie Small would record possibly the first, and certainly a very popular Ska song in the USA.
You probably remember the Chordettes version of this song, but the Fleetwoods give "Mr. Sandman" their own unique treatment, while making it very recognizable. Heavy on the orchestra, but also heavy on the enjoyment factor. The "B" side, "This Is My Prayer" is a lovely ballad. Both sides of this record were arranged by Ernie Freeman.
The Fleetwoods next release was "Before And After (Losing You) " on Dolton 302. It was written by Van McCoy who had his start with the Starlighters five years earlier, and had "The Hustle" in 1975. The Fleetwoods version was the original, however Chad and Jeremy covered it and had the chart hit. "Lonely Is As Lonely Does" was on the flip and was written by Chip Taylor of "Wild Thing" fame. These songs made a nice two sided pairing for late 1964.
Next up from May of 1965 was an updated version of the Fleetwoods classic song "Come Softly To Me." On the flip was their second "Jimmy" song, "I'm Not Jimmy." The first promotional record I have using the dolphin on the left side, is shown above.
Three Dolton record number issues later,307 to 310, "Rainbow" was selected for the next Fleetwoods waxing. Rainbow was a hit for Russ Hamilton in 1957, and he is shown as the writer. On the flip was "Just As I Needed You." Chip Taylor's name surfaces again as a co-writer. Tom Li Puma produced the sides and Nick De Caro is shown as arranger. The promotional version is shown.
The Fleetwoods last record from 1965 is shown above. "For Loving Me" is part of their folk rock period, and in fact is the last record to be released by the trio. The Fleetwoods were unable to come to a contractual agreement, and it was over. The flip is "This Is Where I See Her." Both were taken from the LP called Folk Rock. Notice the complete design change of the label. Some blue was still retained, but the aquatic theme is pretty much gone. This was the promo version.
From 1968, the only solo record for Gary Troxel, and shown is the promotional issue on Dot. "Things I Didn't Say" backed with "Nothing Left But Gone. Two nice waxings for the late 1960's. Notice that Bill Justis was credited on both sides.
Here are two different pictures of the Gary Trexel led Fleetwoods
Gretchen's SWEET SIXTEEN (SUITE 16), features the new Fleetwoods' recording of Top 40 Hit, "Graduation's Here", as well as Gretchen's a cappella rendition of "Come Softly" and her original hit arrangement of "Come Softly To Me," among sixteen autobiographical songs. Three and a half years in the making (writing, arranging, performing, recording, producing) and released at the end of 2007 on the newly created Gold Cup Music label (details are on Gretchen's site
), SWEET SIXTEEN is a Billboard Critics Pick for 10 Best Albums of the Year (a remarkable feat for a debut release on a previously non-existent label featuring a first time solo artist performing her original material - or is history repeating itself?
This is the CD released by Gretchen Christopher in 2007, "Gretchen's Sweet Sixteen."
: The Fleetwoods had a unique sound, and are highly regarded when music of the 50's and 60's is discussed. They performed on a 2001 PBS doo wop show with original member Gary Troxel. The two ladies appearing with him were Bonnie Hannukaine and Cheryl Huggins, who have sung with Gary since the early 80's . Gary and his Fleetwood's group have an official web site at http://www.thefleetwoods.us/
This features Gary Troxel and the current touring group mentioned above. It's a nicely laid out site with great information. Be sure to check out the gallery for some great pictures of the group. Gretchen has her own web site at http://www.thefleetwoods.com
. Both Gretchen and Gary have legal rights to the Fleetwoods name, and as shown, both have web site's
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