Da Capo Book of American Singing Groups, 1992
A History 1940-1990
One of the most innovative jazz/pop vocal groups of all time, the pioneering Hi-Lo's influenced countless pop, R&B, and doo wop groups from the '50s right up to the present.
They formed in December 1953 when Gene Puerling of Milwaukee and friend Bob Strasen met Clark Burroughs and Bob Morse. The latter two were vocalists with the Encores, the vocal group for the Billy May Band. When Billy's band stopped traveling, the Hi-Lo's were born. Reportedly named because of their extreme vocal and physical ranges (Strasen and Morse were tall, Gene and Clark were short), the Hi-Lo's practiced at Clark and Gene's Los Angeles apartment, refining their revolutionary voicings. The group were themselves influenced by such artists as The Four Freshmen, The Modernaires, and Mel Torm?'s Mel-Tones.
With Clark on lead, Bob and Bob on tenors, and Gene on bass, the Hi-Lo's fractured the traditional definition of vocal group structure with a tonal blend rarely equaled by any quartet.
In 1954, the group came in contact with orchestra leader Jerry Fielding, which initiated their recording career.
In the spring of 1954, their recording of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (Trend) became their first and only chart single, reaching number 29, but pop singles for the emerging rock and roll generation were not what the Hi-Lo's were about. A Billboard review of "Too Young for the Blues" (Starlite) from March 10, 1956, summed it up: "The top swing vocal group has yet to find itself a piece of mass market material, but this attractive side will register with the faithful."
Their audience was a more sophisticated album-buying public that appreciated the intricacies and splendor of their harmonies and arrangements.
The group's first big performance gig was at Fack's in San Francisco (960 Bush (Market?) Street - bulldozed on July 14, 1980) in 1954, and from there it was on to the worldwide jazz club scene.
Their first LP, Listen (Starlite) in August of 1955, was a landmark of fresh musical interpretations that led to 26 more LPs over the next nine years from such companies as Columbia, Reprise, and Kapp.
During their formative stage, the group performed as backup to Italian actress/singer Anna Maria Albergetti. The Hi-Lo's were nobody's backup in years to come. As a matter of fact, their only other performing collaborations were on record - one on a single for Herb Jeffries on Trend and one for Dean Martin on Reprise.
In the mid-'50s, the group's star rose when Judy Garland took them on tour and presented their new singing style to a wide audience.
In 1959, Don Shelton became their only replacement member after Bob Strasen left. Between 1962 and 1981, the quartet earned three Grammy nominations and performed in the Jack Lemmon film Good Neighbor Sam. They appeared on such TV shows as "The Andy Williams Show," "The Steve Allen Show," and put in an amazing 39 performances on Rosemary Clooney's TV show. In 1962, the group made their last appearance performing at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. When rock and roll eclipsed their traditional audience, the Hi-Lo's retired in 1963.
Gene went on to produce commercials in San Francisco and, in 1967, left for Chicago to form The Singers Unlimited with Don Shelton. Clark continued singing in studio sessions, and Bob Morse went into the antique business.
In 1977, the group was asked to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival and reunited after 14 years. The Hi-Lo's fell back into their unique harmonies as if they were putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. This led to their first recording venture since 1964, the Back Again LP in 1978 for Pausa Records.
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