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The Au Go Go Singers
The nine-member group's existence came about almost by accident, by way of a failed attempt at producing an Off-Off-Broadway show.
Texas-born Stephen Stills and Ohio-born Richie Furay had begun playing around Greenwich Village in early 1964, a period when their rivals and colleagues included the likes of Zal Yanovsky, John Sebastian, Fred Neil, Tom Paxton, Cass Elliot, and Denny Doherty. All of those others, to one degree or another, seemed to have, or be close to having, some serious irons in the fire as far as their possible careers, while Stills and Furay were still playing coffeehouses without any special direction, along with Furay's college classmates Bob Harmelink and Nels Gustafson. By sheer chance, they were spotted by a songwriter and would-be impressario named Ed E. Miller, who'd previously enjoyed considerable success with a song of his called "Don't Let the Rain Come Down," which had become a major hit in the hands of the Serendipity Singers. It was Miller who put Stills, Furay, Harmelink, and Gustafson together with the four members of another, more established group, the Bay Singers -- consisting of Mike Scott, Roy Michaels, Fred Geiger, and Jean Gurney -- and added Michaels' girlfriend Kathy King, to create a nonet.
The group didn't have a name, but it had a gig in July of 1964, in a revue devised by Miller called America Sings, which attempted to chronicle the entire history of American folk music on stage. Playing to each members' strength, the piece was musically ambitious, but also evidently a bit hard for audiences -- even on the tail-end of the early '60s folk boom -- to absorb, and the show closed after only a two-week run. Miller was taken with the potential of the ensemble that he'd put together, however, and managed to land them a contract with Roulette Records. The New York label didn't have a big presence in the world of folk music, but it saw the sales figures that the New Christy Minstrels and the Serendipity Singers were enjoying and thought to grab some of that action. A dozen songs were duly recorded by the group under the auspices of the ubiquitous New York production team of Hugo and Luigi (aka Hugo Paretti and Luigi Creatore).
Around this same time, the group also came to the attention of Howard Solomon, the club owner and impressario who later become renowned in the history of New York rock for his sponsorship of the Blues Project. Solomon wanted them as the resident performing group for his Club Au Go-Go and basically took the group away from Miller, re-christening them the Au Go-Go Singers. By the time Roulette released the album in the second half of 1964, it was entitled They Call Us Au Go-Go Singers.
The group got lots of bookings with Solomon's help and also made it onto a network television music showcase. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money in the gigs they were getting to sustain the Au Go-Go Singers. Clubs could and would only pay so much, no matter how good a group happened to be; the New Christy Minstrels and the Serendipity Singers, with the biggest chart hits among the big-band folk outfits, got the very biggest and best bookings for the highest fees in the country, and the Au Go-Go Singers were a couple of tiers below them, essentially picking up the leftovers. The New Christy Minstrels were the stars of network television specials, and the Serendipity Singers made it onto Hullabaloo as hosts and performers, but the Au Go-Go Singers seldom got anything better than opening act status at the best clubs they played.
A dispute with Solomon led to an end to their relationship with him, and their management was taken over by the music director that he'd hired, Jim Friedman. With his guidance, they perfected an act that was lively and entertaining as well as musically solid, but then they found that no talent agency wanted to touch the group because of their contractual entanglement with Roulette Records, whose owner, Morris Levy, was rightfully considered the next thing to a gangster.
The group's album and the contract behind it proved a total albatross. It was normally a good thing to have a piece of vinyl, especially a long-player, out, as a sign of credibility, but except for a couple of songs (most notably "High Flyin' Bird" featuring Stephen Stills on vocals, where he sounds like a less theatrical, more effective Barry McGuire), They Call US Au Go-Go Singers seemed more like warmed over Serendipity Singers than anything fresh. And that went double in late 1964, when the folk boom was receding in favor of British-style electric rock & roll. It wasn't good enough to show more than a fraction of what the group could do, but it was made under a contract that was impossible to void and repelled any potential interest by professional talent agencies. A planned second album never appeared and then draft notices started showing up for the male members of the group, who had to leave in order to resume their college enrollments and maintain their student deferments. Those events, coupled with the exit of Kathy King in the late winter of 1965, brought the Au Go-Go Singers to an end.
Ironically, it was at just this point that an offer of some easy and moderately lucrative work was forthcoming from Canada. The group, having lost members to the draft and personality conflicts -- including a temporary falling out between Stills and Furay -- renamed themselves the Company. Organized by Roy Michaels as a revival of the Bay Singers, they consisted of Michaels, Stephen Stills, Jean Gurney, Fred Geiger, and Michael Scott. The Company did a short tour of Canada that April, commencing with a show at a club in Fort William, Ontario. It was there that the group shared a bill with a Canadian trio called the Squires, whose membership included Neil Young. Although it would take some months for the idea of hooking up professionally to take shape, and months more for than link-up to occur, this series of gigs was where Stills and Young entered each other's respective orbit for the first time and where the seed was planted that became the Buffalo Springfield. ~ Bruce Eder
Track List: Carry On
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