Thursday, November 28, 2013

November 28: Gary Troxel of the Fleetwoods - "Come Softly to Me,"Mr. Blue" & "Tragedy" - is 74-years-old today.

The official story of how the Fleetwoods came to be is fascinating to me. 

Gary Troxel was born in Centralia, Washington. One day, he and classmate  Gretchen Christopher were waiting for her mother to pick her up outside Olympia High School when Troxel started humming. He told her it was a jazz trumpet riff he had in his head. Surprised, Christopher said she recognized it and was based on the same chord progression as the song she had been writing.

She arranged and sang her melody and lyrics in counterpoint to his background, and liked it enough to ask Troxel to repeat it with her for Christopher's friend and singing partner, Barbara Ellis.

They performed the song twice at school functions, and their classmates wanted recordings of it so they could learn the song. Christopher recorded the trio, a cappella, on her father's tape recorder and took the tape to Seattle record promoter Bob Reisdorff.  Between June and November, 1958, they recorded the tracks, singing it a cappella to the rhythmic shaking of Troxel's car keys.

Co-producers Reisdorff and Bonnie Guitar flew with the tapes to Los Angeles where they overdubbed acoustic and bass guitars tracks. The song, "Come Softly to Me" topped the US pop chart and make it to the Top 5 of the rhythm & blues chart.

The Fleetwoods' version of "Come Softly To Me" can be heard on a portable radio at one point in the 1986 movie, Stand By Me, which was set in the Pacific Northwest. It is heard on the soundtrack of films including Clean and Sober and Crossing Delancey. Another hit "(He's) The Great Impostor" was featured in American Graffiti, and "Mr. Blue" in Diner and National Lampoon's Vacation.

Originally calling themselves "Two Girls and a Guy" The Fleetwoods name was based on the only telephone exchange in the Olympia area where the three members lived, Fleetwood2-xxxx and Fleetwood7-xxxx.

(Continued below CDs...)

HIGHLY Recommended (Links to Amazon):

Very Best ofGreatest HitsThe Fleetwoods Greatest Hits

(... continued)
The Fleetwoods continued to record a number of other successes. Their second hit, "Graduation's Here" (co-written by Ellis and Christopher, who also sang the lead) was followed by "Mr. Blue," which, like "Come Softly," also topped the pop charts in 1959. It made the Fleetwoods the first group in the world to have multiple #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in single year. They would hit the Top 10 once more with "Tragedy" in 1961.

Though they went on to have a total of eleven hits on the Hot 100, the beginning of the end for the group came when Troxel was drafted into the US Navy. Additionally, the British Invasion of the mid 1960s changed public taste.

The trio's hits ended as they had begun, with a female lead, with Ellis singing melody on "Goodnight My Love," the Fleetwoods' final hit in 1963. Vic Dana, who was to go on to a successful solo career, replaced Troxel in the group when he was in the service, solely for live performances.

By the late 1970s, Troxel was working in a plywood plant in Washington; Ellis was managing a trailer park in California and Christopher was a housewife and modern jazz dance teacher in Washington at St. Martin's College and The Evergreen State College.


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