Gary James' Interview With Gary Troxel Of
The Fleetwoods

They are best known for songs like "Come Softly To Me" and "Mr. Blue". In fact, they were the only group to have two number one hits top the Billboard charts in 1959. They would go on to have eleven hit singles on Billboard's Hot 100, including nine Top 40 hits, three Top 10 hits and two number one hits. In 1988, they were inducted into the Northwest Area Music Association Hall Of Fame. In 2005, they were inducted into the Olympia High School Alumni Association Hall Of Fame. In 2006, they were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame and The Doo-Wop Hall Of Fame. We are talking of course about The Fleetwoods. Fleetwoods member Gary Troxel spoke with us about his time in the original Fleetwoods and the Fleetwoods group he's now part of.

Q - Gary, I guess the obvious question: Gretchen Christopher has her Fleetwoods group and you have your Fleetwoods group. Why aren't the two of you together in one Fleetwoods group?

A - Well, Gretchen and I had a parting of the ways about thirty-five, thirty-six years ago. The problem was she's a narcissistic person. She's all about her and I was finally tired of it. It also had a lot to do with money. But, that's too bad. It usually happens with groups anyway.

Q - Sooner or later. Start off the best of friends and end up the worst of enemies.

A - Yeah. It's too bad. She's just in her own world. She's back in 1960. All you have to do is look at her website and you get the idea of her. (laughs) It's just stuff that has no connection with what she is supposedly portraying. She is The Fleetwoods and then she tells you all about how she wrote "Come Softly". Barbara and I also had parts in that. If you listen to her, she's the one that wrote it. And it just goes on from there. It gets worse.

Q - So, you had a hand in writing "Come Softly To Me" and "Mr. Blue"?

A - Well, no. We had those two big hits and we wrote the first one. I wrote my part of "Come Softly To Me".

Q - That means you wrote one third of the song then.

A - Right. We need to split that up because that's how we get royalties.

Q - You want that one third because it adds up.

A - You're darn right! (laughs)

Q - What part of "Come Softly To Me" did you write?

A - The part that the girls wrote, the part that the girls sing is Come softly darling. Come softly, stay. I don't even know what they sing. I'm the one that came up with Do Be Do, Dum Dum, Dum Dum, Do Be Do Dum Dum.

Q - That's the famous part right there!

A - That's exactly right. That is "Come Softly To Me".

Q - That's the recognizable part of the song.

A - Right. I'm the one that wrote that. When it came time to sign contracts, Gretchen had a hissy fit because Bob Reisdorff wanted to sign all of us up as writers. And she thought she should be the one that was the writer, the only writer. He had quite an argument with her. I was quite embarrassed over the whole thing, but I would agree with him on that. I wrote the part that people remember.

Q - Let's say you're a Talent Buyer and you see Gretchen Christopher's Fleetwoods and then you see Gary Troxel's Fleetwoods, isn't that a bit confusing?

A - Well, I think it was twenty years ago, possibly. But I always wondered how much she was out there doing Fleetwood stuff. As it turned out, if you look on her website, she doesn't even talk about doing any Fleetwood things for years. I do have a list of things my group has done over the years on our website.

Q - You're talking 'live' performances or recorded material?

A - 'Live.'

Q - So, she doesn't perform too much, is that what you're saying?

A - I don't think so. The last thing I know that she actually did was record a CD. I don't know how many songs are on it, but it's was called "Sweet Sixteen". She did that because she's one of these February 29th girls and so she was sixteen a few years ago, whenever she released that. I thought, well okay, that's kind of cute, but oh boy, I know Gretchen.

Q - I guess you do. In the early days of the group, was Gretchen the go-getter of the group? Was she the one out there trying to get record label interest?

A - Well, she's the one that caused this to happen. Yes, that's true. She met Bob Reisdorff at a night club in Seattle and talked to him about the fact that she had a girlfriend and me who had written a song. Bob and a couple of other people in Seattle had wanted to start a record company. So, he said "Bring me the tape." And that's how everything started. It was because Gretchen talked to him. She was a good girl! (laughs)

Q - She was a business woman. She was ahead of her time is what she was.

A - I think so. She's kind of over the edge as far a aggressive is concerned.

Q - When "Come Softly To Me" was released, was it as a single or was part of an album?

A - It was a single to start with.

Q - And when it became successful you were asked to make an album?

A - Yeah, that was usually the case as far as record companies were concerned. If you have a big single, then you record an album. That's just kind of standard practice. I don't even know how it is today. I think if you come into a record company today with one song, they would like you to have ten songs.

Q - If you could find a record company to come into.

A - Yeah. right. (laughs)

Q - Those days are slowly fading into the past.

A - I think the old days are gone, that's for sure.

Q - Did you tour behind your records?

A - Well, we did, but because we were eighteen, almost nineteen, we could not go out there and play in nightclubs. So we had to do like dances at community centers and that kind of stuff. We were lucky to get signed up with Dick Clark right away. We did a tour to Hawaii which was pretty neat. That was in 1959. In 1960 we did a Dick Clark tour to the Southeast of the U.S. and then other appearances in-between.

Q - So, you did the Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars tour.

A - Right.

Q - Do you remember who you toured with?

A - I was just looking at that stuff the other day. In Hawaii I think it was the group that did "Tequila".

Q - The Champs.

A - Yeah, The Champs. They were also the band that played behind us.

Q - Did you ride on the Caravan Of Stars tour bus when you performed in the Southeast?

A - No. We did not do it on the bus because it was up to us however we got to the places we played at. Barbara just bought this '58 Cadillac and at that time I guess it was only a year old. It was a two door hard top and we took the car on the trip instead of going on the bus. (laughs) I don't know if that was cool or not. I thought it was.

Q - You could stop and go when you wanted to.

A - Yeah. That's right.

Q - Maybe you had more leg room.

A - Definitely, leg room is right.

Q - Being singers, you didn't have to worry about musical equipment, so maybe it was better.

A - Oh, I think it was, yeah.

Q - I recall seeing these Dick Clark Anniversary American Bandstand shows and he always seemed to show clips of The Fleetwoods. He must've really liked your group.

A - Oh, I think so, yeah. We liked him too. He was a real nice person.

Q - The follow-up to "Come Softly To Me" was "Graduation's Here". Is that right?

A - Yeah. I think you're right.

Q - How far up the charts did that go?

A - Oh, I don't know. (laughs) I don't think it made any money really. Then we did "Mr. Blue". That's how the (record) companies look at these things. Did it make any money?

Q - Who wrote "Mr. Blue"?

A - Dewayne Blackwell wrote "Mr. Blue". He was also quite famous for writing three songs for Garth Brooks. One of 'em was "I'm Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home".

Q - I must've missed that one.

A - Oh, that was a Country hit, a giant Country hit and a couple others that were really good songs for him. Those were the only ones I know about. But he's quite the writer. He probably wrote many songs for many people.

Q - Did you meet lots of Rock 'n' Roll singers of the day?

A - Oh, yeah. We met lots of 'em. They always ask if we met Elvis and I never did, but Barbara went to a party at Elvis' place in Hollywood one time. So she got to meet Elvis, but Gretchen and Gary didn't. (laughs)

Q - Where does your version of The Fleetwoods perform these days?

A - The last twenty years I guess has been in the mid-West or on the East Coast at oldies shows. We finally got tired of the promoters we worked with. They would not give us good tickets. They'd always give us tickets where we'd get in really late. There was no place to have anything to eat and it was a hassle checking in and all the rest of the junk that goes with it, and so we just tired of it. We decided we're only going to do West Coast shows and so all of a sudden we're not doing too much work. The only thing we have lined up right now is a show in Los Angeles this coming June 6th (2015) in Arcadia at the Performance Center. It's an oldies show. I think Dick Fox is putting that on.

Q - Sounds like you need an agent Gary! If you're dealing directly with a promoter, that may be your problem.

A - Well, the rest of that problem is if you have an agent, he wants you to work all the time, and we don't want to work all the time. So that's why we don't have an agent. (laughs)

Q - In those early days when Gretchen was trying to get label interest, did you envision yourself as a touring, recording artist?

A - No. I don't think any of us did. Gretchen of course wanted to be a performer however possible she could be a performer. She was the one in our group that was always out there, pushing herself especially. I felt she always wanted it, but Barbara and I, I don't think we ever did. Of course we had no clue about what it would turn into. I think we were awful fortunate to have it happen like it did.

Q - Once the ball was in motion, didn't you want more?

A - I think Gretchen probably did. (laughs)

Q - But you didn't?

A - Yeah. (laughs) When the record came out it became popular in three weeks I think. We did the Dick Clark Saturday night show and the Ed Sullivan Show right away, which used to be the thing to happen for groups. The we did Dick Clark a couple of times after that, the daytime show and the Saturday night show.

Q - Ed Sullivan. That was a sign you had arrived. That was big time.

A - Yeah. I think the time we did the Ed Sullivan Show, a couple of nights before we did a television show in Boston. It was color television back then. It was a brand new thing. Johnny Mathis was on the same show. We all felt that was pretty cool (laughs)

Q - I take it you were a fan of Johnny Mathis.

A - I was a fan of his singing and so is my wife. She wasn't my wife then, but she was pretty excited about the fact that I got to see him. (laughs)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

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