Gary James' Interview With Hugh Geyer Of
They call Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania home. Originally known as The Val-Airs, they changed their name to The Vogues and success soon followed. They enjoyed great success with songs like "You're The One" and especially "Five O'clock World". The "trademark" Vogues are still touring today with original members Bill Burkette and Hugh Geyer. We spoke with original Vogues member Hugh Geyer about the history of The Vogues.
Q - As I understand it, there are actually two groups out on the road promoting themselves as The Vogues. Now, how is that possible?
A - Here's how it happened and it's even nuts to try and explain: The four original guys, when we were recording, we never owned the name, OK? We started in '65 with "You're The One" and I left the group in '73. The three remaining guys continued on at that time and still did not own the name. Then the name was bought and sold and changed hands a few times and the three remaining guys went with the guy that owned the trademark name. Like I say, I was out of the picture. It got into another dispute when the name was sold again. They ended up going to court. Two years after I left, Don Miller, one of the originals, he left. So, the two remaining guys, they picked up a third and the trademark name was sold again. They went to court and the two remaining original Vogues, Chuck (Blasko) and Bill (Burkette) went to court and the judge said "Chuck, you and Bill have the right to sing in 14 counties around Allegheny County." That's where I live, in Allegheny County. That's where Pittsburgh is. "You can sing in those 14 counties around Allegheny County and the man who owns the trademark, he can sing anywhere else in the world. He can't come into your 14 counties an you can't go out of yours." So that's how it ended up. Years later, Chuck Blasko has a group called Chuck Blasko's Vogues and he sings in the 14 counties and then Bill decided not to sing anywhere else after that court order. He had a full-time job. He decided not to pursue the singing anymore. So then later on I got a call from probably the fifth guy who's owned the trademark name. He said "Would you consider coming and joining my group?" I said "Well, I don't know. I haven't sung in quite some time." He said "Well, let's get together for lunch and see what we can work out." So, we met for lunch. I had some conditions under which I would join him. "But first of all I want to see one of your shows and I want to meet all the vocalists and the musicians." I didn't know what they sounded like. They could have been just a bunch of flubbers. So he said "No problem. How about if I fly you and your wife down to North Carolina? We're doing a show down there and you can judge for yourself." So my wife and I flew down, saw the show, met the guys. I was very impressed by their show and by the personalities of the people involved. So, I came back to Pittsburgh and we got together again. I said "OK, I'll join you on a couple of conditions I have." He said "What are they?" I said "Well, first of all, if I join you, what do you want me to do?" He said "Well, that's up to you. If you want to do all the shows we do, you can do that. If you want to pick and choose certain shows that you don't want to do, that's fine. If you want to sing ten or twelve songs on the show or sing two or three, I'll leave that to you." I said "OK. Here's my conditions: Here's the money I want and my wife goes everywhere I go if she chooses to and you pick up her expenses." He said "Oh, that's no problem at all." So, I signed on and I've been with 'em for almost two and a half years now. Of course, I'm doing the whole show. I'm singing all the songs I sing 'cause that's what I love to do. I love to sing. About a year and half after I joined he said to me "Do you think Bill Burkette would be interested?" I said "Stan, I don't know. Give him a call." He said "Why don't you give him a call?" I said "This is your band. This is your group. You want him to consider joining? You call him and find out." So, he called Bill and immediately after that he (Bill) called me and said "What's the story?" I explained to him about having seen the show and met the guys and having been with them for a year and a half. He said "OK. That sounds good to me." So he came on board. So now we have two originals. When I joined this group, there was only three guys in the group, three vocalists in the group. They didn't have four. Of course, there were only three vocalists in the group when I left in '73. Anyhow, I joined, which gave his group some credibility. A lot of promoters, as you well know, they won't book an act unless they have at least one original. So this allowed him the opportunity to pick up some more bookings 'cause now he has one of the originals. Bill has been with him a year and a half. I've been with him for almost three years now and we're having a good time. We're just out there doing it. It's interesting, yet incredible, doing it after all these years. Some important things that have happened... or maybe I'm gonna get ahead of myself and I should just allow you to ask more questions.
Q - Who thought up the name The Vogues?
A - That's another interesting story. I had gone into the military in 1961 with Don Miller, who was one of the other Vogues. We got out in '64. We originally were a group called The Val-Airs. Don Miller and I were from a group in high school and Chuck Blaske and Bill Burkette were in another group. Those groups split up and we became The Val-Airs. After Don and I got out of the military, Chuck and Bill came around and said "If you're interested, why don't we put some money together and go into a studio down in Pittsburgh and record some demo things to show around and see if anybody's interested," which we did. A gentleman who had a small record in Pittsburgh liked what he heard, but he didn't like what we had recorded. So he took us back in, and that was back in '65. He found the "You're The One" song on a Petula Clark album. So we recorded that one. We didn't even have a name. We all had full-time jobs when "You're The One" came out. I came home from work one day and my wife said "They're playing your song on the radio." I said "What? How could anybody be doing that?" She said "They're calling you The Vogues." I said "Really!" She said "Yeah." Backtracking, our manager, a gentleman we had known for years who became our manager, he previously had owned a supper club outside the Pittsburgh area called The Vogue Terrace. This was back in the early '50s, late '50s. He had acts in there like Ginger Rogers. It was a very nice supper club. People say they probably grabbed name Vogues from the Vogue Terrace back in those days. So, that's how we became The Vogues.
Q - I've looked over your schedule. You perform at theatres, nightclubs. You perform on cruises. You're going to be playing LeMoyne Manor in Liverpool, N.Y. That's a restaurant / banquet establishment. That's a little different for The Vogues, isn't it?
A - Yeah. I was told when this booking came up that I had been there before, but I don't remember the venue. But I'm sure it'll jog my memory when I step off the bus.
Q - Do you know they're charging $25 a ticket for the show, $50 if you want to eat dinner there. Did you know that?
A - I did not know that. I don't handle that end of it at all. As I said, I work for the gentleman who owns the trademark. It's his group. It's his show. He does all the bookings. He takes care of all the payments and advances he gets from agents. But I have no idea what kind of money he's asking for, nor do I care. I'm getting what I'm getting. I'm doing what I love to do and that's good enough for me. Sometimes it gets a little hectic. We did a cruise and that was a nightmare. He still hasn't gotten paid for that and that's coming up a year next month. So, the agent, she still owes him a lot of money.
Q - The Vogues had quite a few hits in the mid-1960s and then it seemed to stop. What happened?
A - Phenomenally, we had "You're The One", which I think went to number two or three nationally and followed that up with "Five O'clock World", which was a super hit. Back-to-back hits, the first songs we ever released as The Val-Airs. Then we followed up "Five O'clock World" with "Magic Town", which was a Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil song and that did very, very well. Then it got to the point where we were still with a small label in Pittsburgh and we weren't getting material of means sent to us of any worth, we thought. We started recording a lot of stuff other people had done. Finally, in '67 I think it was, maybe '68, the gentleman with the small label we were with, he got hooked up with Warner Brothers / Reprise in California and that's when we changed record labels. The first two or three songs we did, we flew up to New York. The producer flew in from California and he brought the tracks in. So, we put the vocals on in New York. Those couple of things didn't do anything at all. They didn't create any interest. Probably a month or so later, we went out to California and that's when we recorded "Turn Around, Look At Me". Maybe '66 to '68 was really a cold period for us. Even the first attempt with Reprise didn't do anything, but then along comes "Turn Around, Look At Me" and "My Special Angel" and "Till" and "No, Not Much". So, it kind of went from there. But we did have that cold period before we changed record labels.
Q - Were any of the guys writing original songs or did you depend on outside people for the songs?
A - We depended on outside people. We got a couple of nice things from Jimmy Webb, who was writing at that time. To be honest, there are things on some of our albums that were not released as singles that I really enjoy and like more than the songs we released as singles. There's two CDs out now on Carigon and each CD contains two albums that we recorded and they are very, very well done. They turned out very well. Usually, when you listen to stuff, or I do, the first time you listen to yourself. What am I singing? How am I doing? Just recently, after all these years, I'm sitting down listening to the instrumental arrangements by Ernie Freeman. He did "Strangers In The Night" for Sinatra. He did some incredible arrangements. I'm just now really, really listening to the music and kind of blocking out the vocals on these couple of CDs. We just got hooked up with the right people at the right time. It really worked well for us.
Q - How did you audition for a label? Did a record company rep. come and see the group?
A - No. What we did is paid for some demo stuff ourselves and showed it around Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh guy who had a small Pittsburgh label, he was recording Lou Christie for awhile, and he's the one who came to us and said "I'd really like to sign you guys, but let's go into the studio and record something different. I didn't particularly care for the songs you had done." So that's how "You're The One" and "Five O'clock World" came to be. The was no audition. He had heard the demo tapes we did. He was pleased with what we sounded like, so he took us into the studio and that's kind of where it all started. He was the one who eventually directed us towards Reprise Records. But there was no audition. He liked what we sounded like and signed us to a contract and we went from there. Of course, when we changed labels we automatically signed to Warner Brothers / Reprise and there was no audition there because they had heard "You're The One", "Five O'clock World" and "Magic Town" and they were interested in getting The Vogues a shot on their label.
Q - When I listen to "Five O'clock World", I can actually believe the lead singer...is that you?
A - No. That's Bill (Burkette).
Q - I can actually believe he worked in a factory. Did any of you guys work in a factory?
A - Chuck and Bill worked in a factory.
Q - That's why it's so convincing. It comes across.
A - Back in the mid-60s, Pittsburgh was an industrial town, steel mills and everything. A lot of manufacturing. Now they're more computerized and technical businesses. All the steel mills are shut down except for a couple. We all had day jobs. He and Chuck worked in Westinghouse Air Brake. "You're The One" came out and was a big hit and guys used to come up to Bill and say "What are you guys still doing here? You have a hit record! What are you waitin' on?" Bill said "We're waiting for the next one," which was "Five O'clock World". When that one came out, all four of us quit our jobs, our day jobs and went into the music business full-time. Of course, my first wife freaked out. I just had a new baby, which was our third child. I went home and said "Me and the guys talked this over and we're gonna do this full-time." "What do you mean? You're gonna quit your job? What about hospitalization?" I said "Hey, I have to do this. I don't want to pass this opportunity up. If I don't do it, down the road I'm gonna kick myself wondering what would have happened it I tried. I'm gonna give it a shot anyhow." So that's what I did and I was with the group eight or nine years.
Q - After "Five O'clock World" came out, how did life change for you? You quit your job and what followed?
A - We went on the road. Of course the other three Vogues were very understanding of my situation because at the time, I think Bill had a daughter when we quit our jobs in '65, but I had three kids and I had a stipulation and told them and my manager or our manager that I will not go on the road for more than two weeks at a time, even if I come home just to get a change of clothes. I have to come home after two weeks because I just can't be away from my kids that long. They said "OK, no problem." They did, unfortunately, have to pass up a couple of engagements that lasted longer than two weeks, but they were agreeable to what I asked. It was a big change. You're away from home, first time all of us are away from home. You go from a 9 to 5 job every day to being on the road and the road life isn't that comfortable. People used to say to me, "It must be great to go up there onstage and do an hour or two hour show. That's got to be the best!" I said "You don't understand. I was up at 4 o'clock this morning to catch a plane to even get here. Then we have the sound check. After the show, we're packing it in and going to get on another plane to go somewhere else. You just see the glamour side of it. You don't understand or even are aware of what happens behind the scenes." So, it's hectic. Now the way we're doing it is a little different than the way we did back then because the four original guys, we flew everywhere. Jobs that weren't too far to, we drove to. We flew a lot of private planes in order to...we found out we could go out and do a college concert and fly back home and you don't have the expense of hotels. But private planes are pretty expensive. We kind of did it more as a convenience than anything else. Now, we fly long distances and those guys have a tour bus. We travel on that. We go pretty far on the bus. We go up to Wisconsin on the bus. We fly down to Florida. We're gonna be out in Las Vegas. We're gonna be out there ten days, but we're only gonna be performing five. We're gonna be working two different casinos. But life on the road is kind of hectic. It's fun now. These guys that Bill and I are with really don't understand what it was like way back when, because they weren't there. They're helping to sing The Vogues' songs, but they don't have a clue as to what it was like back then; to be on the road, to fly to California two or three times a year for a couple of weeks each time to record. They have a different view of how things are because they weren't part of it back in the mid-'60s.
Q - In your touring days, did you by chance ever meet Elvis?
A - Did not meet Elvis. But we were working a nightclub called The Shamrock Hilton in Texas and he was appearing across the way at what was then The Astro Dome. He was staying in the hotel where we were performing, but we never crossed paths. He came in and did his show and the next day he was gone. We never even got to see him.
Q - Did you ever meet any of The Beatles?
A - Well, we only met one and it was kind of after the fact. We were in California. We were in a studio recording and George Harrison came in. I don't know why he happened to be in that particular area, but he came into the studio and sat in the engineer's booth. After we had done a couple of takes, we went in and met him. But we never met the other three at all.
Q - How about Frank Sinatra?
A - No. See, Warner Brothers started Reprise Records. They started that for Sinatra. He used to be with Capitol and Columbia. Then he went to Reprise, which Warner Brothers started for him. And of course, he brings along Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Kenny Rogers And The First Edition recorded for Reprise. Jimi Hendrix was on Reprise for awhile. Even though we recorded on the same label, we never had the opportunity to meet any of those people. I've met other people in the business...Andy Williams. Now we do a lot of oldies shows and meet a lot of the groups. We've done a couple of shows with the original lead singer of The Penguins. We had "Earth Angel" on an album and got some airplay. He sounds exactly like the record. I remember buying that record when I was probably 12 or 13 years old. He is really, really good. But we run across people like that. No Beatles. No Sinatra. My Sinatra story is: We went to California to record and the promo guy from the label picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel and got us settled in. He said "You guys need anything, just let me know." I said "Hey, you think you could get me a couple of Sinatra albums?" He said "I'll see what I can do." Couple of days later he shows up at the hotel with a box of 50 different albums and I still have each and every one of them. Of course, I still have my turntable too. A lot of people don't do that. They got rid of their turntables.
Q - The promo guy should've had at least one of those Sinatra albums autographed.
A - That would have been great. Another interesting story about Sinatra is that we were sitting in Mo Ostin's office. He was the president of Warner Brothers / Reprise Records. We had been out there recording for the first time and went to meet him. He got a phone call. He said "Excuse me a minute," and he talked for a while and hung up. He said "That was Frank. He called because he got his first Gold single record in his whole career," which was the duet with his daughter, "Somethin' Stupid". So that was pretty interesting. Here's a guy who's been around forever, man, and he calls up and he's so excited 'cause he sold a million.
Q - In the early days of The Vogues, did all of you guys wear matching suits and do choreographed dance steps?
A - Yes, we did. In fact what we did is, we found out back then and I imagine it might be pretty close to being the same thing now, you would get booked at colleges to do college concerts based on your hit records, or hit record at the time. If you were hot at the time, you got a lot of calls to work. If you were in-between hits and had a cold spell, the college kid kind of ignored you and went on to somebody that's at the top of the list. We found we can't work that way. So we hired a guy in Pittsburgh and he choreographed a whole nightclub act for us and wrote special material, special songs. What we ended up doing, a lot of the big colleges like Michigan State and we went up to Notre Dame, we would actually go and do our nightclub act for the college. In the college act of course we did all the hit records we had at the time plus all the other special material. Having that nightclub act kind of sustained us through some periods of waiting for the next hit record.
Q - Do you carry your own musicians with you these days?
A - Yes, all the time. We come in self-contained. We have our own P.A. system. We have our own sound guy. We have our own stage manager. We do a lot of oldies concerts with other oldies acts. The sound system is already there and what they call the back line is already there. They'll have the keyboards. They'll have a set of drums. They'll have a guitar amp and a bass amp and all our guys got to do is walk on stage and plug in because we don't need our sound system at those venues.
Q - Did you carry you own musicians with you in the '60s?
A - That's one of the big differences. Back in the '60s we carried our guitars, conductor, own drummer. Then, musicians from the nearest Musicians Union, we would hire a keyboard player and some horns and a bass player. In fact, when we did The Tonight Show, we got the names of some of the musicians in the Tonight Show Band and if we were up around New York City or that area, since Carson's not on, on Saturday, they were free to work. So, we at times got to use some of The Tonight Show musicians to augment our couple of guys.
Q - That was in the '60s or '70s?
A - Probably the late '60s 'cause I know we did "Turn Around, Look At Me" on his show. It was amazing on that show. We went to rehearse it. We ran through it once and Doc Severinson's band played it perfectly. Not a flaw. We didn't have to do it again until it was time to do it for the show. So when we're out on the road doing these college concerts and these other musicians that were hired in, one of them said to our guitarist, "Seems to be something wrong with this one part in this song here." Our guitarist looked at him and said "The Tonight Show Band didn't have a bit of problem with it." He just didn't understand what he was supposed to do, I guess. But that was a good experience.
Q - You grew up in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania.
A - Right.
Q - That was pretty far from Dick Clark's American Bandstand in Philadelphia?
A - Yeah. We went out and did that show when Dick Clark was in Philly and also did The Mike Douglas Show, 'cause he was out of Philly at the time.
Q - What was Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania like?
A - Small town...blue collar. A big identifying thing with "Five O'clock World". A lot of people across the country identified with that song. Turtle Creek, maybe 15 to 20,000 people back then. Big Westinghouse Electric plant there. Westinghouse Air Brake And Shock where I eventually worked later. It was just up the way about five miles. We had a lot of dads work for the railroad, the Union Railroad. It was a whole different atmosphere back then that it is now. I tell my kids now, who are in their 40s, and they find it hard to believe, but in the summer time you left your door open, the screen door, just to let some cool air in. Nobody locked their doors. I tell my kids, we had a ton of kids on our street, all various ages that we all played and hung out with. Each one of us had six mothers and every mother looked out for every kid and they were allowed to reprimand you. If you got in trouble with somebody else's mom, you knew when you got home your mother knew about it. It was a great place to live because it was a very slow lifestyle. The work ethic or course at that time was very different that it is now. My dad would never think about missing work. Never. It wouldn't matter how sick he was, he'd get up and go to work. I enjoyed living in Turtle Creek. Of course, I'm talking the '40s and '50s. I graduated high school in '59 and still lived in Turtle Creek; I didn't move out of Turtle Creek until my first wife and I bought a house in '68. That's the first time I left Turtle Creek.
Q - But before The Vogues, you never got to go to see American Bandstand?
A - No. Too far away. I'm on the Western part of Pennsylvania and Philly's on the other end. But I can remember running home from school every day and watching it on TV.
Q - Go back to the first release you had with The Val-Airs. How far up the charts did "Laurie, My Love" go?
A - I don't think it even made it to the charts. Actually it was "Lonnie, My Love" and on the other side was a song the four of us wrote, which was so bad. (laughs) I'm embarrassed to even play it now. It was a song called "Which One Will It Be". Very repetitious kind of thing. Of course, when you're still in high school, all four of us were in high school at the same time, and you'd have a record that they're playing on the radio, my God, you were big stuff back then. It didn't matter how bad the record was. You were somebody. That song on the radio made you somebody when you were in high school. You look back on it now and it seems so silly. But in a small town like Turtle Creek, that was a big happening. I think you get that adulation from people when they think you've stepped above them. Some look at you..."Wow! You guys are really doing great. Your song is on the radio!" Other people look at you and say "You think you're hot stuff, don't you? Just 'cause you have a record on the radio you think you're something else." So you kind of got both reactions from people back then.
NOTE: Speaking of "reactions", after The Vogues Show at LeMoyne Manor in Liverpool, N.Y., I was talking to Bill Burkette. A gentleman comes up to Mr. Burkette and says, "Thank you for being part of my life." It doesn't get much better than that.