(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)
I was familiar with the "ethnic" stuff--a misnomer we applied to the serious, purist folk stuff like Dave Graham was broadcasting on KTUC. I had not realized there were successful folk acts who were not getting radio airplay, playing to packed college auditoriums and nightclub audiences. Among those, The Limeliters--Alex Hassiliev, Lou Gottlieb, and Glenn Yarbrough, who were, as the announcer introducing them said, slightly fabulous.
Their vocal and instrumental presentation was more of a formal sound than the KT, and the range of their music was more like Bud & Travis--eclectic and intricately instrumented. The big deal, as far as I was concerned, was the work of front man and bass player Lou Gottlieb.
Now, each of their voices had a trained tone and quality that made their speaking voices stentorian by modern, slovenly standards. Lou had a particularly musical speaking voice that was the perfect vehicle for the continuity he contributed between numbers. He adopted a hilarious, stilted delivery and couched his humor in vocabulary and phrasing that made the jokes even funnier. Later, he would advise me to explore the idea of "inner mirth" to help my own comedic style. Though I had never put my finger on it, exactly what made it so much fun was that you knew he was having fun!
So, I'm in Tucson in 1985, and I get word from a friend that The Limeliters are looking for a stopover gig and might be available at a reduced rate. I called, and negotiations began with Alex, who handled the business. My plan was to open for them, so I could get some of their fans on my mailing list. Though not at all excited about the idea of a small-timer preceding them, Alex allowed it, and preparations began.
This was the beginning of one of the most meaningful, costly learning experiences of my young life.
Glenn had left the group in '63 to pursue a very successful single career as a singer and actor.
The tenor was now sung by Red Grammer, an extremely talented young man. He had things to do, and we were barely introduced.
I did get to spend a little time with Alex and Lou--both rewarding experiences in their own right.
I did not get to perform. The audience was spared that by the fact that a young man whom I had rented the monitor system from and was paying to deliver it, was very late. Some of The Limeliters had to catch a plane, so the show could not be delayed. I spent my performance time wrestling with the monitors, sweating through my now perfunctory stage clothes. I couldn't help but recall my first gig with Barbara at the Marriott.
As I expressed to Alex my frustration at being let down by someone I was paying to provide a service, he succinctly said, "These days you have to come on like an (expletive for an obnoxious person) from the get-go just to get them to do their job!" That made me feel a little better about some of our phone conversations setting the gig up!
Lou actually took time to watch my demo, and wrote me a very nice letter, which I treasure. He gave me genuinely helpful counsel about the business, and shared with me about how to make "inner mirth" work. One of the things he advised was "Get to a coast. Either one will do." (I chose the East Coast, but it took a few years to get there.)
About four years before the episode just recounted, the group had reunited for a tour, and, they still had it.
A gentleman named Ed Waldrup has posted this rare video on his You Tube channel. You'll hear the end of their famous opener, and then Lou's introduction of the group, followed by a priceless autobiographical song entitled "Acres of Limeliters." Please leave a kind comment for Ed for sharing this!