Friday, 30 September 2011

Reginald "Briz" Brisbon

Following on from the previous post, I have found a bit of information about Reginald "Briz" Brisbon online and a clip of him singing lead with Stevie Ray Vaughan's band, embedded later in this post. The above image comes from a Paul Simon concert.

What I remember most about him from the residency in Glasgow discussed elsewhere (link at end) is the extraordinary sense of propulsion he gave 14 Karat Soul; I think I read he had originally been a drummer, and it showed. In the above image from an album cover he is far left.

And I remember two moments especially, one of which I wrote about in one of the messages to Clarke on the Kewl Steve board, describing the way that he and the lead - can't remember who - really acted out the tale of everyteen's hopeless love for Gloria:
"Briz" loomed as the lead sang, one last time, of his yearnings, intoning over him those doomy notes that spelled out just one thing: You're alone, Bub; get used to it. The bass was reality, a bell to toll him back to his sole self, alone in the less than tender night.

Briz was singing right into his face, with a sort of evil glee: maybe this message from the Reality Zone had to be given, but he was certainly enjoying the task, and the "teenage" lead was not much liking it, protesting his love and need to the end.
I went on to say in that message that the memory of that performance, in the truest sense, of Gloria, helped inspire me to write a radio play about a doo wop singer who was facing a similar collision of reality and fantasy in his personal life, so I can say that Briz, along with the memory of seeing Fred Parris in a film, led to my first proper piece of writing, discounting botched attempts at university. 

The other memory was of Briz and the group at the beginning of each Glasgow concert, doing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy with Briz plucking an imaginary double bass.You can listen to or download an mp3 of a live performance of the group singing that song on beaudaddy's site here on a page with lots of information about the early version of the group.

But for me the quickest reminder online of what he was like can be found in a youtube clip from Sesame Street. This Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers song featured in the Glasgow concerts, and you can see what an integral part Briz played. It doesn't get much simpler and happier than this:

But here he is singing at a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan with a song which appropriately enough is about the relentness nature of Time:

A Paul Simon website contains the information that Reginald "Briz" Brisbon died in New York on July 15th 1995, at the age of 38. Jimmy Vaughan´s manager said he had been out in the New York heat all day, "dancin´ and having fun - you know how Briz was."

I will investigate his post-14 Karat Soul career further and see what I can find out about those others who have gone.

 In the meantime here is an account of the group from Jay Warner's Billboard Book of American Singing Groups, which seems to be the fullest version of the group's story available. I don't know whether the version below, found online, is quite the same as the version in the above edition of the book, as I seem to remember the above, which I have read in that happy no-time of being offline, included a reference to a planned show entitled Conkaline (after a hair straightener) which was to feature the group, with the slogan "Before Grease there was Conkaline." I assume the project came to nothing, which is a pity. There isn't a musical around which does full justice to doo wop music. Anyway, that's a matter for another day. The details below fill in everything you need to know about the group's early lineup.

Once called "the best teenaged singing group in America" by a Village Voice columnist, Fourteen Karat Soul was the brainchild of Glen "Glenny T" Wright, a 16-year-old from Essex County Vocational and Technical High School in Bloomfield, New Jersey. On a fateful November day in 1975 Glenny T attended a registration for a talent show at East Orange High to enroll his band. While there, a vocal group with eight members came on stage to audition, singing "Me and Mrs. Jones" (Billy Paul 1972) a cappella. Enthralled by this new experience, Glen ran home and
announced his intention to form a singing group. The original members came from three different schools but each was in the Mount Olive Baptist Church Young Adult Choir in East Orange. Besides Glen there was Russell Fox II (13, baritone, from William S. Heart Middle School), Brian Simpson (13, first tenor natural), David Thurmond (16, first tenor falsetto), and Reginald "Briz" Brisbon (16, bass) (the latter three were of East Orange High School).

Briz was found at the school playground and he auditioned singing "The Sun," a song by THE PERSUASIONS. When he sailed through the song in baritone, Glenny told him they were really looking for a bass. Briz finished off the ballad by dropping to a lower register, and Glenny T's smile told Briz he'd made the group.

They began rehearsing at Glen's Chestnut Street home in East Orange, practicing songs from the '70s' "Me and Mrs. Jones" to the '50s' "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." Their name came from a brainstorming session with David and his girifriend, Denise Washington (later actress Miesha McCay). He thought of "Fourteen Karat Gold" and she adapted "Gold" to "Soul."

Their humble debut was a performance at the dedication for the East Orange Public Library on March 14, 1976. After that they played local gigs and practiced what could best be described as sounds of the '50s and '60s turned into '70s soul music.

In November 1977 they played a United in Group Harmony Association (U.G.H.A.) show for the newly formed oldies organization at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen, New Jersey. Former Persuasions producer Stan Krause saw them and immediately recognized the above average talent. Stan brought in producer Skip Jackson to record 14KS, and rather than going in an obvious a cappella oldies direction, he recorded the group in a disco mode on the song "Doo-Wop Disco." (Skip also recorded their version of "The Sun" for the doo wop diehards in early 1979.)

Due to their contemporary harmony sound with '50s roots, the quintet found themselves performing with a wide cross section of acts. On the oldies side there were THE CADILLACS, THE HARPTONES, THE FLAMINGOS, THE SPANIELS, THE MOONGLOWS, and THE CHARTS. The unexpected side included soul rockers B. T. Express and Brass Construction, soul acts BLUE MAGIC and Al Green, and rockers Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes as well as Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

Confidence was building when Glenny T got word that Ray Charles would be appearing at Newark's Symphony Hall. Glenny managed to reach Ray by phone hoping for an opening spot on his bill, but the forthright R&B legend passed, saying he'd
never heard of the group. Glen replied that their record was currently being played on WNJR. On June 2, 1979, FKS opened for Ray Charles. Apparently he had turned on his radio and liked what he heard.

Playwrights Bob Telson and Lee Breuer saw the quintet perform almost a year later at that same Symphony Hall (March 9, 1980), which led to Fourteen Karat Soul appearing in a doo wop operetta produced by Joseph Papp called Sister Suzie Cinema. When the show moved out of the Public Theater in New York the group went with it to travel on the road to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and European stopovers in France, Switzerland, Holland, and Belgium. By 1982 they had also toured the U.K. and had an LP out on Catamount titled Lovers Fantasy. As an inspiration to others, their album was encased in glass for display at the East Orange Public Library. They also appeared three times on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," on "Sesame Street," sang backup for Robert Plant on stage, and did a U.K./European tour with Whitney
Houston, and all without a hit record.

In 1983 the soulful foursome met Stray Cats lead Brian Selzer in London. He was so intrigued by the group's sound that they were brought in to do the harmony on the Stray Cats' EMI recording "I Won't Stand in "Your Way," which charted on October 29th and went to number 35, unfortunately without any credit to 14KS. The performance was done with such perfection that the B side of the single was the A side's vocal tracks without instruments. The record marked the beginning of a five-month tour (October 1983 to February 1984) for the group with the Cats.

During April 1986 Fourteen K. performed at a music industry party in London and met a gentleman who was interested in bringing them to Japan. It took a year, but the group finally got to perform at several Tokyo clubs in 1987. They went on to record three albums released only in Japan.

Fourteen Karat Soul had only a few member changes in its career. In 1991 the group included Glenny T, Russell, and David, along with Tony Zeke Holding (replacing Simpson in 1986 at first tenor) and Mykie Alexander (on bass, replacing Brisbon in 1984). Mykie was a former member of the a cappella group Charm, which is often credited with having backed Billy Joel on his 1984 hit "The Longest Time." It has since come to light that Mykie was the only Charm on Joel's record.

Though they didn't have a hit, Fourteen Karat Soul was one of the premier soul vocal groups of the 70s and 80s.

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