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'Shower of Stars' preps to turn back the clock to classics

| Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010

Before there were the Beach Boys, there were the Four Preps.

For eight years between 1956 and 1964, the Preps, those clean-cut California vocalists from legendary Hollywood High, placed songs on the national charts at least 13 times.

That included two in the Top 10 -- "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)" at No. 2 in 1958, which Dick Clark hailed as "the first surfer hit," followed by "Big Man," No. 3, the same year -- four in the Top 20 (including "Down by the Station" at 13 in 1960, and the satirical "More Money for You and Me" at 17 in 1961) and six in the Top 25 (including "Lazy Summer Night" at 21 in 1958).

Their sound and approach, considered in some circles a predecessor to the Beach Boys, who later acknowledged them, often was described as "fresh," "clean" and "carefree."

"I've often been told that a song like '26 Miles' sounded upbeat and happy-go-lucky and put a smile on your face, and I think a lot of people really responded to the positive nature of our style, and our fun lyrics," says original lead singer and co-founder Bruce Belland, who brings a new lineup of the Four Preps back to the Pittsburgh area for the first time in more than 40 years Saturday.

The group, which incorporated (and still does) a lot of comedy into the shows, headlines performances at 4 and 8 p.m. at Highlands High School auditorium, Natrona Heights, in the latest installment of the "Shower of Stars" presented by Alle-Kiski promoters Alex Mellon and David Revilla. It also features the song parodies and impersonations of Bob Andre and Frank Cirell, including a performance of The Knockouts' "Darling Lorraine," which was a major Pittsburgh regional hit and went top 10 nationally. Andre was lead singer with the Knockouts. Cirell is an alumnus of the Duprees.

The Pittsburgh area-based, the Streetlights, open the show with their a cappella do wop stylings.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Natrona Heights and Tarentum.

"We didn't want to bring in the same old rehashed oldies acts that play Pittsburgh periodically," says Mellon of Tarentum. "They all complement each other. We're excited about the show."

So are the Four Preps. "We're stoked to be coming back. Pittsburgh was the first city where 'Big Man' hit the charts," Belland says. "Each guy is a seasoned veteran of iconic groups, including the Diamonds and Crew-Cuts."

The group will present a multimedia show that includes video clips from their many appearances on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and Dick Clark's "American Bandstand."

"Dick Clark once was quoted as saying, 'Listening to the Four Preps is like listening to the soundtrack of our lives," Mellon says.

Belland promises "a stroll down memory lane, a night of magical memories."

"It's really impossible to put into words what a great feeling it is to realize that your music is taking people back to a wonderful time in their life, and stirring up warm memories of a certain place or a very special someone," he says.

Busy people

Belland went on to a career in television (he has three Emmy nominations) and film.

He was on the "Ozzie and Harriet" TV show for four years as Rick Nelson's college roommate and fraternity brother. "Ozzie was a genius, unlike any other icon I've ever worked with: star, producer, director, head writer; an amazing and beloved gentleman," he says.

The Four Preps were in the original "Gidget" movie with Sandra Dee, James Darren and Cliff Robertson and Belland has done numerous voices for animated features, including the Disney classic, "Jungle Book."

He was co-author of the official anthem of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, for which he was awarded the Freedom Foundation's Presidential Medal of the Arts and was cited in the Congressional Record.

In addition to co-writing the Preps' string of hits, his songs have been recorded by artists ranging from Willie Nelson and Johnny Mathis to Herman's Hermits and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "Hearing the Tabernacle Choir raise the roof with one of my compositions is a thrill that's hard to describe," he says.

Belland penned "What Would I Do Without My Music" for Elvis Presley, but The King died before recording it. "That pretty much sums up my feelings. A lot of high schools and college choirs have adopted it as their theme song," he says.

The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson once told Belland that he felt the Preps had helped open the doors to later groups like the Beach Boys being able to write their own material. "I take great pride in that," Belland says.

Wilson, in his biography, pays tribute to the Four Preps and the concert the Preps gave at his high school just before he formed the Beach Boys.

Jimmy Buffett, in his autobiography, named a chapter "26 Miles," and cited it as one of his favorite teenage records "because it conjured such a sunny picture of fun and cute girls."

Belland and The Four Preps' careers have been filled with freeze-frame moments. "It was a wonderful, carefree, exciting time for four teenage guys from a blue collar neighborhood just off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood," he recalls. One of the many highlights was performing in an Emmy-winning TV special with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong and Rosemary Clooney.

"It still dazzles me to realize what happened to us back then. Wow! What a dream come true," he says.

Additional Information:

'Shower of Stars'

With: The Four Preps, Andre & Cirell, the Streetlights

When: 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Highlands High School, Natrona Heights

Admission: $20. Box office opens noon Saturday

Details: 724-882-5566; www.showerofstars.com

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