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Side Effect has musical soul

A cappella quartet wanders the O.C. Fair bringing music to the air.

August 10, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com
  • Augie's Side Effect members Augie Johnson, Barry "BJ" Jackson, MIlton "Silky" Ellis and Reagae Clarke, left to right, finish a spirited version of "Rockin Robin" for a young fair-goer.
Augie's Side Effect members Augie Johnson, Barry… (Don Leach, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — With only five days left till the end of the 2010 Orange County Fair, you might take time out to get to know that wandering four-man a cappella group that's been singing some of the classics like "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Stand By Me" and "Over the Rainbow."

Dressed in fedoras and old-school black outfits, the group, Augie's Side Effect, has been performing at the county fair for the past five years. They've been somewhat of a musical anchor, even if they themselves aren't exactly anchored down. Their tunes often fill the air in different parts of the fairgrounds.

But what's particularly special about the group is that when they're not singing, they're among the best conversationalists you'll ever find — if you take the time out to talk to them and learn a bit about their lives, which vary as much as their songs and the high and low notes that accompany them.

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It's only when you sit down and talk to them that you get to hear the banter and wisecracks that can only come from a close-knit group of guys, ones who feel lucky to be making a buck doing what they do best: Opening up the vocal chords and performing a little doo-wop.

"But technically speaking, we're not just 'doo-wop,'" said Augie Johnson, 62, a New Orleans native who grew up in Los Angeles and who founded the group nearly four decades ago. "We're an a cappella group with a little 'bop' to it. It's doo-wop, mixed with bebop; we're 'aca-bop.'"

An a cappella group is band of singers who use no instruments. Their voices are their instruments, and with every song they sing, there's, without question, a harmony to be found.

Take Simon & Garfunkel, add two more guys, mix in blues, jazz, gospel and just about everything else under the sun, and what you get is Augie's Side Effect.

As Dave Santana, a longtime fan of the group, pointed out in the blazing sun late Sunday afternoon: "If you say two words to them, they'll finish the rest for you by singing something."

And so it is that a normal conversation becomes a silly song, like when a couple passing by asks if they can take a picture of their daughter standing next to the group.

"Say cheese," the group sings in unison before launching into Sam Cooke's 1964 Civil Rights Movement-era song, "A Change Is Gonna Come."

"It's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die / 'Cause I don't know what's up there beyond the sky / It's been a long, a long time coming / But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will."

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