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Still fresh after all these years

Vocal group the Four Freshmen can count Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson as a fan.

July 03, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Vince Johnson, bass player for the Four Freshmen, holds a vintage album cover as he poses for a photo at the Marriott Hotel & Spa in Newport Beach on Tuesday.
Vince Johnson, bass player for the Four Freshmen, holds… (Kevin Chang / Daily…)

Any Brian Wilson historian knows that the Beach Boys leader based his group's sound partly on the Four Freshmen, the close-harmony group that formed in the 1940s and has continued ever since.

However, Bob Ferreira, the Freshmen's bass singer, doesn't need a biography to tell him about the connection. He's heard it from Wilson himself — for example, in person a few years back.

"He came to see us in Newport Beach at the Balboa Bay Club and came to the dressing room before the show and asked, 'Can you sing the intro to "Little Girl Blue"?'" recalled Ferreira, whose group will perform July 10 in the Sunset Jazz at Newport series. "He asked, 'Can I sing the bass part?'"

The Freshmen obliged, and Wilson's eyes, according to Ferreira, "just lit up." There was an ironic twist to the meeting, though: While the "Good Vibrations" auteur may have taken a cue from the Freshmen as a teenager, the four men he harmonized with in the dressing room belonged to a younger generation who looked up to the Beach Boys as elder statesmen.

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That's because the Freshmen, who were elected to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001, have survived their entire original lineup. In 2011, the last two members of the original group, Ross Barbour and Bob Flanigan, passed away. Meanwhile, the current members — Ferreira, Vince Johnson, Curtis Calderon and Brian Eichenberger — tour every year to bring the Freshmen's vocal blend to a new audience.

July 10, the quartet will play for the third consecutive summer in the rose garden of the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa by Fashion Island. Already, it's been a good year in Southern California for the Freshmen — in January, they received a spot on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, which also honors the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Considering that some of the Freshmen's repertoire predates both of those performers, perhaps the honor was overdue. Even after more than 60 years, the band hasn't strayed much from its Great American Songbook roots; its latest studio album, "Love Songs," contains such war horses as "Stardust," "Body and Soul" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square."

In other words, don't expect Pink or Kanye West covers when the group takes the stage in Newport. Johnson, an Irvine resident, said that while the group sometimes writes new material, it's content to set its sights beyond Millennials.

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