I wrote in an earlier post that I spent my last year of high school in Monterey, California, after my Navy-officer dad was transferred there from our previous home in Massachusetts. As I mentioned, that first summer on the Monterey Peninsula, and that first month of school starting that September, were rough and depressing for me - up until a music-related incident occurred there that changed my whole attitude and outlook on the area. I began enjoying California more and more, and got involved in several activities - the track team and drama club at school, and my after-school job at nearby Santa Catalina (a private girls school) - that brought me a host of new friends.
One of my new buddies, Wayne, was a fellow member on the track team (he ran middle distance; I was a sprinter). Originally from Southern California, his family had moved to Monterey in the late 1970s, a couple of years before mine. In addition to the sports team, Wayne was also in a couple of my classes, and he quickly became part of a group I regularly had lunch with, either in the school cafeteria or at the pizza place in the nearby downtown area (I commented in an earlier post how flabbergasted I was at how open and liberal California schools were, compared with what I had been used to all my life in Eastern schools).
As I recall, it was during one of these noontime pizza parlor sessions with the guys that we started talking about the cartoons and other shows we liked when we were younger. We yammered on about old Saturday morning shows like Super Friends, Hong Kong Phooey
As a small boy, he expressed interest in acting with his parents, who responded by enrolling him in speech, music and drama classes, and taking him to casting calls for the many TV commercials being filmed in the area. He appeared in a few TV ads, mostly for local merchants. His folks helped him acquire an agent, who began looking for more lucrative opportunities for Wayne in television and movies. But nothing of that larger scope and reach ever seemed to pan out for him. When he was eleven, his agent made one final all-out effort on his behalf: he entered him into a nationwide search for child actors to host The New Mickey Mouse Club, scheduled to begin airing in early 1977. The casting call attracted thousands of hopefuls along with Wayne; according to him, he made it very far into the audition process. He claimed to have reached the next-to-last group of kids (the final two dozen or so contenders) before he was finally cut. That pretty much ended his adolescent acting days, and his family moved north, away from the hub of that sort of activity, shortly thereafter.
Of course, half the guys thought that Wayne was BSing all of us, but he backed up his claims with further questioning. The only host I remembered from the program was a black kid named 'Pop' Attmore; Mickey Mouse was the last role he had in a brief early-70's child actor career (he also appeared on the "Kelly's Kids" episode of The Brady Bunch a few years earlier). When I asked Wayne about him, he responded instantly: "Billy? Yeah - he was kind of a dick!", and regaled us with some of Attmore's actions during the audition process. And Wayne claimed to still have the mouse ears the Disney people gave him and the others in his penultimate group; a couple of weeks later, he brought them to school to show us. Yes, he could have just acquired them during an earlier visit to Disneyland... but by then I was fairly convinced his story was true.
However, the thing Wayne said that clinched my belief in him was "I had the same agent as the Keane Brothers." Holy flashback - I'd almost all but forgotten about those guys! The Keane Brothers were a short-lived preteen pop group out of Southern California who achieved some mid-70's national recognition (including a network TV program) without the merest shred of chart success or any remote semblance of an expansive fan base.
The story of Tom Keane (born 1964) and John Keane (born 1965) begins with their father, Bob Keane. The elder Keane was a long-time record producer and label owner who, through a series of bad breaks and insanely bad luck, never quite made it into the big time. To wit:
- In the mid-Fifties, Keane entered into an oral agreement with a Los Angeles businessman in setting up his first label, Keen Records. As the A&R man (Artists & Repertoire, i.e. talent scout), Keane did all the legwork
- Keane set up a new label, Del-Fi Records, in 1958, and had some minor successes early that year with a couple of the imprint's singles releases. That May, he received a tip that a teenaged performer from nearby Pacoima, known locally as "the Little Richard of San Fernando", would be playing a weekend matinee show at a theater in the valley. Keane went to see this kid in action, and was so blown away by his performance that he immediately invited him over to audition at his basement recording studio. By the end of the month Keane had signed the seventeen-year-old Richard Valenzuela to Del-Fi, who through Keane's
- After Valens' death, Del-Fi Records limped along for many years, releasing a lot of music by surf bands (including The Lively Ones and The Surfaris), Frank Zappa (some of his early recordings), and Chan Romero, who had a late-50's hit with "Hippy Hippy Shake". But Keane wouldn't find his next big star until 1964, when the label signed The Bobby Fuller Four. The band recorded eight singles and two
The boys began small, playing at shopping malls, store openings and the like in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. With their father's drive, backing and industry experience, they began expanding their horizons and looking beyond local success - not that the boys were necessarily concerned with that. By all indications, they got into music because they genuinely enjoyed it, and weren't obsessed with becoming stars. Their
As for why CBS would take such a chance and provide relatively unknown performers with substantial airtime, you have to remember that in the Seventies, the networks routinely scheduled short-run summer replacement comedy/variety shows headlined by fresh talent as an alternative to reruns, to retain viewership while their regularly-scheduled series took time off. These shows were relatively inexpensive to produce in comparison to the programs they were subbing for, and early
The Carpenters, Melba Moore, Jerry Reed, Helen Reddy, Tony Orlando & Dawn, The Hudson Brothers, Mac Davis and The Manhattan Transfer all headlined their own short-lived summer TV variety showcases. All of these met with varying degrees of success, but none of them proved to be the runaway hits that the network hoped for, and none were picked up as a regular season series.
Looking for a guaranteed winner, in 1976 CBS scheduled a summer show starring The Jacksons, who at that point had fallen on hard times; their string of big Motown hits had dried up two years earlier, and they were in the midst of a protracted dispute with their label that led to them leaving Motown for Epic Records in 1975. The network figured that their stardom and youth appeal would draw eyeballs, and despite Michael Jackson's trepidation regarding what the show would do the the band's image and sales, the
The Jacksons was pretty much the peak of the summer replacement format; by then, the genre was becoming increasingly dated and passe. But CBS gave it one more shot in 1977, scheduling summer variety shows with Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. (formerly of The 5th Dimension), one-hit wonders The Starland Vocal Band (a program which featured the talents of a then-unknown comedian named David Letterman), the mime duo Shields & Yarnell... and The Keane Brothers. The Keane Brothers Show began airing that August, for a half-hour at 8:30 pm on Friday. I watched every one of the four shows, as I was fascinated that two kids exactly my age had come so far. Here's the show opening:
The format was standard variety-show hokum, with Tom and John interacting with their various guest stars from the world of prime time TV (like Betty White and Sonny Bono) in lame comedy routines, interspersed between the duo performing a couple of songs off of their then-sole album. The boys were fresh-faced, professional and engaging on TV, and you could see that they had some genuine musical talent. Tom could whale on the keyboards, and exhibited a great set of pipes - at times belting out a song with abandon, sounding preternaturally like a preteen Elton John. His brother John was a virtuoso at the drum kit, and was no slouch in the vocal department himself. But the material they performed (almost all of the songs on the album were written by the two of them) was abysmal, even judging it by the standards of Seventies pop - their music made The Bay City Rollers seem like The Sex Pistols by comparison.
Here's what I regard as the nadir: their on-air performance of "Amy (Show The World You're There)", a 'tribute' to Amy Carter, the nine-year-old daughter of the newly-elected U.S. President Jimmy Carter - I think the lyrics are absolutely HYSTERICAL:
If anything, this tune could serve as The Keane Brothers' ironclad entry into the Unintentional Comedy Hall of Fame.
The Keane Brothers Show aired its fourth and final episode on August 26th, 1977. This also signaled the end of the networks' experiments with summer replacement variety shows; it would be eleven years before CBS tried again, with The Smothers Brothers in 1988. And with that seemingly came the end of the Keane Brothers as a pop act - after that summer, they seemed to fall off the face of the Earth, and I don't recall hearing another thing about them again. In a very short time, the duo became a vague and distant memory. I assumed they'd moved on from music after they reached their teens... but I was incorrect.
Since that time, both brothers have continued their careers in music. Tom found success as a songwriter, churning out well-received tunes for the likes of Chaka Kahn, Jermaine Jackson and Patti LaBelle. And John established a lucrative career scoring hit television shows, including The Amazing Race and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. They both still do session work on occasion, and over the past twenty years, each has released a couple of solo albums that were all received with resounding crickets.
It's been many years since I'd seen or thought of my old friend Wayne; he only recently came to mind again when I was browsing through an old high school yearbook. And in thinking of him, I recalled his connection to The Keane Brothers, and began seeking some of their music out. Needless to say, most of it has long been out of print here in the States (a couple of their LPs were reissued on CD in Japan in 2011). But I managed to track down their debut album. Again, it's no Grammy Award winner... but it's still a nice and amusing dollop of innocent adolescent pop music from that long-ago decade, the Seventies.
Here's The Keane Brothers, released on 20th Century Records (a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation) in January 1977. Enjoy (if you're able), and as always, let me know what you think.
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