Where are you going my little one, little one
Where are you going my baby, my own
Turn around and you’re two turn around and you’re four
Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of the door
That’s the first verse of Turn Around a song The Brothers Four have been singing for more than 60 years. A tune that continues to explore the magic of music and memory.
For years Gary Drager and I have talked about and marveled at what he named the “3rd Thing.” It is that thing that happens or is created when two distinct entities, ideas, or individuals come together and something unique and distinct is formed. For instance, take the debate about nurture verses nature. Instead of choosing one, Drager and I begin with the idea that it’s both and then try to name that 3rd third thing that’s created when nurture and nature are combined. The same for the question of whether we are defined by what we do or who we are. Start with the idea that we are defined by a combination of the two then try to name and explain what the 3rd thing is.
Who you and I, who we, are changed that dark night in November of 1995 and kept changing until eighteen months later sitting together at my dad’s memorial who we were, that 3rd thing that’s neither you nor me, was something almost new, tempered, tested, found to be true. When you joined The Brothers Four what we did together changed in a similarly dramatic way. We began traveling the world, sharing lots of miles and meals. And laughs. Exploring all sorts of towns and cities. I remember on the This Land Is Your Land tour walking together from West Palm Beach to the Breakers Hotel and standing ankle deep in the Atlantic Ocean. The group also gave us a chance to spend lots of time together on stage and in the recording studio.
Being in The Brothers Four together also helped us refocus the music the two of us kept making together. In 2006 we remixed and remastered the Between Friends album adding half a dozen live bonus tracks and re-releasing it as the 25th anniversary CD edition. Then we did a series of shows with Ted to promote it.
In the winter of 2008 John Hylton left The Brothers Four and Karl Olsen took his place. The combination of who he is and what he can do makes Karl an ideal addition to the group. He is a genuinely good person, kind and thoughtful, empathetic and caring. He grew up in a musical family. He had a lot of natural talent that he worked hard to develop. He is one of those people who has enough pride to know he could do the job and enough humility to know he has to do the work. Humility and Pride, two things together that can create a powerful 3rd thing.
The four of us, Bob, Karl, you, and I, worked hard to make what we do on stage look easy; taking the job of representing popular American folk music quite seriously. Ourselves? Not so much. Sometimes people ask if we get tired of singing the same songs. I don’t think any of us do. Every show is a little different. It’s music that continues to awaken peoples’ memories and give voice to sometimes long forgotten dreams. To be able to do that for a living with people we care a lot for is a gift never to be take for granted and to be forever grateful for.
Singing those songs night after night did teach me an important lesson about being present and living in the moment. In the late 90’s the group was doing about a hundred shows a year. One night I went back to the hotel room with little or no memory of that evening’s performance. I thought what if that was the last chance I had to sing those songs? Then I started thinking about my first paying gig. I was fifteen. Playing four string banjo with my brother and two friends at the Coeur D’Alene Hotel on Post Avenue in Spokane, Washington. We were outfitted in our striped vests, arm garters and straw hats. Someone escorted us by way of the service elevator into the smokiest room I’ll ever be in. We played our songs, ended up outside, where the guy who had gotten the job, Larry Groshoff tried to figure out who was going to get what share of the ten bucks they paid us. I fell asleep smiling and committed to never taking another performance for granted.
At the Brothers Four show the next night. As we were getting ready to go onstage I thought of the kid in the striped vest and the straw hat and told myself I was going to sing the songs as if as if I was singing them for the first time. Then I thought, no, I’ll sing them as if it was the last time. Before I knew it, it was time to go on stage. I found by trying to hold those seemingly contradictory ideas I was more aware than I had been in a long time of where I was and who I was with and what I was doing. It’s a practice I continue to this day before we go on stage. On the best of nights there is a feeling of a 3rd thing between first and last where at that moment all that matters is that moment. It’s such an amazing feeling I try to have it carry over into real life. The problem is that real life is a lot more complicated and messy with a lot more moving parts. Which I guess makes it even more important to do our best to be there when the life we’re living is happening.
Being on the road for weeks at a time with three other guys is real life. The two hours on stage together are often the easiest part. With the addition of Karl The Brothers Four became even more of a family. A lot of respect and affection. I think one of the reasons people have so much fun at our shows is that they see how much fun we’re having.
Lots of good things were happening when Karl joined the family. There was an extended concert tour of Japan. A West Coast tour of the US with the Kingston Trio. We flew over to South Korea to be part of a musical festival at the Olympic Stadium. Judy Collins, was there singing better than ever, Melanie, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Don McLean. One night after we did our set we sat in the front row and watched Donovan hold that massive crowd in the palm of his hand. Talk about inspiring. On that trip we visited the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ, and sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone near that expanse of watch towers, razor wire and landmines. Singing a song for peace in that place was life highlight for sure.
Where have all the graveyards gone long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone, gone to flowers every one
Oh when will they ever learn oh when will they ever learn
Another highlight was singing at Bob Flick’s wedding. It has been my good fortune, beginning in 1969, to stand on stages, travel the world and represent American folk music with Bob. With the possible exception of Pete Seeger I believe no one has traveled farther longer or been a better ambassador for that music than he has. After more than sixty years he remains true to his vision of what makes that music special and important.
Bob is also the reason I’ve had the career, and the life, I’ve had. He had faith in me at those times when I did not have faith in myself. He’s made me laugh for more than 50 years on stage and off. He also produced the two signature albums you and I made. In May of 2008 he married the love of his life. During the ceremony I was honored to sing a song I’d written for them.
Those things once so important simply won’t matter anymore
Fortune, fame, and power are just ways that we keep score
If it’s true true love outlives us the way that nothing else can do
When all said and done I loved and I was loved by you
At the reception Bob joined Karl, you, and me and we sang Turn Around for all the guests. It was such an emotional moment I couldn’t look at anyone out of fear that I wouldn’t make it through the song if I did. This letter ends with us singing that song one more time as if for the first time. Dedicated to my granddaughter, Evangeline Marie, born on April 26, 2021. This letter started out talking about the 3rd thing. Something that is neither this nor that. Something that is both this and that. There is no greater example of the magic and mystery of that than the birth of a child.