For a brief moment at the dawn of the 1950’s The Four Buddies were one of the most important and subtly revolutionary groups in rock, breathing new life into a style that would influence the next five years of vocal group records.

Coming out of the same region of Baltimore that produced The Orioles just a few years earlier, The Four Buddies began singing as teenagers in the late 1940’s with Larry Harrison acting as the lead and supported by John (soon to be Gregory) Carroll, William Duffy and Maurice Hicks as The Metronomes

Within months they’d gotten a radio spot and in the spring of 1950 they lucked into a spur of the moment contract with Savoy Records who needed a vocal group to back Little Esther on a recording session held while Johnny Otis’s touring caravan was in Baltimore before continuing on tour.

Though their parts on the resulting record were minimal and they didn’t go out on the road with them – and were credited on record as The Beltones to boot, but as a result of this innocuous deal Savoy had inadvertently stumbled onto one of their top acts of the next few years without realizing it. Months went by with no word from the label who’d clearly forgotten all about them since they hadn’t been hired as anything other than backing vocalists, but the group were determined to make good on their fleeting chance and contacted Savoy who miraculously gave them a chance to record on their own if they could make it up to New York.

When Duffy and Hicks bowed out of the group, the others recruited replacements in Bert Palmer and Tommy Carter who joined them for their first recording session as the featured act in October where they cut the record that would put them on the map and help to set into motion the next phase of the doo wop sound – a soaring lead on a ballad with more prominent and complex backing vocals atop a quietly surging rhythm bed.

“I Will Wait” by the newly rechristened Four Buddies (sometimes shown as The 4 Buddies) made it to Number Three on the national charts and while their next two follow-ups each made regional charts, they never again broke into the national listings. In spite of this their records were consistently popular enough – and good enough – that The Four Buddies remained among the mainstays of the label over the next few years.

Ironically just as the sound they’d helped to popularize was reaching its zenith in 1953, The Four Buddies broke up. The previous year saw both Palmer and Carter depart – with original member Hicks coming back into the fold to take back his old bass role, but their records weren’t selling as well and they couldn’t make enough money touring without a hit to promote to make it worthwhile.

The individual members weren’t out of work long though. Gregory Carroll joined their old neighborhood pals The Orioles in May of 1953, singing on “Crying In The Chapel” soon after, while Larry Harrison bounced in and out of a few different groups while also cutting solo sides. Even Hicks joined The Orioles briefly in the mid-1950’s.

While their time together was relatively brief and their success limited to just a few months early in that run, The Four Buddies had a lasting effect on the evolution of the rock vocal group style with their major hit and over the next half decade their sound played a prominent role in rock’s move up the musical food chain.
THE FOUR BUDDIES DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Savoy 750: June, 1950)
As The Beltones backing Little Esther… Though they’re not given much to do the future Four Buddies probably impress slightly more with their brief vocal chants than Esther who sounds unsteady on this throwaway side. (3)

(Savoy 769; December, 1950)
A simple song that was revolutionary in its impact, combining the rhythmic qualities and dynamic lead of The Ravens and the emotional reading of The Orioles on ballads which kicked off the next wave of rock vocal groups with this heavenly sound. (9)

(Savoy 769; December, 1950)
A mixed bag as the song itself isn’t up to par with weak lyrics and a borrowed melody, and the lead vocal is too sloppy, but there are promising signs in there to, such as a few more daring runs as well as the rock solid backing voices. (4)