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 too, such as a few more daring runs as well as the rock solid backing voices. (4)

(Savoy 779; February, 1951)
Perfectly capturing the moment of falling in love with all of its uncertainty and swirling emotions that are heightened by the delicate reading by Larry Harrison while the group’s shifting backing gives this ballad a more dynamic sound and further points the way towards the future. (8)

(Savoy 779; February, 1951)
A much more basic old-fashioned vocal group styled record wherein all of the responsibility falls to the lead and while the melody isn’t bad, the lyrics are simplistic and the vocal and instrumental arrangements behind him are too sparse to draw notice. (4)

(Savoy 789; June, 1951)
Another first rate performance with Harrison delivering a sterling lead with great vocal support on a beautifully melodic and imagery laden song with a top notch arrangement featuring René Hall’s guitar prominently in the mix… an absolute gem in every way. (9)

(Savoy 789; June, 1951)
A decently written song by group member Bert Palmer is rendered ineffective by Larry Harrison’s strained falsetto and the others aren’t helping matters much when they get their chance making this a definite missed opportunity. (3)

(Savoy 817; September, 1951)
The first radical re-working of this standard which would soon become more known in rock by a number of acts than the stilted pop music from whence it came thanks to Tommy Carter’s bass lead here adding an undercurrent of eroticism to the timeless melody. (7)

(Savoy 817; September, 1951)
Covering an ostentatious rising pop hit is bad enough, but doing so by duplicating the stilted over-dramatic delivery of The Four Aces in the process makes the title of this record an out and out lie – it definitely WAS a sin for them to try this. (1)

(Savoy 823; November, 1951)
Though it’s sung well it’s not a very good song as it’s awkwardly titled without a clear concise story, no memorable lyrics or hook and minimal instrumentation leaving only the voices themselves and their interplay as the redeeming factors. (4)

(Savoy 823; November, 1951)
A nice change of pace – literally – as what starts as a ballad gradually ramps up the intensity and tempo and gives Larry Harrison the chance to emote a little more emphatically and if the backing is sparse it’s reasonably effective even if the song itself is rather nondescript. (5)

(Savoy 845; April, 1952)
Maybe Harrison’s most emotive lead vocal showcasing his range and control as the song he wrote slowly reveals itself as the others add immeasurably to the mood with some exquisite backing vocals alongside a clean crisp guitar on a deep and brilliant arrangement. (9)

(Savoy 845; April, 1952)
A delightful change of pace for the balladeers as this is more upbeat with a slightly suggestive tale to go with it allowing them to explore different facets of their singing on a song that might not be a likely hit, but was too good for a B-side. (7)

(Savoy 866; September, 1952)
A rock group destroying their credibility with a pop-leaning performance is nothing new, but usually it’s put upon them by their label or producers, yet here lead singer Larry Harrison wrote this himself and the others came up with the vocal arrangement that does them in. (2)

(Savoy 866; September, 1952)
While it’s nice to hear a rare uptempo cut from the group, they undercut its effectiveness by framing it in a manner that suggests it’s from 1949 rather than the present, with an exaggerated lead and weak instrumental intro before tightening things up some down the stretch. (4)