Remaking the Past


Return to the innocence of the ‘50s when Ike was in the White House, Wally and the Beaver were trying to figure out girls, and everybody had a cool car.

The year, 1957 was a good one indeed for the Four Preps, the squeaky clean group that immortalized Catalina as the most famous of the Channel Islands with their song, “26 Miles.”

Friday night is the time to grease up that gray ducktail, put a shine on those penny loafers, hop in the heap and head for Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza where the New Four Preps will perform songs from that era nearly 40 years ago.

Actually, there’s nothing new about the New Four Preps. Billed as “Three Golden Groups in One,” the band contains half of the original Four Preps--or Old Two Preps--Bruce Belland and Ed Cobb. There also is David Somerville, original lead singer of the Diamonds, and Jim Yester, former lead singer of the Association.


All three groups had numerous hits and continue to hold a prominent position on the play list of oldies radio. Belland, the prime Prep, talked about the past recently from his Encino home.


What happened to the original Four Preps?

The original Four Preps disbanded in 1969. We were together since 1956, and were the youngest group ever signed to Capitol Records. We all went to Hollywood High School while they were building the Capitol Tower not far away. Back then you didn’t dance slow without Nat King Cole.


We absolutely idolized the Four Freshmen, and we sent a demo to Capitol. But they said “No thanks, we already have a group that sounds like that.”

But it worked out all right. The Four Preps were on 18 Ed Sullivan shows, and 33 “American Bandstands.” We were the four blond guys, which was pretty weird for South Philly where they filmed the show. And I was on over 100 episodes of “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.”


What’s up with the other Prep?

Ed Cobb, whom I’ve known since I was 9 years old, is in the Guinness Book of Records for producing 38 gold and platinum records for all sorts of artists. Remember when Pink Floyd re-formed to play “The Wall” when the Berlin Wall fell? Well, they wanted Ed, but he didn’t go because he was onstage with us singing “26 Miles.”


Where did this group come from?

Not to suggest that we’re illegitimate, but we were the result of a happy accident. Ed and I were at this party in Bel-Air, and Dick Clark was there. And you know him, he can’t go an hour without producing something. So he grabbed the first four guys he came to and asked the crowd, ‘Do you wanna hear a song?’ It was a most fortuitous combination, and everyone went wild.


Dick has a very bottom-line way of putting things, and he said, ‘I smell money. With the number of records you’ve sold, it’s a natural.’ So we rehearsed for 19 months. We were pretty compulsive about it. Our six-month reunion tour has been going on for seven years now. We do around 50 to 75 shows per year, usually conventions, which are always in very nice places.


So this could’ve been different, I suppose, if Tiny Tim and Alice Cooper had been sitting nearby. How does the current show work?

There are nine people in our group--four singers and three musicians on stage and two sound men. We have an orchestrated background with violins, cellos brass, French horns--all that stuff. The three musicians on stage play along with it. The show is highly rehearsed and highly produced.

Our act is all about sound. It’s one-half Four Preps, one-quarter the Diamonds and one-quarter the Association. Together, we have 38 Top 10 singles, 21 or 23 platinum or gold records and 13 Grammy and Golden Globe nominations.


How were things in 1957?

We were young. Twenty months after our senior prom at the Coconut Grove, we were playing there--opening for Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. We all had jobs and were getting ready to do other things. Then one day we were cruising and they were playing our song on the radio and some guy called from San Francisco and offered us $500 to go up there and play the weekend. I told my dad, a radio evangelist, that I was dropping out of UCLA to play with the band. We paid very few dues.



Who could drink the most beer, the Four Preps, the Lettermen, the Brothers Four or the Kingston Trio?

Oh, probably the Kingston Trio; the Lettermen and us were always the straightest white bread groups imaginable.


You’ve pretty much done everything. What would you say to aspiring musicians?

Ten years ago, my two daughters called me from UCSB where they were going to school and had the same conversation I did with my dad. They quit college, moved to England and started a band, the Voice of the Beehive, and put out a couple of albums.

They just moved back to California a month or so ago and have a new label and a new album. Anyway, to answer your question, I’d say listen to your gut. Find what works for you with your own unique voice and don’t let anyone talk you out of it.


So you must’ve sung “26 Miles,” what, a zillion times?

At least. Besides the fact it’s a corny old song I wrote in high school in 15 minutes when I was 17 years old, it has kind of a lilt to it and I have a great affection for that song.

Actually, we had eight records before “26 Miles.” I finally played Catalina for the first time about six years ago with the new group, and the mayor came up and gave me a plaque that is on my wall right now.


* WHAT: The New Four Preps.

* WHERE: Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza auditorium.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday.

* HOW MUCH: $15 or $20.

* CALL: 449-2787.