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Thurl spent his most productive years as a member of the Mellomen. The quartet worked alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from Bing Crosby and Doris Day to Walt Disney and Lawrence Welk. They worked on radio, film, and television as well as on countless records. They were sometimes credited as The Mello Men, The Mellowmen, The Mellow Men, or The Mellow Men Quartet.
The Members of the Mellomen
In 1947, Thurl returned to Hollywood from his military service, and though he made a few appearances with the Sportsmen, he was denied the opportunity to rejoin the quartet. He and fellow ex-Sportsmen, Max Smith formed the Mellomen with Bill Lee and Bob Hamlin near the end of 1948. Max's replacement in the Sportsmen, Bob Stevens, later joined the Mellomen, replacing Bob Hamlin in 1955. Bob Stevens stayed with the group until his death in 1961, when he was replaced by Bill Cole. When Max retired in 1966, Gene Merlino joined the group. The Mellomen continued working until the early 1970s.
The following table shows the different line-ups during the years the Mellomen were recording:
The Mellomen in Music
The Mellomen prided themselves on their versatility, being able to perform all styles of music with all kinds of singers. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s they worked with singers ranging from Les Brown and Rosemary Clooney to Spike Jones and Elvis Presley. Details about these singers can be found on the Work With Other Artists page.
The quartet was also the core of the Norman Luboff Choir, which released dozens of albums and recorded backup tracks for artists like Doris Day and Jo Stafford. The Paul Weston Orchestra single "Champagne Wine" is sung by the Norman Luboff Choir. The flip side is the song "Bimbo" (2:18), which credits Thurl and the Mellomen. More examples of Thurl's work with the Norman Luboff Choir are available on the Vocal Groups page.In 1949, Capitol Transcriptions, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, hired the Mellomen to do a series of radio transcription discs. These 16-inch records were used by radio stations to supplement their programming. These transcriptions discs included such songs as: "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "A Bird in a Gilded Cage"; "Home on the Range"; "Little Brown Jug"; "Over There"; "Yes, We Have No Bananas"; and "You're a Grand Old Flag" just to name a few.
I'm not sure exactly how many of these transcription discs were made, but there were at least a dozen containing each containing 5 songs per side.
The Mellomen also released a few recordings of their own and many different labels. Capitol Records released "My Buick, My Love, and I". Coral put out "Laura Lee" and "Three Chimes of Silver". Decca issued "I Walked into the Garden" and "Old Time Religion", and Rakrik Records released "The Ballad of Al Capone" by Bleary Billy Lee and the Mellomen. In addition to recording under their own name, they were sometimes credited under one of several aliases, including: Big John & the Buzzards (see Vocal Groups), the Crackerjacks, The Lee Brothers (which Thurl said was a take off on the Ames Brothers), and The Ravenscroft Quartet. The Mellomen were also part of the groups the Bobolinks, the Heartbeats, and the Hometowners.
In 1956, The Crackerjacks appeared on the Kapp record Listen to the Quartets (Kapp KL-1045). This LP contained eight songs by another quartet called the Lancers, and four songs by the Crackerjacks. These four songs were "Whispering Winds" (2:29), "Be Good, Be Good" (2:30), "I Wanna Go There With You" (2:11), and "Shishkebob" (2:20). The Crackerjacks also released a single of ""Be Good, Be Good" with "Whispering Winds" and another with "Kiss Crazy Baby", and "Paper Valentine".
The Mellomen contributed heavily to a 1969 Readers' Digest boxed set titled Gaslight Varieties: The Happy Music of the Gay Nineties. On this six-record set, the quartet is credited both as the Mellomen and the Singing Waiters. The Mellomen sing "She May Have Seen Better Days" (1:03), "Clementine" (2:54), and "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" (2:51). As the Singing Waiters they sing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" (3:25). They also appear as part of a a mixed chorus called the Gaslight Singers. There is also a duet between Bill Cole and Thurl, "The Man That Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" (2:29). Thurl has a solo on "Asleep in the Deep" (1:44), and "The Sidewalks of New York" (1:21), both of which are part of medleys. Of course, these songs are just examples as the Mellomen sing on most of the songs on the set as part of one group or another.
Radio, Film and Television
Working with Walt Disney
They also were heard and sometimes seen on Disney television programs in the 1950s and 1960s from Disneyland and The Mickey Mouse Club to Davy Crockett and Zorro. The Mellomen were featured on many of the early records released on the Disneyland and Buena Vista labels. Walt even asked them to record an album of barbershop songs, Meet Me Down on Main Street, which sold at Disneyland for many years. All the information about their work with Disney can be reached from the Disney page.
The End of the Quartet
Bill Lee died of a brain tumor in 1980 at age 64. Max Smith passed away at the age of 86 in 1999. Thurl continued to sing and record commercials until his death in 2005. Bill Cole is retired and lives in Southern California. Gene Merlino is still an active studio singer in Hollywood.
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