Blue Highways

April 14th, 2018
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One of America's most popular television series was 'Route 66,' starring Marvin Milner and George Maharis as two restless young men who traveled across the country in a blue Corvette.

The weekly shows were shot on location and were immensely popular to people of all ages. 'Route 66' was created in 1960 and ran for four seasons.

My brother Legs and I were so inspired by the series that we decided to emulate the two lead characters. We couldn't afford a Corvette, but we dusted off an old Plymouth that needed a new set of tires and set off for Phoenix, AZ. in search of fame, fortune and adventure.

Legs wanted to be a professional singer. I wanted to be a writer.

The Plymouth made it as far as Tucson before the engine expired on us. Like a couple of rodeo cowboys with a dead horse, we unloaded our gear and took a Greyhound Bus to Phoenix.

I quickly found a reporting job on a newspaper and Legs went to work for a construction company painting houses. While our hometown of Sutersville, PA. was being battered by freezing snowstorms, we basked in 80-degree weather under Arizona's blue skies and took daily swims in the pool at a motel on Van Buren Street where we were staying.

There was a local television show called 'Lou King's Rangers' that caught my interest. It was hosted by a guy in a cowboy outfit who called himself Lou King -- his name was really Lou Klein and he was from New Kensington, PA. He featured local talent on his show. Two of his regular performers were Wayne and Jerry Newton.

In the 1960s, Wayne Newton didn't wear a tuxedo. He wore buckskins. He had the same high-pitched voice that carried him to stardom after Jackie Gleason discovered him and signed him to a contract to appear on his TV show.

I thought 'Lou King's Rangers' would be a perfect place to showcase my brother. I approached King, he gave Legs and his new guitar-playing partner Dave Pritchett an audition, and booked them for an appearance on his show.

I don't want to sound immodest, but people who have heard my brother and Wayne Newton sing agree that my brother's voice is superior to Wayne's. If Gleason had heard Legs sing instead of Wayne Newton, who knows what the outcome might have been?

One morning a letter addressed to me arrived in the mail. It was from the U.S. government. I had been drafted by the Army and was ordered to report to Ft. Ord, CA. for basic training.

We had bought another car and Legs decided he had had enough of Arizona. He drove back to Pennsylvania, took a job at the steel mill where our father worked and became a gospel singer.

He became part of a group called the Steel City Quartet. They performed in churches, fire halls and other meeting places singing southern style gospel music throughout the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

While Legs was performing with the quartet, I was learning how to be a newspaper reporter and writing for magazines. I also became a poker player and horse handicapper at Turf Paradise, a race track in Phoenix.

Legs and his quartet made several records that were well received by the public. One of the albums was a remake of the Platters' top records with Christian lyrics -- songs like 'Only You,' 'Harbor Lights' and 'The Great Pretender.' That album has sold several thousand copies and is still selling. He even was honored by being named to the Gospel Hall of Fame.

My brother told me this week that his singing career is near an end. After more than 50 years of singing gospel music, he plans to retire.

He said the quartet members have let age catch up to them and it's time the quartet was disbanded. That will be sad news for their thousands of fans. I tried to talk him into doing a farewell concert tour. He is considering it but doesn't know if the other quartet members will agree to it.

I asked him what he plans to do with his time if he isn't singing. He's a golfer and loves to play the slot machines at The Meadows, a harness racetrack and casino in Washington, PA., and I suspect he will continue with those activities.

Life is a long blue highway but all roads eventually come to an end. Hang in there, brother. You have been on an incredible journey.

“He had the same high-pitched voice that carried him to stardom”

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