We Five in 1966
|Origin||San Francisco, California|
We Five was a 1960s folk rock musical group based in San Francisco, California. Their best-known hit was their 1965 remake of Ian and Sylvia's "You Were on My Mind," which reached #1 on the Cashbox chart, #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The original group split after recording their second album in 1967, but a re-formed band produced three more albums between 1968 and 1977.
Formation and organization
Michael Stewart formed We Five after graduating from Pomona Catholic High School and attending Mt. San Antonio College. He was the brother of John Stewart of the Kingston Trio and came from Claremont, California. When Michael was a student at the University of San Francisco in 1964, he formed We Five as a quartet, although it soon added another member. The group played adult rock 'n roll, pop jazz, Broadway show tunes, and Disney tunes. Stewart did all the arrangements, which ranged from "My Favorite Things", in a style which reflected Bach, to Very Merrily Un-birthday. He put in several additional hours working on arrangements after the five band members worked together for five or six hours each day.
- Michael Stewart (baritone-bass, 5-string banjo, 6-string acoustic guitar, 9-string amplified guitar)
- Beverly Bivens (low tenor to high soprano, rhythm guitar)
- Jerry Burgan (tenor, 6-string acoustic guitar)
- Peter Fullerton (tenor, acoustic and Fender bass)
- Bob Jones (baritone-tenor, 6-string electric jazz guitar, 12-string electric guitar).
Record label A&M Records, owned by Herb Alpert, responded to the new popularity of folk and rock music by adding new artists starting in 1965 to its existing line-up of middle-of-the road material turned out by Alpert's Tijuana Brass, the Baja Marimba Band, and Brasil '66. In addition to We Five, Alpert's label released albums by Boyce and Hart, the Garden Club, Chris Montez, and The Merry-Go-Round.
We Five's first album produced a major hit with the title tune, Stewart's re-arrangement of the Ian and Sylvia song "You Were on My Mind." Stewart made several changes to the original Sylvia Tyson composition, and the song went directly to the Billboard Top Five in 1965. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. In February 1966 We Five was nominated for a Grammy for Best Performance By A Vocal Group (for "You Were on My Mind"), against the Beatles among others, but they lost the award to the Anita Kerr Quartet. They were also the first commercial folk-rock artists to record music for Coca-Cola. The group added a touring drummer named John Chambers so that it could tour behind its hit.
After completing their second album, Make Someone Happy, later in 1966, lead singer Beverly Bivens decided to leave the group. The group nevertheless had a hit from this album in 1967 with its arrangement of the popular Kingston Trio folk tune "Let's Get Together," which reached #31 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and was later a Top Five hit and a million-seller for The Youngbloods as "Get Together"). To continue, We Five replaced Bivens with Debbie Graf Burgan (wife of guitarist Jerry Burgan) and added a full-time drummer in Mick Gillespie for live performances.
We Five was among the artists included in a preliminary injunction issued by the Los Angeles Superior Court in April 1968. The edict prohibited pirating of A&M artists, including the Tijuana Brass and The Sandpipers. The action was directed against Superba Tapes, Inc., of Lancaster, California. The company had copied tapes of the recordings and sold them to the public without paying royalties to the artists.
The group would record two albums with Debbie Burgan singing lead, 1969's Return of the We Five for A&M and 1970s Catch the Wind for Vault. Neither album came close to the success of the earlier Bivens material. In 1970, Stewart, Jones and Fullerton all quit We Five, breaking up the original band.
After We Five split up, Debbie Graf and Jerry Burgan kept a version of the group going through 1977. This group recorded another album in 1977, Take Each Day as It Comes for AVI Records before also disbanding. From 1977 through 1981, Jerry and Debbie performed as "The Burgans", supported by bassist Paul Foti.
Various versions of the band featuring the Burgans have remained together for the next 30 years. The Burgans in March 2009 contributed an original song, "For Old Times," to an online-novel-with-music-tracks entitled "Alt. Country," scheduled to appear on the website of author Alan Rifkin.
Bob Jones is also a member of the current version of the band, which is now officially known as "We Five Folk Rock Revival." Later editions of the band also included Frank Denson, who went on to write music for television shows, including Magnum, P.I., Tales of the Gold Monkey, and Blossom; plus between 1968 and 1970 the drummer Mick Gillespie.
Peter Fullerton left the music business in 1970 to minister to the homeless and needy: he is the founder of the California-based organization "Truck of Love."
Michael Stewart appeared in occasional reunions with We Five from 1978 to 1989. He became a record producer (most notably for Billy Joel) and a pioneering developer of MIDI music software. He died on November 13, 2002 at age 57 as a result of "a long illness." An unsubstantiated internet blog rumor suggests that Stewart in fact committed suicide.
In 2009, after many years of seclusion, Beverly Bivens sang at the opening of an exhibition, mounted by the Performing Arts Library & Museum in San Francisco, of the rock scene in the Bay area in the mid sixties to early seventies.
"There Stands the Door - The Best of We Five" was released by Big Beat Records (CDWIKD 286) in 2009. The compilation included selections from both albums plus several unreleased recordings by the original group. This collection takes its name from the We Five single which Jerry Burgan observes just missed the raga rock trend.
Wounds to Bind: A Memoir of the Folk-Rock Revolution, a reminiscence by Jerry Burgan incorporating the birth of folk rock and the original band's subsequent collapse, with coauthor Alan Rifkin and a foreword by Sylvia Tyson, has been scheduled for publication in April 2014 by Rowman & Littlefield.
- You Were On My Mind (1965) A&M LP-111/SP-4111
- Make Someone Happy (1967) A&M LP-138/SP-4138
- The Return of We Five (1969) A&M SP-4168
- Catch the Wind (1970) Vault 136
- Take Each Day as It Comes (1977) AVI 6016
- There Stands the Door - The Best of We Five (2009) Big Beat CWIDK 286
- Homecoming Due For One of Kingston Trio, March 18, 1965, pg. SG2.
- Claremont Brothers Make Music, May 9, 1965, pg. SG_A1.
- Rock Writers Show Singing Talent, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1967, pg. C29.
- We Five's "You Were on My Mind":Ode to a Sometimes-Maligned Song
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 198. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- 1966 Grammy Awards listing
- Court Bars Pirating Of Musical Records, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1968, pg. B12.
- Alan Rifkin's website
- Pete's Corner
- We Five Folk Rock Revival, Bios
- "Michael Stewart". Variety. November 18, 2002.
- "Xiu Xiu Shoo-Bop". Zoilus. 2004-03-11. Retrieved 2012-04-10.
- "Jerry Burgan on Outsight Radio Hours".