Expanded Sound Quartet at the '97 Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon
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[NOTE: Larry posted this a couple days ago, but when it got to me, it
had some weird characters and irregular-wrapped lines, so I reformatted
it before sending it to BBSNews. I also broke it up into two files since
it was too big to be read as a normal email on AOL. I figured as long
as I cleaned it up, maybe I should repost it back to the Harmonet in
case anyone else's original copy was garbled...it's too good to risk
anyone not having read it!!] - Tom A.
From: "Lawrence A. Gans, M.D."
Subject: Repost: Expanded Sound Telethon Diary
Date: Sun, 7 Sep 1997 21:20:25 -0500
Expanded Sound is a Barbershop Comedy Quartet. We would like to
be thought of as a Singing group, but our strength lies in our
Comedy. We sing well, but cannot compare to the vocal quality of
the top quartets in our society. So many quartets aspire to
experience the greatness of champions, but never experience the
celebrity. So many great quartets rarely are heard outside of
our society and a few local functions. Our quartet is a good
example of how there is more to barbershop quartet
entertainment, than singing alone.
We didn't really know how we were chosen to submit a tape for
the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. We knew that some great champion
quartets (Gas House Gang, Acoustix, Weekend Edition, etc.) were
also asked, but we never knew why us. They chose us over
Acoustix!? How could that happen? I know Weekend Edition and
Gas House Gang had other shows scheduled and weren't available.
Each Labor Day Weekend, there is the big barbershop show at
Bolton's Landing in New York. They have only the top quartets,
and lots of them, on the bill for three days of singing
entertainment. We were asked last year to fill in at the last
minute for a comedy quartet that couldn't make it, but we were
not available to do that show. They pay for transportation and
lodging and provide the food for the invited quartets, and they
said that maybe we could come another time. This year we didn't
hear from them, but so what if we aren't singing with the
champions this weekend. We'll do our gig and have some fun. We're
flyin' to LA!
The flight would have been uneventful, but nothing on this
weekend would be that way. We got on the L1011 and after the
usual juggling of seats to get four fat guys in some
comfortable position, we ended up sitting in the Business Class
section (no longer a separate class on TWA). The pilot came on
the speaker system to announce that after some 25 years of
service all L1011s in the TWA fleet will be retired this weekend,
and this is the last flight for this plane before it is placed
in mothballs. The flight crew seemed to be in a party mood, but
we landed as smooth as glass and 20 minutes early. They obviously
wanted this bird to go out in style.
We were met at the airport by Michael, a telethon volunteer, who
would be our coordinator and general mother hen. The luggage was
all safe and we proceeded to get into a large black stretch limo.
[All in the same one. They didn't send one for each of us.] I
couldn't help wondering what the great quartets at the Bolton's
Landing Show were being picked up in! During the ride to our
hotel, we got the most recent schedule information for our
rehearsal and performance and then sang a song for the driver. He
laughed so hard, I thought we were going to get pulled over by
the cops for a sobriety check.
The hotel was truly first class. There was a small suite for
each of us with the usual 2 TVs and an extra phone by the
toilet. It was the Hotel Sofitel across the street from the
Beverly Center and around the corner from Cedars-Sinai Medical
Center (Gucci General). The night air was warm and dry in LA, a
distinct difference from the muggy weather we left in St. Louis.
The bags were taken to our rooms and we met in the hotel
restaurant for dinner. All the talent for the telethon were
staying at this hotel and all our meals in the restaurant were
complimentary. We scanned the other diners for recognizable
stars, but saw none. The other diners were probably looking at
us the same way and not recognizing us either.
The meal was wonderful. Smoked salmon, Fillet of Beef, Grilled
Sea Bass, Scampi, Cheeses, Fruits... When you eat with Expanded
Sound and someone else is picking up the tab, you conjure up
images of Henry VIII sitting at a huge table overflowing with
food, only there are four of us. As usual, we sang a few songs
during and after the meal. This endears us to the staff and starts
up all sorts of conversations with the other diners. Tom said
that at Bolton's Landing they bring homemade sandwiches for the
good quartets to eat. There was a brief moment of silence.
Morning came later than I thought it should. It was about 2
hours later by my watch. Damn jet lag. We met for breakfast.
Smoked Salmon, Croissants, Crepes, French Toast, Eggs, Fresh
California Orange Juice... Nothing too heavy before rehearsal. We
arranged for the hotel to open a meeting room for rehearsal
before going to the studio. The room was a long boardroom set up
for meetings. We worked on our vowels, pitch, and ran through
the songs they requested for the show. All was in readiness.
We waited in the lobby for the lovely little blond, Heidi, who
Michael told us would be our shepherd for the day. About ten
minutes late, Michael & Heidi greeted us. We obviously rated two
shepherds by virtue of our size and unruliness, I thought. But
no, Michael would take us, and Heidi would wait for the next
act scheduled to rehearse after us. We would all take the same
car to the studio. She was a Greek singing star and they said her
name, but all I heard sounded like Thelonius Monk. That can't
be right!? She apparently has sold over 200 million albums in
Europe and America. She is from Greece but lives in Paris, and I
didn't know her any more than she would know me! Regardless of
who knew whom, she was still drying her hair and we were already
late, so off we went and she got the next shuttle.
The drive would have been uneventful, but nothing this weekend
would be uneventful. The driver was heading the wrong way, she
was so interested in the quartet, and Michael finally caught on
and got her turned in the right direction. That's what
CBS Television City is on a sprawling lot off of Beverly Blvd in
West LA about 10 minutes from the hotel (20 minutes by our
route). We were a few minutes late for rehearsal, but no one was
standing around waiting. We walked past a maze of tech stations
and onto the set from stage left. The smell was exciting! There
were lights and cameras everywhere. People were busy with a
thousand different things moving in a million different
directions. The stage was laid out with the orchestra on moveable
risers that retracted behind a curtain in the center. To the
right was an interview area. To the left were large monitors
and the "tote board" stable at 10,000 but big enough for
millions. It's show biz! Zowie!
Somebody said "Expanded Sound" in a loud voice, and the focus of
activity shifted to the big guys. The stage managers and
directors each came up to introduce themselves. I experienced a
remarkable transformation as they all made so strange and
wondrous an environment seem like I was just in my neighbor's rec
The back of the room had lighted stars all over the walls. There
was seating for an audience of maybe 200 people with a few
scattered seats taken by a cluster of what were the
"Valleyaires", a small barbershop chorus from the San Fernando
Valley who were on the hour following us. To the right was a big,
lighted photo of Jerry (they referred to him as JL) with a young
girl in an athletic jersey. Front and center stage were four
mikes. Here we go!
After some brief chat about checking levels and angles, they
said sing a song, and off we went. The room rang with audio
coming from speakers everywhere. The volumes went up and down.
Was I hearing Bill singing next to me, or was it Memorex? By the
end of the Bikers Medley, they had the sound settled down. The
plan was to have us enter stage in two groups of two from each
side. We do the usual belly bumps, high fives, crush the beer can
and sing. JL would introduce us, but he was not to be at
rehearsal because we were a surprise for him. He was not to see
us or our photo before the show. The intro was lame, but I was
not sure he was going to read it straight anyway. So off stage we
went for the full run through.
On we came with the act in full swing. The first song was going
great and I was surprisingly calm and unintimidated by the
activity around me. There were 2 straight ahead cameras, 2 large
mechanical boom cameras, and about a half dozen men acting like
monkeys with cameras on their shoulders (each with another man
behind him coiling and uncoiling the cable to the camera).
These guys were up, down, behind us, to the side, moving
everywhere to find the "perfect angle". We couldn't see the
monitors but my mind was picturing the way the shots would have
the bikers with the photos of JL in the background, or the tot
board, etc. Then in a flash, it was over. We did "My Old
Harley" with more obvious concentration of the cameras on
Charlie. They told us that JL may come over and talk to us on
the air, or not. If not, we just exit stage right.
It was over too fast. I wanted to do another one. I was having
fun watching them do their magic while we sang. Now it was the
Greek singer's turn. We sat in the audience seats and watched the
transformation to her set. While they were setting up the stage
director came over to tell us a joke. (This IS like being in
your neighbor's rec room!) The Greek sang wearing sunglasses.
There were three musicians/backup singers and she sang with a
hand mike. She was very good, but not my style. Heidi said she
never took off her sunglasses. Not last night coming in from the
airport, nor this morning in the hotel. A real star!
Then a booming voice came toward me saying, "Is this Expanded
Sound. God, you're big and mean." Without thinking, my reflex
response came back, "ya and ugly, too." This was Eddie Foy III.
Son of Eddie Foy, Jr. of the Seven Little Foys and Pillow Talk
fame. This guy has to be our biggest fan on the West Coast, or
so he made us believe. He talked of the fun and excitement of
having us here. He reminisced about the old days in St. Louis and
remembered restaurants, and strip joints where the vaudeville
shows were played. He told stories of W.C. Fields, and generally
established his role as talent coordinator with panache. We said
we had a quartet tee shirt to give to JL, and he immediately
replied that the tee shirt was for him. He got us the job, he
wanted the shirt.
We had a moment after the Greek was done and quickly had a few
photos snapped of us on the set. Then they started setting up for
the Barbershop chorus. These were thirty guys with an average age
of 70. The crew had built special risers for them, and made
them backwards. That is, they curved outward instead of inward.
Definitely a new look. They sang and I cringed. They were
nervous, but also not a great chorus. The Ambassadors of Harmony
spoil me and I had to tell myself that they were having the
time of their lives and the singing wasn't all that bad.
Then He strode onto the set. He looked just like Jerry Lewis in
white socks, sneakers, shorts and a golf shirt. His knobby
knees were the only detractor from what was a very fit looking
71 year old superstar. The producer and director were at his
heels, his personal photographer trailing farther back. He
stood and watched as the chorus sang. You could see he was
eyeballing each one and calculating comedic odds. When they
finished the song, he had a brief conference with the staff and
then walked up to the chorus. He spoke, they laughed. What
could be more natural! He chose a diminutive bald octogenarian
from the end of the first row and placed him on the third row
where JL would stand next to him during the song. You could see
he was already planning the moves and looks which would transform
a mediocre barbershop chorus into a comedy blockbuster. I could
sense that the audience would be laughing too loud to hear the
singing by the time JL started dealing with this little old man.
I mumbled a brief prayer that the man would not have a heart
attack during the show from the stress of stardom, requiring my
medical skills. [Yes, I am still licensed to practice medicine
in California. No, I would not be taking out his cataract, I am
And then we were gone. The shuttle came to take us back to the
hotel and the moment had passed.
There's something unbalanced about the day of a big show that is
hard to rationalize. People get all kinds of superstitions from
times when shows went well and when shows went bad. I have always
had an irrational feeling about my tattoo. When we first got
the fake tattoos, there was a selection of oriental figures
with snakes and fish that somehow never made me comfortable. I
had a tattoo of a girl with butterfly wings that I always loved,
but I wore the last one 6 years ago before the Central States
District Championship and never found them again. Then there was
the eagle profile with spread wings. It always looked tough and
fit my character. So I saved one for an important show. It sat
a long time until today. This was the show for my last eagle. I
put it on in the morning, because it always looked better after
it had been on for a while. It had the look of a real tattoo, and
made me feel more like the biker I was trying to be. I had back
up tattoos, but this was the day for the eagle.
At 6 PM we had the board room at the hotel for rehearsal and we
planned out the transition between our two songs then ran
through the numbers, start to finish. We had already seen the
start of the Telethon on TV in our rooms. There was a problem
with the audio feed from Caesar's Palace, and Tony Bennett was
shown for the first half of his song just on video with Jerry
trying to ad lib to cover the problem. When they got the audio
with the picture, I almost regretted it. He was not singing up to
what I remember of his past performances. Such is the nature of
live TV, but how could we do any worse? It wasn't reassuring,
somehow. There was something about seeing the studio where we
had rehearsed the day before and knowing that we would be on in
a few hours that made my pulse quicken. I drank gallons of water
to keep my throat moist, and now I was going to the bathroom
every 30 minutes.
Our warm-up should have been uneventful, but nothing would be
uneventful this weekend. I missed a word singing the Biker's
Medley. I've sung this song thousands of times without ever
missing that word. Why did I flub it in a run through with
nobody listening, no cameras, and no pressure? We sang My Old
Harley, and I missed a note! It was not like I had a vocal spasm
and didn't hit the note right, I just didn't remember what that
note was supposed to be! The note I sang was not the right one,
but I never miss that note. The analytical physician performed
a brief physical examination and concludes that adrenaline was
causing a brain cloud and all the fluid I had been drinking was
raising the humidity in my gray matter above the dew point with
the resulting lyric fog. [Remind me to bill my health insurance
for the consultation when I get home.] The energy surge needed
to be rechanneled to clear the brain cloud and the knowledge
that I was just acting crazy because I was excited made me
relax and not worry about the flubs. I would do fine. It was as
Charlie said, "This is just a two song contest set!" Only the
audience and judges numbered 8.2 million we were told. Singing
before a crowd that big should be intimidating, and I guess it
was. We all joked a bit and went back to our rooms to get ready
In the movie Cat Ballou, there is a great scene where Lee Marvin
is getting dressed for the last and biggest gunfight of his
career against the hated Tim Strong. As I was putting on my biker
boots and vest, I flashed myself into that scene. Brain clouds
can do that to you.
I packed my kit and went down to the lobby where the lean and
handsome Moses was waiting with the cute and blond Heidi. Moses
was to be our shepherd this time. Heidi was, once again,
waiting for the Greek singer with the dark glasses. It was
somehow fitting that Moses would lead us to the Promised Land
tonight. We got into the van for our ride to destiny.
This time the driver knew the route and we pulled up at CBS
Television City where the entrance was defended by security
guards and metal detectors. I remembered what they said about the
audiences for the Telethon. There is a company that provided
the audiences! They bus people in from places to avoid having
protestors and troublemakers show up in the studio. What a
business! I figured the sirens would go off when all our chains
and stuff hit the metal detectors, but security was briefed in
advance and they waved us through like the VIPs that we were. We
checked in at the talent desk and were taken to our dressing
rooms (that's plural) to change into biker regalia. From there we
moved to make up where the comments were not for general
consumption. Something about a silk purse and making Tom look
good and where did I get my hair! The makeup artist put on
Tom's helmet while she worked. They loved working on us,
definitely something different!
Down to the Green Room. Could these people know who was invading
their private sanctuary? Apparently not! I think one lady needed
to change her underwear, the way she left the room when Charlie
sat next to her. They had a long table with a cold buffet laid
out and barrels of soda and water with coffee urns and bowls of
munchies. There were monitors to watch the show and a single
monitor with the master program computer. This drew my attention
almost immediately. The monitor showed every segment of the show
coming up for the next 20 minutes with time budgeted, artist,
and staging (live, remote, Vegas, etc.). Each segment had a
number and we weren't listed yet. We had some time to wait. It
listed Ed McMahon intros vs. JL intros, and had a time clock
that showed how far off schedule they were. So far they were only
running 5 minutes behind. The thought occurred to me that they
could make that up by cutting one of our songs. After all, Tony
Bennett got only one song, we were getting two. Leslie Uggums
did her two songs and talked on camera with JL. Now they were 6
minutes behind schedule. Bill was running to the bathroom every
20 minutes and I figured he was as sloshed with water as I was.
Then we flashed on screen.
#135 JL: Into Expanded Sound 0:30
#136 Expanded Sound Live 2:30
#137 JL: Chat 0:30
#138 Expanded Sound Old Harley 2:50.
They planned to give us over 6 minutes in front of over 8
million people. Zowie! But JL was going to chat with us for 0:30
between songs. Totally ad lib and unrehearsed with the master
of comedy who had no idea who we were. This was going to be some
They hit #128 on the program and told us to saddle up. We moved
back stage. The mike heights were adjusted before they were to
be taken out and we divided in our groups of two on either side
of the orchestra. The stage manager who had told us a joke the
day before was a reassuring face, but all business tonight.
Bill & I gave each other a look and recited our traditional word
of advice, "DFU". Imprecisely translated for general audiences
this means "Don't Foul Up". Then JL started the intro,
"...Expanded Sound is a technical term in Barbershop Harmony..."
and we were on.
We strutted out on stage toward the mikes. The orchestra was
playing something behind us, but I don't know what. We belly
bumped and high fived and I was supposed to blow the pitch from
my pipe attached to a beer can. But the orchestra was playing,
and in the wrong key. What now? And just as quickly as I asked
the question, they stopped and I blew the wrong pitch. Charlie
crushed the can, and I blew the right pitch. The crowd roared
and I knew this was gonna be fun.
Lights were on, but I didn't feel them. Cameras were everywhere,
but I didn't see them. The crowd was whoopin' and laughin' and we
were singin'. The quartet had made a big deal about how we stand
to help our sound focus. I was to curve into the center on my
side and Tom did the same on his side. Only my side faced JL,
who was in hysterics. Entertainers always overreact to other
entertainers, but this was too real. He was floored. His jaw hung
open almost to the floor. And the audience loved it. It was all
I could do to keep from being distracted by it.
The first few bars were trouble. They didn't have the monitors
on and we couldn't hear each other. Especially with the crowd
noise I could barely hear Bill standing next to me, and then they
were on and we were still in tune. We were doin' the routine, the
moves, the faces, and it was all working. And then it was over.
We bumped and fived, and here was JL walking up to Charlie. I
thought to myself "DFU". It could not have been setup better if
we had planned it. Everyone always want's to make light of the
fact that we're regular people, not show people, and one of us
is an Eye Doctor, so we frequently get asked our occupations
when we are interviewed. So Charlie had his stock answer ready
and when JL asked what he did in real life, the reflex kicked in
and out came, "ah, part-time aerobics instructor!" JL's knees
folded and the crowd roared! This was the moment of truth. He
had topped JL. Could anyone top JL on his own show and not pay
the price during the next song? Were we in for it or what? He
finally got to the Ophthalmologist and had the response from the
audience that he expected. I got to shake the hand of Jerry
This was not the planned 0:30 chat that the computer monitor
scheduled for the barbershop quartet from who knows where. He
made some nice remarks about our coming out to do the show and
asked if we could do another number. We considered it seriously
for several picoseconds and graciously agreed. I blew the pitch
and My Old Harley echoed in the room. [Too much reverb?] I
thought to myself, this is sounding good. I stole a quick glance
at Charlie and I knew why we had everyone in the room. The
intensity in that face was awesome. JL was doing his thing in
the corner and we were doing our thing center stage. We nailed
the last chord of the tag, and I thought to myself, "I still
have air. I can hold this note for ever." And I wanted to. But we
High fives, cat calls, belly bumps and we moved off stage. I was
barely past the curtain when I heard someone say, "They're
getting a standing ovation!" Suddenly the stage manager is
wildly motioning us to get back out there and as I turned and
walked out, it was true. They were all on their feet applauding.
Some of those MD people were in wheelchairs and even they had
pulled up! What a thrill! Something inside me screamed "yeeha!"
and I flicked my long blond hair and raised my hands to
acknowledge the applause. And then we were off, and it was
The looks on the faces backstage were astounding. Who were these
guys to get that kind of a reaction from the crowd and JL?
There were handshakes, pats on the back, general attaboys and a
sea of smiles. As big as this quartet is, gravity could not hold
our feet on the ground. We were floatin'. We moved toward the
Green Room, and Moses announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Expanded
Sound!" Standing Ovation in the Green Room! Who gets that? More
congratulations. The gal who changed her underwear when we came
in before said how much she loved our act. Eddie Foy came in to
say, "I told ya so!" and how great it was. He said he had never
seen a reaction like that to an act on the telethon. "LA
audiences are sophisticated and don't do that very often."
"Maybe they bussed this audience in from the Valley", I thought
to myself, still not accepting the level of success that we had
"We're gonna want you back next year, for sure." Those words
rang in my ears for a good 60 seconds. I thought to myself, "If
Bolton's Landing calls us for next year, we'll just have to put
them on hold."
After we sing is when we eat the best, and this was our chance.
We cleared the buffet and moved back to the dressing rooms to
get out of our gear. It was after 11:30 PM and we needed to be
on the stretch limo back to LAX at 4:15 AM, so no more lingering.
As we walked back to the dressing rooms I saw the sign on one
of the rooms and finally learned the name of the Greek singer,
Nana Mouskouri. How did I get Thelonious Monk out of that?
As we changed, the monitors were showing the Valleyaires singing
their two songs. The first went very well and then came JL and
his fun with the guys in the third row. He had one of their
jackets on and had blacked out his two front teeth. He parodied
all of their choreography and almost decapitated the little old
bald guy repeatedly throttling him by the neck. I couldn't stop
laughing, and I'm sure no one will even remember what song the
chorus was singing, but they too, were a hit.
On the way out to the shuttle, a UPS man asked me for my
autograph. Nice way to cap out an evening of stardom.
Back at the hotel the quartet celebrated with a quick drink at
the bar and watched Nana, the Greek singer, do her number on
the TV. She had traded the dark glasses for thick rimmed frames
with clear lenses. No standing O for her act.
Our flight home was uneventful. The weekend was over.
Larry Gans, M.D.
Tenor, Expanded Sound
Ambassadors of Harmony
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