Appreciation: Bill Burkette Of The Vogues 1942-2018

Friday, 02 March 2018 09:41 AM Written by 


Last October, following the death of singer Jimmy Beaumont, leader of the Skyliners, members of the group and other Pittsburgh vocal acts played a special benefit for Bill Burkette, original lead singer of Pittsburgh classic pop vocal group the Vogues, who suffered from lymphoma. Burkette died yesterday at 75. Burkette was part of the original Vogues, alongside Chuck Blasko, Don Miller and Hugh Geyer with the group from the time they organized in 1958 at Turtle Creek High School as the Val-Aires.

Their first single, released on the Willette label (named for original manager Elmer Willette) in 1959, was re-released nationally by Coral Records

1959: "Laurie My Love"

Once post-high school military and higher education was out of the way, the group, still the Val-Aires, re-formed, now working with Pittsburgh music legend Nick Cenci on a new direction with doo-wop out of vogue Beatlemania sweeping the nation. They found it by covering a song by British vocalist Petula Clark of "Downtown" fame and her producer Tony Hatch.

The single appeared under a new name: the Vogues, on the Co & Ce label owned by Herb Cohen and Cenci. It set the stage for the counter-intuitive approach they'd use during the decade. Burkette's clear, distinctive baritone stood out on every one of their biggest hits, and the vocal chemistry between he, Blasko, Miller and Geyer was undeniable.

1965: "You're The One" (# 4 nationally)

They followed it with "Five O' Clock World," written by Nashville singer-songwriter Allen Reynolds. The group recorded it in Pittsburgh using an instrumental track recorded in Nashville,

1965: "Five O' Clock World" (# 4 nationally)

Burkette and company sing "Five O' Clock" live (no lip-synch) on NBC's Hullaballoo.

1966: "Magic Town" (# 21 nationally) Personally, I consider this their greatest ballad.

The group moved to Reprise Records in 1968, home of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. With Dick Glasser producing, they revived a 1962 single first recorded by a very obscure LA guitarist named Glen Campbell, made a hit that same year when the Lettermen covered Campbell's single.

1968: "Turn Around, Look At Me." (# 7 nationally)

Burkette remained with the group's changing lineup until the early 1980's when he went into sales with a home improvement company. Residing in Murrysville with his wife and three children, he never gave up singing. When member Stan Elich and a partner brought the Vogues name, a court battle with original Vogue Chuck Blasko ensued over who could use the name. A settlement allowed both groups to coexist, Blasko's working in 14 Western PA counties, Elich's everywhere else.

Around 2008, 2000s, Burkette and Geyer joined Elich's Vogues. 

2011: Wheeling WVA: "Five O' Clock World" with Burkette and Geyer.

Many in the hipper-than-thou era of the sixties, the years of the Beatles, Joplin, Hendrix, the Dead and Woodstock, considered the music of the Vogues corny by comparison. Over half a century of endless changes has vindicated the Vogues' counter-intuitive approach. Their classic records defined by Burkette's lead vocals, like the original hits by the Skyliners and Del-Vikings, have and will stand the test of time.


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