The Fabulous Flashbacks may have had more different members come and go through the years than any other group in local music history. But the quality of the band's musicianship and performance level has never wavered.
And after 23 years of entertaining local oldies fans, the group presses on, doing what they do best: serving up spot-on versions of the doo wop rock and roll of the '50s and early '60s - good-time music that was simple, inexpensive and untainted by politics, war or financial woe.
"We always kept everything as close to the originals as possible," tenor saxophonist, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Don Trullender, the last remaining original member of the group, said. "There's been some animosity over the years amongst different people about different things, but after 23 years, credit needs to be given where credit is due. They were all members of a great group."
The current lineup of The Fabulous Flashbacks includes (from left) drummer John Bowser, bassist Jeff Guyer, rhythm guitarist and tenor saxophonist Don Trullender, lead singer Sue Smouse, keyboardist Ed Kissell and lead guitarist Tom Fronauer.
The Flashbacks will honor Trullender, 73, of Altoona by performing from 8 to 11 p.m. March 5 at the Bavarian Hall in Altoona. Past and present members of the group will take part in the celebration.
"It's been an experience, but the band will continue on," Trullender, who's moving to Florida to enjoy a warmer climate and start a rock and pop trio, said. "There's always been a lot of rumors floating around the Fabulous Flashbacks, but you can rest assured, this band will definitely go on."
It all started back in 1987, he recalled. Other original members included Pat McGraw, guitar and lead vocals; Rick Cornet on keyboards; John Gartland on bass and Tom McDonald on drums.
If you go
What: The Fabulous Flashbacks live (A "Farewell Don" celebration for original member Don Trullender)
When: 8 p.m. March 5
Where: Bavarian Hall, Altoona
Admission: Tickets are $5 each and are available at all Thompson Pharmacy locations, or by calling 931-0183 or 502-6524
"We eventually moved a little further into the '70s, doing things like the Hollies' 'Long Cool Woman,' but not too much," he said. "We never wanted to become a variety band. We were always a specialty band, I guess you could say. And our main selling point was always our vocal harmonies - lots of doo wop harmonies and good instrumentals."
McGraw, 63, of Altoona, who played with the band until 1999, recalled how enthusiastic local crowds were for the band's music.
"When we first started, there were a lot of things going on musically for the younger folks in town, but a big void for guys and girls we went to school with," he said. "What we did just struck a chord with people. The whole package - it was just fun rock and roll. They really enjoyed it. And I always really, really enjoyed it when someone was enjoying hearing us play."
The band never really gravitated toward the local bar scene, McGraw said, instead opting to play private functions such as fundraisers, union parties, fire company events and festivals. But they were never averse to playing mega public gigs either - like opening for Chubby Checker at Mansion Park in 1989 in front of 8,000 local fans. Other names on the bill included Gary Lewis & the Playboys, The Crystals, The Drifters and The Marcels.
"I remember looking out and seeing an entire sea of black T-shirts with the pink jukeboxes on them that said 'Fabulous Flashbacks," McGraw said. "We had half the stadium filled - it was amazing."
"That's when it all came together - when we all realized this was going to work," Trullender added. "It was just a great feeling for all of us."
McGraw noted how meticulous the band was with the songs they covered - songs such as the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," The Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe," Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Little Bitty Pretty One" by Bobby Day, "You Belong to Me" by Jo Stafford, The Chantay's "Pipeline," the Ventures' "Walk Don't Run" and Shep and the Limelites' "Daddy's Home."
"We researched each record and did as best we could to emulate the original," he said. "I think we were the first local group that didn't do just 'jam versions' of these songs. We really gave an honest attempt to learn the harmony parts, the backup vocals and everything that went with the song. And that's what people loved about the Flashbacks."
Gartland, 66, of Altoona, who played in the band until 1995, had his own special memory to share.
"There were so many great times, but I remember one night in particular," he said. "I was standing there talking to (the late) Tom Reilly (a popular radio broadcaster from Altoona), and he just kind of looked at me and said, 'Look at all these people coming in here. And they're not coming to the park - they're coming to see you guys.' The place was packed. All you could see were faces out there - people standing shoulder to shoulder. Pat just looked at me and said, 'You know, it's working.'"
And it's been working for many years since then, said local musician Pat McGinnis, who's been the band's sound and lighting engineer for the last three years.
"They've always had good musicians in this band," McGinnis, 51, of Altoona said. "It's always been a good product. The dance floor's always packed from the first note to the last. And there's always a big smile on the faces of those who organize their shows - they can always count on the Flashbacks to bring in a good crowd."
Today's lineup includes Trullender, Tom Fronauer, lead guitar; Ed Kissell, keyboards; Sue Smouse, lead vocals; John Bowser, drummer; and Jeff Guyer, bass.
Bob McGough from Windber will replace Trullender on guitar and vocals.
"We'd just like to continue to do what we're doing now, and hope that people enjoy it," Guyer, 53, of Altoona said, adding Trullender's rendition of "Unchained Melody" remains a requested song at every performance. "We'll continue to do the oldies, possibly adding a few things from the '70s and '80s as we go along. But we will always continue to do the same type of danceable, recognizable songs we're doing now - songs with a lot of vocal harmonies. That's been the Flashbacks' calling card for years."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.