Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: Bill Burkette and Steve Mandell

This month pop music lost a few more artists.

Bill Burkette, original lead baritone of the Vogues died on March 1 of lymphoma at a care center near his home in Murrsyville, Pennsylvania. He was 75.

Burkette formed the Vogues with his school buddies. They cut their first record, a cover of Petula Clark’s “You’re the One,” in 1965. It went to #4.

Between 1967 and 1970, they appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “American Bandstand,” “The Red Skelton Show” and more, and toured overseas.

Here in America they worked nearly 300 one-nighters a year, transported by two twin-engine Cessnas. The schedule took its toll, and the Vogues went from a national to a local group in Pennsylvania.

“I have always thought of him (Burkette) and the Vogues as having super tight harmony and a smooth sound,” said Donna Groom, a longtime member of the Skyliners. “Every song stuck in my head after shows we did with him. Always a class act.”

Here’s Burkette singing lead.

The Vogues

You may not know who Steve Mandell is but you’ve probably heard him.

Mandell played the guitar and Eric Weissberg played banjo on the hit duet, “Dueling Banjos” in this 1972 film.  It went all the way to #2.

Originally titled “Feudin’ Banjos” in 1954, the song was a traditional bluegrass tune.

Mandell and Weissberg traveled to Clayton, Ga., where “Deliverance” movie was being filmed and directed by John Boorman. Local Clayton actor Billy Redden, who played the character Lonnie, a banjo-playing teenager, did not know how to play the instrument. A musician hiding behind a special shirt actually did the fingering, and the memorable scene was accomplished by using selected camera angles. It took nearly four days to film.

Actor Ronnie Cox really played the guitar in that scene.

“Here’s the thing. The kid, Billy Redden is his name, couldn’t play the banjo at all. He didn’t even know enough about the banjo to even make it look right. That’s not even his left arm,” said Cox.

Redden put his left arm behind his back as far as it could go. That’s actually another musician’s arm and hand.

“Dueling Banjos” was nominated for Best Original Song by the Golden Globes in 1973. But it lost, to Michael Jackson’s “Ben.” Good Lord.

The duet did win a Grammy Award.

Mandell died on March 14 at the age of 76. He had been suffering from prostate cancer.

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