Although the Fleetwoods’ sound was smooth, without many of the rougher edges of doo wop groups, they were one of the few vocal groups of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s to enjoy success not only on the pop charts, but also the R&B charts. The Fleetwoods’ forte was ballads – beginning with their 1959 debut single Come Softly to Me, which became a million selling number 1 gold record. The group racked up a number of Top forty hits over the next three years including Graduations Here, and Mr. Blue, and nearly all of them were ballads. Although the group never recorded together after 1963, their songs – particularly “Come Softly to Me” – became pop-rock classics of the pre-British Invasion era.
The original members of the group, Gary Troxel, Gretchen Christopher, and Barbara Ellis, met while attending Olympia High School in Olympia, Washington. Originally a female duo, they initially recruited Troxel to play trumpet. The girls had composted a song while, independently, Troxel had written a hook that went “n-do-be-do dum dum-dum do dum.” They put them together and Come Softly to Me was born. They began performing the song at Olympia High and were met with “why don’t you record it”. Christopher was dancing at the time in Seattle and metBob Reisdorff, who was in the process of starting his own record label. The group tape recorded the song and Christopher took it to him and he was excited about it. Reisdorff and business associate Bonnie Guitar launched Dolphin (later Dolton) Records with the release of Come Softly to Me.
Chart fame was instant for the distinctive trio and the haunting and catchy song (on which the vocal was recorded acapella) shot to the top of the U.S. Charts, number five on the R&B charts, and reached the Top Ten in U.K.
Mr. Blue, a Dewayne Blackwell song originally written for the Platters, was also “number one” and made Troxel one of the leaders in the teen idol stakes. In the midst of their success he had to serve two years of active duty in the Navy. Vic Dana, who later became a solo star, replacedTroxel on tours when necessary. Despite Troxel’s absence, the hits continued totaling nine Top 40 hits between 1959 and 1963 and included the Top ten hit Tragedy, a revival of the Thomas Wayne song. The Fleetwoods recorded a total ten albums for Liberty Records. Since that time there have been numerous Fleetwoods’ records repackaged with the best being in Troxel’s opinion“Come Softly to Me The Very Best of The Fleetwoods” released in 1993 on EMI.
The Fleetwoods performed a few “oldies” revival shows in the early 1970’s. In the late 70’s Ellisand Troxel did a couple of shows together and re-recorded their hits for K-Tel records. In the early 1980’s, Ellis decided to retire from performing. Troxel teamed up again with Christopherand replacement Cheryl Huggins. They performed together until 1985.
Currently both Gretchen Christopher and Gary Troxel each continue to perform with their individual groups at PBS television Doo Wop shows, oldies concerts, special private functions, and nightclub showrooms and performing arts centers throughout the country. Each has recorded various CD’s of Fleetwoods standard hits and other material.
The Fleetwoods have been inducted into:
2006 The Vocal Group Hall of Fame
2006 Doo-Wop Hall Of Fame of America
2005 Olympia High School Alumni Hall of Fame
1988 Northwest Music Hall of Fame
Christopher’s websites are: www.thefleetwoods.com, www.fleetwoods.com. E-Mail: Gretchen@thefleetwoods.com.
Christopher continues to perform as a soloist and as The Fleetwoods featuring Gretchen Christopher.
By The Vocal Group Hall of Fame
Based on a biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine