When you think of the Philly sound of the late '50s/early '60s,--that magical blend of melody,harmony, and excitement--several groups come to mind. However, one group was able to capture not only the doo-wop sound of the streetcorner, but also the sophisticated, accomplished style of the eras notable pop quartets. That group was the Four Epics from South Philadelphia.
They started as a trio in the fall of '59 and called themselves the Bancrofts, a name taken from their streetcorner hangout. They were Jack"Rocky"McKnight(1st Tenor and vocal arranger).Mickey Neill(2nd Tenor) and Jimmy Mullen(baritone). After months of practice, they were eager to hear their sound on acetate and in May '60, they recorded Dion and the Belmonts version of Wonderful Girl.
Harmony and blend were good, yet lacked the fullness Jack was striving for, It was decided a 4th voice was needed, and in early '61 enter Bobby Riccobene, who completed the ensemble with his basso profundo.
Confident with their sound, they pooled their money for studio time and recorded some original material, most of which has not been heard until the release of this CD.
The group finally made their mark after teaming up with Jerry Ross who, in 1962, suggested a name change to the Four Epics and shuffled them to South Philly's AMS studio to record "I'm On My Way"b/w"When The Music Ends" for his Heritage label.
Not only did promotional appearances abound along the eastern seaboard, Jerry managed to keep the boys busy doing backround sessions for established artists like Chubby Checker,Little Joey&the Flips,Rick&the Masters,Freddy Cannon, and the Dovells. One of the most memorable sessions was with some of the members of the Fortune Tellers and the Dreamlovers on "Amazons & Coyotes"
While the Heritage release was still generating airplay, Bobby Riccobene left the group and in stepped Richie Lalli just as Ross made a connection with the NY based Laurie Records. So in 1963, the boys headed for the Big Apple and the famous Bell Sound Studios where they recorded an up-tempo version of the old standard "Again"
Based on airplay and record sales, Laurie execs were ecstatic and sanctioned another release on the label. So, hot on its heels in '63 came the follow-up, "Dance Joanne", a ditty reminiscent of "Little Bitty Pretty One"
Even as these tunes made their improbable run up the charts, the boys would soon learn their stint with Laurie would be short lived, Consequently disappointment and frustration would lead to Mickey and Richie leaving the group.
Jack and Jimmy would go on to form a new group with Tony Barbella(1st Tenor), and Buzzy Shearin(2nd Tenor). Now known as The Vespers, a proficient, albeit,short-lived ensemble. They had only one release in '63 on Swan Records "Mr Cupid b/w "Walk With My Angel" It was a modest hit, however no others would follow and the group soon disbanded.
For the next 3 decades, the musical virtuosity of Jack McKnight would be demonstrated many times, whether it be the rebirth of the 4 Epics, Exodus, Exodus II, or arranging and producing recording sessions for other recording artists.
Throughout this time, replacements came and went, yet Jack managed to preserve the unequivocal sound of the original group.
It's to his memory, this CD is dedicated
WHERE ARE THEY NOW
Bobby Riccobene.....After leaving the group,he ventured into a more profitable business with his family. Unfortunately, he fell victim to a tragic accident, and passed away in 1984.
Richie Lalli.....After he left the group, his whereabouts remained unknown for decades, until one day in February,2006, when a record collector informed Jimmy of an obit in a NJ newspaper indicating that he passed away peacefully on February 1st at age 62.
Mickey Neill....He returned when the EXODUS group was formed, only to be disillusioned, and left once again to form his own combo.
He's become reclusive and doesn't stay in contact with any former members.
Jack "Rocky" McKnight....Throughout the years, until his death, he continued to write, produce and perform in various venues. He passed away suddenly and quietly in April 2001, just one month short of his 63rd birthday
Jimmy Mullen.....As one of the two surviving members of the original line up, he maintains this site as a testimonial to their contribution to the annals of rock and roll. Now retired after 30 plus years as a Marine Mammal behaviorist, he lives in California with his wife of 40 years, 2 adult children, and 6 grandchildren living nearby. His love of group harmony coupled with the advent of oldies internet chat rooms, has led him to share his memoirs with those that remember the legacy of the 4 Epics.