One of the greatest things about Bob Ferreira’s career happens when his group, The Four Freshmen, is onstage and Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson is in the audience.
“When he hears us singing, you can see his face light up,” Ferreira said. “And for a man who’s in his 70s, who’s seen it all and has been there and is an icon and a legend — to see his eyes light up like a kid in a candy store is an amazing thing. It just shows the power of this music and the power of any music when it creates inspiration.”
The Four Freshmen, who perform at Cuesta College this weekend, certainly inspired Wilson, who has often credited the group with providing his “harmonic education.”
“I saw them at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood in 1958,” Wilson told the Chicago Tribune in 2011. “I was nervous because they were my idols. They were so nice to me. I was just 15 years old.”
The Four Freshmen that perform today consist of a different lineup than the group Wilson first saw, but they perform many of the same tunes and maintain the same tight harmonies that sent The Four Freshmen into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
The group formed in 1948 on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis. While they have always been known for their spot-on harmonies, they have also had the distinction of being a vocal band that plays their own instruments. That was something that stood out to Ferreira when he first saw the group in the ’80s. Still in high school, Ferreira had no idea he’d become a member of that group in less than five years.
After high school, he attended Edmonds Community College near Seattle. One of his mentors there, Kirk Marcy, was a former Freshmen singer. Later, while attending Central Washington University, Ferreira returned to Edmonds to be on an audition committee for Marcy’s vocal jazz group.
“And he says, ‘Bob, I have a gig for you,’ ” Ferreira said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, OK,’ thinking I’m going to be a camp counselor at a jazz camp for the summer. And he says, ‘The Freshmen need a drummer,’ and I just about fell out of my chair.’ ”
Just 21, Ferreira thought he might do the gig a year or two then return to school.
“But I’ve been doing it for 21 years now, so I enjoy it.”
Of the current lineup Ferreira is now the longest-serving member. Vince Johnson, a San Luis Obispo native and former Cuesta student, left the group this fall after 13 years.
“This is actually going to be one of the first shows with our new member, Stein (Malvey),” Ferreira said. “And we’re looking forward to it because every new addition to the group has always been a positive one.”
None of the original Freshmen is living, but the newest lineup still performs the classics the originals performed on film and television. While the early Freshmen inspired Brian Wilson, who used to mimic their harmonies with his brothers around the family piano, many of today’s Freshmen were inspired by the Beach Boys. The Freshmen cover of “Surfer Girl” — a Beach Boys staple — is a nod to that cycle of inspiration.
“Let’s face it — we’re younger,’ Ferreira said. “We were more inclined to listen to the Beach Boys than we were The Four Freshmen. So our inspirations were more along the lines of Brian Wilson. So we’re paying homage to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, but at the same time we’re showing the audience The Four Freshmen is where this sound came from.”
IF YOU GO
The Four Freshmen
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cuesta College Cultural and Performing Arts Center
$25 or $15 for students
546-3198 or www.cuesta .edu/student/forstudents/performingarts
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.