In 1937 the American Legion in Bartlesville, Oklahoma decided to put on a minstrel show. New in town, a wiry little man by the name of Harry Hall who was born and raised in England, had produced a minstrel show in Pawhuska, OK so he got the job of putting this show together.
All the men in town were invited to participate and sing. Having some experience with singing close harmony, George McCaslin was appointed as committee of one to come up with a quartet. Just like that - abracadabra.
McCaslin listened around and discovered that one of the minstrel end men, Herman Kaiser, was doing a good job of putting the bass to the choral songs. Harry Hall volunteered to sing tenor but as chairman of the quartet committee, McCaslin made Hall sing the lead part and took the tenor for himself. Someone suggested that there was a young, just-out-of-college baritone down at the First National Bank.
With the usual skepticism of a quartet man searching for a good baritone, McCaslin dropped in to have a look at Bob Durand and invited him to a quartet rehearsal. Their first session sounded good; the resulting Bartlesville American Legion Minstrel Quartet was the hit of the show.
The following year, O. C. Cash was looking for a quartet to sing at the state teacher's convention in Tulsa and asked McCaslin if his quartet was available. They were willing to sing and O. C. informed the local newspaper. Cash told a reporter covering the story that the quartet was called the Bartlesville Barflies.
Owen Cash not only founded the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, but he named what would turn out to be its first championship quartet.
- Tenor: George McCaslin
- Lead: Harry Hall
- Bari: Bob Durand
- Bass: Herman Kaiser
- 1939 1st (Tulsa, OK)
- 1940 2nd
- 1941 3rd competing as Phillips 66 Barflies
- 1942 3rd competing as Phillips 66 Barflies
Barber Shop Ballads - Decca 78 rpm
- By the Light of the Silvery Moon
- By the Watermelon Vine, Lindy Lou
- Just a Dream of You, Dear
- Love Me and the World is Mine (Medley includes title song, Just A Dream of You Dear and When the Harbor Lights are Burning)
- Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie
- When the Harbor Lights Are Burning
Best of Barbershop, The (25 Years of Winners) - Decca LP
- Medley: Wait 'Till the Sun Shines Nellie-By the Watermelon Vine
- Lindy Lou-By the Light of the Silvery Moon
written and researched by Grady Kerr
taken from Golden Memories - The History of the Southwestern District - pub 1996
Our very first quartet champions didn't set out to be world famous, they just loved to sing. As it turned out, they became our first gold medalists, almost became our second gold medalists and were the first society quartet to appear in the movies.
It was the goal of the American Legion of Bartlesville, Oklahoma (47 miles north of Tulsa) to put on a minstrel show in 1937 that forced the need of good quartet. New Legionnaire Harry Hall was asked to put the show together since he had experience. All the men in Bartlesville were invited to participate and sing. Legionnaire George McCaslin had experience with quartetting so Hall asked him to form the much needed quartet.
Hall volunteered to sing the tenor (claiming to have sung with the best quartet in America" for William Jennings "Billie" Bryan's presidential campaign in 1908). But as chairman of the quartet committee, McCaslin convinced Hall to sing lead and saved the tenor part for himself.
Finding the right baritone and bass was beginning to become difficult until McCaslin discovered that one of the minstrel men, Herman Kaiser, was doing a great job of putting the bass to the choral songs. He was asked to sing in the quartet.
News of prospective bari named Bob Durand, a young college grad working at Bartlesville First National Bank, reached the committee. With considerable skepticism, McCaslin dropped in to have a look at him and invited him to a quartet rehearsal. In their first session together Bob's baritone passed the test with flying colors.
Two weeks later, after rehearsing without sheet music and arranging by ear, they brought the house down singing When Uncle Joe Plays a Rag on his Old Banjo, Ragtime Cowboy Joe, and Love Me and the World is Mine. As you might have guessed, the resulting "Bartlesville American Legion Minstrel Quartet" was the hit of the show.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? The following year, O.C. Cash was looking for a quartet to sing at a prestigious state teachers' convention in Tulsa and asked McCaslin if his quartet was available. The quartet agreed but unbeknownst to them, when Cash was asked by the press the name of the foursome, Cash didn't know. O.C. remembered a quartet back home in Blue Jacket called the "Barflies" and informed the news media they would hear the Bartlesville Barflies" After that, the name stuck.
Several years later, McCaslin wrote: It did seem that there was an abundance of creative talent in those early years and that quartets (the Orpheum and Keith Vaudeville circuits almost always had a quartet booked as part of the regular show) attracted men who could improvise - men who knew chords and how to put them together: The Barflies happened to be blessed with four guys who had, independently, been attracted to the foot lights long before we met.
GEORGE McCASLIN 1901 -January 2, 1985 The son of a minister and Missouri bred, George made his living as an insurance salesman but was best known to all as a quartet man. A charter member of the Society, he also directed the local Sweet Adeline chorus. As a member of many civic organizations he was a real people person" and loved to sing. He died in 1985 at the age of 83 followed by his beloved wife, Lillian, three years later. Their son, Jim, passed away in 1994 and their son Tom is an accomplished musician who currently lives and performs in Tulsa.
HARRY HALL September 19, 1890 - July 9, 1960 Harry Hall was born and raised in Hetton-Le-Hole, Durham County, England (and he wouldn't let you forget it) and came to the U.S. in 1914. Settling in West Frankfort, Illinois, he soon married Maude May Fuell on September 14, 1914. After joining the U.S. Army, Harry served overseas in Europe and was discharged in 1919 and soon after moved to Pawhuska, Oklahoma. In 1937 Harry moved to Bartlesville where he worked as a painting contractor. He quickly became active in several civic organizations joining the local Akdar Temple, Kara Grotto, Elks Lodge, A F & A M, Knights of Pythias Lodge, Painters Local 695, Shriners, Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite Club, and American Legion. Perhaps looking for another organization to join, Harry was in attendance at the first Tulsa meeting April 11, 1938. Maude, his wife of 36 years passed away in 1950. Harry soon after married Marjorie. He had two daughters.
It was mid-week during the 1960 International convention, held in Dallas, when Harry became seriously ill. He was rushed back to Bartlesville where he passed away the Saturday morning of the convention at the age of 69.
BOB DURAND 1906 May 13, 1978 A handsome young man, Bob was born in Junction City, Kansas where he graduated from high school in 1923. He attended the University of Kansas, sang in the U. of K. Glee Club and received his degree in 1927. His father was president of the bank and Bob proudly followed in his dad's footsteps. Following graduation he took a job offer at the First National Bank of Bartlesville.
When Bob was called to service he joined the Air Force and earned the rank of Captain before his honorable discharge in 1946. He returned home and married Mary Mustard and raised three daughters. Bob worked his way up to Senior Vice President at the bank and retired in 1968 after 41 years of service. He was also active in several civic organizations: The Masonic Lodge, Kiwanis Club, Scottish Rite Bodies, and Akdar Shrine. He unselfishly gave of his time and talent and served as treasurer of the Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce as well as the Bartlesville Welfare Association. After passing the "audition" and joining the Barflies, Bob's dad (also a quartet man) taught the quartet by rote a beautiful 1882 ballad entitled White Wings. It became a popular addition to their repertoire.
After a long illness, Bob passed away on May 13,1978 at the age of 72.
HERMAN E KAISER 1900 - February 23 1965 Born in Sweet Springs, Missouri, Herman sang bass for 22 years in the Bartlesville Presbyterian choir. He too belonged to several local civic organizations such as the Kiawanians, and several Masonic bodies. Herman worked for Phillips Petroleum from 1922 to 1964 (who later hired them to promote the company) and retired as a senior purchasing agent. He died February 23, 1965 at the age of 65 and was survived by his wife, Mildred.
FAMOUS OR INFAMOUS As early as Monday, the week of the society's first national convention, the local papers started building up the event. There were already several quartets in town staying at the Mayo and Tulsa Hotels. Tulsa really got on the bandwagon and just about every organization in town who had a luncheon wanted a quartet. Most of them got one. The papers went ahead and "picked" the winner and runners up several days before the contest. The Capital City Four from Springfield, Illinois was picked to win and the Flat Foot Four of Oklahoma City was to be second.
The Barflies didn't even decide to compete until the last minute. On Friday afternoon they headed for Tulsa and sang in the semi-finals. George said "I can't recall that we broke into the charmed circle that night. . . we were hoping for third." One of their contest songs was the well known Mandy Lee. Mandy Lee was such a hit, 14 competing quartets sang it the next year in the New York contests. The next night after singing in the finals, George recalled: "...it was so close, they had us and the Capital City Four come back out and sing another song". By the slimmest of margins, the Barflies were named "World Champion Barbershop Quartet". For their win they received the new title and a check for $50.00. It worked out to $12.50 apiece and they're not even sure if they ever cashed the check. George McCaslin said of the event: There were ten judges when we stepped on stage at Central High to make history. But for the grace of God and a few simple barbershop chords the Barflies would have been forgotten before the ink was dry on the Sunday editions. It was amazing. Newspapers all over the United States picked up the story and the Barflies became famous. Things sorta got outa hand a bit from then on for the next year. They did appear on a recording with several other quartets from the contest. It was made by Decca and included two favorite Barflies' medleys: Love Me and The World Is Mine - Just A Dream Of You Dear- When The Harbor Lights Are Burning and Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie - By The Watermelon Vine, Lindy Lou - By The Light Of The Silvery Moon.
Someone came along after the contest and offered the Barflies a contract to do three weeks in Vegas but they didn't have the time. Phillips Petroleum (Herman's employer) offered to sponsor them if they would change their name to the "Phillips 66 Barflies". They agreed and as it turned out, it was a pretty good combination for the quartet as well as the society. They were flown all over the south during various company advertising campaigns and enjoyed what they called the "meatballs and pea circuit". George and Harry competed in the first seven national quartet contests helping set the pace for the new society. Son Tom McCaslin still has George's medal collection including the rarest of all.
KEYS TO SUCCESS Probably no top ranking quartet got by on less rehearsing than the Barflies. They picked their songs, learned them separately and got together only to work out the timing and polish 'em up. They were blessed with two high tenors, a high bari, and a low bari, The Barflies had little trouble with pitch unless Harry was having a bad day. Harry, said to have perfect pitch, refused to allow the Barflies to use a pipe. He said he could always get the right pitch. It may have been right for Harry, but sometimes, when he was feeling good or the audience got him a little excited, he'd pitch it high. Heaven help 'em if he pitched it low! McCaslin remembered a funeral they sang for in Bartlesville once where he disdained to use the pitch pipe which George had in his pocket. "It was the most pitiful sound I've ever been a part of and I'm sure we contributed our share of depression to the grieved. We muddled through Rock of Ages using Harry's "perfect pitch". It was the last funeral we ever sang and I never trusted Harry for the pitch again". "Harry was way too temperamental for his own good, in spite of the fact that he was a good showman. Now and then he'd want me to change the pitch depending on how he felt. I never gave in to him again and after a decade or more, he finally conceded that he probably didn't have perfect pitch". With no rules about past champs competing, the Barflies returned to competition in 1940 in New York City where the second national contest was being held at the World's Fair. Over 50 quartets entered the fray but, for the second year in a row, the Barflies were in the finals. Although no score sheets exist, it's said the margin of victory was one point". The Flat Foot Four were named champions and the Barflies came in second. One of their highlights was singing for the unveiling of the statue of Will Rogers at his Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma on August 15th, 1941. The events were broadcast live, coast to coast by radio. Also performing were the Chord Busters and the Flat Foot Four. In 1941 they again competed for the title, this time in the St. Louis contests and out of the 54 quartets there, they came in a strong third behind the Chord Busters and Kansas City Barberpole Cats. They also placed third the following year in Grand Rapids, Michigan once again behind the Polecats.
Bob Durand was drafted into the Army immediately following the contest in 1942 and the Barflies split up. George and Harry (tenor and bass) decided to form another quartet out of Tulsa called the Mainstreeters. Bill Palmer (bari) and Fred Graves (bass), formerly with the Mystic Four, completed the foursome and they became just about as popular as the Barflies had been and continued to perform on a regular basis.
In the spring of 1946, Durand returned from the Army and the Barflies were reunited to sing their swan song on the annual Oklahoma City chapter's Parade of Quartets. Like many quartets, one swan song is not enough. They went on to make two more "final appearances" in Bartlesville that year.
They reunited again in 1955 for a Tulsa and Bartlesville joint meeting and again in April of 1958 to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tulsa chapter. Possibly their very last appearance as the Barflies was in 1959 in Kansas City for an Olde Timers Quartet Jamboree with over 600 enthusiasts in attendance. The Barflies performances were quite unique. Since Harry couldn't make the trip, they held auditions during the day for leads to fill-in for Hall. The lucky ones were Dana Durand (brother), Jim Poindexter, Don McPherson, and J. E. Dooley. Each man "rehearsed with an audience" one number with the Society's first champions. It may have been the original "sing with the champs". The Barflies claimed it was their 167th "final appearance". By this time, Harry and George's other quartet was gaining national popularity. They were called the Flying L Ranch Quartet. One of their biggest fans was Roy Turner, owner of the Flying L Ranch (near Davis) and soon-to-be Oklahoma's Governor. Also an amateur song writer, Turner penned Hereford Heaven.
HAPPY TRAILS TO HOLLYWOOD The song became popular and Roy asked his favorite quartet to perform it. In the summer of 1946, Roy Rogers decided to use the song and the quartet in his movie, "Home in Oklahoma". Each quartet member was renamed: Harry "Shorty" Hall, Bill "Smiley" Palmer, Fred "Stumpy" Graves, George "Slats" MeCaslin for the movie. Some of the filming took place on the Flying L Ranch and some took place in Hollywood. Gabby Hayes also appeared in the film. The Flying L Ranch Quartet was invited to sing at Roy Rogers and Dale Evans' wedding December 31, 1947 at The Flying L Ranch. Recently Roy and Dale were contacted and recalled: We remember what great voices they had". High profile events continued to seek out this popular quartet. In addition to singing for Roy Turner's inauguration on January 13, 1947, they performed for the Truman Presidential Inauguration in 1949. The Flying L continued in various forms for many years with replacements such as Bob McCullough (lead), Gene Earl (bari), Bob Kirk (bari) and Gene Nash (lead). They are reported to have been active as late as 1951.