In 1973 four dedicated, determined young men from Dallas, with two years of grueling, almost daily work behind them, "came out of nowhere" in Portland to win the international title on their first try.
The Dealer's Choice thus became the first quartet in 21 years (since the Four Teens in 1952) to collect the gold in its first international competition (a feat also duplicated by Acoustix in 1990). They were (from top to bottom) Al Kvanli, Bill Thornton, Brian Beck, and Gary Parker.
The championship was the goal they had set for themselves in 1971, and with one change of personnel (Bill moved from bari to lead, replacing Louie Mullican, when Brian arrived), they made it in less than two years.
Ten weeks after Brian joined the quartet it placed fifth - out of the money - in the 1972 international prelims. It was the last contest the D.C. would fail to win. They passed up the international contest in Atlanta that year to attend a Society HEP (Harmony Education Program) school in Racine, WI.
They came back raving about the talents of Harlan Wilson, Don Clause and other faculty members, and with 54 hours of cassette tapes of their training sessions. Rehearsing over and over the HEP school techniques, they won the Southwestern District contest in October 1972 and the international prelims in March. Then the work intensified - a minimum of one rehearsal each day of the contest songs, each run-through timed by stopwatch. They lived with their contest material 24 hours a day.
In Portland they "followed the book" - bypassing the fun and late hours, rehearsing steadily, keeping their voices in shape (and drawing curious glances from other contestants) by speaking seldom and humming constantly into small hand towels.
It all paid off, as the retiring champs, the Golden Staters, hung gold medals around the necks of the "unknown" Dealer's Choice.
- Tenor: Al Kvanli
- Lead: Bill Thornton
- Bari: Brian Beck
- Bass: Gary Parker
- Tenor: Greg Clancy
- Bari: Dr. Greg Lyne
- Lead: Louie Mullican
- 1973 - 1st
- 1972 - District Champions
- Choices II
written and researched by Grady Kerr
taken from Golden Memories - The History of the Southwestern District - pub 1996
"From out of nowhere" was the common answer by spectators as well as the society's editors in response to the sudden appearance by the 1973 champs, Dealer's Choice. . . and they were almost correct. They were only the sixth quartet to win the gold medals on their very first attempt.
This over-night success took less time than most, only about two years, to achieve. The Dallas Big D chapter quartet first formed in July of 1971 with Al Kvanli (Roustabouts) - tenor, former Texas Boys Choir member whose dad sang with the Fort Worth chapter, Gary Parker - bass, Louie Mullican singing lead (later of the Main Attraction) and Bill Thornton (from the Playbills) singing bari. The DC had some unique voices to blend together so the road was a bit rough learning to balance chords,
Despite their hard work, they placed a disappointing 7th at the 1971 district contest. The judges critique convinced them that no amount of hard work was going to fix the natural mismatch.
In late 1971 while singing in the back of a bus returning for a singout, they woodshedded a few songs with Brian Beck (Doo Dads). The sound really clicked and so some changes were made. Bill moved to lead and Brian was asked to sing bari. Thankfully no hard feelings were held by Louie who became one of their biggest fans. They also transferred to the new Dallas Metro chapter. In March they placed a respectable fifth at prelims in Arlington.
Still not having won district or qualifying for an International contest they decided to attend Harmony College in Racine, Wisconsin and the new quartet coaching seminar with the society's very best coaches. This decision proved decisive and set the quartet on the road to the gold.
After a week of intense coaching, 12-hour days and learning from such legends as Harlan Wilson, Billy Ball, Bert Staffen, Jack Hines, Mac Huff and Don Clause, they were a “new” quartet. They also returned with 54 hours of audio tape of their sessions to help them retain the techniques taught. The young VM also learned this information as the DC were section leaders and passed along the information gained.
The Dealer's Choice was excited and anxious to try out their new sound for the judges at the 1972 Lubbock Region 5 prelims. They won by a huge 150 point margin and felt confident that this was the start of something big.
In their professional lives Al was a teacher at SMU, Bill had his own advertising/sales promotion agency, Brian was a professional jingle singer and musician, and Gary worked as an actuary-trainee for Southwestern Life Insurance Company.
With coaching from Ray Anthony and Nancy Bergman, the DC competed in the district contest in October of '72. It was a two-horse race from the start between them and the up-and-coming Innsiders. The DC surprised even their closest friends with a special touch of original stage presence. While starting their last song, You Can Have Every Light On Broadway, they loosened their ties, Bill removed his coat and in a "Sinatra-like-move" hung it over his shoulder in a rare casual stance. That might have made the difference. The Dealer's Choice won by only 8 points in that nail-bitingly close San Antonio contest.
The battle to be one of the two Southwestern District quartets going to Portland was fought in Port Arthur in March of 1973. The DC won the contest and worked with Don Clause and Mac Huff, two of their favorites from Harmony College. Clause traveled to Dallas several times and spent many long weekends working with the quartet as they developed their smooth blend and artful interpretation. Clause also reinforced a positive mental attitude and the idea that they COULD win the gold medals on their first time out.
Ninety days before the contest they rehearsed EVERYDAY, sometime as long as four hours. By the time the Portland contest came around they were ready. After the first round they led by 19 points. It was during that set they "wowed" the audience with Who'll Take My Place with the now famous bell chord tag. From that point on the audience began talking about this unknown foursome getting into the top ten. After the second set, and the Sinatra Move" they led by 61 points and many started thinking they might medal.
Their last set during the final top ten was just as impressive with two uptunes, How's Every Little Thing in Dixie and a Beck original Songs Like Daddy Used To Play. Few could have really predicted the outcome. Winning on the first time out was next to impossible in these modern times.
In reality, the Pacificaires and the Regents did better in the finals, but the DC had already amassed such a lead, they won by 104 points. The announcement of the Dealer's Choice winning the championship was quite a thrill and a shock (notice the deer-in-headlights gaze by the quartet in the official convention photos).
Unlike other winning quartets following the convention, the DC didn't do a lot of shows. They were virtually unknown and it took a few years for their popularity to grow. By 1975 they were doing about 30 shows a year out of town. A few show highlights include a one in December of 1973 in Boston with the Boston Common who were, reportedly, crazy.
There were the stories of weather related travel problems, lost luggage and almost being thrown in jail in El Paso that every top quartet encounters. One “brush with death” story stands out. On leaving Ponca City after a 1975 show, Pilot Brian Beck (who often flew the quartet to and from gigs) had to use the taxiway to take off due to a closed runway. With Brian sitting on two phone books in order to see where they were going, they took off in a cross wind and were nearly blown into the control tower. That day they almost gave their lives for barbershop.
Their "first" album was a rare release by the Ontario District of the Dealer's Choice In Concert. It was recorded live at that districts' 1974 fund raiser for international quartet funds annual show "Onta-Fame". That year they also appeared on a PBS special taped in Dallas by KERA. The program was shown around the country and very popular.
In 1974 The DC began working on their “second" album. Songs Like Daddy Used To Play was self-produced and released in early 1975. It included most of their contest material. In fact it was one of the few "all barbershop" albums by an International quartet champion. They dedicated it to the Harmony College staff.
Almost everyone has a copy of their 1976 release, Choice II. This was a trend setting album with one full side being The Elegy To The Old South or better known as their 18 minute "Riverboat Medley", it was seven songs linked together with narration, sound effects and a elaborate arrangement by Brian and Gary. The flip side included I'm My Own Grandpa, Love Letters, Coney Island Washboard, and The Lord's Prayer. The graphics of the album and even the original concept itself set this one album apart as possibly the finest and most popular quartet recording in the society's history.
Songs of Yesterday was a Society project album with the DC singing (actually sight reading) several straight barbershop songs. The Society released it with a song book and part tapes allowing every member to "sing with the DC". Thanks to the extreme pressure of their fans, The DC's first, last recording was called The Last Session and released only on cassette tapes.
By this time, Greg Lyne had replaced Brian who had moved to California. This recording included many of the show songs performed over the years: Chloe, Have a Little Talk, Simon and Garfunkel Medley, I Can't Give You Anything But Love and Sweet She Ain't
Their last song together was during a week long tour of England in 1978. Their last, last recording was released after a reunion of the DC in 1988 with Greg Clancy singing tenor. Like The First Time (1989) included many re-recorded favorites of the past and a few new songs like I Don't Know Why, a Beck original Mr. Piano Man, Please.., Hello Mary Lou and the popular Beach Boys Medley. Rick Robertson replaced Gary Parker for a short time after Gary relocated to Virginia.
One unfortunate note was the price paid by this quartet on the home front. Over the course of the life of the quartet, every member suffered the loss of a wife through divorce. This even tested the strength of friendships within the foursome when, what is common knowledge, one member married the ex-wife of another member. This has been the source of some humor over the years, however, with the sales promotion of a fictitious bumper sticker that reads, "Honk If You Were Married to a Member of the Dealer's Choice".
Where Are They Now? Al is a professor of statistics at The University of North Texas in Denton. He and his wife Elaine live in Carrollton, Texas. In 1982 he won another SWD quartet championship with Texas Gold.
Bill owns The Thornton Group, a book publishing manufacturer's rep. In 1979 and 1980 he sang with The Side Street Ramblers when they placed seventh in both International's. He was also active in Oklahoma Crude and won the 1983 Southwestern District quartet championship with Gatsby. He's also sang with Earl Hagn in Players and competed in a Senior’s quartet called Cactus Jack. He and his significant other, Dale Syverson, who directs the International champion RichTones Sweet Adeline chorus, live in Richardson.
Brian is a business entrepreneur as well as a professional musician (producing, arranging, and singing). He went on to direct the Vocal Majority to their third district championship in 1977. He won his second district quartet championship in 1977 with the Forty Acre Four, his second gold medal (singing lead) with the Side Street Ramblers in 1983 and his third district quartet championship with the Great Stage Robbery in 1993 singing bass. While living in Colorado he sang bass with the popular Saturday Evening Post and placed in the top 10 at Int’l several times. Brian recently won the Senior Quartet gold medal with Eureka! His wife Holly (daughter of famous Sweet Adeline Renee Craig) is an active member of the Rich-Tones and active with the A.I.C. They live in Flower Mound, Texas.
Gary and wife Ruth Ann lived in Richmond, Virginia where he is a vice president of marketing services for Life of Virginia. In 1993 he won the Mid-Atlantic's district quartet championship with the Bingo Brothers. He also directed the Richmond, Virginia chorus. Now back in Texas he and Ruth Ann live in Dallas once again.