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Pittsburgh’s The Vogues’ 'Five O’Clock World' and the Nashville musical connection

As the British Invasion continued and folk-rock exploded in 1965, Pittsburgh swelled with pride when Turtle Creek’s The Vogues, a vocal quartet formerly known as the Val-Airs, scored nationally with a cover of Petula Clark’s “You’re the One” on Herb Cohen’s and Nick Cenci’s local Co & Ce label. The follow-up, “Five O’Clock World,” proved even more enduring.

The powerful celebratory anthem, savoring the joys of life after work, resonated across the country as it did in Pittsburgh. Yet the song, and part of the recording, came from Nashville. Many saw it as a country music mecca, yet its recording industry was always far more diverse.

Today, Allen Reynolds is a legendary Nashville record producer known for producing 10 of Garth Brooks’s 1990’s Platinum albums. In the mid-60’s, Reynolds worked at a Memphis bank and wrote songs for Screen Gems-Columbia Music, a publishing firm owned by a Hollywood studio.

Tony Moon, Brenda Lee’s former guitarist, ran their Nashville office and promoted their songs. He would produce demonstration or “demo” recordings, many sung by the writers themselves backed by studio musicians. That’s how Reynolds recorded his new song in Nashville.

“I was doing a demo session on some of Allen’s songs,” Moon recalled in 2016. “‘Five O’Clock’ (was a song) I demo’ed at RCA Studio B.”

Backing Reynolds were some of the city’s top session players. Dubbed the “A-Team,” they were Nashville’s answer to Motown’s Funk Brothers and L.A.’s legendary “Wrecking Crew.”

Chip Young played 12-string acoustic guitar, adding a folk-rock flavor; Mac Gayden handled electric guitar. Bill Pursell, who’d had a 1963 pop instrumental hit with “Our Winter Love,” played piano. Norbert Putnam handled bass. The drummer was Tommy Amato, later part of Bobby Darin’s touring band.

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Moon sent the tapes to various record companies and producers. Before the Beatles changed things, record labels and producers, not artists, had creative control. Moon was excited about “Five O’Clock.”

“I thought this would be a great song," he remembered. One tape went to Co and Ce in Pittsburgh. Producer Nick Cenci liked what he heard.

“I get a call from Nick Cenci,” he says. “And he said, ‘We want to do this song!’”

Cenci called again a week later, asking for a list of the musicians. Moon obliged.

“I got a third call a week after that, asking, ‘Do you have a two-track recording on that?’”

“God, yeah,” he replied. “I have the band (on one track), Allen’s voice and backup voices on the other track.”

When the tape arrived, Cenci set up a session with The Vogues. Lead singer Bill Burkette, Don Miller, Hugh Geyer and Chuck Blasko gathered at Gateway Recording Studios on Forbes Avenue. Burkette, recording over Reynolds’s vocal, delivered a passionate, dramatic performance as the others chanted “Up!” and harmonized behind him.

Cenci and The Vogues manager Elmer Willet weren’t satisfied with Amato’s drumming, but a fix was close by. At that moment, The Grains of Sand, a Pittsburgh rock band influenced by the British Invasion and managed by Willet, were recording at Gateway. Rich Engler, the future legend of Pittsburgh concert promotions, was the Grains’ drummer.

“Our studio time was either before or after The Vogues,” Engler remembered. “And they had just finished ‘Five O’ Clock World’ on a couple other sessions. Elmer came to me and said ‘Rich, you’re more of a rock drummer (than Amato). Can you play over this if we take the drum track out?’ I said, ‘Absolutely!’ They put the headphones on me and boom! First take! That was it! I think we did another take, but I think they kept the first take. I just did a job. I never got paid.”

Co & Ce released “Five O’Clock” in late October of ’65. It reached #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 that winter, the same position as “You’re The One.”

The song would last for decades. When Reprise Records, Frank Sinatra’s label, bought The Vogues’ contract and their Co & Ce masters, L.A. arranger Ernie Freeman overdubbed strings on the original single as the label compiled a Vogues’ “Greatest Hits” LP. Country singer Hal Ketchum’s reflective 1992 cover—produced by Reynolds—was a top 20 country single. The Reprise version resurfaced in 1997 as opening theme for season two of the “Drew Carey Show.

Rich Kienzle is an award-winning music critic, journalist and historian and author of three books. A former contributing editor of "Country Music Magazine" and "No Depression," his work has appeared in "Texas Monthly," the "Austin American-Statesman," "Fretboard Journal" and the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette." He has also authored liner notes for numerous historic CD reissues.