THE FABULOUS GATEWAY SINGERS
Wit, scholar and philosopher, master arranger, humanitarian and visionary - these were some of the personas by which Lou Gottlieb was recognized.
As an entertainer, he was equally a comedian as singer and musician. With an eye for all that is satiric in life, he could totally break up an audience of thousands with a calculated quip as a room full of savvy friends with an off-the-cuff observation. The joy and science of comedy was a subject dear to his heart.
His knowledge of music - every possible kind - had the official certification of a PhD in musicology, but Lou Gottlieb could expound as fluently on esoteric jazz as medieval Masses, and everything in between and beyond. Whether playing or singing, he saw to it that the music was always right - perfectly right.
Starting out as a jazz pianist (he was actually playing piano in a ballroom to finance his daytime studies when the Gateway Singers came into existence), the bass became his instrument when he entered the folk arena. Combining vision with his musical talent and knack for comedy , he was prompted to form the quartet just a the moment when American tastes were about to leave the main diet of standards from Gershwin and Porter, and take off in new directions.
Folk music had always been around, but it had been basically a genre which took itself seriously. Lou Gottlieb's whole personal ethos was to do the opposite. And that was a key to the spirit of the great folk boom - in large part, propelled along by the merry rhythms and lore of calypso.
Arranging was as much a part of Lou Gottlieb's art as performing the stunning music he created from the simple notes of a traditional or new work. That distinctive voicing which was so characteristic of The Limeliters was already familiar to fans of The Gateway Singers, for whom he was the principal architect of their own new sound, built around contralto Elmerlee Thomas.
Clearly a man for and of his times, Lou Gottlieb's humor, in parallel with the music, epitomized the dispersal of cobwebs which set the stage for all the freshness which flourished in the sixties. All the more ironic that, as the folk boom absorbed momentum, he left the stage to return to academic life.
But having obtained his doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1958, he found himself without a class to teach, and returned to the scene as a stand-up comic. This period was relatively short, for providence allowed him to catch the act of Alex Hassilev and Glenn Yarborough in Los Angeles. It was instant recognition of the voices which could resonate that particular maximized sound which had been running through his brain.
The magic mix of voices, personalities and musicianship was the incomparable Limeliters, a group with which he continued to perform off and on until his tragic death from an acute abdominal illness in 1996.
Definitely more off than on, the group initially disbanded after Lou Gottlieb's life was miraculously spared in a plane crash at the end of 1962. From the grind of success, he turned to a rather unique life as benevolent landlord of a hippie commune known as The Digger Farm. He'd bought the 30-acre Morning Star ranch on first sight in the mid sixties, and at one stage, in a grand legal challenge which was the essence of what he himself might call Gottliebitis, he attempted to deed the property to God.
Also, during the late sixties/early seventies, Lou Gottlieb played acting roles in two major Hollywood films, “I Love You Alice B. Toklas” and “Bloom in Love.” But again and again, he got together with The Limeliters to perform live and record (15 albums in all), and though indulging in his own form of semi-retirement, he never lost his edge or ability to light up a stage.
For there was always verve to his intellectualism, and that constant mix of delight and challenge which can't fail to stimulate - both in his comedy and in the songs. He was living proof that braininess could be fun, and a lot of it.
An amazing, unique human being, the memory of him is totally vibrant in the hearts of all who knew him personally as well as the minds of those who experienced his live performances and still enjoy the recorded ones.
To read more about Lou Gottlieb, select the LINKS button at the left.
And you won't want to miss
Experience your own hungry i reunion with the wonderful DVD featuring commentary by Enrico Banducci and performances by The Kingston Trio, Limeliters, Mort Sahl, jonathan Winters, Stan Wilson + rare Lenny Bruce footage. Just click the icon to order direct from Amazon!