history, music

Almost Motown

No Comments 25 January 2016

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This is the story of a manager and two sets of sisters- one Filipino-American and the other Italian-American- who had a goal of breaking barriers and making it into the music industry singing African-American R&B.

Euphony- The Group

Clockwise from left- Ylani Ballares, Krista Darin, Stacy Darin, Christina Ballares

Clockwise from left- Ylani Ballares, Krista Darin, Stacy Darin, Christina Ballares

While studying at Cypress College in Orange County, CA, in 1992, Christine Balleres was approached by James Peacock after a vocal recital with an invited audience.  “James came to me and asked me if I was interested in pursuing my singing career by becoming a part of a female vocal group,” Christine recalled. Christine later introduced James to her sister, Ylani, and a fellow Cypress student, Stacy Darin.  James had connected with another young singer, Melissa Garcia, and introduced her to the group. After a while, Melissa dropped out (showing up as a staging coach on American Idol 20 years later), followed briefly by another singer.  Finally, Stacy invited her sister Krista to join, and the group was complete- Stacy at lead, Christine at alto/rap, Krista sang soprano and while Ylani sang in the middle.

To come up with the name, the girls got out a dictionary of musical terms and leafed through it.  They found a word they loved, “Euphony”.  By definition, Euphony means “the quality of being pleasing to the ear, especially through a harmonious combination of words”.   Christine said, “Since we sang in four part harmony, we felt it defined the music and the songs we sang.”

The goal of the group was to sign a record deal, to sing all over the world, to deliver a positive message in a non-degrading, fun way, and help make a better life for their families.  The girls felt they not only had the talent, but the manager to get them to their goal.

THE MANAGER

Euphony- James Peacock

James Peacock was the man who put them together and his four singers were big fans of his.  According to Ylani, “James was a dreamer, ambitious, hard-working and respectful.” Christine said, “James was just a really nice man, had a good heart, and was very funny.”  Stacy said, “He had incredible drive and energy.”   He wasn’t the tallest guy, so if they ever made a movie about Euphony, “Kevin Hart would play him,” Krista added. In interviewing all of the girls, no matter how much they wanted to make it, they felt that James wanted it even more. “He put so much of his time, money, and effort into making us successful,” Krista said. “It meant everything to him.”

Euphony would perform at James Peacock's apartment

Euphony would perform at James Peacock’s apartment

James and the girls loved R&B music, and they worked hard on covers of En Vogue, Toni Braxton and others, together with original songs written by James and others.  As was popular at the time, most R&B songs included some rap, and James would stop managing just long enough to deliver his rhymes.

Euphony’s go-to song was the a cappella intro to the Jackson 5 song/ En Vogue version of “Who’s Lovin’ You”. James “was serious and was non-stop. He would promote us EVERYWHERE we went. We did more impromptu performances of that song than I could count because we all loved the reaction we would get when we were done. He made a ton of connections that way.”

“James always had his boom box with him wherever he went,” Krista said. “We were always ready to perform.”

James wanted them to practice all the time and even set up performances on the lawn at his apartment complex with the idea that any experience was good experience.

Making (Video Game) History

James connected them with famed Dutch producer Charles Deenen with Interplay and Nintendo. Euphony recorded the first ever vocals used in a video game for the Super Nintendo game Clayfighter (the run is clearly Stacy), and later added the vocals for Virtual Pool.  Charles Deenen went on to compose for massively successful games Fallout 1 & 2, Another World, Need For Speed and many others.

 

James’ goal was to get this group to make it in the world of R&B, and to do so, he wanted to put them in front of tough audiences to not only push them, but to push the boundaries of who would accept them.  That meant putting them into predominantly African-American clubs.

THE PERFORMANCE

Euphony- James Rapping

In a brilliant move that was two decades ahead of The Voice, James made audiences judge the group based on their voices, not on their appearance.  Every single club performance started with the girls behind stage or in the dark.  There wasn’t even any music.

The first impression of Euphony would be made on talent, and talent alone.

The girls would begin by singing the En Vogue song  “Who’s Lovin’ You” a cappella.  After about 45 seconds, the lights would come up or the girls would come out from behind the curtain.  Audiences were shocked.

“The was an audible gasp from the audience, every single time,” Krista said. Then “people freaked and would say, ‘These white girls can sing!’, Stacy added.

“Some audience members would stand and clap for us,” added Christine, “but others would look at us as if we were trying to be something we were not. We chose to start our performances in the dark or behind the curtain because we didn’t want to be judged on the color of our skin but the sound of our voices.”

“With each performance, we started to understand that image was just as important (if not more) as our ability to sing,” said Ylani.

Euphony performed everywhere from The Roxy to The Celebrity Centre, from Carson to Venice Beach, and from Cypress College to Electric Circus, a hole in the wall bar in Buena Park “that at least had a long walkway to perform” per Christine.  Several high school friends came out to the shows at Electric Circus. Stacy even met her future husband Bill Zepeda there.

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Euphony Hollywood Showcase Bio

One of their biggest performances was for the 3rd Annual Hollywood Showcase Awards.  Euphony shared the stage with artists like Tevin Campbell,  Coming of Age, and future singer/actor Terron Brooks (“The Temptations”, “Above The Rim”).

In front of the stage, long before he got to voice his opinion on singers like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Jordin Sparks, Randy Jackson got to judge the four part harmony of Euphony.

 

The group performed all over Hollywood, Los Angeles and Orange County, working hard and hoping for the gig that would land them their big break. But it turned out that big break didn’t come from a concert at all- well, at least not from their own concert.

THE CONTEST- April 13, 1994

After they’d been together about two years, the group went to see a Christmas concert at the the Celebrity Theater.  They were sitting in the last row waiting for the concert to begin.  As a way to pass the time, they were singing four part harmony, because, well, they were always singing.  Two men in front of them asked, “Are you doing that for fun? Or do you do that for real?”  James talked to them and made the connection.  That spring, the girls were invited to call in and participate in a contest that 92.3 FM The Beat in LA was hosting called “Five Minutes of Fame”.  The girls called in and sang their 45 second interlude over the phone. The telephone switchboard lit up like magic! Listeners then called in and Euphony won with the most call-in votes.  They were invited to come on the morning show with John London and the House Party.   The Beat started playing a Euphony song that James wrote called “Wrong Move”.

“We loved it,” said Krista, “It was crazy hearing ourselves on the radio.  We told all our friends to listen.”  At the time, Stacy was interning for Diana Steele at the station and couldn’t believe they were actually on it.

Luckily, it wasn’t just friends and family who heard Euphony’s contest entry on 92.3.  Three different people at Motown Records heard Euphony’s performance and got it into the hands of the iconic label’s new visionary, Jheryl Busby.

 

THE RECORD EXECUTIVE

Credit Associated Press, 1993

Credit Associated Press, 1993

Jehryl Busby was the executive credited with reviving the legendary Motown label. From 1984-1988, he had virtually started MCA’s black division from scratch, launching New Edition, Jodi Watley, Bobby Brown and Mary J. Blige.   When he came to Motown in 1989, it was a record company in decline.  Having reached highs of $100 million per year, they were down to just $20 million. Busby changed all that, signing fresh new acts like Queen Latifah, Boyz II Men, and Johnny Gill.  In 1990 alone, Motown had five songs reach #1 on the R&B charts.

“With a blend of pop and soul, Motown had transcended racial barriers and consistently topped both the black and pop charts with performers like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Jackson Five, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Spinners and the Four Tops.” (New York Times).

Could Motown’s new visionary Busby again transcend racial barriers and launch a Filipino/white sister act from the most iconic African American label?

 

THE MEETING- May 10, 1994, 9AM

Jheryl Busby set up the meeting with James and Euphony at the Motown office in LA.

“Firstly, Jeryl Busby’s staff asked us to sing a capella right away,” said Ylani.  “It was common for people to disbelieve the sound matched our looks.  Still in disbelief, they asked us to sing and dance to our tracks.  We did 2-3 songs before bringing us to Jeryl’s office.”

“His office was amazing,” said Krista. “He had a whole wall of windows that overlooked the Hollywood sign.  The other walls were lined with records from all these famous artists.  He even had a gorgeous four-piece bathroom in his office.”

“Jheryl Busby helped foster the careers of Boys II Men and Johnny Gill and at that time, Boys II Men were huge so I personally was honored, excited and nervous. He was really serious, extremely professional and a strong businessman,” said Christine.

Jheryl asked them to sing something for him a cappella, and the girls did their 45 second song.  James had his ubiquitous boom box there for songs to perform with tracks.

He asked them how the four of them met and how long they had been singing together.

Christine said, “he saw great potential and believed in us and that is why he put together the private Motown showcase for us.”

He then excused the girls and finished the meeting in private with James. They set up the showcase for July, three months to the day from when they won the “Five Minutes of Fame” contest.

THE SHOWCASE- July 13, 1994, 7PM

Euphony Performing at Motown Records

Euphony’s Performance At Motown Records

Between the meeting with Jheryl Busby and the showcase, Euphony took their preparation to another level.  “James Peacock was a drill sergeant” said Stacy. “We rehearsed non-stop and we worked out constantly. We were in the best shape of our lives. We would go jogging together while singing to build up stamina for the stage and performance.”

Stacy continued, “When it came to rehearsal, we practiced whenever we weren’t working in his tiny apartment in Anaheim. We practiced those same 5 songs over and over again. James wanted perfection and so did we. We would practice in front of mirrors, we would practice in rehearsal halls with sound equipment.  We knew those 5 songs and could sing them in our sleep. We performed around the clock to get ready for the big night.”

The set list:
Acapella “Who’s loving You” (Jackson 5)
Another Sad Love Song (Toni Braxton)
Groove Thang (Zhane)
2 original James Peacock songs

James surprised the girls and rented a limo for them so they could arrive at the Motown office in style.  40 minutes before the performance, the girls finished a perfect sound check.  Along with Motown and music industry people in attendance, family and a few friends, including the DJ for whom Stacy was interning, Diana Steele, showed up.

“We were excited and nervous, but well prepared,” said Christine.  “We were thinking this was going to be our big break.”

Euphony began as they always did, behind the curtain, singing “Who’s Loving You”.  Immediately, they could tell something was wrong. One of the girl’s microphones had somehow been turned down or completely off, and in singing four part harmony, you definitely need all four parts. There were other sound issues as well.  “We couldn’t understand it,” said Krista. “Everything had been perfect 40 minutes before, so how could the sound have changed so much? And how could they not fix it as we went along?”

“The reception from the audience was mediocre,” said Stacy.

With that start, the girls weren’t able to make the make the connection they normally could with an audience.   First off, aside from family in attendance, it was an industry audience, which any artist will tell you is the worst audience you can have.  You’re performing in front of people who are paid to judge and analyze music, not enjoy it.  Secondly, they didn’t have the advantage of surprise. Normally Euphony had the opportunity to be judged by their sound before their appearance, but this group had seen their material ahead of time.  And finally, it was felt many in attendance wouldn’t allow themselves to have buy-in due to their appearance.

Ylani met with some of the Motown executives post-performance, “and they were already saying that it would be difficult to market us.”

Not long after, James received a phone call stating that Euphony was not marketable for the genre of music they were singing.

After the showcase, they kept going as a group for a while, but all of them felt inside that it was over.  They had put so much into the Motown showcase.  They met with Tevin Campbell’s manager, with Scott Brothers Records and others, but the fire was gone.

“There were other labels that were interested.  However, they wanted high heels and mini skirts,” stated Ylani.  “Not happening.”

With that, the R&B dream was over, but the rest of their lives were just beginning.

AFTER EUPHONY

After Euphony broke up, Ylani picked up her banking career where it had left off, but continued singing for a while before eventually moved to New York to pursue writing.  Her housemate was working on a musical and she enjoyed being around the creative process.  When she met her husband, he was in a band and they played around with acoustic/songwriter music, more for personal enjoyment than anything else.  When they moved to Arizona, they joined a band that played at a Lutheran church every Sunday.

Christine stayed in the arts, co-producing a Latin-Dance musical in Hollywood and singing in smaller gigs in Los Angeles.  She’s now been working for The Music Center Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County for 10 years in theatrical production, and she’s enjoyed every minute of it.  “It brings joy to my life that I am a part of an organization that supports the arts, music, theatre, and dance as well as offer free community-based events to Los Angeles and surrounding communities.”

Krista and Stacy put their professional singing dreams on hold for a while, but kept singing in church.  Along

The Darins- Letting Go- album cover

The Darins- Letting Go- album cover

with their two younger sisters, Rachelle and Heather, they would perform often at their church, Cypress EV Free. Unbeknownst to them, their choir director sent one of their recordings to John and Dino Elefante (of the band Kansas/”Carry On My Wayward Son” fame), who eventually signed their group, “The Darins” to a record deal to the new Christian label Pamplin Records (which at the time also had Katy Perry- yes, that one).  Along with their parents, Stacy’s husband Bill (who by this point was no longer hanging out at Electric Circus), they moved to the center of the Christian music world, Nashville, Tennessee.   Though with their four part harmony they were often confused with Avalon and Point of Grace, they ended up having a number of top 20 songs on the CCM, CHR and Inspirational charts, with their biggest hit being the top 10 song “Can’t Stop”, which they co-wrote.  After the second record, their label ended up dissolving, and they all got married and started families, but “The Darins” will never break up.  It’s the benefit of being sisters, after all.

The Darins were signed to the world’s largest talent agency, the William Morris Agency.  A young agent assistant got the new group’s press photos and thought, “Wow, that blonde girl is good looking!”, and ended up booking them for several concerts.  After leaving William Morris, he ran into Krista at Schlotzky’s Deli, asked her out, and now they have 2 girls and he’s currently typing up this story.

“It’s like thinking back to a different lifetime. We were all like sisters. We were together so much those few years. We had some disagreements but got along REALLY well!” said Stacy.

“It was a crazy amazing time, and we were all so close to each other and worked so hard. We felt like a family,” said Krista.

“To have shared this experience singing and sharing the stage with my sister, Stacy and Krista is one of the fondest memories that I will always hold near and dear to my heart,” said Christine.

“It was the BEST,” echoed Ylani. “We had such a connection to one another.  These memories will last forever. My sister and I still laugh about those times to this day! It taught us to support one another, let each other have our moment to shine. It helped bring honesty to the table in a way that only sisters know how. So much love in my heart thinking about our journey. [I was] truly blessed going through this with Chris, “Stace” and “Kritta.”

Odds & Ends

  • While recording some of the original music James had written, Euphony ended up at the same studio where Jamie Foxx was recording.  He took a few minutes to chat with the girls, told a few jokes about the woman he was dating, and let them listen in while he was recording.
  • Pamplin is also famous for signing another singer, Katy Hudson.  Unlike Krista and Stacy, who left secular music to pursue the Christian industry, their label mate Katy took the opposite route.  She changed her stage name to “Katy Perry” and went on to become somewhat of a big deal.Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 9.18.58 AM
  • Original Euphony member Melissa Garcia ended up becoming a staging expert including stints with American Idol.
    Screen shot 2016-01-10 at 7.10.58 PM

    Left- Melissa Garcia in the early Euphony days. Right- working at part of Randy Jackson’s American Idol boot camp.

    Notes on sources: Thanks to Ylani, Christine, Krista and Stacy for the interviews.  Stacy’s day planner and stacks of old photos and event programs were invaluable.  We tried to track down James Peacock for an interview, but were unable to do so.

Rolling Stone article: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/randy-jackson-s-idol-workshop-lessons-learned-from-the-dawg-20140217

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Lord is an Indiana farm boy who wouldn’t have dreamed in a million years that he would have ended up marrying a smart, beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed California girl.

disney, kids, music, singing

“Let It Go” by Sydney Kate Lord

5 Comments 04 March 2014

Syd is driven to be a famous singer.  As soon as she saw it was snowing, she exclaimed, “I have to put on something blue and doing a video singing in the snow!”  My California-born wife, who is afraid of any and all forms of precipitation, exclaimed (there’s a lot of exclaiming in our house), “You can’t go out in that!  No one goes out in that!” (granted, it was only 21 degrees out.) A few minutes later, my wife relayed the story to me, and I said I’d be happy to video Syd singing, and here is the result.

Syd Snow

Syd seems to be a natural performer. She immediately grasped the production value of singing in the snow. She also didn’t break character or stop either when snow started gathering on her eyes or her friends started yelling up from the street.  Plus, she’d worked hard enough on the song beforehand that when the chance came up with a surprise snowfall, she was ready.

 

door, haiti, music, mylifespeaks, piano

The Mysterious Piano Door/When Haiti Became Real

No Comments 12 January 2012

My friend Scott The Playwright says there is a moment in every play when it must become real, or the entire message is lost.  I used to help with fund-raising for his theater company, Oracle Productions, and Scott was adamant we needed the extra money to get real metal swords.  He would say that when the hero and the villain fight, if the swords were to make some plastic “whack” sound, the play would continue to be fake to the audience and it would never have the impact intended.  But when those swords hit with an iron clash, something inside the audience says, “Those are real swords! Someone really could get hurt!”  They become drawn in, they buy in, they believe, and
the experience becomes real to them.

Today is the two year anniversary of the earthquake that shook Haiti and killed 300,000 people almost instantly.  In July, 2010 I arrived with a team to help rebuild a widow’s house.  When I arrived, my first impression was more of an entertaining experience- the ruins, the masses of people, the bright sun and the smell of unregulated car exhaust.  We arrived at the guest house, met with the folks in charge, and then went to the building site.  The houses, if you can call them that, are like a maze of unique buildings, with winding passageways, unseen doors, mismatched steps, all on a steep slope. Somehow it felt like it was something I was observing, like some movie, rather than an actual place.

It wasn’t until I came upon the blue door that my experience changed.

Unlike the doors in movies that change you, I never went through this one.  I passed that door probably 50-100 times a day that week, going up and down the 72 haphazard steps from the street level above down to the widows house below, carrying concrete block after concrete block, cement bag after cement bag.  I never saw anyone go in, or out. But it was what first made Haiti ‘real’ to me.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfVvgKqo1l8]

As I walked by the door, I’d hear anything from the plunkings of a beginner on the white keys, to scales for a warm-up, to Chopin and Bach, and then back again.  The sounds reminded me of my sister practicing all the time as I grew up, or music lessons I heard at school, to my own single lesson in my half-hearted attempt to learn to play as a child.  Amid the rumble and the heartache and the poverty, people were learning to play piano.  Parents were helping their kids learn a love and skill with music, just like many parents here in the US.  That’s when my trip stopped being an immersive movie and started being ‘real’.

I am glad I stopped to listen a few times.  As you can see from the video below (about the 48 second mark), that was just a couple seconds in a long, exhausting journey, up and down a ravine, building a home by hand.  But stopping allowed me to start to know that this was real.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EiXSnVC6cg]

Has there ever been a time in your life when the needs of those around you became real?  That you realized that they’re parents and people just like you, hoping to make a better life for their families?

Do you want to visit Haiti, sponsor a child, or pray for someone specifically?  Here are four great organizations, big and small-, all with people I know personally, who are dedicated to helping those in Haiti:

MyLifeSpeaks (serving orphans in Haiti)
VisitingOrphans (not surprisingly, they help you visit orphans in Haiti)
WorldVision (you can sponsor a child in need)
Conduit (serving children and families in Haiti)

basketball, college, dc talk, kick irrational, music

Cartoon Friday

No Comments 04 March 2011

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Fun fact: In college, I studied video and film production, and one of my projects was to make a music video, set to “The Hard Way” by DC Talk. One of the scenes was me playing basketball and having my shot blocked. I learned ‘the hard way’ (ahem, corny!), and then later in the video scored on the guy. Who says college is for smart people?


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