This feature focuses on the early musical career of mononymous pianist and singer Galen, the founder of the Galens, a group who scored a sizeable pop hit in 1963 with the lush, unusual “Baby I Do Love You.” The Galens also recorded “Chinese Lanterns,” long a favorite of mine. The Galens consisted of Charlene Knight (lead vocals), Galen (piano and vocals), Bob Hubener (bass and vocals) and George Ross (drums and vocals), and first came together in the early ‘60s in Southern California .
Galen was raised on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of California . His family came from Georgia ; there was country and gospel music in the house growing up. Galen’s father owned and operated restaurants in Catalina and Hawaii , and Galen assumed that he too would go into the restaurant business.
At age six, Galen contracted polio, an ordeal that left his legs paralyzed for a time. But the experience had the unintended benefit of introducing Galen to music, which became something of a refuge during his convalescence. In his years-long recovery Galen began taking piano lessons, an activity that revealed a talent for music (at age ten he played a Liszt recital) and perfect pitch. Henceforth oriented professionally towards music, Galen would study classical music with Walter Gieseking. At Universal Studios, he immersed himself in theory and pop repertoire, first under the tutelage of Brad Green, and, following that, between the ages of ten and twelve, with Bill Jacoby. He also picked up other non-classical elements along the way, like jazz pianist George Shearing’s style of block chords.
When he was twelve years old, Galen was invited to join jazz bandleader Stan Kenton’s Band of Tomorrow, an orchestra entirely composed of young, aspiring musicians between the ages of ten to twelve. (The group would prove to be brief-lived - their Hollywood Palladium debut was also their final performance).
As a teenager Galen attended Hollywood Professional School , procuring a variety of appearances and session gigs, including work for Disney, as well as playing in a band, the Treasure Tones.
Galen enrolled at USC as a seventeen-year-old, where he would pursue music. Just two years later, his undergraduate career was derailed by a serious accident on the drive back from a Death Valley gig to an Easter Sunday performance at the Hollywood Bowl. When Galen returned to USC, essentially as a new student, a friend suggested he audition for a revue that was being put together by actress Allison McKay in Las Vegas . Galen would audition not only as pianist but also as a dancer and singer - skills with which he’d had no prior experience. He made the cut, but, after practicing for months and even though the producers thought the show was spectacular - Allison wasn’t satisfied, and the show would never be performed.
Subsequently Galen rounded up Charlene Knight, whom he’d met through a friend, and had already seen performing, with Charlene in turn bringing in Bob Hubener and George Ross.
And so the Galens coalesced in the early ‘60s. From the start the emphasis would be on vocals - all four members of the group sang, with Charlene and Galen taking the leads and Bob and George on the unison parts. The Galens were managed by Faye Paris, the mother and manager of the Paris Sisters (best known for “I Love How You Love Me”). The two groups weren’t without their aesthetic similarities - both capitalized on sophisticated harmony arrangements and featured lush, lovely sounding female leads at their center. Additionally, Galen did some arranging for the Paris Sisters.
After their debut performance at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, the Galens were signed to a management contract, and largely became a nightclub and supper-club attraction, playing some of the largest hotels in Las Vegas , Reno and other resort areas.
The Galens recorded three singles and three albums in total for Challenge Records in the early ‘60s. Their records appealed to teenagers - they performed on various teen shows, too, including Dick Clark and Lloyd Thaxton - but the group was never intent on churning out hits for teenyboppers. Their club act catered to adult audiences, in fact. Galen recalled his shock when he first heard their biggest hit “Baby I Do Love You" on the radio. Altered considerably from the way it was recorded, the recording now included an overdubbed singing saw, played by Glen Campbell. Galen was not surprised it was a hit, however, citing both its payola-abetted DJ promotion and the group’s musical talent.
“Chinese Lanterns,” their second 45 on Challenge, was penned by Jimmy Seals, Dash Croft and Keith MacKendrick (all former members of the Champs of “Tequila” fame, with Seals and Croft of course going on to great soft rock success in the ‘70s). The song was brought to the group in 1964, and the Galens recorded it in Nashville at Columbia 's Studio A and released it as a single that summer. Nashville studio veteran Bill Justis produced and arranged the track, assisting with the song’s shimmering, dreamy production. It was Justis who notably added the gong, which was carefully tuned to the pitch of the song.
An audition for Playboy's new Los Angeles key club in late 1962 led to an engagement opening the showroom at the Lucayan Beach Hotel on Grand Bahama Island . Incidentally, the hotel was not, somewhat to the group’s surprise, fully finished when they arrived, and they would find themselves, along with a gaggle of Playboy Bunnies, conscripted into helping with the resort’s completion. The Bunnies were assigned to polishing the floor and all of the gambling tables in the casino - while The Galens were assigned the job of filling all of the streams, pools and fountains with water AND laying all the sod (grass) in front of the hotel. The day after the opening of the hotel, when the guests had left, The Galens had to repeat their jobs - but in reverse. Out came the water and up came the sod.
While still in the midst of their engagement, their contract was purchased by Daniel K. Ludwig, the owner of the Princess Hotel chain and then the wealthiest man in the world. Ludwig cancelled the rest of their engagement and sent them to the Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda . The group would spend time alternating between the Princess and the Princess King’s Inn in Freeport , Bahamas over the next nine years, and becoming a popular draw in the resorts of the region’s touristed islands.
In 1966, while working at the Bahamia Club, a nightclub built especially for the Galen at the King's Inn in Freeport , Grand Bahamas, the group recorded an entire album - Recorded Live at the King's Inn Galen's Bahamia Club. The LP was comprised of period fare like “Yesterday,” “The Shadow of your Smile,” “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” etc. After a few years, the group had to disband - “Charlene was pregnant and Bob had been drafted.” Galen himself would remain in the Bahamas and Bermuda for an extended residency, leading his own groups and orchestras, and working the showrooms and supper clubs of the islands.
Upon returning to the states, Galen lived for spells in Hawaii , Chicago as well as Los Angeles , where he opened a music store and taught school, with eighty-five students studying a variety of instruments. He also obtained his doctorate in music.
Galen has, for the last twelve years, lived with his longtime partner Dale Hetler in Ajijic , Mexico . A spinal fusion years ago compelled him to give up stage performance but he remains active in music and music-oriented causes, working with the Golden Strings music program for impoverished children, along with Love in Action and Hope House, an orphanage for children whose parents have died from AIDS.
Charlene Knight and Bob Hubener all still live in southern California . George Ross now makes his home in Colorado . Galen remains in contact with all of them.
Music In 88 Keys
Galen Harris: Man With A Midas Touch
Galen Harris: Man With A Midas Touch
Although there were various crude earlier attempts to make stringed keyboard instruments, it is widely considered that Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy, invented the piano. No one knows exactly when Cristofori first built a piano, but an inventory made by his employers, the Medici family, indicates the existence of a piano by the year 1700, of which only three exist today. It is sad that Sr. Cristofori cannot meet Galen and hear how magnificently he uses the efforts that Bartolomeo created.
Galen (a one-name man) was raised on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. He survived the crippling blow of polio and has since recovered almost 100%. For a short time, he was ripped from his world for reasons we cannot fathom, but he was never deemed expendable. It was during his rehabilitation, at the age of six, that Galen began to play the piano. His teacher recognized this extraordinary talent and, at the age of 10, Galen was playing Tchaikovsky piano concertos.
Galen had private schooling during his teens while attending the Hollywood Professional School for performers. As he grew, he went on to major in music at USC in Los Angeles. However, tragedy was to strike again.
When he was 19, he was involved in an automobile accident that almost cost him his life. He was on his way to perform at the Hollywood Bowl when the car in which he was a passenger turned over, crushing practically every part of his body. He was not expected to live and was hospitalized for three months. Galen eventually had 14 operations on his eyes alone, after being totally blind for a time. His right arm was frozen in position at this point and it was doubted he would be able to play the piano again but, after a recovery period of almost three years he started his musical life over again. Despite these misfortunes, which would have felled a lesser person, Galen has soared through adversities to become one of the foremost pianists and performers in show business.
With such an extraordinary talent, Hollywood executives began searching for and found Galen. Bill Jacoby of Universal Studios introduced him to music man Hal Green at 20th Century Fox. When Green suggested he began developing his ear for popular music, Galen changed his course from classical to popular, which accentuated his perfect pitch. With such a hot property, Jacoby arranged for Galen to audition for Stan Kenton, for his "Band of Tomorrow," made up of teenage musicians. As the youngsters aged into their 20s, the band changed its name to "Dream Timers," playing big band arrangements with Galen as their pianist. He made steady television and radio appearances during this period. The extremely popular "Treasure Tones" grabbed him for various live engagements in the Los Angeles area. Never letting a major talent escape, Galen worked for Disney Studios filming the famous television special: "The Liebeslieder Waltz".
He organized "The Galens" and recorded for Challenge record label, with "Stranger in Paradise" becoming a hit. This led to appearances on the Dick Clark Show, Lloyd Thaxton, and other television programs. With a vibrant personality to match the Galen talents at the piano, he became a star entertainer. Guided by Liberace, he was a headliner at Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe, performed "Vive Les Girls" at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, Indrani's in Hawaii, Ciro's on Hollywood's famed Sunset Strip: the demand was on. In no time at all, the Tennessee Ernie Ford television show clamored for appearances as did Betty White and Al Jarvis. Setting a new show business trend ~~ critics raved about Galen.
Galen's life was about to get better! Daniel K. Ludwig, reputed at that time as the wealthiest man in the world, approached Galen about appearing in the new hotel he was building in the Bahamas. Galen opened the new King's Inn (now the Princess Golf and Country Club) in a showroom built especially for him. Stars appearing with Galen included Totie Fields, Lana Cantrell, Gordon McRae, Allen and Rossi, and Brazil '66. Ludwig was so impressed; he followed with a new showroom for Galen at the Princess Hotel in Bermuda where Galen had his own weekly TV show as well as giving live concerts.
Joe Garzilli, guiding light of the Princess Hotels, commented: "From the sunny islands of the fabulous Bahamas and Bermuda comes a new sound - intriguing in its difference; masterful in perfection, magical in its effect. It is totaly Galen; pianist, arranger, conductor, entertainer. Once heard, he is unforgettable."
Being a philanthropist at heart, Galen gave a series of concerts to raise funds for a municipal library in Freeport. In appreciation, city officials named it, "The Galen Elementary School Library". After ten years of he good life in the islands of the Bahamas and Bermuda, he returned to the United States to catch up with the current musical scene. Galen was aware that during the early 20th century, many composers had turned in a new direction, and he felt unclear whether music would ever regain what it has lost. So he toured with his own style of music, performing coast to coast and across Canada to a thunder of appreciation. Hollywood radio ace, Gene Weed of KFWB wrote: "Galen's talents have taken him to the finest lounges, theaters, and supper clubs from coast to coast and border to border. His albums weave classics with pop, creating true magic. There is simply no match to his talent!"
Galen's musical fortes are many and varied, and equally as flawless. He has remarkable empathy for people - a unique sensitivity that touches, holds, and marks forever both his music and his listeners, an elusive quality that makes the difference between a good performer and a great one. It is also the quality that makes the gifted artist, an individualist who feels and understands popular music and interprets it as real music entertainment rather than simply as melodies for background listening. He is a master of simplicity, yet his style modulation is thrilling. Changing easily from style to style, he displays the authority that makes the perfectionist. His versatility delights his listeners. He has developed a compelling new sound in the field of Pop Music and, in his inventive way, has given grandeur to simple pop melodies; universal appeal to the classics; distinction in the blending of the two into a unique and commanding style.
After the discovery of a growth in his spinal column and surgery to correct it, Galen retired from the strain of active performing and touring. He moved to Ajijic with percussionist Dale Hetler, a partner of 35 years. Retirement is not always easy to accept for gifted entertainers. Dale's musical gift with percussion is a staggering compliment to their music.
One of the greatest anticipated moments here at Lakeside, is that this man with the Midas touch will do another concert for us. Ninos Incapacitados has captured one of the world's greatest pianist for a fundraiser, to be held on September 28, at La Bodega…and all tickets were sold out in the first two hours!
I hope that this will not be a one-time musical experience, and we can all have a chance soon to be in the presence of the man often known as Mr. Music with 88 Keys.
By Tod Johnson