Quintet 'Lights' Up Region With It's Brand of Doo Wop
By Tom Lounges: Times Correspondent
Their doo-wop sound harks back to the 1950's and they do a tasty cover of the old Platters' song of the same name, but the moniker of Northwest Indiana's Harbor Lights has nothing to do with that timeless tune.
"It's really an homage to our Northwest Indiana roots," said George Carl, one-fifth of the crooning quintet with two national CDs and two sports anthems to its credit.
"Indiana Harbor is a very important part of Northwest Indiana, and it was the perfect name for a group like us, because it was where a lot of street-corner groups could be found singing back in the 1950's."
It was in just such a group Jim Calinski honed his vocals as a teen. Calinski became a Harbor Light four months ago, after replacing longtime member Jason Andrews.
"We actually went through two member changes just a few weeks apart,” said Carl, the son of traveling show-biz parents. The Lakes of the Four Seasons resident spent 13 years with the popular Chicagoland vocal group, Yesterday’s Rhythm.
Veteran member Ron Hancher left the group when his day job required him to relocate and was replaced by doo-wop newcomer, George McDonald of Crown Point.
“I first heard George singing in our church,” Carl recalled.
“He is actually a drummer, but one day when he was singing with the church choir, he stepped up for a solo, and his voice really impressed me. George’s singing voice has a very ‘black’ feel, which opens us up to a lot more material.”
That collective “us” includes Harbor Lights cofounding members Dave Mitchell of Dyer and Cheryl DeRosier of Whiting who, like Carl and Calinski, have been in many professional vocal groups over the years.
Unlike most traditional doo-wop groups, Harbor Lights’ five vocalists each sing lead regularly.
“With all of us doing lead vocals, our sound changes with every song,” Carl said.
A highlight of their two albums – “Almost Acappella” and “Absolutely Acappella” – is the group’s fresh arrangements of old standards.
Their voices replace instruments on such classics as The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and Rick Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool.”
A few years ago, Harbor Lights landed a national record deal with Collectables Records, which focuses on reissuing vintage albums and releasing archival anthologies by classic hit-makers (www.oldies.com).
But the imprint has a division called the “Dennis Pettet Collectables Project” series, which showcases modern vocal groups deemed exceptional by the project’s namesake, Dennis Pettet, who
stumbled on the Harbor Lights Web site a few years ago while surfing the net (www.harborlightsdoowop.com).
Pettet was so impressed he signed the group to a fiveyear recording deal.
“When I heard Harbor Lights’ sound, it blew me away,” Pettet said.
Harbor Lights’ latest CD, “Absolutely Acappella,” came out this spring and proudly declares the purging of all strings and a return to the true spirit of doo-wopping.
“For this album, we had a live release party on the air at WGN radio on the ‘Steve & Johnnie Show,’ “ Carl recalled.
“We were on the air for two and a half hours singing live and discussing ‘Absolutely Acappella’ with listeners from all around the country. The feedback we got on the album and the band was great.”
As with its previous recordings, Harbor Lights turned to local producer John Carpenter of Hammond’s Thunderclap Studio to track “Absolutely Acappella.”
“John Carpenter has a lot to do with how our songs wind up sounding,” Carl said.
“He’s like the sixth member of this group. John is a very talented guy and has a very good ear. We trust his judgement and value his opinions.”
Carpenter also produced the two original Harbor Lights’ anthems for two rival baseball clubs in the Northern League.
“I thought it’d be a great idea for us to tie in with a hometown team, so I sat down and started writing down some lyrics,” said Carl of what soon became “The Gary Southshore Railcats Anthem.”
Not to be outdone, Railcat rivals the Joliet Jackhammers commissioned Harbor Lights to compose an anthem for them as well. Both team anthems originally were included on the groups’ now out-of-print “A Few Strings Attached.”
“You can still get both anthems on the (respective) team Web sites at their stadium gift shops during the season,” said Carl.
Most recently, Harbor Lights performed at an event for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (a confessed Harbor Lights fan).
Early last month, rock star Dennis DeYoung of Styx crooned with Harbor Lights during a star-studded charity event in Bollingbrook, Ill., that was hosted by comedian and humanitarian Tom Dreesen.
“Everywhere you looked, there were celebrities,” Carl said.
“Mike Ditka, former Vice President Dan Quayle, baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench (of the Cincinnati Reds) and Alfonso Ribeiro (of the hit TV series, “Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire”) – and there we were singing for them.”