by Reporter Joyce McKenzie
May 5--TEMPLE TERRACE -- As youngsters, Bob Houle, who hails from Providence, R.I., and Jack Duffy, a native of Philadelphia, were inspired by the a cappella harmonies they often heard on their neighborhood street corners.
Later in life, each moved to Florida and ventured into singing barbershop harmonies with the Tampa Bay Heralds of Harmony, a men's a cappella chorus.
One evening while carpooling to their respective homes in Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor, Houle and Duffy got to reminiscing about the doo-wop-style, group-harmony songs of the 1950s and early 1960s popularized in the Northeast by artists such as Dion & the Belmonts.
That drive home was the start of Boomerz, an a cappella group of harmonizers they formed in 1998. For years the group defined its sound as predominantly doo-wop, a derivative of rhythm and blues and jazz styles.
These days you'll often find the quartet, which consists of Houle, lead singer; Duffy, tenor; Tampa resident Jack Gross, baritone; and Richard Allen of Wesley Chapel, bass, at Centerpointe Community Church in Temple Terrace, where they rehearse on Tuesday evenings.
You might hear them belting out favorites like the Edsels' "Rama Lama Ding Dong," the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do Is Dream," the Marcels' "Blue Moon," the Olympics' "Western Movies" and the Elegants' "Little Star," songs meant to take listeners back to the early days of rock 'n' roll.
"Unfortunately, after the British invasion by the Beatles in 1964, doo-wop pretty much died," Duffy said.
The group's current repertoire slants more toward the basic oldies of the '50s and '60s and the inclusion of some accompaniment, thanks to the addition of sound technician David Dempsey
"He's made an amazing difference in our sound," said Allen, a University of South Florida graduate with a degree in vocal music education.
The group performs at weddings, birthday parties, corporate gatherings and other events throughout the Tampa Bay area.
"In this area we're rare," said Duffy, who finds the lyrics to most of the songs they sing meaningful to all listeners.
Gross concurred, saying many are well-known melodies."But if the lyrics in a song are not up to our standards, we won't use it," Duffy said. Houle pointed out two key reasons why the group works well together. "You've got to like the people you sing with, No. 1. And No. 2, we have an understanding that we must all like the songs we sing," he said. "I also like the fact that we can harmonize with the best of them." Gross noted their keen ability to complement one another is the basis of their longevity.
"I think in the world of music, the thing that amazes me is that individually we're not that good. But the sum of the overall parts is what makes it work."
Reporter Joyce McKenzie can be reached at (813) 731-8026.
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