The Amazing Society Of Seven Story
It’s 1964. In Hong Kong a song called A Little Bit of Soap is No. 1 for 32 weeks on the charts and 35 weeks in Singapore – landing a little-known band a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Singapore. During the end of a news conference hailing The Beatles’ arrival in Hong Kong, a British reporter spurts out, “Did you know I Want To Hold Your Hand is NOT the No. 1 record on the Hit Parade in Hong Kong? It’s No. 2!” A surprised John Lennon asks, “Who has the No. 1 record?” The reporter replies, “A group called the Fabulous Echoes!” A baffled George Harrison utters, “Never heard of them. Who are they?”
“The Beatles’ Hong Kong promoter was really upset, so he rushed them out of that press conference,” says Fabulous Echoes/SOS longtime confidante and manager Frances Kirk. Kirk first had been approached to promote the Fab Four’s Hong Kong concert, but she turned them down. “At the fee they were asking, the lowest ticket would’ve had to be priced at $75, which was half a month’s salary for most people in Hong Kong then.”
Turned out The Beatles concert ticket sales were a promoter’s nightmare. With only a third of the arena sold, the rest had to be filled with complimentary seats.
You can read about Kirk’s journey with SOS, one of Hawaii’s most popular musical groups, in her just-released book, The Society of Seven: Last of the Great Show Bands. The Fabulous Echoes was Society Of Seven’s original name, and the highly talented and entertaining group would headline in concert halls across the globe, wowing audiences everywhere and performing with showbiz legends such as Louis Armstrong, Patti Page, Sammy Davis Jr., Wayne Newton and Kenny Rogers, to name a few.
In her book, Kirk recounts the exciting tales of a revolving cast of world-class entertainers and covers a span of more than four decades profiling the world-famed band that overcame “dramatic turnover and personal tragedy to build a unique legacy in the rough-and-tumble world of showbiz.”
The enormously popular Ed Sullivan Show put the band on the entertainment map.
“Fabulous Echoes was on TV for two shows … unheard of in those days. We had seven to nine minutes on each program,” says Kirk. The band’s most memorable Ed Sullivan moment occurred 30 seconds before airtime, when the floor manager said, “Good luck, boys. Don’t be nervous. Only 45 million people are watching you,” recalls Tony Ruivivar, SOS leader, who along with Bert Sagum are the two remaining members of the original group.
The musical love affair was initially sparked at age 7, when Kirk and SOS pianist Terry Lucido were classmates in Hong Kong. Lucido taught Kirk and her friends how to cha cha. He later introduced her to Ruivivar and Sagum, when the teen band first was formed. With limited space, they improvised.
“They sang on their Kowloon apartment’s rooftop. After we all grew up, we connected again when I was a record producer/concert promoter for Diamond Music, my father’s company,” says Kirk.
“Our most memorable moment with Fran was when we performed at the Thunderbird Lounge in Las Vegas and Ella Fitzgerald dropped by,” says Ruivivar. “Ella and Fran were socializing till the wee hours of the morning, and Ella got up on stage to jam with us for one hour. What a thrill! Imagine, the best female vocal artist in the world singing with us.”
Society of Seven got its first big break in Hawaii, when Kimo McVay asked the band to substitute for Don Ho at the fabled Duke’s while he toured the Mainland. Following the move from Hong Kong and shows in Las Vegas, Reno, New York City, etc., the band made Hawaii its permanent home base as it landed a contract to headline at the Outrigger Main Showroom in 1970. “SOS fever” soon became contagious, with hits includingWalk Away and This Is My Life, which drew “choke” folks of all ages into Waikiki. SOS quickly became a fixture at the Main Showroom for decades – thanks to the belief and strong support of the Outrigger management team led by its head, Dr. Richard Kelley.
“Frannie Kirk is one of our dearest friends and is family … Her business acumen along with our creative abilities made magic,” says Ruivivar.
“Tony fully supported and encouraged my output. I had rules, the boys had their own rules. They lived by their motto that no matter what happens in life, once they get into the dressing room they leave the world behind, and it is only the group that exists,” says Kirk.
SOS’s dedication to and passion for performing for their fans were the glue that held the partnership together. Ruivivar also attributed the group’s success to “the hard work the band put into their routines and impersonations, creating variety shows that were current, incorporating popular Broadway musical numbers and introducing fabulous new talent throughout the years.”
This “brotherhood of born showmen” still performs in Las Vegas. I remain their “biggest fan,” as I know all their hit tunes and play them quite regularly on my Saturday noon radio show, including my all-time SOS favorite 99.8, which Kirk co-wrote with Grammy Award-winning arranger Ernie Freeman.