The story of Clair Brothers starts in 1954, when a grocer decided to purchase a PA system as a Christmas gift for his two sons, Gene and Roy Clair.
“He had no knowledge of electronics or anything!” exclaims Roy in referring to the extremely unusual present. “I like to think my father was ‘Clair’-voyent in choosing this as a gift.”
The two brothers enjoyed using their PA to provide sound reinforcement for local dances, Easter egg hunts, and other events. “The PA bug had bitten us!”
By 1963, Gene and Roy had purchased a loudspeaker re-coning business from a local music store, which allowed them to acquire loudspeakers at the dealer level, granting the opportunity to build them for a local music store in Lancaster.
When musicians would visit from out of town to purchase loudspeakers, such as Baltimore’s Billy Joel Royal, it allowed Roy and Gene to go hear their products in use at local clubs.
“It was extremely gratifying, and I believe it was then that we realized that working with musicians would somehow be a fun career,” Roy explains. “It was the same time we realized that having fun while making money was possible.”
F&M, a local liberal arts college in Lancaster, PA soon requested the brothers’ services to support headlining acts. Now working in a 4,000-seat facility, one of the largest in the area, the duo would see their first brush with fame in 1966 when Dionne Warwick performed at the college.
Many (many!) years ago, Roy and Gene with then-cutting-edge Audio Precision test gear.
“At the time, we had a Bogen MX-60, a few Shure microphones, and two column loudspeakers containing six 8-inch full-range loudspeakers each,” Gene notes. “The concert went well, but looking back, we were lucky to start with an easy listening performer or things may have gone entirely different! Timing and luck is something that has stayed with us our entire careers.”
Not long after, the brothers’ path would cross with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the F&M venue. Valli showed a vested interest in the duo’s Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater A7-500 loudspeakers, particularly since the group had just performed in Miami, FL, and were denied the use of another artists’ sound reinforcement system.
Roy and Gene with the 1967 Four Seasons audio rig.
“They were second on the bill to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Alpert was not only a musician, but also a sound fanatic,” Roy says. “It was no surprise that they were carrying their own sound system. Unfortunately only Alpert would be allowed to use his system, while opening acts would have to settle for using the house PA system – even the Four Seasons’ wives and girlfriends noticed how much better Alpert sounded.
“Timing and luck would strike again as our A7’s helped to make their F&M show incredible,” he continues. “Valli felt they needed their own system if they were going to be successful on the road, and these two young lads were available – and cheap too.”
The brothers were working for $100 per show, including transportation, per-diem and hotels. They obviously weren’t doing it to make money at that point. Gene: “If I remember correctly, after our first tour, in Ohio, we ended up with approximately $40 profit.”
Hardly a profitable tour, even in those days.