AUBURN | The sound of one man's voice drew together four people from different parts of the continent for one reason: celebration.
George Weston was a singer-songwriter in the era that brought rockabilly music to life. A blend of rock 'n' roll and country western music with hints of bluegrass, Weston's original sound stood shoulder to shoulder with that of his peers: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Bill Haley.
"George was a creator," said Jean-Pierre Chapadas. "Elvis was an entertainer."
A listen of Weston's music reveals a baritone voice both playful and serious, and worthy of envy from the future stars making their way in the late 1950s. His guitar licks wax aggressive and his lyrics wane romantic and sweet, as needed.
"He was almost famous, but didn't quite get there," said Bill Fowler. "It's unfortunate he didn't have a breakout hit."
With a modest band consisting of a drummer, a bass guitar and, from time to time, the scream of a saxophone, Weston's songs evoke yesteryear's car hops, honky tonks and gun-toting fathers of would-be girlfriends.
Simple, direct lyrics sung by a voice full of sincerity drove home each of his songs' messages.
"I Need You Baby," written in 1958, speaks to longing for an absent love; the chorus lays bare the singer's desire.
"I need you near,
I need you here,
I need you baby."
Records and romance
Born in 1931, Weston grew up in and around Bakersfield, Calif. He spent time in Palmdale and Littlerock, Calif., where he married and raised a family.
He recorded his first song at the age of 26 in 1958, after having served in the military. Laying down tracks with area record labels, he played clubs in and around Los Angeles. Talent scouts liked his sound and helped him climb the ladder to success, but while his skill was natural, fame eluded him.
He drove small European cars, his daughter Carla remembers, and would write the lyrics of more than 40 songs on the car's ceiling.
"It was art," Carla said.
Weston married Lora L. Harper, with whom he died on Halloween 2006. He was felled by a heart attack in his Tennessee home. His wife, rendered quadriplegic by an accident, managed to get close to him — and left her wheelchair to die with him on the floor.
In accounts of the days leading up to his death, Weston's last landlord is referred to as an unscrupulous man who dodged the law while allegedly absconding with guitars, recordings and certain prized possessions.
"George always had his guitar with him," said Mary Sweet, a friend from those early years. "And a smile."
Black-and-white photos of Sweet as a younger woman grace the cover of a casual compilation of Weston's music put together by Fowler. In them, Sweet is exuberantly happy. A wide smile wraps across her face as Weston, nearby, smiles as well.
"He was my first love," she said.
Their paths diverged after their romance. He married and divorced, and Sweet remained wed to another for 56 years. After mourning the death of her husband, her mind returned to Weston.
"The Lord filled my head with George," she said. "It was like I had a craving to find his music."
Gathering in tribute
Fowler and Chapadas are two of the foursome that comprises "Team George." Sweet and Carla make up the balance of the group, which met last week in Auburn to revel in the sound of the man they hope to honor with a CD.
Fowler is a small business owner and lives in Auburn. His home is a warm space filled high and low with keepsakes, trinkets, treasures, an impressive album collection and a tower of recording equipment in his makeshift sound studio.
During the summer, in the late afternoon, with the windows wide open, he puts on Weston's music a tad loud. His neighbors found the irresistible music pulled them to their conjoining backyards to swivel their hips and bop to the beat.
"They've gotten turned on to him," said Fran Huxford Fowler. "It's George time at four."
Fowler, an audiophile, was selling music from his vast collection on eBay when he and Sweet, a buyer, struck up a conversation about musician Gram Parsons that somehow led to Weston's guitar sound.
Entering the conversation is French-Canadian Chapadas, who also had a sweet tooth for Parsons and also owned copies of nearly every recording of Weston. Except for two.
By this time, Sweet had found Carla and put all parties in touch. The more people on the scent for Weston's lost music and memorabilia the better, she thought.
Searches of outbuildings of her father's home netted Carla master reel-to-reel recordings of some of his music. She had the two recordings Chapadas didn't.
The meeting of "Team George" in Auburn meant the foursome could review what they have by way of photos, recordings and collections.
Sony Music Entertainment is cooperating with the group and providing, for free, as much help as they can, Carla said. The group hopes to collect and record Weston's joyful, heartfelt music on a CD.
"I am determined to put my Daddy back together," Carla said.