Eddie Rhodes and his brothers started out singing Christmas carols to family and friends. The Fabulous Rhodes Brothers — Ruey, Johnny, Tommy and Eddie — would go on to perform on The Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Eddie Rhodes died Nov. 1 — his 66th birthday — following surgery for cancer.
“They have something special, something different,” Carson said as he introduced The Fabulous Rhodes Brothers in 1969. “They have an electricity about them that literally turns the audience on.”
A lot of this electricity came from Eddie, the youngest brother, and perhaps the most playful. He was known for sporting a watermelon grin while poking fun at his brothers on stage and picking up the tempo by pumping his arms and shuffling his feet.
“My father knew how to pull the audience into the show,” said Bobby Rhodes. “When you left, you felt like you were part of it.”
The brothers were known for their silky smooth three-part harmony and slapstick comedy on stage.
While wearing matching suits and waving their banjoes and trumpets, one of the brothers would begin picking on another — usually Eddie or Ruey — and the others would jump in.
Aside from singing, and without ever taking music lessons, Eddie Rhodes learned to dance and play the banjo, guitar, trumpet, trombone and drums. Though he finished middle school, he never went on to high school.
“He learned everything through life lessons,” said Bobby Rhodes.
The Fabulous Rhodes Brothers spent the early 1960s playing hotels and casinos across the country.
Their big break came in 1968 at the Crossway Inn in Miami.
“One audience member really liked watching four guys sing and dance while holding banjos,” said Johnny Rhodes, 70, of Daytona Beach, the second-oldest. “His name was Roger Ailes and he signed us up the Mike Douglas Show.”
Ailes is currently the president of Fox News Channel.
Mike Douglas called them the singing Kennedys because they closely resembled the Kennedy brothers. He also pointed fun at the fact that there was an 18-year age difference between Ruey, the oldest, and Eddie.
Douglas once joined the foursome on stage dressed in matching straw hats and canes to sing and dance a Vaudeville performance of “Cabaret.”
The brothers appeared a total of 21 times on the Mike Douglas Show.
In 1971, the brothers were booked by the Ed Sullivan Show, but just a week before they were scheduled to go on air, the long-time show was cancelled.
The brothers continued to travel the country, but returned to South Florida where they sang cover songs like “Sonny,” “Broadway” and “The Impossible Dream” at local hotels.
By 1972, they set up their own show club at the Miami Merchandise Mart, in what is now Doral, and entertained special guests that included Tom Jones, Milton Berle and Art Carney.
Eddie liked to mingle with guests after shows, many of whom later became his friends. Among them, Tom Curtis, publisher of the Miami Springs-based River Cities Gazette.
Curtis formed an instant bond with Rhodes when they first met at after a show in the ’70s. Until recently, the two often met to play golf at the Miami Springs Country Club where Rhodes was a staple performer. Afterward, they would head over to Stadnick’s historic pharmacy on the town’s circle for lunch.
“Eddie wasn’t very good at math,” Curtis recalled. “He would leave a $5 tip on a $10 tab.”
Ever the showman, even Rhodes’ funeral Saturday at Miami Springs’ Grace Lutheran Church was a performance.
“Excuse me, I just got a call from heaven,” said Johnny Rhodes, as he eulogized his brother. “It’s Eddie and he wants us all to sing ‘My Ding-a-Ling.’”
Johnny Rhodes then called on the hundreds of mourners to split into two groups and form a chorus.
When it was over, after a long pause, the Rev. David E. Imhoff searched for the right words to end the service and restore order.
“Eddie was a rascal,” the minister said. “God loves rascals.
The Chuck Berry novelty song, Imhoff added, was a metaphor for the way Eddie Rhodes lived his life: he entertained while pushing some boundaries along the way.
In addition to his son Bobby and brother Johnny, Rhodes is survived by wife Karen Rhodes; sons Eddie and Ricky Rhodes and daughter Stacy Lynn Duncan.
Brothers Tommy and Ruey predeceased him.