Dutch singer Trea Dobbs shot to fame with credible versions of international hits. However, her success proved somewhat short lived – she soon found herself lost in the clamour for the originals. She is best remembered for her 1965 smash Ploem ploem jenka, which lost out to Conny van den Bos for a place at that year’s Eurovision song contest, although she went on to score the bigger hit.
Trea Dobbs was born Trea van der Schoot on 4 April 1947 in the Dutch city of Eindhoven.
She enjoyed singing as a child, often performing in the bathroom because of its good acoustics. At the age of 15 she took part in her first talent contest, the Cabaret der onbekenden, finishing fourth.
Determined to do better the following year, she practised a lot at home, and returned to the contest again in 1963. This time she won, and was offered a recording contract with Decca as a result.
Her first single, a version of Petula Clark’s huge German hit Casanova baciami, raised interest in the singer. By the time of her third 45, Parel van de Zuidsee, issued in the summer of 1964, record buyers were prepared to put their hands in their pockets, and the single spent two weeks at number 50 in the Dutch charts.
However, this modest success wasn’t quite the career of which dreams – or fortunes – are made, and Trea was relieved when she was taken under the wing of Caterina Valente. With an eye on an international career for her protégée, the star and her husband advised the young singer to take Dobbs as her professional surname, because it was easier to pronounce. (The name was taken from that of a clown in Valente’s family circus.)
She also cut Blonder Capitano, the first of several singles aimed at the larger, more lucrative German market. It was followed by Rita, Petita, Conchita and Junges Herz, although none troubled chart compilers. (The best of the bunch was the later Zähl auf mich, from 1965.)
German duets with fellow Dutch singer Rob de Nijs, Jetzt dreht die Welt sich nur um dich and Hätte ich drei Wünsche frei, issued under the name Trea und Rob, fared no better.
That year, Trea took part in the Knokke cup song festival in neighbouring Belgium, appearing alongside artists such as fellow Dutch singers Rita Hovink and Shirley, Britain’s Elkie Brooks and Germany’s Ria Bartok. The Dutch team won the contest and Trea basked in the publicity their win afforded.
Her boosted profile helped record sales too. Two further singles, Ik vraag ‘t aan de sterren and a version of Kathy Kirby’s Secret love, both issued later that year, made the Dutch top 40.
But this wasn’t enough – the beat boom was making its mark and Dutch singers had to move with the times. As a result, Trea’s next 45 saw her couple a reworking of Julie Rogers’ The wedding with a take on The Righteous Brothers’ much cooler You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’. Trea’s disc cracked the top ten, peaking at number eight in the charts (see our Phil Spector tribute special) in early 1965. It proved a much-needed breakthrough for the singer.
She was also invited to take part in the Dutch national final to choose a song for that year’s Eurovision song contest. Her Ploem ploem jenka finished third, behind Conny van den Bos and Ronnie Tober. However, Trea went on to enjoy the biggest chart hit of the three, reaching number eight and spending 15 weeks on the charts. The song is now considered something of an evergreen (though fans sometimes cite Stad, Trea’s other entry to the national selection as their prefrerred track).
An album, De songwereld van Trea, issued on the back of her success, also sold well.
Marmer, staal en steen vergaan – Trea’s take on Drafi Deutscher’s Marmor, Stahl und Eisen bricht – reached number seven in the charts. A take on Cilla Black’s Love’s just a broken heart also sold respectably.
However, her success proved somewhat short lived. She soon found herself struggling to compete against the British groups. One of her best 45s, In m’n agenda, a version of My little red book, backed with Neem mijn hand, a cover of The Seekers’ Walk with me, failed to sell.
In 1967, she married conductor Harry van Hoof, but by then her career was distinctly in the doldrums. Plans for a second LP never came to fruition.
Feeling out of touch, she turned to light entertainment. She took part in the Sopot song festival in Poland, singing a version of Cole Porter’s It’s all right with me.
At home, she issued a version of Danish doll Dorthe’s Schlagertastic German hit Wärst du doch in Düsseldorf geblieben, retitled Was jij maar in Lutjebroek gebleven.
After collapsing during a live performance, Trea opted to hang up her microphone in favour of running her own fashion boutique. When it folded – along with her marriage – she tried for a chart comeback with the single Laat het niet verder meer gaan, in 1981.
After getting married (and divorced) again, she cut a new single in 1986, ‘n Kus van u meneer, which became extremely popular on the Dutch gay scene.
Since then, Trea has continued to work in the music business, writing lyrics and giving vocal coaching to aspiring singers.