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Kingston Trio

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The Kingston Trio is an American folk and pop music group that was exceptionally popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s and played a major part in launching the folk-music revival of that era. Their music and repertoire were much like that of a well-known and influential earlier group called the Weavers, although they did not share the Weavers' commitment to social activism. Fifty-one years after their initial formation in the Palo Alto area of Northern California, the current generation of the Trio[1] is still touring on a regular basis, although two of the original members, Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds, have died, and the third, Bob Shane, no longer performs with them on a regular basis.[2] Guard, who was popularly viewed as the leader of the group, left the Trio in 1961 when they were still at the height of their popularity, one of the greatest shocks in the history of popular music, but was quickly replaced by John Stewart, who remained with them until their initial disbandment in 1967. The first few years of the new Shane-Reynolds-Stewart configuration were nearly as successful as those with Guard, but as tastes in music rapidly changed, the revamped Trio soon became marginal in popularity and eventually broke up. After a two-year hiatus, however, new configurations emerged, always with Shane as the driving force, and the latest incarnation is still making appearances in 2008.

History

Earlier singers such as the Weavers and Burl Ives had enjoyed occasional commercial success in the 1940s and 1950s with folk-based music such as Goodnight, Irene and Kisses Sweeter than Wine, but none of them rose to the sustained heights that the Kingston Trio held for a few years. All three of the original members came from solidly middle-class families and had college educations—Guard, in fact, had a degree in economics from Stanford—and although their infectious delight in belting out their music was obvious to their audiences, they also aspired to commercial success. "Although regarded as overly commercial by purists," [3] they made a conscious decision at the beginning of their career not to succumb to the same fate that had only a few years earlier befallen their illustrious forerunners, the Weavers.[4]

"It really started with the Weavers, in the early '50s," Reynolds said in a 2006 interview, referring to the New York-based quartet that included Pete Seeger. "We were big fans of theirs, but they got blacklisted in the McCarthy era. Their music was controversial. Suddenly, they couldn't get any airplay; they couldn't get booked into the big hotels, nothin'. We played their kind of music when we were first performing in colleges. But when we formed the trio . . . we had to sit down and make a decision: Are we going to remain apolitical with our music? Or are we going to slit our throats and get blacklisted for doing protest music? We decided we'd like to stay in this business for a while. And we got criticized a lot for that. . . . If Bob Dylan or Joan Baez had come out at that time, they'd have been dead in the water. But four or five years later, [their music] became commercially viable."

Not long after becoming famous with their surprise hit single, the ballad of Tom Dooley, the Trio had, at one point in December, 1959,[5] four albums among the Top 10 albums at the same time, a unique achievement not matched until nearly 40 years later by Garth Brooks. Many other suddenly popular folksinging artists such as Joan Baez and the New Christy Minstrels appeared on the scene, but the Trio's overall success was unrivaled except by that of a slightly later group, Peter, Paul and Mary; their great popularity, however, came to a relatively quick end with the advent of the so-called British Invasion by the Beatles in 1964 and the subsequent disappearance of mainstream interest in folk music.

Considering their enormous popularity, it may seem surprising that they had so relatively few Top 40 hits. It was sometimes jocularly said that because much of their sales came from college students, their audience could calculate that they would receive more music for their money by waiting for a popular single to eventually appear on a long-playing album at $3.98 with 10 or 12 songs on it rather paying $0.98 for a two-song 45 RPM recording.

Top 40 hits in chronological order

SRG = Shane, Reynolds, Guard
SRS = Shane, Reynolds, Stewart
  • Tom Dooley, #1 in 1958, SRS
  • The Tijuana Jail, #12 in 1959, SRG
  • M.T.A., #15 in 1959, SRG
  • A Worried Man, #20 in 1959, SRG
  • El Matador, #32 in 1960, SRG
  • Bad Man's Blunder, #37 in 1960, SRG
  • Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, #21 in 1962, written by Pete Seeger, SRS
  • Greenback Dollar, #21 in 1963, SRS
  • Reverend Mr. Black, #8 in 1963, SRS
  • Desert Pete, #33 in 1963, SRS
    • Click on Discography tab at top of screen for their major albums

Members and configurations of the Kingston Trio, 1957-2008

  1. Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, Dave Guard, 1957–1961
  2. Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, John Stewart, 1961–1967
  3. Bob Shane, Jim Connor, Pat Horine, 1969–1973—called "The New Kingston Trio"
  4. Bob Shane, Bill Zorn, Roger Gambill, 1973–1976—called "The New Kingston Trio"
  5. Bob Shane, Roger Gambill, George Grove, 1976–1985
  6. Bob Shane, George Grove, Bob Haworth, 1985–1988
  7. Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, George Grove, 1988–1999
  8. Bob Shane, George Grove, Bob Haworth, 1999–2004
  9. George Grove, Bob Haworth, Bill Zorn, 2004–2005
  10. George Grove, Bill Zorn, Rick Dougherty, 2005–2008

Notes

  1. Liner notes on all the early albums issued by the Trio referred to them as "the Kingston Trio", with the first word uncapitalized except at the start of a sentence. At some point, however, the Trio obtained a trademark for "The Kingston Trio" and that is the way they now refer to themselves. The October 3, 2008, obituary in the New York Times for Nick Reynolds, however, still refers to them as "the Kingston Trio".
  2. Guard died on March 22, 1991, Reynolds died on October 1, 2008. The New York Times obituary for Guard can be found at [1]; for Reynolds at [2]
  3. The New York Times, October 3, 2008, obituary for Nick Reynolds, "Nick Reynolds, Kingston Trio Harmonizer, Dies at 75"
  4. "Nick Reynolds, 75, dies; a founding member of the Kingston Trio". Los Angeles Times
  5. The Kingston Trio on Record, by Benjamin Blake, Jack Rubeck, and Allan Shaw, Kingston Korner, Inc., Naperville, Illinois, page 37