Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kingston Trio

In 1957, two high school chums from Hawaii, Bob Shane and Dave Guard, joined with Navy brat Nick Reynolds to form the Kinston Trio while all three were enrolled in California universities in the San Francisco Bay area. From beginnings at the Mad I and Purple Onion (where a one-week booking turned into a sold-out run for the next few months) in San Francisco, the trio rode the folk music wave to become the most popular group in the world at the height of its popularity in the mid-1960s.
A popular misconception is the association of the name Kingston with Kingston, New York; Kingston, Massachusetts; or Kingston, Jamaica. Actually, the trio's agent suggested Kingston for a few calypso pieces in the trio's repertoire, but more for the universal—and somewhat preppie—appeal of the name, as the trio was playing the college circuit at the time.

The trademark striped shirts were chosen as a convenience—they were readily available off the rack in sizes to fit the trio members—and again, for their collegiate appeal.

They are best known for re-arranged public domain tunes such as Tom Dooley, M.T.A. and Greenback Dollar, ballads such as and Scotch and Soda, Early Morning Rain, and the war critique, written by Pete Seeger, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, and the raucous Wherever We May Go, which is also the title of a documentary about the trio.

In 1960, the trio won a Grammy for  the newly created Best Ethnic or Original Folk recording.

In 1963, the trio parlayed its success to a television pilot, Three Men in a Hurry, portraying three recent college graduates living in Phoenix and playing music through their connections to the Junior Chamber of Commerce.

As it was part of the musical lexicon in the 1960s, of course I knew of the Kingston Trio, but only vaguely as a kid growing up in New York. Later, a classmate in freshman English at Northern Arizona University wrote an essay on singer-songwriter John Stewart, who replaced Dave Guard as the bass voice in the trio and stayed with the group until its dissolution in 1967 with a final concert at the Hungry i.

The trio was parodied as the Kingsmen in the folk music mockumentary, A Mighty Wind.

There have been several replacements of Stewart and Reynolds over the years, with Bob Shane being the constant. The Trio holds an annual fantasy camp in Scottsdale, Arizona (my home town), home of the surviving original member, Bob Shane. Participants meet the trio, are apparently issued matching shirts, and have the opportunity to play Kingston Trio music onstage with their musical heroes.

Both Stewart and Reynolds passed away in 2008; Shane still lives in Scottsdale.

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