The Kingston Trio - Three of Their Greatest Songs
The Kingston Trio
Kingston Trio Early Days
Folk groups. We've all heard them. Some good, some bad, some classic. The Kingston Trio falls into the classic genre. No one has matched their sound. They lifted folk music up and made it popular in the fifties and sixties, I think they actually created the folk music movement. They moved folk music into pop music. Wikipedia notes their peak years were from 1957 to 1967, a good time for me too!
The original trio consisted of Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds, and Bob Shane. In the beginning they went under many different names and had other singers join and leave. Dave Guard left The Kingston Trio in 1961 and was replaced by John Stewart. Both Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard were born in Hawaii and played music together in high school. Bob Shane is now the only surviving member of the original Kingston Trio.
It is said they chose the name The Kingston Trio because of Kingston, Jamaica, the home of calypso music. You have to admit they looked a bit like calypso singers in their striped short sleeved shirts though I wouldn't exactly classify their music as calypso. Their promo shots and first album featured that look. One thing I found very interesting was that none of them had any formal training playing their banjos, guitars, ukuleles, and bongos. Imagine playing the way they do and never having been taught how? Another reason for me to admire them.
I think their first album "The Kingston Trio" is a great mix of their songs and shows the sense of humor they brought to their music and their performances. They had nineteen albums that made it to Billboard's Top 100.
They got their 'actual' start in 1957 when Phyllis Diller cancelled her engagement at The Purple Onion in San Francisco. Their publicist, Frank Werber, promoted them and got them the engagement at the Purple Onion. They were such a hit that their stay at The Purple Onion lasted six months!
In an interview for Fret Board Journal, Bob Shane said the group never considered themselves folk singers. Interestingly enough, he didn't say what they did consider themselves!
Another interesting thing about the Kingston Trio is that the played Martin guitars, not the more popular Gibson. It is said early in their career they were told by a friend, if they were going to go on tour and be banging guitars around they might want to have Martins instead of Gibsons. Of course the Martin guitar company appreciated that because it caused a rise in the sale of Martin guitars. As a matter of fact, in honor of the Kingston Trio's 45th Anniversary, Martin guitars has a new guitar, the Bob Shane D-28KTBS Limited Edition guitar.
A later version - Rioting in Africa - Kingston Trio
"Mushroom Shaped Cloud"
The Kingston Trio Songs - Rioting in Africa
If ever a song was as relevant today as it was over fifty years ago, its this one. "Rioting in Africa". It ironically uses the music of "The Merry Minuet" and while it is handled light-heartedly and with humor it is certainly far from humorous when you contemplate the words. When you listen to the song and hear the ending the discord is more than evident.
they're rioting in africa
they're starving in spain
theres hurricanes in florida
and texas needs rain
the whole world is festering with unhappy souls
the french hate the germans the germans hate the poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
And i don't like anybody very much
But we can be thankful and tranquil and proud
That Man's been endowed with the mushroom shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Some one will set the spark off and we will all be blown away
They're rioting in Africa
There's strife in Iran
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man!
Kingston Trio - M.T.A.
Kingston Trio Songs - M.T.A.
M.T.A. stood for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the subway system in Boston. The song was written as political support for the 1949 Mayoral Candidate, Walter A. O'Brien, Jr. It seems Mr. O'Brien was against a pending rate hike of one nickel on the subway. The twist to this increase was it was to be charged to people when they exited stops above ground. The song was written by Jackie Steiner and Bess Hawes with the melody from a song written in 1865. It was originally performed by The Boston Peoples Artists and was popular with the people of Boston. It was recorded by a folk singer named William Holt in 1957 but its popularity waned when Walter O'Brien was accused of Communist activity.
Now, the Kingston Trio, being a folk group, liked the song but also knew of its history. Before doing the song they changed the name of the candidate in the song from Walter O'Brien to George O'Brien. It has since become a symbol for people stuck in difficult situations. I might add, when I used to hear the song I would wonder if Charlie's wife could pass his lunch to him, why couldn't she pass the nickel to him? I had no idea then it was a protest song against a fare increase.
These are the times that try men's souls. In the course of our nation's history, the people of Boston have rallied
Bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, a new crisis has arisen. The Metropolitan
Transit Authority, better known as the M. T. A., is attempting to levy a burdensome tax on the population in the
Form of a subway fare increase. Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you!
(Eight bar guitar, banjo introduction)
Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named Charley on a tragic and fateful day.
He put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family, went to ride on the M. T. A.
Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned and his fate is still unlearned. (What a pity! Poor ole Charlie. Shame and scandal. He may ride forever. Just like Paul Revere.)
He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston. He's the man who never returned.
Charlie handed in his dime at the Kendall Square Station and he changed for Jamaica Plain.
When he got there the conductor told him, "One more nickel." Charlie couldn't get off of that train.
Now, all night long Charlie rides through the station, crying, "What will become of me?!!
How can I afford to see my sister in Chelsea or my cousin in Roxbury?"
Charlie's wife goes down to the Sculley Square Station every day at quarter past two,
And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumblin' through.
Now, you citizens of Boston, don't you think it's a scandal how the people have to pay and pay?
Fight the fare increase! Vote for George O'Brien! Get poor Charlie off the M. T. A.
He's the man who never returned. He's the man who never returned. Ain't you Charlie?
Kingston Trio - Tom Dooley
Kingston Trio Songs - Tom Dooley
Whether you've heard the Kingston Trio, are familiar with their songs, or not, you will most likely be familiar with the song "Tom Dooley". In researching this song it seems Laura Foster was murdered in 1866. Her lover, Tom Dula was convicted of her murder. He swore up until his hanging that he was not guilty of murdering Foster but because he had an affair with another woman believed he deserved to die. The "Grayson" mentioned in the song was possibly Dula's rivall for Foster's affection or it could be the Grayson who helped to capture Dula. Another version of this tragic tale has Dula returning from the Civil War to find his girlfriend Foster has been seeing other men while he was at war. Supposedly Dula found Foster's dead body and wrote the ballad as a confession of his evil deed. You can read several accounts of the true story throughout the Internet.
Not as politically inclined as some of the other songs done by the Kingston Trio, Tom Dooley is one of the most popular and most well known. I guess you would call it more of a folk tale relating to the old songs sung throughout this early country. It is actually believed that this song is responsible for the folk boom of the late 1950s.
(Intro) Throughout history
There've been many songs written about the eternal triangle
This next one tells the story of a Mr Grayson, a beautiful woman
And a condemned man named Tom Dooley...
When the sun rises tomorrow, Tom Dooley... must hang...
[Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you're bound to die]
I met her on the mountain
There I took her life
Met her on the mountain
Stabbed her with my knife
This time tomorrow
Reckon where I'll be
Hadn't a-been for Grayson
I'd a-been in Tennessee
This time tomorrow
Reckon where I'll be
Down in some lonesome valley
Hangin' from a white oak tree
Sloop John B
The Kingston Trio Today
Currently the Kingston Trio is made up of one original member and two former members of the group the Limelighters, Bill Zorn and Rick Dougherty. But, the sound remains the same and their popularity still follows them wherever they go. They are still touring with upcoming dates in New Mexico, Massachusetts, Montreal, and Rhode Island to name a few. Their official website lists all of their upcoming tour dates.
I hope you've enjoyed this tiny glimpse at one of my favorite folk groups. Please leave a comment and let me know how you liked it!
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