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The Folksingers -The Kingston Trio

Updated on December 18, 2014

25 Years

1982-George Grove, Bob Shane, Robert Gambill
1982-George Grove, Bob Shane, Robert Gambill

The Trio

I heard some folk music throughout my life because folk songs tended to mix in with popular and country music we heard on the radio. Even singers like Bing Crosby sang an occasional folk song. Also certain songs like “On Top of Old Smoky” would hit the pop charts. However, I didn’t actually get interested in folk music as such until I got to college. During a Summer Session a series of free concerts were offered on campus for students. In one of these there was a singer who accompanied himself on the piano. I especially remember his singing the song “The Golden Vanity” and was struck by the story told in the song. That started my interest in folk music and the story telling became my standard.

The Kinston Trio might have been in the right place at thIm it was 1958 and my friend worked at the student radio station at the University of Minnesota. As such he sometimes got complimentary tickets to concerts. Since he had already bought tickets for an appearance of The Kingston Trio and got another pair of tickets he gave two tickets to myself and another friend. I think it is the only time I ever got to see the group in person. It might also have been my first exposure to “folk-pop” music.e right time. They were young, collegiate and enthusiastic performers. Interest in folk music was already, I think, becoming more popular and the Trio spread it to a new audience.

It was cool to argue the merits of “pure” folk music as opposed to modern interpretations and mixed styles. I lean a bit to the purist side in that I want songs to be “authentic” On the other hand the whole oral tradition is for something of an evolution of songs. They are reinterpreted with almost every singer. It is the “folk process.”

I recall an article in “Sing Out” magazine in which Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio” argued that that critics should not criticize their music so much as to do a better job of selling their own music. The trio transformed folk music into a hot commodity and created a demand for young people to strum guitars and banjos and sing folk songs in harmony. This led to more groups like themselves, but also created a market for later singers such as Bob Dylan and the influence of folk music on rock music through groups like the Beatles. The original trio (Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane along with similar groups like the “Limeliters” started a boom in folk music to millions of listeners who previously ignored it. Would Columbia records ever have signed up Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger if it were not for the popularity spurred by the Kingston Trio?

Dave Guard (1934-1991) was a graduate student at Stanford University and his friends Bob Shane (born 1934) and Nick Reynolds (1933-2008) from Menlo College founded the group. Guard and Shane were raised in Hawaii. They played together in college. Guard and Reynolds did a calypso act for a while before starting the Kingston Trio. They were first booked a the Purple Onion a San Francisco folk club, to fill in for Phyllis Diller and landed a contract with Capitol Records.

Tom Dooley


Tom Dooley

The Kingston Trio

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Killed poor Laura Foster
You know you're bound to die

They spent months in intensive rehearsing and developed a comic stage banter. “Tom Dooley” was their big hit and a movie was made of it with Michael Landon.

The “serious folk audience” felt the Trio cheapened folk music by popularizing it. However they were somewhat successful at the Newport folk festival. I am sometimes of the opinion that the “serious folk” are somewhat jealous of performers such as the Kinston Trio, Burl Ives and others who have had a popular audience. The Trio was later objected to for lack of political commitment. I tend the other way and think that some of the “serious folkies” are a bit too political. I don’t want to have to swallow left wing ideas along with my entertainment. On the other hand some later performers admit to being inspired by the Trio. One of which was Joan Baez. Bob Dylan was quoted in an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine as saying he personally like the Kingston Trio and that they …” seemed to know what they were doing.

Dave Guard left the group in 1961, however, with a desire to explore folk music on a more serious level. For a short time he had a group called the “Whiskey Hill Singers.” The Their sales kept up pretty well until the “British Invasion” They left Capitol in 1964 but signed on with Decca records. Trio took in John Stewart when Guard left.

1976-2009 In 1981 there was a reunion concert with Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane and Dave Guard. Over the years the group had different members and to some extent there is a nostalgia interest in the group, who are still doing concerts.

© 2010 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading my hub. Glad you liked it. I see you are from Minnesota, my home state. I grew up in Minneapolis.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 3 years ago from Minnesota

      When I first started reading this hub about the Kingston Trio, I was reminded of my favorite song by them, "Tom Dooley ". As I read, I was not surprised to find that you included that song here. Beautifully done!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting healthylife. Yes, there has always been some politics involved in folk music, even before it was called folk music. The Kingston Trio did much to make folk songs popular which led to performers like Bob Dylan taking an interest in it.

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      My parents were really into the Kingston Trio so I found this really interesting since I know little about folk music. I also never realized there were so many politics involved. Great hub!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I also like the Rev Mr. Black. I think it was sung by a number of other singers, including Johnnie Cash. Thanks for commenting.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this great Hub. The Kingston Trio was my dad's favorite band when I was a boy, and I loved them too. The Reverend Mr. Black was my personal favorite song by them.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting.They were somewhat controversial.A lot of folk fans wanted something more edgy like Bob Dylan, but fans are fickle.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you for this informative hub; I have sometimes heard this group on radio or infomercials here in Texas, but never knew much about this group. I find their style of music relaxing and re-energizing. Thanks for this article.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment. I don't know much about Australian music, although some folk singers such as Burl Ives recorded some Australian folk songs. We have also had some singers come from there.

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 7 years ago from Australia

      G'day dahoglund! We were fortunate in Australia that we did not get caught up in the Politics of Pop Music. We just appreciated the artists for what they presented and the Kingston Trio group was very popular here, especially in my town Melbourne which produced groups like the Seekers.

      Great Hub thanks for the read :-)

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. the authenticity of the Trio has often been in question but I've always felt that sensitivity to the songs was more important than a literal "purity"

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Great group - had it not been for these folks and others like them, the great folk music of John Denver, Joan Baez (whom you mentioned), Ramblin' Jack Elliott and many others might never have been heard. By the late 1960's the Folkies were going pretty strong but usually singles (at least for a while). Thanks for a great read! Best, Sis