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The Kingston Trio - Three of Their Greatest Songs

Updated on May 15, 2014

The Kingston Trio

Unfortunately photos of the Trio in their striped shirts are all copyrighted so here they are in a formal publicity shot.
Unfortunately photos of the Trio in their striped shirts are all copyrighted so here they are in a formal publicity shot. | Source

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.

The Subway


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
[ending chorus]

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!

Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved


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    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      I'm glad I could introduce you to one of my favorite groups Vinaya. Have a great weekend.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal


      I did not know about Kingstons, thanks for sharing this profile. I enjoyed the media you have used in this hub.


    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      You're right drbj, today no one would have the depth to make these songs though every once in a while you do hear a good one, and you are most welcome.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks for bringing back Tom Dooley, Mary, and the Kingston Trio. Really enjoyed this bit of folk singing deja vu. Ah, they don't make folk singers or any other kind today the way they used to.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Joe, your comments are priceless! Thanks for the info on the high school they attended, very interesting. I love your paisley into prints, etc. Oh, I might've shocked you back then my friend , however, we would've had fun as I usually did ;0

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 

      6 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      When I was a little boy, I used to feel so sorry for Tom Dooley. Now that I'm a senior citizen...I still feel sorry for Tommy Boy.

      The Kingston Trio had exceptionally good harmony. The fact that two of the boys went to high school in Hawai'i was news to me, Mary, so I looked up what school they went to. It was our rival private school, Punahou, that fed Hawaiian society a steady diet of lawyers, judges, policemen, firefighters, and other government officials. In fact, this is the school that President Obama attended in his youth.

      This was a very interesting and appealing hub, and I was drawn right back into the fifties and sixties when folk music put the paisley into prints, the bells into bottoms, and bras into the bonfires. Good times, and the best compliment I could ever give someone is, "Wish I'd known you back then..."

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Leslie, I can so see you making the Kingston Trio the Kingston Quartet! They are certainly right up your alley ... Very similar deliveries ;) Yes, good old Phyllis unknowingly gave them the push they needed. Thanks so much for the votes and share.

      You did notice though Jaye, Mickey broke down and admitted the words to the Trio's songs were pretty darn good ;) Yes, we are in a sad state of affairs when a song like "Africa" is still applicable over fifty years later! Thanks for the votes and share.

      byshea, while those guys may be another memory, they are all of an era that will stand out in time. I appreciate you taking the time to read my hub, thank you.

      How nice of you to stop by Curiad. It seems the Kingston Trio has a far reach.

      Aufait so good to see you here and so happy you enjoyed.

      TeaPartyCrasher it seems everyone was touched by the Trio in one way or another. Thanks for sharing the story about the Boston Pops!

    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image


      6 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

      I remember when a conductor took over the Boston Pops and the new conductor mentioned he had heard "bad things about the subway". The preplexed audience then caught on when the Pops went into a rendition of M.T.A. My Dad also wonders why Charlie's Wife just didn't give him the Nickle.

      Also "Tom Dooley" popped up in at least of my music books in Elemetary school

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      "Rioting in Africa" is indeed applicable today -- and we do need rain in Texas as we are and have been in a drought cycle for several years. I liked the Kingston Trio and their song, "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley."

      A great tribute to the Trio. Voted up, BAI, and will share!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      Where have all the flowers gone???? My absolute favorite. I absolutely loved the Kingston Trio... and thanks for bringing them back..Great hub...I had no idea they were still touring..Voting up and pinning.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I always loved the music of the KIngston Trio even though I was a bit younger at the time.

    • byshea profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow, what a nice walk down memory lane. My father loved the Kingston Trio and I was introduced to them as a young boy when my father would play their LP's every weekend when we would be outside or working on stuff in the garage. I also learned about Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and others, but that's another memory..... Thanks!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Another great hub, Till....Unlike MickeySr, I always liked folk music because of the lyrics as well as the music. The Kingston Trio had a great sound, and their lyrics were (still are) amazing. The words to "In Africa They're Rioting" are definitely as relevant in our contemporary world as they were when written (which is a sad commentary on our world, isn't it?)

      Voted Up+++ and shared


    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Well Bill,they were my time ;) but I do believe they are timeless. Happy you enjoyed my look back to some fun music. Your vote and share are appreciated.

      Ido try to do my homework WND...glad you enjoyed my efforts.

      Sometimes we forget the meanings behind the folk songs, meant to give us pause for thought Faith. Thank you for making sure your comment was here and for your votes and share.

      Me too Stephanie, I listen to them all the time, even my kids do!

      Avianvoice Petre, Paul, and Mary were on top of my list too.

      Wow Paul thanks for all the sharing. The Trio had many more great songs, glad you found this interesting. The other folks singers followed the Trio so no doubt they were influenced by themin some ways.

      Thanks Gypsy, glad I was able to really introduce you to them. Thanks for the share.

      Thank you for visiting Manatita...I never saw the movie so you are ahead of me on that one.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 

      6 years ago

      omg..i love this trio!!! if i'd have known of them before - i'd have emulated them!

      so good of you to include the words - so necessary to get the point(S)..

      they combine HUGELY important social issues - and inject humor and sarcasm..

      Hmmmm....who does that remind me of? lol..

      Phyllis Diller did us all a favor!

      and so have you for bringing them to our attention - voting/sharing..

    • manatita44 profile image


      6 years ago from london

      Not my forte, but yes, I knew of Tom Dooley. Nice song and I saw the movie. It was Auddie Murphy, I believe I'm glad they inspired you.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      Voted up and interesting. Fascinating hub. I knew about the Kingston Trio but never really listened to too many of their songs unless they were on the radio. You videos gave me new interest and I'll look them up on YouTube. Passing this on.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is a great hub and I have learned a lot about the Kingston Tree. I remember listening to them in the late 50s and early 60s, but The Legend of Tom Dooley was the only song of theirs that I remembered. Thanks for enlightening me about Rioting in Africa and the Boston one. I definitely have to listen to them. Do you think Peter, Paul, and Mary and Joan Baez were influenced by the Kingston Trio? Voted up and sharing with followers and on Facebook. Also Pinning and Tweeting.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Wow, Mary, this is amazing. I can't imagine that the group, even with one original member is still around after all this time. You did a nice job on this, as the only song that I knew about was "Tom Dooley." Now I have a little more knowledge of this wonderful folk group. I grew up with Peter, Paul, and Mary.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      6 years ago from USA

      I loved the Kingston Trio in the 60's and I still enjoy listening to their music on my iPod! Enjoyed your hub immensely as it is not only about one of my favorite groups, but it brings back some great memories.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Mary (Till),

      Well, I thought I left a comment earlier. Anyway, great hub here. I am glad you posted the lyrics to some of their songs. Wow, what profound lyrics to say the least! I remember Tom Dooley.

      Excellent and interesting hub. Voted up +++ and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper

    • wetnosedogs profile image


      6 years ago from Alabama

      I remember the most Tom Dooley. I enjoy folk music and they have the right knack for it. Thanks for the great hub.

      Didn't realize their striped shirts (or photos of them) are copyrighted. You sure know how to do your homework!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Mary. Loved the sound of the Kingston Trio. They are a little before my time but their music is timeless and I love the message in their music. You picked three great hits. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. Voted up, shared, etc....

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Be careful Bill, you are my junior you know ;) Glad to oblige.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sadly, Mary, I remember them well. LOL Sadly only because that says how old I am. :) I loved their harmony and Tom Dooley has always been one of my favorite songs. Thanks for this look back at some great music.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Mickey, you sir are a gentleman and a scholar. How refreshing and honest is your comment? I really enjoyed it and agree with the words in "Memphis Tennessee". I am delighted that you found "Rioting in Africa" a treasure as I always have! True, folk music is chord strumming sing along music for the most part, but not all the time as you have seen. No way will I consider you a mean old dog, rather someone who has strong opinions but yet is willing to read that which has no interest to him and still learn something from it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Sir Mickey!

    • MickeySr profile image


      6 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

      tillsontitan ~ I hate American Folk music, never liked it. I listen to music for the music part of it, the melody and the artistry of the musicians, etc, and I just pretty much dismiss the 'message' of the lyrics . . . I have songs I still listen to regularly and have since I was a kid, and I couldn't begin to recite any lyrics to you or tell what they song is about - I really just listen to the music. But I love language, I love words, and I very much appreciate the wit and beauty of a well turned phrase . . . when I inadvertently recognized how the song 'Memphis Tennessee' expresses crying as "hurry home drops on her cheek trickle from her eye" or listen to The Jackson Five's regret "Every street you walk on I leave tearstains on the ground, Following the girl I didn't even want around" I delight in the poetry of the lyrics - but I only accidentally heard these lyrics (after decades of listening to the songs) because I was listening to good music.

      To me, Folk music is lame chord strumming sing-a-long music used only as a vehicle to deliver the message - I just don't listen to it. Now, all this sounds very elitist and arrogant I'm sure, and not at all complimentary toward your hub here, but I confess all that mess to you to tell you how delighted I am that you've shared this music . . . I would never have heard these songs and when I read "Rioting in Africa" I find a treasure, what exemplary wordsmithing (?) - thank you for teaching a mean old dog a new trick.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Jools you are the first and fastest here! I love their harmonies too and finally got one CD of the Something Really Special Album now I have to get The Best of the Kingston Trio, they were my two favorite albums.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, very interesting article. I used to have Tom Dooley by the Kingston Trio on an LP which was part of a 1950s and 60s set so this was a bit of a walk down memory lane! I'm a real fan of vocal harmonies and the Trio did it really well. Great to see they're still recording and touring.


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