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Original members included Dave Guard (born October 19, 1934, near San Francisco, CA; died of cancer, March 22, 1991, in Rollingsford, NH; married, wife's name, Gretchen; children: Sally, Catherine, Tom; received B.A. from Stanford University, 1956; attended Stanford School of Business Administration; left group, 1961), guitar, banjo, vocals; Nick Reynolds (born July 27, 1933, in San Diego, CA [some sources say Coronado, CA]; married, wife's name, Joan; graduated from Menlo Park School of Business Administration), guitar, banjo, vocals; and Bob Shane (born February 1, 1934, in Hilo, HI; married, wife's name Louise; five children; graduated from Menlo Park School of Business Administration). Later members included John Stewart (born in 1941 [one source says September 5, 1939] in San Diego, CA; joined group, 1961); Roger Gambill (joined group, 1972; died, 1985); and George Grove (born October 9, 1947, in Hickory, NC; graduated from Wake Forest University, 1969; joined group, 1972) guitar, banjo, vocals. Addresses: Management-- Nikki Gary, Fuji Productions, Inc., P.O. Box 34397, San Diego, CA 92103.

Folk music's first appearance on the pop charts was rather short lived. During the early 1950s the Weavers and other folksingers had a number of hits, but the anticommunism sentiment prevalent in the United States at the time--which associated folk music with left wing organizations--put an end to that. Before the decade was over, however, the Kingston Trio and their distinctive harmonies brought folk music back to the mainstream, beginning the so-called "folk boom." With their clean-cut, collegiate image, they were able to circumvent the political stigma that haunted so many other folksingers.

The trio's critics have called them "opportunistic," according to Irwin Stambler in The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music-- "essentially a pop group that happened to sing folk or folk-flavored material rather than an authentic folk group." Authenticity notwithstanding, the Kingston Trio was instrumental in bringing folk music to a mass audience, and in doing so, they set the stage for such singers as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary. "Using only acoustic guitars and banjos," wrote Tom Ray in the Bermuda Sun, "they revolutionized the popular music of the day with simple, catchy melodies, imbued with the ageless, timeless quality of American traditional and folk."

The Kingston Trio's roots were not in Jamaica, as their name would suggest, but in Hawaii where Dave Guard and Bob Shane grew up. They met at the Punahou School in Honolulu, where they often sang together. After high school both went to Northern California for college--Shane to Menlo Park School of Business Administration, and Guard to Stanford University to study economics. At Menlo Park, Shane met Nick Reynolds, another business student with a musical bent, and the three began performing at college functions. At this time, according to Stambler and Landon, the trio wasn't considering a musical career, and after graduation, Shane returned to Hawaii to pursue a career in business.

Before long the trio re-formed, inspired, Stambler and Landon noted, by a revival in the public's interest in folk music. They began playing in a Stanford hangout called the Cracked Pot, where they were paid in beer and food. Frank Werber, a San Francisco publicist, heard the trio and was so impressed he had them sign a contract he wrote on a table napkin.

The group chose the name Kingston because of its reference to Jamaica's capital, where Calypso music--popular in the United States at the time--originated. The trio debuted with a well-received but unspectacular week-long engagement at a San Francisco club, the hungry i, and then moved to the Purple Onion across the street. Here audience response picked up--especially when the group sent postcards to everyone they knew inviting them to come--and their gig was extended, eventually to seven months. They began playing around the San Francisco area and before long had gigs in New York City and Chicago. In 1958 the Kingston Trio signed with Capitol Records, presumably on something more sturdy than a napkin.

The trio's self-titled debut album released in June of 1958 was a mild success, but "Tom Dooley," a track from the LP released as a single, became a huge hit--the first folk song to gain popularity since the Weavers had been blacklisted several years earlier. The song rose to Number One on the charts and earned the Kingston Trio a gold record and a Grammy Award for best country western record (the folk category had not yet been established).

The trio had gambled well on the musical mood of the country. Rock icon Elvis Presley had been drafted into the army and wholesome singer Pat Boone was not to everyone's taste. Roy Harris Jr. wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "Kingston Trio songs were the perfect accompaniment for the times: [the Soviet satellite] Sputnik and the space race created the need for a traditional, but still good-humored style of music to rally the maturing [post-World War II] baby boom Americans, without alienating their parents."

While many critics have disparaged the Kingston Trio for their "commercial" or "pseudo" folk music, the mainstream press seemed thrilled to find popular music that wasn't the rock and roll for which they had so much disdain. Magazine articles touted the trio's wholesome image and devoted more space to descriptions of their picture perfect marriages than to their music. "The brightest new sounds heard through all the racket of rock 'n' roll comes from the voices and the instruments of three college grad cutups," wrote a Life correspondent in 1959. "Despite the surprising facts that every chord is in tune and every lyric is in good taste, The Kingston Trio at Large is now the best selling LP in the country."

The Kingston Trio often performed traditional songs, updating them with new lyrics and arrangements. They also collected compositions from a number of different musicians, including Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie, and penned many themselves. As the decade of the 1960s began, they became one of the most popular vocal groups in the world, earning eight gold records and two Grammy awards. "People in all parts of the country started playing the guitar and banjo in imitation of the Kingston Trio, and new groups sprang up everywhere as the country 'rediscovered' folk music," wrote Kristin Baggelaar in Dave Guard and the Whiskey Hill Singers.

In 1961, after a world tour, Guard decided to leave the group. His departure came over a "whole gang of differences," as reported in Life in 1961. Part of the trio's differences, according to Life, was Shane's insistence that the band begin playing more "authentic" folk music as well as learn to read music. Life commented on the loss of Guard: "He is the group's personality kid, and personality is really their stock in trade, not music. An old friend of the Kingstons observed, 'To say Dave Guard is the best musician is to say that a school kid who can spell c-a-t is the most literate boy in class.'"

Despite Guard's departure, the Kingston Trio survived. Guard went on to form the Whisky Hill Singers and continued to write music and pursue an interest in folklore until he died of cancer in 1991. Shane and Reynolds replaced Guard with John Stewart. Stewart, who had been performing with another folk trio, the Cumberland Three, had already worked with the Kingston Trio, writing and arranging songs. Although the change was smooth, in retrospect Stewart did not feel it worked. According to Baggelaar, he said, "At first it was an exciting idea to take the place of Dave Guard, but then, when I got into it, I realized that the reason I had liked the Trio was because Dave Guard was in it!... The sound was different, and I thought it was much better with Dave."

By the mid-1960s, with the invasion of British groups and the revival of rock, listeners' tastes moved away from the Kingston Trio's folk-flavored music. As the 1960s wore on, ticket and record sales dropped off, and in 1967, the trio's members decided to bow out gracefully, as Reynolds later told Thomas Arnold in the Los Angeles Times. Reynolds retired to a ranch in Oregon, and Stewart pursued a solo career, finding moderate success in the late 1970s. Shane, however, found it difficult to stay away from the Kingston Trio for long. He bought the rights to the name and in the early 1970s formed a new version of the trio with Roger Gambill and George Grove.

In 1981 the original Kingston Trio met at California's Magic Mountain Amusement Park for a reunion concert that was taped by PBS. At the time Harris wrote that the reunion was good musically, but the relationship among the three--especially between Shane and Guard--was quite strained. Future reunions seemed unlikely. Meanwhile, Shane's revival group toured with modest success and recorded on the Nautilus and Xeres labels. Gambill died in 1985, and by 1989 Shane had coaxed Reynolds back into the trio.

Reynolds's return came at a time when Americans were once again rediscovering folk music, and many returned to hear their old favorites. Younger fans also joined the audiences, and Capitol Records jumped on the bandwagon, reissuing many of the trio's early albums. While some critics complained of the nostalgia or that their songs and shtick were outdated, most found their voices and music in fine form and their enthusiasm and rapport with the audience impressive. In his review of a 1989 concert, David Silverman of the Chicago Tribune wrote that although it had been quite a few years since they started out, "there is not a bit of tarnish on the Kingston Trio. They have achieved a fine musical patina that never grows old, only finer, sweeter and more pleasing."

Some critics noted that in the turmoil of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was nice to return to the apparent idealism of the pre-Vietnam era and such groups as the Kingston Trio. "They're just having such a damn good time up there, and it's just a tonic for the generically jaded audience of the late '80s," Barbara Shulgasser noted in a San Francisco Examiner concert review. "The middle-age crowd was whooping and clapping for the trio as if time hadn't passed, as if we hadn't waged tragic wars, suffered assassinations, sold arms to Iran, broken into Democratic Party headquarters. Tom Dooley hung down his head and all was right with the world."

by Megan Rubiner

Kingston Trio, The's Career

Group formed in mid-1950s; made professional debut at San Francisco club; toured U.S.; signed with Capitol Records and released debut album, 1958; disbanded, 1967; Shane bought rights to group name and re-formed trio with Gambill and Grove, 1972; original members reunited for concert, 1981.

Kingston Trio, The's Awards

Grammy awards for best country and western recording, 1958, for "Tom Dooley," and best folk recording, 1959, for The Kingston Trio at Large; several gold records.

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