The Kingston Trio Place


One-Third of a Trio Pairs Up to Track Down Legends

by Mildred Hamilton
San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle
February 19, 1978

Twenty-two years ago Dave Guard started his career as co-founder and leader of the Kingston Trio. Today he has branched out-musically as a single and on the literary scene in a duet. Dave and his wife Gretchen are author and illustrator of the book, "Deirde: A Celtic Legend," and they will follow it with a book on a Hawaiian legend late this year. Dave also is busy with his guitar, polishing some new and some old folk material he will present March 7-11 at the Boarding House.

The Guards, who both have the clean, lithe look of mature Ivy Leaguers, talked about their life together, from "the little green hotel rooms" during the trio touring days to a retreat "for a family haven in an Australian beach town" and then back to the Bay Area "to be participants again."

It all started back at Stanford, where Gretchen Ballard and Dave Guard met in 1955, "going to school," said Dave, "because we had no idea what we wanted to do and it was an elegant way to stay off the street." He also met Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds, and their campus party guitars-and-banjo act moved into a Peninsula beer garden, on to San Francisco's Purple Onion and into the national big time as the Kingston Trio.

Gretchen and Dave were married in 1957, after his graduation. He left the act in 1961, just before the birth of the couple's third child, "because the constant travel was depriving me of life's values." He formed another group, the Whiskeyhill Singers, whose "How the West Was Won" sound track won an Academy Award.

They moved to a dream world in Australia. "The kids wore hats and gloves to school," said Gretchen. He had a TV folk music show, "Dave's Place," and Gretchen, who always painted, gave him the idea for writing "Colour Guitar," a teaching book relating music theory taught in a 12-valued chain of chords with color, "as an infinite color spectrum is divided into 12 departments." She did her first book cover design for it.

"Usually people have to wait until they retire to do what we did," said Gretchen, a soft-spoken blond in a green velvet blazer and a tweed skirt. "We were lucky to be able to do it early." They came back in 1968, a "lively time," and she went back to Stanford, graduating with honors in art in 1970.

"I wanted to illustrate children's books, and while I was looking for something, Dave suggested the Deirdre legend," said Gretchen. "I remembered it from reading it as a boy while I had the chicken pox and I had always liked it," he explained. That sent them researching, first to the Stanford library, then, during the summer of 1972 in the British Isles in the British Museum, in Edinburgh, through the highlands and into Northern Ireland.

"We used the events of the legend of the first century Druid adventure as a travel recipe," said Dave, "and we had some travel adventures of our own. We seemed to be the only tourists in Northern Ireland and both sides were suspicious of us. When we photographed an ancient burial site, a British Army helicopter buzzed us."

Their hotel in Armagh, the Ulster Arms, had its sign blasted away. "We were given a room on the inner courtyard. 'You'll be more peaceful,' we were told, and we heard there were radio reports for the military to check out an 'unidentified Scandinavian type couple'-us," said Gretchen. "There was total paranoia, but we had a fascinating time retracing the legend and studying the artifacts. We feel we will be visiting old friends at the de Young show, the Treasures of Early Irish art."

Back in their Peninsula home, Gretchen spent two and one-half years on her book illustrations at the same time she was running the home, being Bay Area representative of a Trinity County summer camp and studying design. She joined the staff of Sunset magazine as an art director last year.

Dave finished the writing and tried to "peddle the book with publishers door-to-door back East. They couldn't decide whether it was a juvenile or an adult book-we think it is a book for all ages. Then the Bay Area publisher, Celestial Arts of Millbrae, accepted it."

"Deirdre" is now in its second printing, and "Ha-le-ma-no," an ancient Hawaiian tale, has been turned over to the publisher. "Unlike 'Deirdre,' it has a happy ending," Dave said. "The Hawaiians won't go for Irish-type endings."

Dave, who grew up in Hawaii, has another island project. "The first record I ever bought, the one that made me cry as a kid, was Hawaii's Gabby Pahinui. When I got a couple of dollars with the Kingston Trio I went back in 1961 to record an album of Gabby and his guitar, but I couldn't interest anyone. When I started the Hawaii book research, I got it out, and 'Pure Gabby' will be out in April-with Gretchen's cover design."

The couple's children are Catherine, now 19 and a pre-opera student; Tom, 17, who wants to be a filmmaker, and Sally, 15, and a soccer champion. "My daughter Catherine's ambition to be in show business launched me on a new start," Dave said. "We've done some things together."

He likes to talk about the big difference between Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio and today's singer. "In the old days we had an energy act and the desire to perform and be heard." After he decided to leave the act, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds continued with John Stewart. Reynolds eventually retired to become an Oregon rancher of cattle, chickens and Christmas trees. Bob Shane bought the name and in 1976 added two singers to continue appearing as the Kingston Trio.

Dave thinks the original three members are too different now ever to get back together. "Now, after 20 years, I know much more about music. I have studied techniques. I go back to folk material. Some of the tunes are from the old days-the ones good enough to give me a living-but I have enhanced them with counterpoint and chord and vocal phrasing.

"I started playing my guitar again in 1976 in the hospital when I had appendicitis. I was looking for healing music as opposed to the screeching of rock 'n' roll, upsetting and tearing apart. My new tunes are arranged by the laws of physics. They shake hands with psychology. I feel with them I can touch people; I can give back something of what I have gotten. It is like the book. It means so much to me I want to pass it on to you."

The 1978 Dave Guard will do some travel as a singer while keeping his home base here. "I will try to get into the colleges. I like to sing for them. I always visualize my audience and our own kids are coming into this age. I like to think now I am singing for our children and their friends."


Many thanks to Carol Berry for submitting this article to us!