POPULAR FOLK MUSIC TODAY, SPRING 1991
HOW IT ALL BEGAN By Mike Lussen
So I'm this kid growing up in the late 1950s. Doing kid things; listening to American Bandstand which actually turned out to be some pretty good stuff compared to the soul-dead punk rock of today. After all, how can you be a kid In the 1950s and not like Chuck Berry or Elvis?
But there were other things on the horizon. Other things. For one, I was beginning, sub-consciously, to appreciate the symphony; the power, the majesty, the beauty. Of course this was not something I would ever admit to my elders, or peers or even to myself. It would have been contrary to the code of "kid-dom."
Ah, puberty. Somewhere in this rite-of-passage, one begins to sort out the things which are to be important.
Tom Dooley went by unnoticed. M.T.A. barely caught my attention.
My father bought one of those new-fangled stereos. It was a Voice of Music console with separate speakers that looked good enough to be furniture and sounded like the ultimate in sound reproduction. Seeds of future piles of scratched and tortured vinyl. Our next door neighbor had bought the same model some weeks previous and we were impressed, even though Dad did not normally part with money easily. It was the depression-era mentality which would later come in handy in the 1990s.
I was the proud owner of a 6 transistor portable A.M. radio, beautifully covered by genuine leather and powered by a ponderous battery the size of a fig newton package. The cost of this prized possession was met by hard-earned change from my paper route and just replacing batteries cut into my candy budget, leaving me with an insufficient sugar-rush.
The radio allowed me to listen to the air-waves at forbidden times, late at night, when I was supposed to be resting for the next bout of school. I have been a night person ever since.
Someone named John Kennedy was running for president and little could I know that his passing would mean our nation's loss of innocence or that my beautiful radio would later be inundated by high tide at the Jersey Shore while I ambled on the boardwalk, traitorously in search of Italian ice. But this was all still in the future.
The Summers were endless and sometimes I was even aware that this was the oasis of youth' that I didn't even have to grow older and look back to appreciate it. Not that it was all a picnic. There was the all-pervading teenage feeling of tedium, conformity, powerlessness, frustration, insecurity and acne. Still, I had that occasional glimmer of something else. Something out there. I was one of the lucky ones.
On the baseball lot I was a mediocre performer but looked good In my Brooklyn Dodger cap. Playing badminton, I would find myself pretending that the racket was a banjo and mimicked strumming the nylon netting. Race memory? I guess everyone's story is different.
Then one day it happened. A song came out of that radio that wrapped itself around my cerebral cortex and would not let go. What was it about this recording? It had no banjo. Just voices, guitars and a base. It was the harmonies! It was "El Matador." Some group called The Kingston Trio.
Wheeling my bike to the nearest record store, I located the object of my search. The album cover read "Sold Out." Fortunately, it wasn't. Four miles later, my father's stereo needle descended on this platter. There is was. That "killer harmony." I soon found that I like some of the other cuts on the album even more than "El Matador." Dave Guard's banjo captivated. I said "I must do this." I was hooked.
After obtaining other Kingston Trio albums, there was, among the live performances, witty repartee. Again I was enthralled. It was Dave Guard's "patter." I carried this obsession to college and into the 1960s.
The rest is history. To stand on a stage and let the applause wash over you; this is the addiction. Now I travel the country with my group and my guitar and banjo and a formidable sound system and it's a dirty business but inside me there is a tittle boy, still wide-eyed at the wonder of it all.
I never did get to meet Dave Guard.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVE GUARD
as reprinted from KINGSTON TRIO ON RECORD
EW: Who influenced you, musically, when you were growing up?
DG: My heaviest influence was a guy named Gabby Pahinui, who's the best Hawaiian guitar player that ever lived.
EW: You produced an album by him.
DG: Yeah, I produced an album by him in 1979, and that got a Hawaiian Grammy, as a matter of fact. But he was -- I'd never heard anybody play guitar so well.
EW: Was there any musical background in your family? Were your parent musicians at all?
DG: My mother's family were all - my mother's mother was from a family of European composers. They travelled all over Europe and everybody in the family was a composer. My mother's mother was a piano teacher and my mother didn't have any instrument because she heard all these people coming in and doing piano lessons all day long, and didn't want anything to do with it. Actually, what she wanted to learn was accordion, and her mother wouldn't let her do it.
EW: So neither of your parents was a direct influence?
DG: No, they always like to listen to the radio, though. They always had the radio on. They always liked tunes, and bought records, and didn't hold me back from it -- they bought me my first guitar.
EW: If the Kingston Trio hadn't become successful, would you have pursued a career as a musician? Or do you think you would have fallen back on (laughter) economics, or whatever?
DG: Gee, I don't know. Whatever happened just happened, so -- I don't know. What if I had joined the Japanese Air Force, would I have become a bomber pilot? (laughter)
EW: How was it decided that you were the leader of the Kingston Trio?
DG: Let's see -- the original set-up was that Nick handled transportation, Bobby handled costumes and laundry, and I handled the music.
EW: The Kingston Trio started out as calypso didn't they, and then changed to folk?
DG: Well, not me. First thing is, Bobby and I got together in Hawaii in the early fifties, and he knew how to play the guitar a little bit and I knew some Tahitian songs that he kinda was faking the words to.
EW: Did you really learn them from Polynesian travelers like it says on the albums?
DG: Well, sort of, yeah... 'cause we lived right there. I lived in Waikiki, for goodness sake. Bobby and I really loved the Tahitian music, 'cause it was wild. We put a couple of Tahitian songs on those albums, you know. Hawaiian stuff is very pleasant and everything, but it was just around, so we wanted the wild, eerie-sounding stuff so we learned that. But I didn't know how to play the guitar and Bobby didn't know the words to the Tahitian stuff. I would sit around and transcribe them off of records, and we ask people what those words were and stuff. So we got together and he taught me a little guitar and I taught him the words to the songs, so we started off by --
EW: Bob taught you guitar?
DG: Yeah, he gave me my first guitar lesson. You know -- "This is the C-chord and this is the D," and stuff. I mean, I had books but I didn't have somebody who would sit down and really reel it out for me. He gave me one lesson, basically, and then I was able to go on from there. But I had to see a real live human being sit down and say, "Look, put your hands like this. Play 'dang, dang"' -- he did that. After awhile, everybody got okay with what they did.
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