Roy J. Harris
was easy enough for
Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane to conquer the musical world in the late 1950s. The young
members of the new West Coast group called the Kingston Trio simply
blended talent and enthusiasm, to give a
pleasantly contagious quality to some folk songs.
Kingston Trio songs were the perfect accompaniment for the times: Sputnik
and the space race created the need for a traditional, but still
good-humored style of music to rally the maturing post-war baby boom
Americans, without alienating their parents. Before long a youthful
The Kingston Trio (From
Left: Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane, Dave Guard).
added his own poetic
description of the era, when he talked about passing the torch to the new
The reunion of those founding trio members, now in their late 40s, has
been a far more strained enterprise. Mr.
Guard left in 1961 and Mr. Reynolds in 1967,
when the group folded until Mr. Shane's purchase of the Kingston Trio name
five years later. He is touring around the country with two other singers,
keeping the old music alive with moderate
Messrs. Guard, Reynolds and Shane, however, hadn't appeared together for
two decades until last November. That performance
before a two-thirds-full house at Magic Mountain Amusement Park near here
was taped by the Public Broadcasting Service as a 90-minute fund-raising
special. (It airs tonight and tomorrow night in Los Angeles, and Tuesday
in New York.)
For one thing, the three men don't seem to
like each other much any more, and despite the program
have little apparent desire to sing together again. And organizers of the
PBS show who had been trying for years to
reunite the original trio have discovered--to their surprise--that there
isn't a great public demand for it either.
Could it be that people have forgotten that the Kingston Trio isn't just
another "oldie"outfit? The group is, after all, the originator
of the folk-singing craze of the '50s and '60s, with a still-audible
influence on today's pop music.
The trio's album sales from their early years together still rank in the
recording industry's top 10. Coming right at the time
stereo was introduced, the group was among the first to score more heavily
with albums than with single records. But the trio made a more
indelible mark through its popularity among
high schoolers and collegians. How often
did those school parties dissolve into guitar-strumming and rather
desperately harmonized versions of "Tom Dooley" and
While it may have been the music
of Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and others that later helped politicize
the same audience for the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements, it
was the Kingston Trio that provided the prelude for all those more
provocative artists. Today, it's still easy to hear overtones of the trio
in such groups as the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac.
In the PBS special
we hear folk music at its most innocent. There's the rollicking good fun
of "M.T.A.," that story of the man trapped on the Boston subway
because of a fare increase he couldn't afford. Any of the other 13 trio
songs on the show--"Worried Man," "Greenback Dollar"
and "Scotch and Soda," for instance--could transport the
middle-30s viewer back into high school for a few minutes. At first it
maybe hard to tell that there's friction among the original
trio members; they clearly are enjoying the chance to do their old numbers
in this rare new spotlight. They're still performers, after all. Notice,
however, that there's no embracing among the old buddies, and that they
don't joke among themselves as they did in those now-famous early albums
and in concerts at San Francisco's "hungry i."
The maturity is vocal, but not
trio fans tune to to see the original
members, "I think they'll be disappointed," said Dave Guard
after the taping. "The show was more of
a promotion for the Kingston Trio that's performing these days."
"That's exactly what it was, and if he doesn't like it, it's
tough," responds Bob Shane. "Dave Guard sold his interest in the
Kingston Trio for cash money--$300,000--and
I'm not going to feel sorry for him. I don't enjoy singing with him; I
don't enjoy his voice."
Mr. Shane finds his own trio
today "more musical; essentially we're a better group." Wherever
it sings, it sticks to the old standards, he
says, because "people want nostalgia."
Nick Reynolds doesn't get
embroiled in much of this. He laughs about the disputes and says he was
"the peacemaker" in rehearsals for the PBS show. "That was
always my job," he adds. "Bobby's trying to make a living"
by doing songs the old way, while Dave, the original lead member of the
group, wants to innovate. "Dave wanted to do about 19 chords in 'Tom
Dooley'; it's a two-chord song."
The great success of their
youth left all three with a rare freedom to pursue their widely divergent
interests. Mr. Guard divides his time between his northern California and
Hawaii homes. Still writing music, he also is a student of folklore,
having written a book on the ancient Irish "Deirdre" legend. Mr.
Shane has the national touring life he loves. And Mr. Reynolds
has been living what is perhaps the dream of many executives who'd like to
call it quits in mid-career: the life of a rancher in Oregon.
In other words, enjoy the
reunion. It may be another 20 years for the
Mr. Harris is a member of the Journal's Los