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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Local Music Legend Continuing Kingston Trio Legacy

“Maybe it would be wise to try it for a year and see if something happens. We did, and the first year we had a million-selling hit,” recalled Bob Shane, a member of the legendary Kingston Trio and South Mountain resident. As effortlessly as the recounting of the roots of the group he and fellow musicians Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds formed in Palo Alto in 1957, the lasting success of their efforts would be more than a passing phase. As the Kingston Trio they would not only forge a trail for other artists, they would end up as one of the major acts, and incidentally record sellers, of the 50s and 60s.

What began as something for college kids to do between classes, the three friends formed a musical group. Ironically, they never considered themselves a “folk music” act, even thought it was in that genre that they are best remembered.

“We were world music before there was world music,” said Shane. “We did what we liked.”

The group was named after Kingston, Jamaica, in honor of their fondness for calypso music and the work of another popular act of the time, Harry Belafonte. The idea of categorizing the group as folk singers had less to do with the group’s musical direction than marketing.

Their deep interest in other styles of music became even more pronounced when country western music pioneer, Minnie Pearl, nodded her appreciation to the group’s hit song “Tom Dooley.”
“Minnie Pearl was the only one that came up to us and said, ‘Thank God for the acceptance of that song. The Kingston Trio doesn’t know it but they saved country music,’ “ recalled Shane. “Most people don’t realize that the Kingston Trio won the first Grammy for Country Western. They didn’t even have a folk category,” added Shane. Subsequently, the trio won one when the category was added.

That was not the only thing that changed.

“We are primarily a live act, the recording was secondary,” said Shane. “We played 475 colleges in our first year.” While records sales are big business and can be the primary bread-and-butter of many contemporary acts, that was not always so.

With eight gold records, sales that by today’s standards would be quadruple platinum, the primary source of income for the group came from live shows. Despite having recorded 400 songs between 1957 to 1967, it was as a performing act that the group found its fortunes.

The records, as important as they are now, were essentially created as a marketing tool to draw attention to their live concerts. Ironically, the Kingston Trio would become the first of the giant album sellers.

Their popularity was such that entertainment titans like Bill Cosby and multi-platinum recording artist Barbara Streisand opened for the trio. As Shane modestly puts it, “It was just things that happened at the right time and the right place.”

The Phoenix connection in the proposed series was yet another piece of irony. Hailing from Hawaii originally and then calling Northern California home, Shane has made South Phoenix his permanent residence. “We played here often, “ said Shane who moved to the Valley in the early 90’s.

Established in the epicenter of the entertainment industry, The Kingston Trio had close ties to their contemporaries. “Everyone thought there was a lot of antagonism going on between the groups, we were all good friends. Peter Paul and Mary were dear friends of ours,” recalled Shane. So close that that Peter Paul and Mary gave them Pete Seger’s classic “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” which became a huge hit. The group returned the favor by giving them the classic “Lemon Tree.”

Over time, things changed. The group experienced several transformations including the addition of new members and, briefly, a new name.

“When I retired the final configuration, there were four. When we retired that group, I leased the name The New Kingston Trio,” said Shane. The idea was to create a group that would continue the traditions of the original while incorporating new material.

As fate would have it, the music never stopped. Shane proceeded with a solo career. In spite of having great material and a serious head start, there was something lacking in going alone. “I tried to work as a single and tried to promote a single that was going well,” said Shane adding quickly, “I hated being a single. I would much rather sing as a group.”

The interviewing years have witnessed new releases from Shane and maintaining the legacy that introduced him to both popularity and fame. He owns the name the Kingston Trio and maintains a comprehensive website that contains information on the group, and the newly formed version of the Trio that still actively performs.

When asked how he has managed to survive without falling into the usual pitfalls of music fame, the answer was a direct one: moderation. Apparently it has worked over time and kept Shane and his music alive and well. Honors still flow and sales of their music continue.

With all of that there is one area that Shane would like to explore. “ I would like to write a hit song. For the first time, I have some ideas.”

For information regarding the Kingston Trio and Bob Shane, visit the group’s official website at www.thekingstontrio.com/

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