Thursday, June 17, 2010
THE KINGSTON TRIO
FROM THE HUNGRY i and THE COLLEGE CONCERT
Over fifty years have passed since the The Kingston Trio's close harmonies first made an impact on record buyers. Sporting haircuts that you could set your watch by, with vocal arrangements as sharp as their matching shirts, these guys were also excellent musicians. Their success was a product of possessing a fine ear for arranging traditional tunes coupled with raw talent. Commercially, folk music hit a rare peak in the early 60s due to the pioneering work of Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds.
Criticized by purists at the time for taking more of a populist approach to the music that they turned out, hindsight reveals more versatility than audience pandering in their material.
From the Hungry i was the second release by the group in 1959 and was excerpted from two nights of recordings made during their month long engagement at this venerable San Francisco venue. "Tic Tic Tic" is my personal favorite. Tight playing and singing is the rule, rather than the exception with nary a note out of place.
Despite their appeal, they were often dogged by a dark, disingenuous cloud for claiming traditional songs that had fallen into the category of public domain as their own. It's one thing to co-opt dusty old melodies from another century (and many artists did so), though when they attempted to take credit for Pete Seeger's (co-written by Joe Hickerson) poignant "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", he politely asked that they drop any pretense of authorship.
For all that, their rendition is nothing short of perfect. Featured on The College Concert, it is one of many highlights on their first live disc with John Stewart who had replaced founding member Dave Guard in 1961. Guard's departure was apparently not amicable.
Nostalgia has been the primary driver for having these discs in rotation for the past few weeks. My parents had both of these LPs and I used to listen to them quite a bit as a child. (The cartoon depiction of the streets of San Francisco on the Hungry i album cover seemed like a page out of a coloring book to a four year old and I used it accordingly.)
Both sets hold up quite well.
The lads began to fall out of favor in the mid-sixties as more serious social concerns called for stronger language. People who chose to get their folk on now turned to singer/songwriters whose work reflected the turbulence of the times. British invasion bands helped swing the pendulum back toward rock.
Inevitably, they would call it a day in 1967, though the act has been revived with different line-ups in the intervening years.
I have made a few alterations to this write up in light of some great information passed on by writer Jim Moran via the comment section. His blog http://compvid101.blogspot.com/ is a treasure trove of insightful pieces on folk music . Currently, there is an excellent post on Bob Shane which is a must read for fans of the Kingston Trio.