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Red, White & Blue

Kingston Trio
Ross Meurer

Tres Chic: The Kingston Trio, leaders of the folk entrée into mainstream American music, regroup for two shows of folky favorites at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom on Thursday and Friday nights.

Folk revolutionaries regroup for USA musical heritage tour

By Kelly Luker

WHEN THE HISTORY OF FOLK music is written, luminaries like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez will lead the chapters while other names--like Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane and Dave Guard--may only rate a footnote. Too bad, because without the last three--better known as the Kingston Trio--chances are that the last couple of generations would never have given a nod to this historic and revolutionary genre of American music.

Formed in 1957 while the three young men were attending Bay Area colleges, the Kingston Trio found enormous commercial success interpreting classic folk songs and tunes of its members own penning. That, unfortunately, did not translate to critical success. Critics derided these three clean-cut, well-to-do college boys who crooned protest songs or moaned about tough times.

But the trio's bouncy acoustic numbers sold in the millions and primed a generation of saddle-shoe-wearing teens for the anti-war movement.

Although commercially viable, the threesome's tunes also bridged the era between the innocence of malt shops and the disillusionment of the post-Kennedy era. The three opened doors for future protest singers like Dylan and Baez and brought new attention to old folkies like Seeger, who originally wrote the hit made popular by the Kingston Trio, then by Peter, Paul and Mary, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." But respect was hard to find.

Until now.

"We've finally been accepted by the folk music purists," laughs Reynolds, reached by phone while on tour back East. "But we never called ourselves folk singers, we called ourselves entertainers."

And entertain they did. Songs like "They Call the Wind Mariah," "Scotch and Soda" and "Greenback Dollar" garnered the Kingston Trio record sales matched only years later by the Beatles. But after 10 years of constant touring--and a waning interest in folk music--the trio disbanded in 1967.

"I retired to Oregon to become a cattle rancher for 20 years," Reynolds says. But the group reformed in 1972 with Bob Shane, George Grove and Roger Gambill to tour and record. After the untimely death of Gambill, Reynolds returned to the trio and has been with it for the last decade.

The three men now look more grandfatherly than collegiate. Of course, so do their fans. "The audience is mostly from about 40 to 70 years old," Reynolds notes. "But they also bring their kids, their grandkids and their great-grandkids." And the crowd is usually close to capacity.

For a couple of hours, baby boomers can tune into a soundtrack from a romanticized past, an era in their lives that didn't foresee strangling mortgages, troubled offspring and a downsized economy.

At this point in his life, Reynolds is fairly sanguine about getting overlooked for credit in the Folk Revolution. "I know there wouldn't have been a market for music like Dylan's if it weren't for us," says the singer. "The promoters were looking for rock & roll until we came along."

Reynolds says he gets his due when someone comes up after the show telling him, "If not for you, I would never have picked up a guitar."

Asked what's changed with the folk scene over the years, Reynolds is quick to reply. "Nothing's really changed with folk music--there are really great folks playing right now, like Nanci Griffith, " he says.

Reynolds, who performs with Shane, Grove and special guest John Stewart--a Kingston Trio member from 1961 to 1967--at the Cocoanut Grove this week, says he is looking forward to visiting Santa Cruz. "It's a beautiful town," he says, "And besides, my family will be coming there to join me."

The Kingston Trio performs at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom, 400 Beach St., SC, on Thursday and Friday (8:30pm.) Tickets cost $26.50 and are available through BASS outlets, Streetlight Records or online at www.ticketweb.com. Both shows are 21 and over. For more info, call 458-5057.

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From the Oct. 2-8, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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