Songs that speak of experiences common to all people never get old.
Melodies from bygone eras still play in the memories of older generations, waiting to be discovered by the young. Such is the case with The Kingston Trio, a folk music group that captured the hearts of millions of Americans over the past six decades.
Camelot Theater will showcase the music of that iconic group with performances by a trio of local folk musicians, but this is not just another tribute band. One of the musicians — Bob Haworth — was a member of The Kingston Trio for about 20 years. The other two — John Hollis and Andrew Brock — are accomplished guitarists in their own right who share with Haworth a deep appreciation for the famous trio’s tunes.
“We are calling it ‘Spotlight on The Kingston Trio,’ and like all of our spotlight presentations, the show consists of stories about the lives of the musicians, the history of the band and its songs,” says the show’s director Presila Quinby. “Of course, there’s lots of music performed in between the short stories.”
The show previews Thursday, Aug. 9, opens Friday, Aug. 10, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 26, at the community theater, 101 Talent Ave. Tickets are $20 for the preview, $26 to $33 for all other performances, and can be purchased at camelottheatre.org or by calling 541-535-5250.
“Most of The Kingston Trio’s songs are stories about real things that happen to real people,” Haworth says. “We might be singing about something that happened a long time ago, but similar things happen today.”
“The Kingston Trio played an important role in the evolution of popular music,” Quinby says. “They broadened the definition of folk music and made people feel joyous.”
Quinby credits the group with opening the door for popular acceptance of later folk artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and others.
According to Haworth, the trio traces its roots to singer and songwriter Dave Guard.
“He was playing Calypso music in the San Francisco Bay Area at bars, and different musicians accompanied him every night,” he says. “The loosely knit group was called Dave Guard and the Calypsonians.”
A publicity agent came to a performance and liked the music, but told Guard the group was too big and too loose, Haworth says.
“So Dave got Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane to sign on and changed the name to the Kingston Trio because Calypso originated in Kingston, Jamaica,” he says.
One of the trio’s original songs, “Tom Dooley,” catapulted the trio to fame in 1958.
“It was one of those freakish hits that came out of nowhere and established the group,” he says. “A deejay in Salt Lake City played ‘Tom Dooley’ from the group’s first album. People liked it and it caught on.”
“Tom Dooley” is the ballad of a Civil War-era man sentenced to hang for the murder of a young woman. According to Haworth, the song was written by the condemned man while he was sitting in his jail cell.
“In 1958 the song also caught the attention of a deejay from Denver, who broadcast ‘Tom Dooley’ and nothing else over and over again all night long,” Haworth says with a chuckle. “That enraged some fraternity members from Boulder who came down, kidnapped the deejay and took him to Kansas to make him stop playing it.”
The tune was the first in a long list of hits recorded by The Kingston Trio.
“They sold more albums than any other group in the late 1950s and early 1960s,” Haworth says.
Another early song of the group is “M.T.A.” It’s the funny tale of a man who could never return home because of a Boston Transit Authority fare increase. “Scotch and Soda,” a song about a man who is high on love, also was constantly heard in homes and on car radios in the late ‘50s.
Yet, in spite of their rapid rise to stardom, the members of The Kingston Trio didn’t always see things eye to eye. Guard left the group in 1961 and was replaced by John Stewart. The band disbanded in 1967 and reformed in 1969 without Reynolds.
Haworth, who had performed with The Brothers Four for 15 years, joined the trio in 1985 when Roger Gambill, the group’s tenor guitarist passed away.
“I was the seventh tenor guitar replacement after Nick Reynolds left,” Haworth notes.
Reynolds rejoined and left the group several times over the years.
Haworth, who performed with the trio until 2005, says one of the things he loved most about touring with the group was getting to meet a lot of people in the industry.
“We did shows with Peter Paul and Mary, Smothers Brothers, Barry McGuire, Judy Collins and other well-known artists,” he says.
Hollis has performed with Haworth for about 18 months.
“I was already familiar with a lot of the material that Bob was playing so we work together easily,” he says. “Our music is like an ancient form of weaving. We both know when to fill in the holes. If you really listen to Kingston Trio music, you discover a lot of nuance in their arrangements and in their vocal presentations. We honor that and try to get it right.”
Haworth, who plays guitar and banjo, adds that he scribed the arrangements for the Camelot performance so that each of the three musicians gets as close as possible to the sound of the original trio.
“We are going to perform “Tom Dooley,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Tijuana Jail,” and 23 other songs considered Kingston Trio classics,” he says. “We expect older folks will come and relive the music of their youth, but I hope young people come to the performance too. They can see what the folk music of the ‘50s and ‘60s was all about, learn about the history of The Kingston Trio and find out what happened to the original members.”
In 2000, The Kingston Trio was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Eight years later, they were inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. They also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
“It’s not just a nostalgia trip,” Hollis adds. “The music has validity. The music and subject matter are timeless.”