Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday Coffee House: The Kingston Trio

I think it was 1957. I was 11 years old and had begun the habit of falling asleep listening to the radio that was beside my bed. The DJ said something like, If this song continues it meteoric rise on the charts, it may well be the beginning of a new music trend.

The song was The Ballad of Tom Dooley. In 1958 the sales of Tom Dooley went gold the “folk revival” was born. Perhaps “folk revival” is the not the best descriptive phrase. Prior to 1958 there were folk songs and folk song singers—people like Woody Guthrie and Ewan MacColl and Pete Seeger and Cisco Houston and Leadbelly and…—around. What happened when Tom Dooley hit the top of the charts is that mainstream America became interested in the music. Folk music became not just the venue of long-haired, socialist, do-gooder, pinko intellectuals, but of the general public. The Kingston Trio and Tom Dooley started it all.

NOTE: Again I remind those who use Firefox as your browser: I am finding that Firefox will not play embedded videos and audios. However, my other browsers (IE and Opera) work fine.

Tom Dooley

The original Kingston Trio, Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard, formed in college where they took quiescent folks songs and added upbeat styling and humor to them. For example:

A Worried Man

Just as Bob Gibson, who was featured in last Wednesday’s Coffee House, was centered in Chicago, The Kingston Trio sang out of San Francisco. Their first real professional gig was a one week booking at San Francisco’s Purple Onion that lasted for months. After a tour that took them from Reno to Chicago to New York City, they returned to San Francisco and performed for standing room only crowds at the famous Hungry i nightclub.

Greenback Dollar

Scotch & Soda

The Reverend Mr. Black

The Patriot Game

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Do you remember the episode of Alley McBeal in which her therapist recommended that she have a theme song to sing in her head? Most of my life I’ve had a song in my mind. The first one I had was sung by the Kingston Trio:

One More Town

If you’re interested, the Kingston Trio (in a new form) are still around:

The Kingston Trio Today


  1. I grew up listening to my parents folk albums. Their favorites were the Kingston Trio, Harry Belefonte, and The New Christy Minstrels, and we played those albums 'till the grooves wore out.

  2. I never knew the history behind the Tom Dooley song. How interesting to read now that I live in the southeast area. My sister and I used to turn our lincoln log (the real wooden kind- not that fake plastic crap they have nowadays) buckets over and bang on them with the wooden lincoln logs and sign about Tom Dooley.

  3. Almost forgot about the coffee house. I am glad I didn’t. The Kingston Trio were my favorite.

  4. Nick, I was 7 years old in 1957. I used to enjoy listing to the radio when i would go to sleep as well.
    Thank you for the walk down memory lane with the Kinston Trio. Now I know whay my next vidoe posting marathon will be,if I can find them!
    that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Hugs and Blessings to you my friend!

  5. You're introducing me to a whole new world music wise Nick, thanks. :)

  6. Mike Golch sent me over. Haven't heard Tom Dooley in years. Have a great day. :)

  7. what an excellent post!... and thanks for reminding us about the contributions of a great trio. =)

  8. ps. Oh yeah! - at least some of your waiting is over... there's something new over at my castle. ;)

  9. I like your Coffee Houses. Please keep them coming.

  10. My dad had a Kingston Trio album - I started listening to it because I loved the cover - blue with maplines in black I believe - I love Folk Music to this day!

  11. The Kingston Trio sang some of my favorites back then - I was 16 and in high school in '57 - I remember listening to the radio very late as well. ec

  12. OMG...I remember the Kingston Trio...especially the album Live from the Hungry I! And they're still around, you say? Goodness me, that certainly says something for them as a group.

    Thanks for visiting, Nick. Good to hear from you.

    Take care.

  13. THOMAS: Strangely, my parents had no music albums! I suppose I brought music into the house, even though my father had a professional quality singing voice.

    ENOLA: I didn’t know the real history behind Tom Dooley—or “Dula” as he spelled his name—until only about ten or so years ago. I had seen the movie staring Michael Landon as Tom Dooley; however, it was even less historically accurate than the song. After reading about the real Dula, I real believe that he was innocent of the murder of Laura, even though he was tried, convicted, and hanged for it.

  14. I saw some Kingston Trio CDs at the store the other day and thought of you! :D

  15. I now look forward to the coffee house. You have introduced me to some wonderful music that I would otherwise have not known about. The song Greenback Dollar has a real driving beat to it. And I love the mellowness of the love song Scotch and Soda. Thank you!

  16. To songs seem so down to earth! I suppose that is why it is called "folk" music.

  17. I do enjoy your coffee house!

  18. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. A couple of notes on the Kingston Trio:

    1) The original "Hungy i" in San Francisco was torn down, and I think it's a parking lot now. However, there is a new establishment of the same name - and it's a strip club. I swear I am not making this up.

    2) many KT songs are very fun and pretty easy to play on the ukelele. Try it for yourself!