Friday, October 3, 2008

Kingston Trio Co-Founder Nick Reynonlds Passes On

Nick Reynolds, who with Dave Guard and Bob Shane founded the Kingston Trio, passed on Wednesday at the age of 75. He had been suffering from acute respiratory disease.

Reynolds was born July 27, 1933 in San Diego, California, but grew up on Coronado Island, California. His father was a Navy captain and a guitarist with a penchant for old folk songs who often led the family in singalongs. This naturally created an interest in music on Reynolds part. He graduated from Coronado High School in 1951, then attended the University of Arizona. It was there that he met Bob Shane. He met Dave Guard through Shane, who had played music with him before. Together they formed the Kingston Trio in 1957. They were heavily influenced by Pete Seeger's group The Weavers and The Kingston Trio originally performed much of the same political songs that The Weavers had performed when they were playing colleges. Noting that The Weavers had been blacklisted during the Red Scare, the Kingston Trio made a conscious decision to shift more traditional, apolitical folk music. They were discovered at a club, the Cracked Pot, located around Menlo College in Atherton, California.

The Kingston Trio's first record was also their first hit, a rendition of the 19th century traditional folk song "Tom Dooley." It went to #1 in 1958 and earned a gold record. The Kingston Trio would follow "Tom Dooley" with more hits, including "The Tijuana Jail, (which went to #12), "M.T.A." (which went to #15), and "A Worried Man" (which went to #29, all in 1959. In 1960 they would have hits with "El Matador" (which went to #32) and "Bad Man Blunder" (which went to #36) in 1960.

In 1961 Guard left the Trio to form his own group, The Whiskeyhill Singers. Reynolds and Shane carried on without him,, replacing him with John Stewart. The two continued to have hits, including "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" in 1962, "Greenback Dollar" in 1963, "The Reverend Mr. Black (which went to #8)" also in 1963, and "Desert Pete" that same year. At one point in the early Sixties the Kingston Trio had four separate albums in the top ten selling albums. Sadly, the British Invasion would spell the end of the Kingston Trio's enormous success. Although they continued to record and their albums would do well enough, they never had another hit single. The Kingston Trio disbanded in 1967, although Shane would form a New Kingston Trio in 1969.

After the Trio disbanded, Nick Reynolds moved to Oregon where he raised his family. He would reunite with the Trio in 1981, in a line up which included both the original members and new members (it was actually more than a trio at that point). On 1983 he would work with John Stewart and Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac fame) on the CD Revenge of The Budgie. He would reunite with the Trio again in 1987 and 1988 and stayed with them for 11 more years before retiring.

Arguably the Kingston Trio was among the most influential groups of all time. They would have an influence on bands as diverse as The Beach Boys and The Byrds. Perhaps their biggest impact on the American music scene is that it was their success that sparked the folk music boom of the early Sixties. Quite simply, they paved the way for such artists as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and The New Christy Minstrels. While they were sometimes criticised for their decidedly apolitical music of their early days, it must be pointed out that this not only allowed them the success necessary to spark the folk music band, but it set them apart from other folk artists. While other artists were performing decidedly political fare from the 20th century, the Kingston Trio was performing such traditional songs as "Tom Dooley," "500 Miles (credited to Hedy West, but apparently based on a traditional song she learned from her paternal grandmother)," "Sloop John B (also recorded by The Beach Boys later on), and "Old Joe Clark." And they could be diverse in their styles, performing everything from traditional folk to what would later be termed bluegrass to calypso. As a founding member of the group, the man who handled the middle section of the group's three part harmonies, and who provided them with instrumentation ranging from guitar to percussion instruments such as bongos and congas, Nick Reynolds was a large part of the Trio's success. He definitely earned his place in American music history.

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