Keeping up with The Kingston Trio
February 10, 2012
The folk music group the Kingston Trio, which will play the Egyptian Theatre Feb. 16 and 17, is more than the sum of its parts.
The trio formed in the Bay Area and featured Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds.
Through the decades, the group has experienced line-up changes due to health concerns, deaths and intra-band tension, but the music continues to strike a chord with its fans, said George Grove, who joined the trio 36 years ago.
The lineup then was Grove, Roger Gambill and Bob Shane.
"When I joined, I was the new guy and was a deer in the headlights," Grove said with a laugh during a phone call from his home in Las Vegas, Nev. "I didn’t know what my place was and how I fit in the food chain. But as the years passed, and I contributed what I do, which is all the orchestral scoring for our pops concerts and producing, I’ve kind of been the glue through the personnel changes."
The changes included Gambill’s death by heart attack in 1985.
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"We reacquired Nick Reynolds, one of the original members, and for the next 11 years, the group was Bob and Nick, who were two of the original members, and me," Grove said.
The next big personnel change during Grove’s time was in 2003 when Shane suffered a heart attack and retired.
His replacement was former trio member Bill Zorn, who, ironically, was the guy Grove replaced 1976.
"Bill and I have a relationship going way back and he has a relationship with the group past and present," Grove said.
In 2008, Reynolds succumbed to a heart attack and was replaced by Rick Dougherty, formerly of the Kingston Trio’s contemporary, the Limeliters.
These days the group consists of Grove, Zorn and Dougherty, and while there is not one original member, the group has evolved in a way that the present lineup can’t be defined as a tribute group.
"The group is something where you can’t just plug in a new voice and expect it to sound the same," Grove explained. "We have that intangible element, which we call the X factor.
"When I was in college studying music, the professor said that a good French horn player could play the fundamental or root note, hum the fifth note in the scale and the 10th note would happen on its own," he said. "The way the harmonics of the instrument was set up, the horn player could play a triad by himself and it’s the same with us. Simply put, when the three of us sing together and something happens on top of it and we’re proud of that."
Still, if anyone is worried about the quality and arrangements of such Kingston Trio hits as "The Reverend Mr. Black," "The Tijuana Jail," "Scotch and Soda" and the breakthough "Tom Dooley," Grove wants to put those concerns to rest.
"Ninety-five percent or more of the songs we play on stage are what people hope they hear," he said. "I feel like a curator of a museum and I feel a deep level of responsibility to perform some great music. Not only is the music great, but it’s important to our audiences. When people spend a portion of their formative years listening to a particular artist, it becomes more important to them musically than what the contemporary fads are.
"We are fortunate to be one of those groups that can say the music we play is the soundtrack to people’s lives," he said. "In fact, I feel the same way because the music became important to me at that special time of my life, as well."
Grove was introduced to the original Kingston Trio while living in North Carolina.
His older sister brought home the album " From the Hungry i," which was a live Kingston Trio record that was recorded at the Hungry i, a nightclub hotspot in San Francisco during the 1950s.
"I was fascinated with it, and not just what took place during the songs, but I was fascinated what happened between the songs," he said. "I listened to the pattern and the humor that was used. There was something intellectual to it and something that I wanted to aspire to do. There was something kind of insouciant about their attitude that appealed to me."
That attitude is something the Kingston Trio continues today.
"We just don’t just get on stage and sing any of the 400 recorded songs in our repertoire," Grove said. "We talk between songs and tell people stories about the songs. We talk to them about what’s taking place in today’s social scene."
The trio does shy away from talking politics.
"We all have our own political views, but know that getting political in this day and age is a death wish," Grove said with a laugh. "No matter how strong you believe in something, half the people we talk to believe in the opposite way. So, we keep up the party attitude and draw people into the songs and make them feel like we’re in their livingroom."
For Grove, the one song in the repertoire that speaks to him more than any other is "The Reverend Mr. Black."
"The reason is I grew up in a very close family," he said. "My dad was a schoolteacher at one point of his life, but felt like he would have been good as a preacher. It just never happened for him, so one of the ways I remember him on a daily basis is singing that song because at the end the lyrics go, ‘because the Reverend Mr. Black was my old man.’ I kind of look to the heavens and wink."
Even so, on a more general level, Grove said any the songs could become his favorite during any given gig.
"It all depends on the way a song will fall," he said. "If the three voices are blending perfectly together and the instruments are gelling, it feels so good."
The Kingston Trio will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Thursday, Feb. 16, and Friday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $50 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.