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Friday 12 Jul 2024

The Kingston Trio
JR Hafer

Christine Grail

The Kingston Trio lives! A half-century after their first hit, "Tom Dooley," the fan base remains massive, strong and growing. Although the players are different, now, the songs and the spirit remain the same.

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The Kingston Trio (above, 1958 and 2008) lifted obscure folk music to the top of the charts. Some of their hits included "A Worried Man"; "Greenback Dollar" and "MTA"�€” a song about a man stuck on the Boston subway. By 1960, the Kingston Trio was the number one vocal group in the world. David Hajdu, in "Positively 4th Street," described the Kingston Trio as a neatly groomed, "WASPy-looking" group of athletic young men. "Their music was traditional," wrote Hajdu, but played in a robust ... polished style."

The group, a blend of musical styles, witty lyrics and on-stage fun, were hard to resist. The Kingston Trio sold millions of records, each one topping the Billboard "Hot 100" chart. The group was a compelling version of the American Dream. Few, it seems, knowingly heard the messages imbedded in the fun lyrics.

In 1967, the Kingston Trio split, a victim of "The British Invasion" and internal disputes. In 1973, founding members, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds, reformed the group, adding Bill Zorn on guitar. Three years later, George Grove replaced Zorn.

As a boy, the group inspired Grove. The unique sound and clever lyrics hooked him. He decided to become a member of the band, not just a fan. "I had Kingston Trio mania," says Grove. His life ambition, to be a musician, also meant joining the Kingston Trio.

Grove graduated from Wake Forest University, joined the Army and played in the Army Band. In early 1970s, he moved to Nashville to hone his skills. He worked as a studio musician and as a touring sideman. "I learned a lot," says Grove, "from Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Roy Acuff, among others.

For the last 32 years, the Kingston Trio changed members, resolved feuds and gave about 10,000 shows. The success of their music and style remains, after 50 years. At the least, their lasting success confirms style and wit add up to fun.

Grove enjoys every moment. "I've no plans to retire," he says. His youthful enthusiasm, for the Kingston Trio, hasn't waned. "Despite the grueling travel schedule," says Grove, "I'm not fed up. Besides there are new songs on the page and shows booked through 2010. It's all fun." Yet, he says, "Amid the travel and shows, I find time to write and record my own material." He's had several successful solo albums. "There's so much to do," says Grove. "There's no time to think about retiring."

George Grove is living evidence that dreams do come true. In this interview, he offers candid insight into the Kingston Trio, explaining how they managed to remain popular for more than 50 years. He also talks about how he made his own dream come true.


Bob Shane, Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds,
about 1958


For everyone, who knew George Grove, there was no doubt about it; the Kingston Trio was his destiny. George was only nine years old when the group formed and just a few years older when he made the prophetic statement to his family, "I'm going to be singing in that group one of these days." By George, he was right!

The attic of the Grove home, in Hickory, North Carolina, was a place for serious rehearsal, focused dedication and love of music. When other kids were on the baseball diamond or basketball court, George and his pals were in the attic making music.

Around the same time, the late 1950s, a folk music group, the Kingston Trio, was the number one vocal group in the world. George borrowed their first album, "Kingston Trio: live at the Hungry i," from his sister. The witty lyrics and music hooked him.

The Kingston Trio had a novel style. They were freer and wittier than the more closely controlled rock and roll, of the time. Grove liked their finger picking and how they strummed the acoustic guitar and banjo. The three-part harmonies, of the Kingston Trio, their often poignant and always clever lyrics enthralled him. Grove learned all the instrumental and vocal parts, for every Kingston Trio song.

Folk music has always been around. The US folk music emerged among slaves, working the plantation fields of the American south. The earliest examples, of this style of folk music include quasi-spiritual songs, such as "Down by the Riverside" and "We Shall Overcome."

After the US Civil War, folk music moved toward the mainstream and grew more popular. Often performed in an amateurish way, the plight and hopes of the poor remained the message. Hope for a better tomorrow, often in the arms of gawd, reflected the survival lifestyle of those who created and performed folk music, and built America.

In the 20th century, folk music took on a new importance. Greater awareness, fostered by a social Darwin style of journalism, in the early years of the century, improved the standing of folk music. More polished writers and performers, such as Woody Guthrie, allowed radio to bring the music to a large, national audience.

The Weavers raised the standing of folk music still higher, in the late 1940s. They popularized traditional folk songs, such as "On Top of Old Smoky," "The Midnight Special" and "Goodnight Irene," which was the biggest hit for the Weavers. The popularity of their music and message attracted much scrutiny and political pressure, in the early days of McCarthyism.

About 1953, The Weavers split. Pushed by political pressure, Decca records annulled their contract. Pete Seeger continued as a solo act. He peaked, in 1955, but remains the folk music icon, to this day."

Pete Seeger wilted. Carolyn Hester, a Texas-born singer, picked up the folk music mantel. She pulled folk music fully into the 20th century, and homes in suburban America.

Her voice, Dave van Ronk told journalist, David Hajdu, "was electrifying [; she had a] set of pipes, very, very expressive." "Beauty, talent, charm," says van Ronk, Hester "had it all. If any folk [woman would] make the big time ... it was going to be Carolyn."*

Hester wasn't so sure. Her role model was Seeger. She preferred traditional folk more than pop music masquerading as folk.

She declined an offer, from Albert B. Grossman, to join Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey. Mary Travers accepted and Peter, Paul and Mary found stardom. A matter of principal kept Hester behind the curve.

The door was open, wide, for Joan Baez. Her voice, a soprano, was true as a bell, with a three-octave range. She could write. She wanted stardom. What got in her way were an unforgiving social conscience and Bob Dylan.

In 1958, Baez performed in the rapidly multiplying coffee-houses, in the Boston area, especially Harvard Square. She was an instant hit. Café Yana and Club 47 attracted the most talented, including Baez, her sister, Mimi and, eventually, Bob Dylan, dragged along by Baez.

David Hajdu, I think, wrote of walking into Harvard Square, late on a cold, probably February, night. As he approached the Square, a clean, clear sound overtook him. He followed his ears, to the source of the angelic voice. He realized, before he saw, that it was Baez, performing around midnight, probably at Club 47, on Mount Auburn Street. Nothing captures Baez, her eerie, reassuring and caring voice, raised in song, better than this anecdote.

It was in this developing folk music world the Kingston Trio appeared, to up the popularity, of the music, message and wit, once again.

After the Weavers, Pete Seeger proclaimed himself the Johnny Appleseed of music. He toured, widely, often performing free or a low fee. To help pay the bills, Seeger sold mimeographed booklets.

About 1953, Seeger sold one of his booklets, "How to Play the 5-string Banjo," to Dave Guard. This was after a show at Stanford University. The results of that sale echo, loudly, today.

In Hawaii, a teenager, Donald David Guard, liked new melodies, with a Polynesian flavour. He enjoyed the ukulele and guitar playing, of the local bands. Dave noticed the music attracted the young women, too.

At Punahou School, in grade seven, Dave Guard and his friend, Bob Shane, learned to play the ukulele, the basics of slack-key guitar and other stringed Hawaiian instruments. Later, they performed at parties and other events. They mostly sang folk songs, usually cover versions of the Weavers.

A few years later, Dave, Bob and their friend, Nick Reynolds, formed a band called the Calypsonians. After Frank Webber, a music entrepreneur, became involved, about 1957, the name changed to the Kingston Trio.

"Kingston" called to mind images of Jamaica. Harry Belafonte romanticized Kingston Township, in Jamaica, in his hit records. Besides, the word, Kingston and its related images, didn't drift too far from the Calypsonians, either.

The three guys, just out of college, realized that America was ready for something new. David Hajdu, in "Positively 4th Street," describes the Kingston Trio as neatly groomed, a WASPy-looking group of athletic young men. Its music was traditional, but played in "robust, highly polished style."

Their smooth three-part harmony mixed music forms. Obvious, to any ear, were the influences of Jamaican reggae, calypso and folk. Large doses of pop culture, comedy and non-partisan commentary made the blend work. This style created a musical legacy no other folk group would equal.

Frank Werber, a young publicist, working San Francisco, saw the Kingston Trio at a small club, called the "Cracked Pot." He arranged for an eight-month booking at the "Purple Onion," a trendy folk club in San Francisco. After months of polishing the act, the Kingston Trio moved up to the "Hungry i."

The "i," itself, is a legend. The club was a major showcase. The careers, of the Smothers Brothers, Lenny Bruce, Jonathon Winters, Barbara Streisand, Bill Cosby, Mort Sahl and Woody Allen, among others, got a huge boost after appearing at the "i." A week or two at the "Hungry i" put you two steps away from the "Tonight Show."

The "Hungry i," a cellar club, in the North Beach area of San Francisco attracted a mishmash of music people. Agents, recording artists, recording scouts and music journalists haunted the "i." So, too, did a collage of unusual, pre-hippy, freethinkers.

A week, at the "Hungry i," helped the Kingston Trio and the group was musically different and lyrically deft. To the conservative, always cautious music business, the Kingston Trio posed no threat. The appearance help them set up a tour and sign to Capitol Records.

The Weavers sang, clearly, about social issues the mainstream wanted swept under the rug. Joan Baez teetered on the brink of backing a revolution or so it seems. The Kingston Trio, clean-cut, wearing vertical stripped shirts and Dockers, chased a giggle and a good time for all more than social change.

The Kingston Trio won its first Grammy award, in the Best Country and Western Performance category, in 1959. There was no Folk Music category, at the time. The winning song was "Tom Dooley."

"Tom Dooley," a dreary dirge, emerged after the US Civil War. Tom Dula, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, hanged for murdering his sweetheart, Laura Foster. A ballad, of love, lust and murder in the western hills, of North Carolina, involved in a love triangle and Dula accused Foster of giving him syphilis. The lasting message, ostensibly written by Dula, as he waited his fate, seems deeper: the evil of lingering prejudice arising from the Civil War.

Gussied up, the song stayed at number one, on the Billboard "Hot 100," for 18 weeks. It was the top song of 1958. The message likely lost its way in the finely polished, quickened meter version by the Kingston Trio. Lucky, for all, the message escaped notice by those who suppress such sentiment.

In 1960, the Kingston Trio won a second Grammy. This time, the Grammy was in the newly minted Folk category. The new category was a response to the success and popularity of The Kingston Trio, Carolyn Hester and other folk acts.

As a child, George Grove fell in love with the music and the on-stage style of the Kingston Trio. He collected everything the band recorded. He listened to "Three Jolly Coachmen," "Early Morning Rain," "Blowing in the Wind," "A Worried Man," "MTA," as well as "Tom Dooley," over and over.

In the summers, during his high school years, Grove accompanied his family to their mountain home, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. He took various jobs, at the local resorts and attractions. Once, he portrayed the bad cowpoke, shot, by the sheriff, as he tried to rob the Tweetsie Railroad.

Grove wearied of dying several times a day. He started singing at the Tweetsie Railroad Saloon instead. His performance career began at fifteen.

While working the resort towns, of the Appalachians, Grove often stopped to listen to a blind street singer. Working for tips, the blind singer always attracted a large crowd. Talent will out; the blind singer was Doc Watson.

Watson often sang of Tom Dula. Statesville, a town close to, Hickory, North Carolina, where Grove lived, hosted the Dula trial. The nearness stirred the interest of Grove.

From Watson, Grove heard how Dula hanged for murdering his lover, Laura Foster. This version, of the song, was mournful and dismal. The song appeared shortly after the Dula hanging, suggesting a measure of controversy about the decision.

The Kingston Trio changed the informal ballad of Tom Dula. Originally, a dirge, of sorts, Dula became Dooley, for fluency. The beat hastened to pop music level. Most all, "Tom Dooley" showed the knack of the Kingston Trio for weaving local legends into clever, lasting hit songs, with a message.

Another Kingston Trio hit, "MTA," rooted in a local Boston legend. In the 1950s, as suburbs sprawled farther away from city centre, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) put a surcharge on the longest subway routes. To get off, at the farthest reaches, of a route, passengers had to pay an extra nickel or dime. The hero, of "MTA," didn't have enough money to get off the subway. He had to ride the MTA, forever. As he passed his home station, his wife tossed him a brown bag, containing a meal. A silly song about the lunacy of bureaucratic decision makers.

Well assembled, musically, and lyrically clever, "MTA" tweaked the imagination of America. This was the era of grey flannel suits, buttoned-down collars and the company man. The knack, of Kingston Trio, for telling a relevant tale made Americans spend their pocket money.


George Grove

Although the Kingston Trio achieved huge success, without him, Grove never lost sight of his dream. Joining the Kingston Trio was his goal. The success of the group, without him, in no way influenced pursuit of his dream.

Grove graduated from Wake Forest University, earning a graduate degree in Jazz Composition. "Louis Armstrong," says Groves, "claimed Jazz was just American folk music." Grove joined the Army, but injury kept him from Vietnam. He landed in the Army Band and one step closer to his dream.

After the Army, Grove moved to Nashville. He honed his writing and music skills, and learned humility from the experts, at the Grand Ole Opry. Grove worked as a studio musician and sideman, backing up Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn and Charlie Pride, among others.

In 1976, Bob Shane, of the Kingston Trio, called Grove. "Would he audition for the group," asked Shane. Seemingly, the call came out of blue.

Grove celebrated his 29th birthday, auditioning for the Kingston Trio. "I didn't have to prepare for the audition," says Grove, "I'd been preparing all my life!" Two weeks later, Grove joined Bob Shane and Roger Gambill, in Chicago.

Grove was the newest member of the Kingston Trio. Thirty-two years later, Grove travels 30 weeks a year, with the Trio. They perform all over the world, at sold out shows. Dreams do come true. Yes, it can happen to you.

In May, 2008, Grub Street caught up with George Grove, for a brief chat about the Kingston Trio and his experiences.


Bill Zorn, George Grove and Rick Dougherty (2008)

Grub Street (GS) You began playing at the Grand Ole Opry. What did that experience teach you?

George Grove (GG) I was so fortunate to be able to play with many of the old masters -- people like Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash, folks like that. I learned to listen, I learned what to play, but more important, I learned what not to play.

GS How did you like your time in Nashville?

GG My time in Nashville was instructive and humbling. There were some good times and there were some better times, all of which led me to where I am now.

GS George, when you joined The Kingston Trio it was Bob Shane, Roger Gambill and you. Was there a bass player, as well?

GG There were three musicians in the back line, in those days: Stan Kaess (pronounced "case") on the bass, Ben Schubert on fiddle and mandolin, and Tom Green on percussion.

GS But the group had usually been just four musicians, correct?

GG That's right: the Trio and a bass player. However, the reason Bob Shane wanted the extra two players, in the 1970s and 1980s, was twofold. First, that was the era of rock and roll, and Bob wanted the group to have more drive to it. Obviously, drums and electric mandolin supplied that drive. Second, all the guys were intelligent, humorous, and much fun to be with, so our tours became a rolling party!

GS There's much confusion about all the comings and goings, in the group, before and after you became a member.

GG It isn't confusing to me! Ha!The lineup, from the beginning, is as follows,

1957-1961: Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds

1961-1967: Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and John Stewart

1967-1973: Bob Shane and side men as "New" Kingston Trio

1973-1976: Bob Shane, Roger Gambill and Bill Zorn

1976-1985: Bob Shane, Roger Gambill and George Grove

1985-1988: Bob Shane, George Grove and Bob Haworth

1988-1999: Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and George Grove

1999-2003: Bob Shane, Bob Haworth and George Grove

2003-present: Bill Zorn, Rick Dougherty and George Grove

The Kingston Trio disbanded in 1967, amidst the rising popularity of rock 'n roll in general and the Beatles, specifically. AsNick Reynolds said, "The Beatles were a freight train you had to get out of the way of." Winston Churchill's quote notwithstanding -- "That's the type of pedantry up with which I shall not put" -- the British Invasion overwhelmed many established acts.

The group had taken a huge up-front payment, from Decca Records, to move from Capital Records. Decca wasn't happy about the break up. It wondered how to recoup the money.

Bob Shane was working a solo act, on Decca, and having a hit, "Honey," written by Bobby Russell. Decca let the exact arrangement slip to Bobby Goldsboro, promoted it, heavily, and he the huge hit. Shane then recorded "Little Green Apples," also a Bobby Russell song, but the record company let it slip to O. C. Smith, who had the huge hit.

So, Bob decides to let the solo career go. Still, he wanted to perform. He struck a deal for the name, with the Kingston Trio, Incorporated. Until about 1973, Shane worked as the New Kingston Trio, using sidemen to fill out the act.

About 1973, Shane bought the name, the Kingston Trio, and dropped the word, new. That's when Roger Gambill and Bill Zorn joined. I joined, in 1976, replacing Bill Zorn, who moved to England for a while.

After Gambill passed away, in 1985, at age 41, Bill Haworth joined the Kingston Trio. Then Nick Reynolds came back. When he retired, in 1999, Haworth returned until 2003.

In March 2003, Bob Shane had a heart attack that forced him off the road.He still owns the name and wants to tour, but his health comes first. Bob Haworth left, in 2003, too.

Shane asked Bill Zorn to return. Bill had been in the Kingston Trio from 1973-76 and I had replaced him. Rick Dougherty joined, later, in 2005, and the line up has been intact since.

Bob Haworth played with the Brothers Four and became a utility player with the Kingston Trio. He replaced Roger Gambill, after Roger passed away in 1985, then left when Nick Reynolds rejoined in 1988, but came back after Nick Reynolds retired in 1999. When Haworth left, Rick Dougherty, of the Limeliters, took over.

GS To an outsider, the line up is a revolving door. Whew!

GG I can understand that, but it's not to us. This is how the Kingston Trio grew and developed.

GS Bill Zorn lives in Phoenix, Arizona, as does Bob Shane. George, you live in Las Vegas and Rick Dougherty lives in Alameda, California. How and where do you get together to rehearse?

GG We don't rehearse, in the traditional sense. When we are home, we rehearse individually. Then when we go on the road, we put together as an ensemble what we rehearsed as individuals at home.

GS Historically, there have been some notorious feuds within music groups. Have there been any disputes in The Kingston Trio? If so, how do you deal with such issues?

GG The most infamous feud within the Kingston Trio was the one in 1961 that broke up the original group. Dave Guard wanted to expand the musical horizons of the group. He asked Bob and Nick to practice their instruments in order to become better musicians. Bob and Nick saw themselves as "entertainers," not only "musicians," and looking at their ten gold albums replied, "Gee Dave, we seem to have done quite well so far."

There were some business disagreements also, which I won't go into, but the three decided to part. With his excellent songwriting skills, John Stewart took Dave's place seamlessly; they never looked back. The early Stewart years (1961-64) may have been some of the most defining for the sound of The Kingston Trio.

A few years ago, when the group included Bill Zorn, Bob Haworth and me, there was friction. It would take a book to explain the internal problems, of the Kingston Trio, over the years. I'm not writing that book. Every group, of any stature, has internal issues. The bottom line, here, is that despite the usual issues, in any collective effort, there is nothing the Kingston Trio can't do musically, and we enjoy one another both musically and socially.

GS How many instruments do you play George?

GG Because I was an instrumental music major in college, I learned to play many orchestral instruments, my favourite being the bassoon, but I haven't played one since I graduated from Wake Forest University, in 1969. My real instruments are piano, trumpet, guitar and banjo. I additionally play conga drum, although I don't even own one. I probably don't play it correctly, not as a true percussionist, but I play effectively enough to for the few Kingston Trio songs on which I play it.

GS Other than the obvious what is your favourite music?

GG The obvious is obvious. I loveKingston Trio music, specifically, and folk music, in general. I was a big fan of Peter Paul and Mary and the Chad Mitchell Trio. It's rewarding that all of those people are now good friends of mine. I'm also a huge jazz fan - I'd better be, since my masters degree is in Jazz Composition. In particular, I'm a fan of Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. I could teach a course in Jazz History based solely on the lives and music of those two icons.

GS Who are your favourite classical composers living and not living?

GG My favourite composer of all-time would be Frederic Chopin as well as Bach and Beethoven. As for present-day composers, one could hardly do better than John Williams.

GS What would you have been if not a musician?

GG "I'm just a gigolo ...." My father supported my music, but suggested that it would be difficult to make a living at it. He encouraged me to become a doctor and my first 2 1/2 years of college were in a pre-med course. I just didn't like it,; and that's when I switched my major and my heart fully to music.

GS Do you regret anything in your life, musically or personally?

GG Musically, I do regret not having had a teacher who pushed me in improvisation. I had wonderfulteachers from age four through college, and again in graduate school, but none of them pushed me to improvise or compose as I play. As a result, my classical training was matchless, but my jazz playing suffered.

When it comes to my work, the only part I regret is getting so involved in the business of what I do that my writing and arranging has taken second place. That's almost a necessity in today's musical atmosphere. I could have and should have disciplined myself better.

Personally, though, I regret having ever drunk alcohol and doing other recreational drugs, moderate and light though it may have been. Or maybe not!

When I saw the light and quit, except for the occasional glass of great wine, I realized that they had not improved any area of my life, even the recreational side of it. When I finish with this peripatetic lifestyle as a road musician and, hopefully, join the ranks of academics at some university, I intend to have a class or at least part of a class dedicated to the techniques of survival for a musician in the real world, which would decrydebaucheryof any form. It's too difficult an occupation, for any serious musician to be able to devote any part of her- or himself to partying, and still succeed.

GS If you had a crystal ball what would you see as the future of The Kingston Trio?

GG More of the same, I guess. In my thirty-two years with this group, I have not seen the popularity of the music of the Kingston Trio decrease. What I have seen is the economics of the country dictating the kinds of places available. During the 1970s and 1980s, we would go out on the road for two to four weeks at a time, playing on the weekends in traditional concert places such as performing arts centres, or the ballrooms of hotels. During the week, there were small clubs across the country, which would feature nationally known acts such as us. Now we take longer flights, less often, and maybe stay in two or three different cities over a weekend. Playing small clubs during the week made touring less stressful.

GS Do you see any new arrangements or change in The Kingston Trio soon?

GG We have begun recording all new music, which should settle the current lineup as a recording act as well as being a concert act. As long as we continue performing mainly the old repertoire -- which we will always do, otherwise we are not The Kingston Trio - many will considered us only a tribute act.

Some promoters are wary about booking an act that doesn't include any original members. Even though that's true, the current version has no original members, it's only a part truth. We're an extension of original The Kingston Trio, an up-to-date form that is unlike any other act out there.

After all, I've worked with all the original members of the group and have been a constant member for thirty-two years. And I replaced a group member who has since rejoined. How many "tribute" acts can claim that? The fans don't seem to care, they come for the music and to be entertained.

GS With the two CDs you have out now, including your latest, "In the Middle of as Life," do you foresee any new CDs coming for you as a solo artist?

GG Yes. I am recording solo material now. It will be an unusual album in that it will include some big band jazz, some folk, some country, some banjo solos and whatever else I might think of. It may have limited appeal - one never knows in this business what may or may not happen with a recording - but it will be of high-quality, interesting, and a combination of the styles of music that make up who I am.

GS George, for the 50 years I've known you, on-stage and off, consistency is the only word to describe you. There is no façade with you. How can you be so consistent with your performances over the years? Doesn't it get old?

GG It never gets old. When you go out on-stage everything changes. You feel the energy from the audience, and it feeds your psyche and everything becomes new. The songs come alive and it's like making love to the audience. It's exciting and I never tired of it. I love it! I have a passion for performing.

GS George, you are 60 years old and though you are in great physical condition, I have to ask, after thirty-two years do you see yourself ever burning out or retiring any time soon?

GG If it were just the performing, I would never even consider retiring. You only retire from something you're tired of doing. I will never tire of the music and its performance. However, with that said, if I do retire, it will be because of the travel. The cost is one reason, but there are other reasons to consider. We do many long flights and a many times it's a long stretch between meals. Making it to a concert location is often a hassle, too. Constantly being on the road is what's difficult. That's the part that will cause me to retire if anything does.

GS Every time you perform "The Reverend Mr. Black," at the end as you take your bow, I see you look up and wink with a big smile on your face. Is that like Carol Burnet tugging on her ear?

GG As you know my father and I were close and each time I sing that song, I dedicate it to his memory. He was always my friend and spiritual guide, and he secretly wanted to be a preacher. It's a personal thank you to my Father.

GS I can't end the interview without asking you more about why the Kingston Trio sustains. Though the group may not top the charts, these days, your shows are always sold out and the demand for the Kingston Trio is strong. What's the reason?

GG Folk music is a central part of every culture, every society. In a sense, it's not much different than quilting or any form of folk art. The desire, the need, to continue folk art continues strong, despite new technology. This is where our continuity, from past to future, lies. The music continues because it's part of the cultural fabric.

The Kingston Trio, from the beginning, was a synthesis of folk music styles and, maybe, pop. Originally, the group mixed Calypso, Hawaiian and American folk music with pop. Today, we mix those styles with what we've discovered or created along the way.

The music also mixes familiar and unfamiliar instruments. Other forms of music are more limited. I think this has strong appeal: the music of the Kingston Trio is different.

Folk music, in any form, usually features an important message. "Tom Dooley" and "Greenback Dollar," from the early days, have strong messages. The Kingston Trio stays true to folk music and the messages, which are what people want to hear.

Most of the messages are enduring. "A Worried Man," another early hit, may carry more weight today than 50 years ago. "Greenback Dollar" certainly does.

In the early days, Dave Guard would talk, a lot, between songs. He'd comment on the troubles people faced -- inflation, poor government, uncertainty about the future. His comments were non-partisan. He poked fun at everyone.

We try to keep that spirit going. Non-partisan messages may also be the most effective. If there's no axe to grind, people are more inclined to listen.

I think the Kingston Trio and a other folk acts, such as Ritchie Havens, endure for three reasons. One, the music and performance are part of the social landscape. Two, the messages, in the lyrics, are timeless and need telling. Three, we're true to the tradition and the messages.

GS Do you think the record companies, Capitol or Decca, for instance, understood folk music? Was folk just the cash cow of the moment?

GG About 1960, the Kingston Trio was asked, are you ready for this, to record "Itsy Bitsy, Teenie Weenie Polka Dot Bikini." It's a novelty song, written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, that made Brian Hyland a big star. Offering the song to a folk act, even if the act had pop successes, revealed what Capitol Records thought of folk music.

GS Thank you, George. You are an inspiration to many folks. I am sure you have touched many more lives, in a positive way, than you could ever know. I'm proud of our long-standing friendship.

I can testify that Grove is the example of an individual who can single-mindedly achieve a goal when the wish is strong enough. The author and "the father of motivation" Napoleon Hill said so many times "Whatever the mind of man can conceive, and believe, it can achieve." Grove is an example of that idea.

One only needs to meet George Grove and the current cast of The Kingston Trio and see their performance to realize there is genuine musical genius woven throughout each concert they do. Every time you attend a Kingston Trio performance, the genuine love and dedication for their trade and music flows from the performers to every open heart present.


David Hajdu (2001), "Positively 4th Street," published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kingston Trio reference is from page nine. Unless otherwise noted, quotes, comments and other material about Carolyn Hester sourced, passim, from "Positively 4th Street."

JR Hafer writes from his home in central Florida.

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