The Kingston Trio - Interview with Bob Shane - part 2

 

CONTEMPORARIES

I had a few minutes before coming here and I went to a record store. I pulled these albums out of the free pile which means they’re not in very good condition but I thought it would be interesting for our discussion to show you some records. What did you think of these other people on the scene ? [I start showing the records.]

BS : The Clancy Brothers were very dear friends of ours. We drank with them often. The record’s in pretty good shape.

CM : The covers are not too bad, but the insides aren’t too good.

BS : Trini Lopez was an LA guy. He was LA. We saw him at the Sultan’s Lounge at the Garden of Allah. That’s where he picked up that hit song, "If I Had a Hammer." [It was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays of the Weavers, who recorded it in 1949.] Peter, Paul, and Mary came out with [a hit version of] it first. I used to date Mary in 1958 in New York. She was the first girl I met in New York, even before I got married. We were playing in Boston in 1962, I guess. That’s when they started. We were playing a concert and the guy that promoted it also owned the club Storyville in downtown Boston and on Cape Cod. He said, "I’ve got a new act that just came up from New York. They don’t have a manager or a recording contract or anything. This is the first time they’ve been outside of New York. They’d like to have you come down and take a look at them." We went down. It was Peter, Paul, and Mary. They sounded real good. We got "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" from them and we gave them "Lemon Tree."

CM : Had Trini Lopez done "Lemon Tree" by then ?

BS : No, he hadn’t done it yet. Came along in ’65. They were not a West Coast or East Coast group, they were Mid-West. They were one of the many groups that came along after the Kingston Trio broke open the entire folk market. Which we always laughed at because we never called ourselves folk singers and the reason, I think, that we sold more records ; actually we’re almost exactly even with Peter, Paul, and Mary in gold records and Grammys and stuff than the other acts that came along.

CM : I saved this album [Bud and Travis In Concert] for last for a reason.

BS : Travis is a very dear old friend of mine. I worked him in 1967 as Shane and Travis. He lives in Apache Junction [Arizona]. He had a stroke about 15 years ago and it left him completely incapacitated on the left-hand side. He’s never played the guitar or sung since. He was my idol. On stage he was the most brilliant entertainer I’d ever seen. He had command of the audience and I watched him very carefully and I incorporated an awful lot of things that he did. He had a way, and he’s taught me things too. On stage, many times when you’re playing to a large audience and the front row’s right here but you’re standing out on an elevation and you’re looking out on a sea of people, you have to have some sort of rapport with the audience or at least make them think that you are. What he taught me to do is that until you get the feel of being able to look directly at the audience when you’re playing to them, look over everybody’s head and it looks like you’re looking at them. I’m looking at the top of your head now while I’m talking to you but it looks like I’m talking to you. The reason he put it is that many times you look at people and it makes you want to laugh.

CM : I was thinking maybe it would be the other way. It makes them uncomfortable to be singled out of an audience.

BS : No. Our act, for instance, is based on the whole idea that we’re a bunch of guys sitting around in your living room having a good time and we tell jokes and we do some funny songs and we do some serious songs. We try to stay away from real serious songs. Ours is a lighthearted entertainment act. We try to make people feel good. Don’t tell me about the war ; leave it to others to do that.

CM : You want them to leave happier than when they walked in the door. Did you get some musical things from Bud and Travis ?

BS : Travis wrote music for us. Bud and Travis we absolutely adored, we worked with them often. They were very dear friends.

CM : He was quite a good instrumentalist, also.

BS : He was fantastic. Travis was from Nogales, Arizona, which is a border town. Half the town is in Arizona, half the town is in Mexico. They both spoke fluent Spanish. Travis could sing “Malagueña Salerosa” better than any Mexican I ever heard in my life. He could bring Mexicans to tears, he was so good. He also translated the Yaqui Indian language into English and wrote a big dictionary on it. He was very brilliant, came from a whole line of geniuses.

CM : And you’re still in touch with him ?

BS : Yeah. I play Hearts [a card game] with him now and then. Killer Hearts.

NEWER RECORDINGS

Let me give you a couple of CDs. This [The Kingston Trio : By Special Request] is the one with the current group and on it there’s an addition at the end of it, a full orchestra version of “Scotch and Soda.” My ex-manager [Russ Gary] who died in ’89 was a big band leader from Vegas. He heard the guys say that when Sinatra was asked why he never recorded “Scotch and Soda” he said, “If you can’t do it better than it was originally done, don’t do it.” Which was the nicest compliment I think I ever had. He was one of my favorite artists. He [Gary] said he wondered what it would be like, so he got one of Frank Sinatra’s arrangers to arrange “Scotch and Soda.” Then he used about 15 of Sinatra’s hand-picked men who all lived in Vegas, played in Vegas. They’re all excited to do this. He had all these guys playing for him, an 18-piece band all jammed into a studio. The Sinatra arranger had arranged “Scotch and Soda” like that and it came out really different. For today, what’s happening in swing [the current revival] it’s perfect.

CM : Were you there at that session or did you lay your vocals on later ?

BS : No, I sang right along with it.

CM : It must have been a thrill.

BS : Then my ex-manager died and left it to his wife [Nikki Gary] who became my manager. She found it in his stuff, from 1989. We put it on there 11 years later just for kicks. This one [The Kingston Trio Live in Reno 1976] is a group I had with Roger Gambill and Bill Zorn. I [also] had drums, I had bass, I had fiddle. It was recorded in 1976 in a lounge in Reno, Nevada, at four in the morning. This is just for kicks. We had to put a disclaimer on the cover, it was X-rated. That’s what the Kingston Trio really wanted to be at one time, a lounge act.

CM : Well you’re bringing your lounge to the Flynn Theatre.

BS : But that was going to the extremes. That was very far out.

CM : I really appreciate these. Thank you very much.

BS : The other one is many old songs and also Bobby playing the saw. But most of the old songs are done they way we do them now. We’re doing unbelievably. When [original member] Nick Reynolds was with us [he left in 1967 but returned from 1988 to 1999], he became slower. Nick had a problem that slowed him down. He had hip surgery and things. When Nick retired at the end of last year and Bobby [Haworth] came back, all of a sudden it gave us energy. Bobby was a member of the Brothers Four before. He took Mike Kirkland’s place and he played with them for 15 years. We’re just doing knockout shows.

CM : That’s happened a couple of times in your career with a change of personnel.

BS : Absolutely. That group with Bill Zorn and Roger Gambill was the last time in my life I had that kind of fun. After that we had a real good group with Roger and George [Grove] and that went for a long time until Roger died. Then Bobby came in. We were going to offer a thing for a Broadway producer to do a thing called the Kingston Experience with all the people who are still living. You couldn’t do that with the New Christie Minstrels because there’s about a thousand of them. With us there’s only 10.

CM : But you did that PBS reunion special, which I show in my McGill class.

BS : We were filmed for a pilot show in 1963 [for a potential series to be called Young Men In a Hurry. It is available as a DVD on the band’s website]. We could have been very big on TV if we had done it. One of the stipulations was that they wanted us to live 22 weeks a year in Los Angeles and eight weeks a year in Phoenix. It was done around Phoenix. We were San Francisco-ites all the way. Had homes and everything so we said, “Screw that.” If we had been able to live in San Francisco and commute that would have been fine.

CM : Do you have anything you’d like to say to the people that study folk music ?

BS : When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

CM : You’re considering yourself the weird that turned pro ?

BSL The most important thing, if you want to be a singer of folk songs that’s fine. If you want to be an entertainer and do folk songs too then make sure you don’t take yourself too seriously and that you have an enjoyable time because if you have an enjoyable time the audience will. If you don’t it shows. We haven’t changed the basis of the act at all. People ask what the difference is between now and then I say, “Then we had youthful soul. Now our souls are a little older.”

DAVE GUARD AND “SCOTCH AND SODA”

CM : I have a copy in my collection of the album Dave Guard and the Whiskeyhill Singers.

BS : He actually put a second album out. That’s the rarest one of all. They shipped 20,000 copies and 18,000 were returned or something like that. I have never found anyone who has it yet. Also his color method of playing the guitar which he invented [after he left the Trio]. He had a set [called Colour Guitar]. They’re almost impossible to find.

CM : It seemed like he wanted to go more into the research aspect.

BS : He was more of a purist. I had a very bad falling out with Dave because of personal problems that we had and he was one of my best friends in high school. I watched Dave become many of the things that he said he’d never be and a lot of it was because of the fact that he was a very early experimenter with psychedelics way before it became real popular.

CM : It was still legal back then.

BS : He did acid. He did magic mushrooms. He joined the thing with the Maharishi chanting and going on missions to India and all that stuff, which is fine if that’s your bag.

CM : He was a seeker.

BS : Somebody once said that he bordered on genius and imbecility. But he was definitely responsible for an awful lot of our good music in the beginning.

CM : Well “Scotch and Soda” is fabulous.

BS : He didn’t write that. Dave and I were driving from college in our senior year down to Los Angeles from San Francisco. He was dating a girl by the name of Katie Seavers who was from Fresno, California. Her brother Tommy was nine years old and he became a very well known baseball pitcher many years later. Katie Seavers’ parents lived in Fresno. We were on our way and we stopped to see them. Thanksgiving or something like that in ’56. We stopped by their place and after dinner they went to the piano bench and pulled out this sheet music of this song that they heard in 1932 in Phoenix in a backroom piano bar. They called it their song because they were on their honeymoon. The song was “Scotch and Soda.” Dave Guard put his name on it in 1960, I think, without us knowing that he did it. That one and “Worried Man,” because they were two songs that we originally put anonymous on one and traditional on the other. When we found out you can get money from it by putting your name on it, when you try to claim it, Dave did that with those two songs without us knowing it. After it happened, we caught him at it and then we got a three way split which he gave me one time. It’s never been offered since. It was all verbal. We could probably go to his heirs, you know, and sock it to ’em. But he put his name on the record and it has always kind of fried me.

SOURCES, GUITARS

CM : “Worried Man” came from the Carter Family didn’t it ?

BS : We wrote the [new] lyrics to the song. If you listen carefully you’ll realize that “Tom Dooley,” “Worried Man,” and “MTA” are all the same melody. They all come from “The Wreck of the 97.”

CM : That goes way back. Had you listened to the Carter Family ?

BS : No, we didn’t listen to the Carter Family very much in the beginning. We were into people like Theodore Bikel, Cynthia Gooding and even John Jacob Niles. He was the kind of real folk purist who would sing all 37 verses. Just got more and more boring. It was early rap.

CM : Even the Byrds, on their “Mr. Tambourine Man,” knew to cut a few verses out of Dylan to make it work.

BS : We knew Dylan when he was still Zimmerman in New York when he was trying to make it. We did some of his early stuff, probably before anybody else.

CM : You have created a very personal style, like Bill Haley or Duke Ellington. A lot of people may have done things in the same vein before or after but the Kingston Trio created a very personal style that has lasted and had a tremendous influence. How does it feel to have created something that had an impact that lasted ?

BS : It’s a very nice feeling because at least you made your mark in the sense that you gave people something that was an alternative to a lot of other things and a simple way to learn how to play and sing. The nicest thing I have is a statement that was made by the Martin guitar company that when the Kingston Trio became popular the demand for Martin guitars put them seven years behind in production. That kind of thing is very nice for the people to admit.

CM : I’ve always liked Martins, especially the D28 model.

BS : That’s what I play. The D28 has been my primary thing, but over a period of time I bought some guitars from Martin because I knew that I wanted to play them and I knew they would be great investments. I have the only D45K2 which is an all Koa wood D45, made by the custom shop. That was the only one that they ever made. I had it custom ordered. In the Martin book it states that I do have that, so that makes it worth probably a hundred thousand dollars some day to some collector. It was exactly why I bought it. And I have a number three of a Brazilian rosewood issue of 50 of the D45, the copy of one that they only had made one of in one year. I think it was the most expensive guitar at the time they ever made, around 1982. It was somebody’s five thousand dollar guitar. We got it for half price. I’ve turned down forty thousand dollars for it already. It’s like when they made our guitar set in ’97 to commemorate our fortieth year. They made a guitar set of ours. They made 40 issues for 40 years. They made us an OATT tenor guitar, a D28, and it went to Deering who now owns the Vega name.
I got a guy who wants to buy it for 30,000 dollars. A real nice guy and a pal. Number one, that’s part of my retirement. Or if I have a good year that year, that’s donated to a museum or a school. That would be a good write-off. I have a lot of guitars. I just sold two ukuleles on eBay that we used on recording sessions back in the ’60s. I think I paid $700 for both of them. I sold one of them for eleven hundred dollars and one for fifteen hundred.

CM : Do you have anything that you want to add that I haven’t asked you about ?

BS : No, it’s the first time I’ve been asked really good questions. You get a lot of young people who don’t know what you are and they say, “Well what do you do ?” Then you have to tell them the same old story.

CM : Do you still have any interest in rockabilly music like the good old Elvis days ?

BS : If you listen to some of our records we had an interest in rockabilly. In fact there are a couple of songs we might put on our new album in that genre.

CM : It must have been interesting for you to see people doing your songs or style.

BS : They’re all actually pretty good friends of ours. Everybody used to think that there was a lot of competition but we always said the same thing : music is for anybody and if anybody can record something and it sells, they’ve got some talent. We had lots of people we knew within the same type of business we were in and a few of them we didn’t like. People would say, “How do you like John Denver ?” And I’d say, “John Denver was an extremely talented man but he was a jerk in my estimation.” I’m sure there were people who felt that about me. You can’t please everybody. But the majority of the people who came along after us we became friendly with.

CM : Well that’s nice. Lindsay Buckingham [of Fleetwood Mac] was on your PBS special, as was Mary Travers.

BS : They admit that they got their start listening to our stuff. Mary was a very dear friend, still is. But the competition that people thought was there was never there. We gave them songs, they gave us songs. And jokes, whatever.

CM : Do you think it’s accurate to say that “Tom Dooley” marks the start of the folk revival ?

BS : Absolutely. It did. The only one from the country music thing that ever gave us credit for what it actually did for country music was Minnie Pearl. We did a show with her and leaned over and said to us, “Thank god for the acceptance of that song. You’ve saved country music.”

CM : Yes because rockabilly had come.

BS : In ’57, ’58 country was completely dead. When “Tom Dooley” got the Grammy it went right back up again. We used to say, “We think Garth Brooks owes us a Rolls Royce.”

CM : You’re lucky because you’ve achieved something really important and affected a lot of people.

BS : And I’ve never worked a day in my life. Done a lot of traveling, never worked. People started calling us legends and I said, “Wait a minute. Legends are dead. Call us a national treasure.”

see part 1


comments or questions ? email me

The interview was fun. It’s the first time I’ve been asked really good questions. You have a knack. - Bob Shane, 2004

That’s a marvelous interview you did, I had forgotten all about it. Very nicely done. - Bob Shane, 2014

I have posted interviews with members of the Doors, Electric Prunes, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Music Machine, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, and Strawberry Alarm Clock. To go to the index page, click here.

you may be interested to read Psychedelic Music in San Francisco : Style, Context, and Evolution by Craig Morrison, available as a download from lulu.com for less than $5

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, © 2006