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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Kingston Trio Is Still on the Road and Having Fun With the Fans

The legendary folk singers, known for their wit, perform favorites tonight at Civic Arts Plaza.

May 16, 1996|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Kingston Trio has been around a couple of times. These folk singers extraordinaire, featuring two-thirds of the original lineup, will harmonize most humorously again tonight at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

Back in 1957, Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard decided to form a trio. Their self-titled debut album in 1958 went gold and stayed on the charts for almost four years, due partially to the hit, "Tom Dooley."

The group earned a Grammy for--get this--best country and western performance in 1958, which was a year before the folk music category was invented. At one point, they had five albums in the Billboard Top 10.

Nearly 40 years after giving folk music a try, Shane and Reynolds are still at it, while George Grove, the new guy with 25 years Kingston Trio experience, has probably achieved job security by now.

The trio has recorded about 30 albums, 20 in their first six years, and they helped to popularize folk music with just the basics--three voices, two guitars and a banjo.

The most minimal listing of their hits would include "MTA," "Scotch and Soda," "Bad Man's Blunder," "Tijuana Jail," "Greenback Dollar" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Check it out: Their greatest hits package, which came out last year on Capitol, contains four CDs!

They probably have played "Scotch and Soda" about a million times by now and "Tom Dooley" even more than that and business has never been better, said sixtysomething Shane during a recent phone interview.

"We've been pretty busy; we play about 28 weeks a year," he said. "We've always made more money by appearances than we ever did from records, and we were the first ones to tap the college market. We've been in a lot of countries, mostly in the Far East.

"We never went to Europe much, but we did go to England once in 1961--the Beatles opened for us. I think we'll play seven or eight more years. I think I'll retire when I'm 70. You get more Social Security then--if they still have Social Security then."

The original group stayed intact until 1961 when Guard moved back to his home state of Hawaii. (He died in 1991.) John Stewart took his place until 1967. Reynolds left that same year and moved to Oregon where he took a 20-year break. One way or another, Shane has kept the trio alive.

"We used to sing together when we were going to Menlo College and Guard was going to Stanford," said Shane. "We started out as a calypso band. We were named after Kingston, Jamaica, but we were never there.

"We were not folk singers at first. That's just some name the press and the record company thought up because they had to call us something. They waved a bunch of money at us and said, 'You're folk singers,' and we said 'We sure are.' "

They were always known for their sharp wit. Other bands did protest music, though the Kingston Trio played "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" on the White House lawn for LBJ at the height of the Vietnam War. But criticizing them for not being protest singers is like criticizing John Wayne for not making "Citizen Kane" or Salvador Dali for not painting your house. The Kingston Trio was always about having a good time.

"We just entertain people; we're purely entertainers," said Shane. "Kingston Trio music is fun music. Our motto is, 'Too much fun is not enough.' "

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $27, $23 or $18. The venue is at 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Call 449-2787 for information.

Marcia Don't Dance: Well, at least Ms. Clark didn't last weekend when her favorite blues band, the Pontiax, fronted by her favorite blues dude, Mitch Kashmar, played Joe Daddy's in Ventura.

Dressed in dark clothes and a black leather jacket, Ms. Clark is smaller than she looked on television. She turned down at least four guys who asked her to dance during the second set, all the while nursing a drink and talking to her legal pal, Shari Lewis, who didn't dance, either.

This Almost Never Works: Rock bands with MTV dreams tend to have several plans. They write songs, practice, play live, do showcases, bug radio and record company people, all the while hoping something good happens. It rarely does. Good or bad, most bands usually break up.

Those nervous local pop rockers, the I-Rails, who used to play Charlie's in Ventura as well as the other local dives, made three or four tapes, then broke up in the early '90s.

Front man and songwriter Chris O'Connor moved to Los Angeles to become an air traffic controller. Bassist Jeff Sparks moved to Chico to go to school. Drummer Tim Lauterio played with the Mudheads for awhile, then settled down to be a married guy driving a beer truck.

But this was not the end for the band that had, on occasion, Toad the Wet Sprocket opening for them. Copies of the last unfinished I-Rails CD were discovered in a closet a few years ago by O'Connor, who decided to mail them blindly to labels and publishers, a plan that never works. Except this time.

A publisher played it for a Columbia A&R guy, then O'Connor was offered a deal. The new album "Rocket" by the former I-Rails, now known as Primitive Radio Gods, is due in stores June 18. Already, "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand" is getting airplay on alternative radio.

The original three I-Rails, sporting their new name, have been practicing and have an upcoming gig in the San Diego area where O'Connor now lives. But there's nothing planned for our area yet.

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