|Mr. Guard and the other two...........|
|charming con or the key ingredient, Dave Guard haunts all considerations of the Kingston Trio (all photos off the WEB)|
(For the truly dedicated, subsequent articles on the KT are here, here, and here. This was mostly written in 1998, has some arguable errors, and I’ll get around to putting in shape. Not soon, but I will.)
It is, perhaps, of passing interest to note that when this picture was taken in the late 1950's, Donald David Guard was arguably one of the most popular and admired people in the world. I have no clue as to circumstance or what the event was. But I’ve seen that expression before. It is a favorite picture of a man I never even saw in person but still think about, oddly enough. I still listen to his records.
The reason, of course, is that I have since seen this pose - this scene - a million times in a million back stages with different faces and different clothing styles in the forty odd years since it was taken; if you've ever been in entertainment, you've seen this before. It's sort of shocking the first time you recognize it for what it is. After that, you hardly notice.
It just about always involves male entertainers. The lead singer, group leader, or star is, after the show, surrounded by adoring supplicants, generally women - sometimes wives - who may or may not be involved with him at some level. He may or may not even know them. Regardless, they want his attention. They want him so that some of the crowd's adoration that night might, somehow, be shared with them. Well, start with that.
He has, for whatever reason tonight, no seeming joy in being here. But then, he's been here before; last night, in fact. Every last night for some time, now. He has no polite way to leave. Most people in entertainment, even the vain punks, prefer to be polite. It's usually, at this point in career, tour, and evening, a question of energy conservation.
He is bored - a danger - and physically trapped. A discomfort. And absolutely exhausted. Most people have no idea how tiring hosting intimate parties for thousands of strangers every night can be. It builds. It gets to you. Half the world would kill to be seen with him, to talk with him, to be him. And he is on the verge of an existential moment. He no longer gives a god damn, and perhaps cannot believe he ever really did.
He is, oh, twenty-four years of age.....
Really, this guy who looks like a prep school physics master in coat and tie was a big star.
Eleven years after his death, twenty-one after they last sang a song together,
over forty years after he left the group,
why to history
and the Other Guys
An revisionist inquiry into fame, relevance,
and an accurate accounting in American pop music history
You, of course, don't even remember Dave Guard. Don't pretend you do. He was the leader of The
You don't remember the
How big were they? Cutting to the chase, Capitol Records admits that the KT provided about (quotes vary) ten to forty percent of the company's income during their prime; this with Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole on the roster on the decade cusp between the 1950's and 60's. Not until the Beatles, another Capitol group, would another act have four albums in the Top Ten at the same time. In fact, except for these two groups, nobody - even with the niche record market today - has ever replicated that. Nobody.
As is traditional in
It has sometimes been a difficult half century, almost, for Robert Castle Schoen - Bob Shane - of the Kingston Trio. The best singer of the group, and one of the best of his pop music generation, he carried the melody on the vast majority of Kingston Trio tunes, and sang the lead on its biggest hits. He still does; the Kingston Trio has been a professional act for forty-five years, and Shane has always been part of it. His fast and powerful strumming of his Martin D-28 provides the rhythmic anchor for the instrumental backup. His is the featured voice, the "mossy rock on which the church was built." He is the Kingston Trio.
Although periodically criticized for his seemingly simple strumming - heavily influenced by his native Hawaiian pop music – Shane subtly warped the public’s appreciation of what ‘authentic’ American folk music sounded like. He also helped popularize many now standard tunes for the first time (such was the power of the Kingston Trio in their prime, they didn’t have to be hits…merely sung by the KT), covered the works of young, soon to be famous songwriters, and kept his group successful through several sharp blows. It was his deceptively wide-ranged whiskey voice that gave the group its distinctive sound, almost making it irrelevant who else sang beside him. He was also, according to the obsequious press of the time, considered the best-looking one in the group - "Our sex symbol," according to his mates in those pre-Paul and British invasion days of Tiger Beat magazine's pinnacle of popularity - and as good an all-around entertainer as many far more famous.
Given that the Kingston Trio was – really - the first super-group, the first of the big California sound recording bands, the act who actually developed the college concert tour, the concert album, the very concept of the long-play album itself; the act that played a passive but major role in the development of high fidelity recording technique in the early days of stereo; the group who made the acoustic guitar and banjo both cool and profitable to make (orders were backed up for two and one half years at C. F. Martin at one point....) - never mind play for a living - the group that broke open the folk and faux bluegrass boom, leading to the plethora of middle class singer/songwriters with us yet; the group that could headline Vegas or nightclub as well as auditorium concert with single and album both at number one nationally; the group that rewrote the relationship between manager and act too late to save Elvis but in time to change the industry; the group so metaphorically blessed they could walk away from their own plane crash a month and not so far from where American Pie dropped from the sky and do a memorable concert at the University of Notre Dame within hours.
This was a group with a work ethic to shame dot.commers, given that they put out three albums a year and still performed two hundred and fifty shows around television and radio shots. An act whose influence was such that three subsequent generations unknowingly play Appalachian ballads to Hawaiian rhythms and feel 'authentic' in so doing. A group whose public confidence and social ease was so strong that it immediately became a cliche and is still shaping - admitted or not - the stage presence and delivery and harmonies of entrants into the age of rap, and – as noted - the only American group to have four separate albums in the top ten at the same time …. and for a prolonged period at that…. you would think that Shane, as the only member throughout, would be drowning in the respect of peers with the satisfaction of a job well done. He has had surprisingly little of either.
He is haunted, as he has been for forty years, by that ghost of his original band mate. The Kingston Trio has remained in the collective mind of an ever diminishing but devoted public a group that still belongs, somehow, to Dave Guard, its nominal original leader, who died in 1991 thirty years after he left in an acrimonious departure. Which is to say, a partner in a musical association for only four years and gone forty still receives most of the credit for the group's fame. It drives Shane, justifiably, bonkers.
The reasons for this are both complex and perhaps rather obvious, and because the process reflects so accurately on how all history is recorded - even in this relatively trivial genre - it ought to be considered before delving into weightier subjects.
In the early days of the Kingston Trio, say 1957, responsibilities were divided up between transportation, clothing, and music. Guard was music, and he kept at it because he cared and because it interested him and…because it kept him in charge to a degree. He would run the rehearsals. But there was another reason for the leadership image.
Guard was the tallest in the group, about six foot four, and he played, along with the guitar, the long-neck Vega banjo. (By the by, he signed left-handed and played both instruments right handed. Think about that.....) He was often posed center in their photographs, especially the ones on the album covers, Shane - an inch or so shorter - to his right, and Nick Reynolds (the "runt of the litter" at five foot eight) on his left. They were always a visually attractive ensemble given the favorable height distinctions which, among other things, made for several natural camera shots of the group when singing. The visual effect was powerful and subtle; it furthered the impression given by each member playing several different instruments (four or five types of guitars, two types of banjos, bouzouki, and various percussion instruments, plus a bassist as sideman) in the course of a concert that each of the three brought unique strengths to the group - had a role - and the whole was far more impressive than the individuals involved. Subtle and true.
Although lead singing duties alternated, and all three shared introductions and time at the center microphone (actually, back then, there was often only one microphone, which makes Shane's position to stage left odd, given his melodic responsibility, and emphasizes the importance given to the visual impact by their manager and partner, Frank Werber), Guard was looked upon by camera, public, and - at least for publicity - his cohorts as the leader, the visual focal point. He wrote some pretty good songs, something for which he is seldom given sufficient credit. He also was the most versatile musician, although nobody has claimed him a genius of the fret board on any instrument. He learned quickly and became professionally adequate at many things, and was given undeserved credit for certain tonal quirks that might more rightfully belong to album producer Voyle Gilmore, sideman Buck Wheat or, better perhaps, mere favorable coincidence of the Trio's tapes being mastered in the natural cavern of Capitol Records. In any case, the ringing sound of the Trio's albums was something sought but never achieved by other groups and the Trio itself when it changed record companies without Guard.
Dave Guard continually studied music - he said - but
his playing remained that of a gifted self-taught amateur impatient for
sounds. He rarely seems to have used
finger picks playing banjo with the Trio, and the brightly muffled notes of his
large and powerful fingers plucking the strings in sometimes odd progressions
are inimitable to this day - especially given that he was trying to duplicate
Scruggs-style picking without, really, knowing how to do it. (If you don't believe me, try to play his
banjo part to "You're Gonna Miss Me" from Goin' Places, his last album with the Kingston Trio in 1961) He was
also the only banjoist to frail and pick within the same song, sometimes with
stunning beauty. The Coast of
So with full and due credit to Pete Seeger, who frailed and double-thumbed the instrument's neglected and fascinating history, and the great Earl Scruggs, the genius who essentially reinvented it to the bluegrass lead for which most know it today, we need to realize that nobody did more to popularize the banjo - and to suggest the directions it might go within popular music - than Donald David Guard. Nobody.
Apologies, Mr. Seeger; you were never that
popular. Sorry, Bela Fleck. You might be playing accordion if not for
Dave Guard. And sorry, Earl. Just as your band had the misfortune to
follow the Kingston Trio at the Newport Folk Festival - and the crowd wouldn't
let the Trio off and you on till Guard spoke to them, telling
them you were his favorite banjoist - you never would have crossed over without
him, so kiss goodbye to Warren Beatty and the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack. Without the KT, it's possible Beatty
might never have heard a picked banjo, an event without which "Foggy
Mountain Breakdown" remains a
The Kingston Trio, formed in 1957, famous in 1958,
was presented as three sanitized frat boys singing sweet songs in sweet
harmony. Emphasis was put on the fact
that they were students (safe for role model status in the 1950's swimming with
Juvenile Delinquent wannabes in and out of Pop music) and successful students at that. Their business degrees were given
favorable attention. Of course, Shane and Reynolds graduated from
He was, long before the Beach Boys and Eagles, a
prototypical California Golden Boy (although he was, like Shane, his childhood
Given all that, how did the twice-divorced Guard,
after accomplishing very little in the interim to remotely compare to the
Kingston Trio, die in New Hampshire thirty years later, apparently living with
friends and admirers, reduced to being Dave-Guard-once-of-the-Kingston-Trio, an
entity that Shane alone has kept afloat for all but five years since the
original group, less Guard, officially dissolved in 1967? And despite that, how
does his four year presence in the
group usurp in official and popular memory the six years of his successor, John Stewart (a better guitarist and
songwriter, adequate if less inventive banjoist, a singer seemingly always
caught in the wrong key, a strong stage presence and even odder, if sometimes
hysterical, M.C.)? And how do both
configurations overpower all the
Kingston Trio's since 1967, even though they have featured outstanding
entertainers and instrumentalists alongside Shane? What does Bob Shane have to
do to get the public to agree with his long time mantra: Listen! The
It is possible that neither Shane nor Guard really understood the popularity of the Kingston Trio and that both their explanations, which conflict and changed somewhat, are inaccurate in and of themselves. Guard's story – one of his stories - is that he left because of theft of his songwriting royalties, and that neither Shane nor Nick Reynolds wanted to practice or get better but viewed their success as a group personality driven thing, not a musical one. Guard, who was - by far - the dominant stage personality, ironically missed all that and thought - or periodically said he thought - it was a combination of things but mostly the music. He kept trying to musically improve beyond the norm and impress upon his colleagues their duty to do so as well, implying it was necessary to justify their success. That they owed it to the fans, and only a sensitive artistic type - like, oh, himself, for example - could truly appreciate this noblesse oblige. They, the beer swilling, adulterous frat boys, didn't, and he couldn't stand to stay artistically stagnant. That's the story.
This would be touching and more substantial if the three were equally successful as singers. Generally unremarked, Guard was the only one of the four principle Trio performers who never sang lead on a hit song. John Stewart, who replaced him, had several hits with the Trio, and several beyond it. Reynolds was the singer for "MTA" and "Bad Man's Blunder" and Shane was "Tom Dooley" and "Scotch and Soda" and the others. Guard maintained in later years that he sacrificed his voice for the good of the group because Shane couldn't figure out harmony and Reynolds had limited skills (both absurd contentions), so Guard sometimes sang both the highest and lowest parts, bass and falsetto, in the course of a single song or chorus to cover up this deficiency. That he sometimes did these things is on the tapes, although not on the early records, but the reasons may be different. He later mumbled that the public never actually heard his real voice, since it was always strained by the harmony singing when his verses wheeled around. Yes and no.
There is no question that the harmony arrangements on many Trio songs are lazy, especially when compared to the work of their contemporaries and rivals The Limeliters, Chad Mitchell Trio, and Peter Paul and Mary. But none of them had the popularity of the Trio in its prime. In the studio, producer Voyle Gilmore would double up the chorus parts to give it oomph, but it also had the effect of implying three parts when there were often only two, one sung in different octaves by two people. Guard never found the third part on some of these songs, which sometimes were quite easy and not necessitating long searches. Even I, a nobody and not fit to tune the Trio's instruments, am able to do it and did do it for a living as, partly, a KT tribute band. And no, I don't buy the artistic choice route.
The Trio, as a unit, was quite capable of boilerplate presentation: Shane on melody, Reynolds sliding between parts above him, and the unfortunate third flailing beneath, generally ending up singing something close to Reynolds' part an octave down.
In further detriment to Guard's position, in their first album many of the twelve songs are done in perfect three-part harmony. The Kingston Trio did sometimes provide lovely singing, of making truly moving work with simple but inspired instrumentation. They were quite capable of great moments. The pure three parts on Gue, Gue and Across the Wide Missouri still touch the heart, Everglades (where Guard's vocal versatility made a real mark, making it eerie as an approaching thunderstorm), and their Christmas album, which is both a cult classic and one of the best ever made. But Guard's theory - excuse, rather - holds no water. He sang lead on several songs including Remember the Alamo, with Shane doing a high harmony, and Guard's voice is not notably strained. He had solo outings on every album - odd song choices, for the most part - and they are pleasant but not great works. He never improved upon Fast Freight, a song from the first album, where his rich, naturally light baritone shines.
It may be, as a singer, that Guard simply just didn't have the magic. He wasn't anywhere near the great singer his partner Shane became during Guard's tenure. It is most likely that the conflict in the Kingston Trio was engendered because he felt the leader role - image, actually - slipping from him, because he was no longer the best, the star (as he had been in the Ur-Trio, Dave Guard and the Calypsonians) and that despite all the talk it was Shane who was improving by bounds as a vocalist, while Guard never did. Worse, his playing - while decidedly of more interest than Shane's - may not have been as exciting to the audience as Reynold's periodic percussion chores. Of course, he was the dominant personality on stage, helped by his size and acknowledged quick wit, and the Trio worked as a unit supporting each other. But could it be that all the convolutions of intricate arrangement - or discussions about such - were simply to cover up a growing sense of unimportance, of realization that he wasn't ever going to be a great instrumentalist or singer. That really, he was disposable to the Trio, because the key sound was Shane and Reynolds, with Guard filling in as needed?
There is more. When the Kingston Trio was asked to sing at
the Inauguration of Democrat John Kennedy in 1960, Guard canned it, as was the
agreed upon right within the group. Guard was reportedly then a Republican. That was arrogance, pure and simple. You simply, as a citizen of 1960's
And when John Wayne was trying to find a hit song for the soundtrack of his movie The Alamo in 1959, the Kingston Trio submitted one (the aforementioned "Remember the Alamo" written by Guard and Jane Bowers. Guard sang lead…). But the selected track was "The Green Leaves of Summer" which was offered to the Trio. Guard apparently rejected it, likely because they had rejected his effort (which, in any case, attempted a slavish devotion to Texan myth and, in the course of events, was too too for even a Wayne movie and - even though the venerable Johnny Cash covered it later - historic nonsense). “Summer” was given to rival band The Brothers Four and was a monster hit.
This can be patted into the shape of allegiance to
personal principle and artistic sacrifice, but it doesn't resonate that
way. You can hear it in Guard’s voice at
the end of not excessive applause after singing “Remember the Alamo” in the
recording of the 1959 Newport Folk Festival as he says, almost sarcastically,
“thank you” over and around screamed requests for songs Bob Shane sang. It was excessive vanity, an actual delusion
that even the Beatles, for example, never had.
Guard apparently felt the Kingston Trio could insult the President and turn down a likely hit song with a
built-in profit generator in a
Paul McCartney and John Lennon never made such errors; they cheerfully played for the Queen, and Lennon - likely the personality least impressed with Royalty and as insecure around a certain partner as Guard - inoffensively suggested everyone could rattle their jewelry in time.
But Dave Guard never, somehow, touched on any of this in his recollections of those years - we are offered only his artistic sacrifices and airy graces.
The Trio seethed. Shane and Reynolds did not show up for a fashion shoot in Tahiti, apparently something of importance to Guard, evidence he had managed to royally piss off both his partners and their equal manager Frank Werber by a maintained combination of arrogance, condescension, and rude, biting put downs.
Whatever the fuelling motivation, he also did something very foolish and suicidal. Starting around 1960, he started to badmouth his mates to the press, complaining about their lack of chops and training. They did not, then, retaliate in the public venue. If he was trying to influence them, or cow them, it failed. Long after, in an interview in the 1970's, he explained that they never understood the benefits of study, never having done any in school and all. This sounds, and is, petulant and petty. And once started down that road, Guard had to escalate or admit it for what it was.
Influenced by decided financial irregularities
within the mighty business machine of The Kingston Trio, including outright
theft, he eventually threatened to quit, allowing as how he would play out all
obligations until they could replace him.
It is to be wondered if he really thought they would crumble, that he
was irreplaceable, the key part, the essence of the Trio. It seems now a play for acknowledgement and
power, and it pointlessly cost him the long time friendship of a man known for
fidelity to his friends: Bob Shane.
Shane and Guard had met as teens in
All of Shane's unforgiving deportment regarding Guard can, perhaps, be traced to his feeling of betrayal by a supposed brother in arms to the press, more than the opinion itself. A partner who never, ever apologized for being what evidence suggests was the Lord Sphincter of his time. Coupled with the introspective genius, perhaps Guard was simply in love with his own image.
minor variations of this tale would be played out with other groups over the
next forty years, the breakup of the Kingston Trio was the
In any case, Guard did not cow either of his band mates or their manager, the wily Frank Werber. They all probably hated him by then. In September of 1961, John Stewart replaced Dave Guard.
Werber was apparently so relieved to be rid of Guard
he stepped past hyperbole in discussing Stewart's attributes to the press and
into something akin to dementia when describing the young man's qualities. Stewart was announced as
"handsome," a phrase apparently not to be applied to Guard, although
Stewart was so thin and devoid of any visible muscle mass that he was an image
reversal of the solid, athletic Guard. Werber went on to describe Stewart as a
better banjo player (the banjo is a deceptive instrument, and Stewart could
fool people rather cleverly with very fast picking with his right hand. He could not - cannot - frail or do a
sustained, fast forward roll and in any long solo requiring picking he gave
every indication of cramping up...), but Stewart didn't have Guard's sense of
instrumental exploration - and he could be extremely
sloppy. Werber said he had a better voice. True only if a liquid, thready, adenoidinal
delivery is your thing; Oh Willow Waley
will prompt any listener to hawk phlegm and stifle a gag reflex - but, like
Guard, the lazy arrangements demanded he had to sing way high or low to find
the third part. When he became a solo in
1967, Stewart sounded both much
better and way different in his natural
Werber also mentioned that Stewart was tall and "fit the image." Werber was aware of the aesthetics. He was less aware that Stewart did not - could not - successfully fill the intellectual image that Guard gave the Trio. Guard may have been a know-it-all, but he projected a commanding self assurance that kept audiences rapt. He looked and sounded like an intellectual, because - with all the good and bad, product and pretense - he was. The audience kind of believed he really did know it all. And they liked that. It was very reassuring in the age of the bomb for adults to see such competence and soothing, unthreatening intelligence in the young; for the young, it was thrilling to see such normal-seeming adults be so cool - and acknowledged as such by, for a time, everyone. Absolutely everyone.
It had never happened before in entertainment, and it has never happened since, that the Pop and the Cool were one, however briefly. The Kingston Trio, establishment and gentle rebels both. There are no comparisons, really, that suggest how powerful was the Kingston Trio's cultural influence in its day, with Dave Guard at the helm. But in the autumn of 1961, he left.
Guard started a new group, Dave Guard and the Whiskeyhill Singers.
The new group included David "Buck" Wheat, the bass player of the Kingston Trio for three years, who finished up with the Trio under what must have been strained circumstances, given that he threw his allegiance to Guard with whom he shared a certain educated wit. Wheat was credited with breaking up the Trio by Lou Gottlieb, who considered Wheat something of an evil influence on three somewhat naïve college age performers. (Gottlieb, a doctor in music, leader of the rival Limeliters, and a bass player of note himself, may have had it in for Wheat.) Wheat was an imaginative and tasteful musician - a jazz player - who did guitar and percussion work on the Trio's albums (uncredited, and Guard was assumed to have played some guitar leads - by me if no one else - of which he was then incapable) and who may, being musically bored, have fed Guard's sense of musical entitlement in order to satisfy both their professional wants. Buck Wheat was also an inspired inventor of musical instruments (tuned congas and bongos, called goombas) which the Trio used. He also may have been the conduit between Guard and marijuana ("He knew where to get it," said Guard). The cover of the Singers' one and only album shows Guard and Wheat looking, without too much question, either very near sighted, which they were, or very stoned, which they could have been. Several songs inside do little to change that opinion. The group either bombed (Bob Shane), or was terribly successful in person but was too exhausting (Dave Guard). They lasted about six months.
The group also included Judy Henske, a real talent and powerhouse of a singer, and Cyrus Faryar, who looked like a younger and smaller Bob Shane, and who had a pleasant if nondescript voice. Wheat bleated rather than sang, although all could read music and hit the notes as written. Guard did the arrangements.
It is interesting to note that both Guard and the Trio tried to visually replace each other in their respective groups, Guard by hiring Faryar, the KT by hiring the tall, but-not-as-tall-as-Guard John Stewart. All of Guard's replacements got progressively shorter.
Why the Whiskeyhill Singers broke up after only one
album but an Oscar winning soundtrack for How
the West Was Won was variously explained by Guard as himself fulfilling
contractual obligations to Capitol Records, the group's inability to get a hit
sound, Capitol's lack of support, and his lack of interest in being famous. Immediately
after, he took his family to
And Shane had a different explanation altogether. Well, two actually. The first was a precise encapsulation of Guard's personality as Shane knew it: "he's an ass." But in 1972, when with the New Kingston Trio, he told my wife and me the real reason was that Guard found out that Shane had slept with, well, someone, a revelation that drove Guard up the wall. This was, in the course of that conversation, a 'moonplop' - Guard's word for someone talking during a ballad - only remotely related and unnecessary for the continuance of that discussion. Shane was married then and was at the time of the alleged affair - but it rings somewhat true. There was a hissy fit aspect to Guard's actions.
There was also a sort of gleeful revenge to Shane in the telling, bespeaking an unpleasant personal side. Pursuing that story may reveal, at some point, the reason for Shane's seeming lack of respect among his peers. Certainly, his drinking (he has described himself as an alcoholic at fifteen, and in person he recalls all stigmata of the high functioning alcoholic) created several unpleasant episodes in his career. In any case, when Shane made the revelation to us, he reacted immediately to my wife's startled look with a sliding away from the issue, worrying he may only have burnished Guard's image brighter to his own detriment. It wasn't enough just to prove Guard wrong about the Trio, he had to denigrate him by an intrusion into his professional and personal world. The professional oblivion of Guard wasn't enough, the continued success of the Trio under his sole leadership wasn't enough. Forty years later, it still isn't.
I have no idea if Shane’s story is true.
When PBS and others finally hit upon getting all the members of the Trio together in 1981 for a reunion, they brought back Guard, Reynolds, and Stewart and the then-extant Trio of Shane, Roger Gambill and George Grove, got Mary Travers and Tom Smothers to host, Lyndsey Buckingham - a major fan and then at the height of his own fame with Fleetwood Mac - to play bass, and filmed the 'reunion' at a California theme park. To everyone's surprise, it was not a huge success. Ticket sales were only enough for a two thirds full audience, according to the Wall St. Journal. Guard came with weird instruments and wanted to redo "Tom Dooley" (Reynolds claimed that he wanted to make it a 'nineteen chord' song. It normally has two…) for the show.
They only did three songs as a trio, and Shane never surrendered the center position. It looked, sounded, and felt weird. It also looked and felt hostile. Tommy Smothers, who hosted, said Shane had been four hours late for sound check, reflecting - at best - an ambivalent attitude towards the whole thing, or an attempt to unnerve his former partners. Guard and Shane had almost no interaction throughout the entire evening, and Reynolds gabbed incessantly to cover the fact. Stewart, who also had bitched about his position in the Trio through the years, mostly about money, had a much warmer reception from his two band mates.
Where to begin. It is hard to believe that even the most diehard fan, someone who bought every album from the first ten years, could view the reunion and not be appalled. Me, for instance. To start with, the sound mix was too god-awful for comment. This could have been due to Guard not being used to on-stage monitor speakers (the equalizers necessary for their use were not invented till the Trio was gone), or to Shane's warm and appreciative early comment to the soundman during the sound check, "Get it right this time or go fish. I mean it."
It was apparent that the original Trio hadn't rehearsed sufficiently, if at all, since everyone searched for long forgotten parts. Guard flubbed his banjo solo in "Hard Ain't it Hard" (a delight that the always devoted John Stewart repeated during his solo in "Reuben James", both songs of Woody Guthrie) and the enmasse group arrangements were to be compared with any camp sing along book. And Guard was over the top, singing weird and inappropriate parts that sounded worse for the mix. He gave one long introduction which was totally cut from the tape, and his vocals made him sound like an over eager amateur brought up on stage with the big boys. In a way - since he probably hadn't performed in front of a large audience in years - that was indeed the case, although absolutely nobody that night except Lindsey Buckingham and John Stewart sounded sharp. The Stewart version of the Trio was by far the best, and Stewart's solo outings the best music and performances.
Tommy Smothers was simultaneously rude, idiotic, and unintentionally disrespectful, while repeatedly claiming to be otherwise. Worse: he wasn't funny, worshipful audience response to the contrary, and was every entertainer's worst nightmare: doing old bits word for word. Grove is an uninspiring singer at best, and he lived down to that accolade. Roger Gamble could be terrific, but it was as though he played dazed on this night. Mary Travers bleated, and sometimes she and Gamble were the only singers to be distinguished from the pack singing high, slightly grating notes. A lot of the tape is just noise.
Later, but before the show was broadcast, Guard was asked about the reunion. He said, truthfully, regarding those looking to see the old Trio, "I think they'll be disappointed, the show was more of a promotion for the Kingston Trio that's performing these days." Irony, there, surely.
"That's exactly what it was, and if he doesn't like it, it's tough," responded Bob Shane in the Wall Street Journal article covering the event. "Dave Guard sold his interest in the Kingston Trio for cash money--$300,000--and I'm not going to feel sorry for him. I don't enjoy singing with him; I don't enjoy his voice." You can almost hear him saying to himself "Bob, shut your damned mouth…why, why, why did I say that?….." Rather, you really want to hear him say that. He didn't. Thus died any real hope of reassembling the original Kingston Trio. If anyone had cared. The reality is, the show was awful, the new Trio didn't sound good, look good, or connect with the audience. As bad as the older trios were that night, the audience loved them.
Why would Shane, even if he felt that way, say such a thing to a major paper and kill the good feelings that would have made the event more successful in tape sales and, well, perhaps giving a boost in ticket sales to his then current line-up, his supposed point to the whole thing? Shane can sometimes be remarkably inarticulate, but he is very far from stupid. Most likely, Guard's superior attitude and favorable notices for little accomplishment have mystified and angered him beyond comprehension. Perhaps he was still bristling from these comments from Guard printed in a book called When Rock Was Young a year or so before..
"I saw Bobby in 1975," says Dave. "He wanted me to join the group, but I didn't like that particular configuration that he had. They were a bunch of sleazy cats; it was just like gang-bang humor, with a lot of drinking on stage and stuff like that. But since then, the guy who took the job I would have had is very good, and Bobby has cleaned up his act pretty well, so it sounds almost respectable now. He learned the hard way. He tried to do it real sloppy, and then he turned around and cleaned it up."
Elsewhere, actually, Guard was quoted as saying the new band made him 'physically ill,' and while Reynolds and Werber apparently shared that view, they were at least more circumspect; at that time, after all, they were still part owners of the Kingston Trio name, and it was worth something.
Um. Well, thanks, Dave. Meanwhile, what the hell have you been doing, deadbeat.....
Now, from Shane's view, after enduring the condescending slams from one former member and weathering the complaints of the second and his former manager, another question must have arisen: why would someone interview Dave Guard about the Kingston Trio, a group he was in for only four years and, at that time, out of for almost twenty? Why does it never seem to occur to anyone to interview the guy who has always been the main singer and the only one who has always been there for all the hit records? (Even today, former member John Stewart seems to be interviewed more than Shane about the Trio…) And why the hell would Guard, even if he felt that way about the Kingston Trio at that point, say something so offensive and condescending about his former band? And, if Shane would say, only six years later, how much he dislikes Guard's singing, why did he ask him to rejoin in 1975? And why would Guard apparently consider it, given the reasons he says he left and the attitude of the new, acknowledged 'leader.' Did Shane ask Guard to rejoin, or was that the lucubration of a former star on the skids?
Logically, it would seem incredible that Shane would have wanted Guard again. He had access to better singers and musicians and, since he had made the commitment to being an oldies band, why hire someone who had dedicated his life to restructure Tom Dooley to sound as if Miles Davis had written it? The easy answer is that with Guard back, Shane might be able to entice Reynolds, then in retirement, and have a marketable item there: the original unit. The intangible answer is that Shane is a good friend and apparently has deep and lasting affections about the original Trio and his youth. Go figure. Whatever he then thought about this condescending gasbag, Dave Guard was once and would always be at some level a friend and you do things for friends. And by 1975, Guard was heading down if not actually on the skids. His marriage was in trouble, among other things. He was rumored to be experimenting with harder drugs. He was involved with a guru. Getting into "philosophy." An observer called it "what-does-it-all-mean-itis," but there are more accurate descriptions for depression.
Shane actually does do many good things for
friends. He is faithful to them, and
even in my brief contacts with him - and he would never recall me - he is
resolutely polite and kind. But he also
inspires anger, annoyance, despair, exasperation in his band mates. Roger Gambill, then a Trio member, worked
himself into a frenzy one night in
But there has always been a sense that the Trio should be a lot better, musically, than it is, and that the logjam is Shane who refuses to change, possibly because of the drinking, possibly out of a conscious fat-headedness, a sense of entitlement. This is uncomfortably close - well, dead on - with Guard's stated viewpoint forty years ago. I suspect it is seldom a broached topic, but there are many who hover around the Kingston Trio waiting for the name to become available to bring their own vision to it. It is now solely owned by Bob Shane.
After re-establishing the Trio in the early 1970's, first as The New Kingston Trio and then under pressure (because of the show's adult content, mostly) buying out the name from Werber and Reynolds, Shane had originally decided on Bill Zorn, a good and versatile singer and excellent banjo player (who has now replaced the late Lou Gottlieb in The Limeliters), and Gambill, probably the best singer and entertainer ever in the Kingston Trio. Contrary to some opinion, these were not hired simply as sidemen to Shane. Shane is aware of his deficiencies, and he knows he shines best in a group with harmony. Zorn and Gambill were presented to the audience as equal members, and Shane was devoutly faithful to them.
A powerful tenor, a funny and southern gentleman,
Gambill took the spot of Nick Reynolds, then raising Christmas trees in
It is fair to mention here that the group Guard saw in 1975 must have been with Zorn and Gambill? With Shane they did drink on stage, sometimes a lot, and the Trio was doing raunchy humor, a habit not entirely exorcised to this day. There were plusses. Raunchy but very funny, and Bill Zorn had a huge range - bass to second tenor - to go with his instrumental excellence, and Gambill was also a natural comedian and story teller in the grand Southern tradition, something Guard was not, and he was musically versatile - gifted, actually. He was much funnier than Guard, who did not actually pretend to be a comedian, rather more of a host. As a technical musician, Guard was hardly fit to string Zorn's banjo.
When he looked upon the Trio that night, Guard may have been and likely was offended by the humor, but he could also see his worse nightmare: the new Trio was better technically, if less inventive and no longer stretching. He could also see why Shane did not long for his return. And he also may have feared that if he came back, the Trio would not be as good as it currently was. Whatever stage dignity Guard could have and would have provided, he must have known the comparisons would be drawn, no longer from fading, respectful memories, but from current comparisons. And he could lose out. After all, nobody requests songs from an oldies band that aren't hits, and Guard never sang lead on a hit. And the thought of playing Tom Dooley every night with those two stupid chords……..
Dave Guard provided a touching tribute to Roger Gambill on a memorial website. It labors in memory next to his other quote about the Trio of which Gambill was then a member. It must be said that Guard leaves an unpleasant taste, sometimes. Overbearing in charge, obsequious in defeat. This may be terribly unfair, but the quotes are there (although Guard may never have envisioned them appearing on the Internet since there was no Internet to aid that prospect in 1985), and the image was in place when he had time and ability to adjust it. That he didn't speaks to the issue.
Even more difficult is seeing Guard doing the hits of the John Stewart era: Reverend Mr. Black, for one. The Kingston Trio started out having fun with folk and country music. Then, with Stewart, they started doing them for real. For Guard, truth be told, that would be slumming. One doesn't slum.
Even when the Trio returned to prominence with Stewart, there was the asterisk in everyone's mind just like Roger Maris had the same year of 1961. Not as good as Guard, but okay. For Guard to return to the KT in 1975, it would be like Babe Ruth returning to the 1961 Yankees behind Mantle and Maris, batting .156 with nothing longer than a single. The legend, whether or not ever deserved, would be gone.
Dave Guard had created an image he could not recall or recast, because it was insidious and subtle and locked in the minds of a generation no longer buying the records. He had the reputation of being the funny man, the intellect, the best musician - the one with ethereal, artistic abilities - and the irreplaceable cog in a delicate machine. With Roger Gambill in Bob Shane's group, Dave Guard would neither be the leader, the best musician, the funniest, the best singer, or much of a memory since he never sang lead on the hits. He was only the image of those traits.
To fulfill obligations in 1985, Shane hired Bob
Haworth while Gambill, who had suffered a series of heart attacks and strokes,
was still on his deathbed.
Either way, the visual effect of the Kingston Trio,
rarely mentioned, is long gone today. A
recent promo photo with Grove holding a long neck banjo only emphasizes the
problem. It simply looks stupid and outsized.
The current Kingston Trio is a self-parody, although often an entertaining one. Shane's new partners have the annoying habit of seeming to expect the respect due Reynolds, Guard, or Stewart based on the number of years they have sung with Shane, although they themselves never had careers of any comparable accomplishment or interest. An excellent group of instrumentalists (bass, drums, and the versatile and tasteful Ben Schubert on several instruments) provides a rock hard rhythm section and some great leads for the Trio today (although this was recently reduced to just a bass player). Shane still will not relinquish center mike when he is on stage, regardless of who is singing lead, and he doesn't allow audio people to recreate the studio sound that helped make him famous. The equipment exists, and it is cheap and readily available.
There are reasons, though, that the Kingston Trio with
Dave Guard was a real cultural
phenomenon, and why the Trio lost a lot - and pop music lost a lot - when he
left. At least once a set with Shane's
later Trios, after the applause dies down, there comes a moment when those of
us with long memories fully expect to hear Guard's vaguely effeminate,
distracted delivery introduce a song as he did in all those live recordings and
dictated the stage patter of thousands who followed. "The home of country western music IS
There was the visual, the substantive image of the establishment being way cool (never to be repeated), there was the then-new sound, there was the clever patter, although hardly spontaneous, between songs. There was genuine vocal, lyrical, and linguistic variety, far more than in subsequent Kingston Trios or in their competitors or in any major popular music act since, and if Guard's efforts were the least appreciated, they served to accent the hits, to lend tone to the whole proceedings. He made, intentionally or not, Shane the lead singer - he hired him back to the band when it was just Guard, Reynolds, and a departing couple: singer Barbara Bogue and Joe Gannon on bass. He could, in the words of Nick Reynolds, learn anything in about three days, which made his musical improvements so easily notable. But he was smart enough - there is no argument about his intelligence - to have realized he was a Jack of all stringed trades - an actual master of none. And he wasn't singing lead much on the songs that were translating from album to concert, the reverse procedure from when the Trio started. If he was the leader, he had no followers on stage; even Wheat may have viewed him as vehicle.
The Kingston Trio recently and deservedly made the top 100 most important musical acts of the 20th century on several lists. It was for "Tom Dooley," a song for which Dave Guard is given credit as the arranger. His is the only member name listed. But Bob Shane sang lead, as well as the famous plectrum banjo part. The most requested song of the Trio's is "Scotch and Soda," and though Dave Guard took credit for writing and arranging it, he admitted it was taught to him by baseball great Tom Seaver's parents. It is famous because Shane sang and played it as a solo. But in the written record, ‘Dave Guard’ is the only name associated with it.
What Guard clearly had was a personal multi-media charisma and star power that overcame his deficiencies and often rendered them irrelevant. Someone you wanted to know. Whatever it is, Shane, with the voice and looks, and Reynolds, with exuberance and energy, do not have it. John Stewart comes close, but somehow does not have it, and leaves the impression of effort, which Dave Guard did not. Damned few, in fact, have it. It is not just talent, but a combination of projected self-confidence, high intelligence, and the centered calmness so provided. It might, as Barbara Tuchman once suggested, be in the genes or merely inculcated by repeated reminder, but it is there early or not at all. Dave Guard talked wonderfully, wrote beautifully and wittily, charmed and enraptured, someone you had to see in performance to fully appreciate. He also was intellectually inquisitive, acquisitive, and smart enough to be, at base, sort of insecure around great natural artistic talent. The guy to his right, for example. Baffle 'em with bullshit.
Although it was a route pioneered by the supposedly selfless Allan Lomax and The Weavers, Guard, long before it became a folk fad, took credit for songs out of the public domain he had redone but not actually written. As the next generation of music stars discovered, you can get a lot of mileage out of being a songwriter, whether or not you actually wrote the song.
He had the gift of inventive and memorable phrase. He impressed men by both accomplishment, stature, and athletic ability, coupled with a certain affected and diffident modesty and great humor. Women adored him. He could ensorcel anyone, and did.
In 1992, Lou Gottlieb related a hysterical and sad story of Dave Guard and himself having dinner with a bunch of people a few years previous. People were apparently prepared to coddle Guard, although no such instructions had been given. After all, Guard was then essentially broke, he had cancer, he had no real prospects, no recent successes, he was balding with a modest pot, and yet he had beautiful women of every age staring at him as demented bassets would view a tenderloin slathered in butter. Women fought to sit next to him, the men to talk to him, everyone laughed at his jokes and listened enraptured to his stories. And this was a gathering that included the very smart, charming, and funny Lou Gottlieb. Gottlieb said Guard could have had, without question, any woman from youngest to oldest that night and borrowed money from any of the men without repayment. (Even from Gottlieb, who had watched Guard lift part of Gottlieb's own comedy routines and make them his before audiences many times larger than the Limeliters ever reached. How many comedians look fondly on those who rip them off, even admire the thief, like them, speak tearfully of their deaths? Guard always credited Gottlieb, but in comedy - an intellectual battlefield - that isn't the point.) Everyone that night, including Gottlieb, felt terrific and, well, oddly grateful to be in the presence of Dave Guard, Dave-Guard-Once-Leader-Of-The-Kingston-Trio.
Sidestepping hyperbole with difficulty, it ought to be said that on this very much lesser stage Guard recalls British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour sixty years before. It was said that after a dinner with Balfour (who invented the weekend, by the way, for which he ought to be receiving some odd recognition from those who profit from that institution), everyone felt they had been terribly witty, insightful, and wasn't Arthur a good guest? Such a good listener! And by the way, dear, didn't I talk particularly well tonight?
Those with objective memories would recall that Balfour had done virtually all the talking and simply enraptured the crowd, but leaving them with the feeling that they had been the stars. Guard apparently could do that, on stage and in person, elevating the proceedings - lending tone, as it were - and thereby leaving people feeling grateful and sometimes vaguely resentful towards him without actually knowing why. This is evidenced within his band, his audiences, and perhaps in his personal life, of which I know nothing.
I never met the man, but based on the almost uniform opinions of the several diverse people I know who had, Guard was, I think, partially like Arthur Balfour. Dave Guard was a sort of natural aristocrat with what was once called the common touch, and he inspired the reactions among people that social estate always has, given their whims. There are those willing to believe anything bad of them, and those anything good. Shane has described Guard as half genius, half bullshit, which in no way contradicts this theorem. Because even if true, it fails to acknowledge that bullshit has its charms and music.
Alistaire Cooke wrote, in reference to Edward VIII, that the fortunate should beware being thought of as only at their best when the going is good. Although his own bitterness is not given the attention that Shane's has - primarily because nobody cared, after a while, to record it - Guard was not entirely a paragon of grace when his post Kingston years never lived up to the promise, and he should not be recalled as such. But whatever his faults, and whatever their own inclinations, nobody seems to think ill of Dave Guard, almost increasingly charming and good intentioned as he drifted towards the light, dying of lymphoma over his last several years. The warmth he generated lasts yet in those who saw him in the Trio's prime a half century ago.
And....in 1988, Guard released an album (Up and In) that actually was pretty good, with catchy songs and the voices of his past lives. Although it was received by the industry with the warmth normally reserved for new releases from high school glee clubs, it actually sounds as if they had a good time with the thing, and there are good songs to steal on it. Guard's actual songwriting was, in fact, always pretty good. His taste in other's material was of a high order.
Sometime around then, the original Kingston Trio had
their last picture taken together, and there seems to have been some peace
achieved. Guard hides his right hand,
which in subsequent photos in
There was a modest service in
And no matter what, he knew that the millions of couples' first dates hosted by Dave Guard and his band on wax or in concert would be his elegant legacy; and that once that spell is questioned, or revisited, it is broken and cannot be reestablished. Fifteen years after he left the Kingston Trio, it was impossible for such a thing to be risked. Guard wanted to be asked to rejoin the Kingston Trio by Shane in 1975, but he probably would, in the end, even if there had been no salacious humor, have had to decline.
Artistic differences, you know.
With the possible exception of Bob Shane, you will have to work to find anyone who will say anything at all bad about Dave Guard, which is suspicious because outside Guard's family, Shane may be the person who knew him best. It may be that people actually liked Guard as much as they say they did - but it may also be a sense of an era gone, a sense that Guard represented the very best that his generation could ever imagine being: tall, handsome, star athlete, artistic, intellectual, smooth, rich and successful. Mixing generations and disciplines, Cary Grant crossed on John Elway crossed on …..who?
In fact, Guard - an utterly forgotten icon -
created, whether they knew it or not, the on-stage behavioral mannerisms of
everyone within two separations of seeing the original Kingston Trio (not
excluding African-American performers) from all the folkies to John Phillips,
The Beatles, Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young, James Taylor, Richie Havens, Lyndsey
Buckingham, the Beach Boys, and all of their
professional and cultural descendents.
He looked the leader - not
just of the band, but of the evening, the event, the audience - and he acted the leader so well this role was
He wrote well, both simple music and often elegant
and certainly memorable prose. His album
liner notes without fail contain at least one phrase to sing in memory.
"Furrowed brow sincerity" is one of my favorites. It was his presence at the
He was a
leader with many followers, but with the exception of John Stewart who
carefully aped as much as possible, none
of them served in the original
Odd, because the Trio was Bob Shane's from the first album, but probably nobody knew it then. Except, I think, Dave Guard.
And few suggest it now, because Shane does not, ironically, receive the warmth that naturally flowed towards Guard in restrained, respectful waves. Given what must have been some ugly and bitter fights between the original three, it must be tough for Bob Shane to see this without having received his own, long overdue credit.
Fans of the Trio are trying to resurrect the reputation, hoping to get them, based solely on their huge record sales, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and into the Country Music pantheon. They deserve both and more, but they are very heavy-handed about it, as Shane is when he puts down his guitar and - there is no other word - whines on stage about the respect the group is owed and does not get. It is awkward to listen, and it contrasts with the smooth, superior stance of Guard, and underlines the embarrassing probability that Guard's dignified presence would most likely have achieved both goals a while ago, and seemingly without effort.
Bob Shane toned down his mumbling vitriol in later
years, and certainly since Guard's death as an apparent indigent in
In his tribute to Guard on the inevitable website, Shane reveals his betrayal
mind-set by making the bizarre comment that if Guard had stayed in the Trio, they
might not have been displaced by the Beatles so quickly and in the manner they
were (which was total annihilation).
That is surreal. Among other
things, it gives no indication Shane sees the Beatles as more than just another
band, perhaps because, he told me, the Beatles opened for the Kingston Trio on
their first tour of
When the Trio last played in
After the introduction, Bob Shane - the quintessential pro - smiled, went out on stage, stood in Guard's place, sang some of Guard's verses in the old songs, surrendering the ones he himself used to sing to partners new and old, stood in the dark shadow of a slightly taller, sadder ghost with a long necked banjo, appended ever to that center microphone of The Kingston Trio, forty years on.
Dave Guard, when once asked rather cruelly how he wished to be recalled as he was trying to reenter the business, said he wanted to be remembered for having done his best, and since he is recalled rarely and only by those who care - which is to say only those having only seen him at his best - he is. Bob Shane, though, may only be remembered for his nightly work in the clubs and small concerts that have been his fate since 1967, which is to say the last seventy-five percent of his career when he was older, his voice in decline, and then mostly gone.
This is a horrible travesty. Bob Shane is a singer to whom Frank Sinatra paid the incredible compliment of refusing to record a song seemingly written for him, Scotch and Soda, because Shane had done it too well. Frank Sinatra. That's how good Bob Shane was, even at age twenty-four. But Dave Guard is the only member with his name attached to the song, a hit record on which he did not sing or play, and of a tune he accepted royalties for but did not, really, write.
It isn't fair to the
I also did not mention the object of Shane’s affair because I needed confirmation beyond Shane telling me. I’ve now gotten it. It was Judy Henske, and one can imagine Guard’s reaction. Even before the Whiskeyhill Singers disbanded, Henske was being replaced, and much if not all of the second unreleased album featured another singer altogether.
 He still does. Yet, the Smothers Brothers are the only act for which the Kingston Trio will ever open, by Shane's dictate.