FAREWELL CAPTAIN: The impact of the Kingston Trio on the world of music at large cannot be overstated. Arguably the band that (aside from the Ventures) inspired more people to pick up a guitar and form their own group, the Kingston Trio pretty much single handedly galvanized the folk boom and in turn inspired the folk and country rock movements. Beloved band co-founder Robert Castle "Bob Shane" Schoen was the last surviving co-founder of the band. His passing on the evening of Sunday the 26th of January (just hours after the horrific Calabasas, California helicopter crash that claimed the life of Los Angeles Lakers great and Oscar winning filmmaker Kobe Bryant, his daughter and several others) truly brought to a close one of the most extraordinary legacies in all of music.  Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell salutes this beloved giant and recalls the highlights of the band's phenomenal legacy below. Pictured above: the Kingston Trio in action in the 1960s. Left to right: Bob Shane, John Stewart and Nick Reynolds (Click on above image to enlarge).

By Michael McDowell

No two ways about it. January 2020 is now arguably the worst month in music history.

There have been periods previously when the world of music was marked by a higher than average amount of tragedy. January 1998 immediately comes to mind, with the New Years Eve 1997 passing of keyboard virtuoso and veteran session man Floyd Cramer, followed in the first few weeks of 1998 by the horrific losses of Beach Boys' lead guitarist Carl Wilson, rock and roll pioneer Carl Perkins, country music composer and vocalist Justin Tubb, blues great Junior Wells, Sonny And Cher's resident genius, Sonny Bono and renowned producers Nick Venet and Owen Bradley, among others.

As painful as those losses were, the sheer volume of tragedy that has availed itself in the first month of the 2020s absolutely staggers the imagination. Among the losses were Chartbusters co-founder Vernon Sandusky, R&B giant Robert Parker, veteran rocker Bobby Comstock, beloved composer and vocalist Willy "Tobin Matthews" Henson, Kaleidoscope's Chris Darrow, Left Banke front man Steve Martin Caro, Chicago radio vet and commentator Ron Smith, actor and vocalist Edd Byrnes, Rush drummer Neil Peart, and Buckinghams keyboardsman Marty Grebb. And while not a musician per se, the horrific 26 January passing of Los Angeles Lakers great and Oscar winning filmmaker Kobe Bryant in a Calabasas, California helicopter crash (which also claimed the life of his daughter Gianna and several others) cut to the heart of the public at large. 

Sadly, as one astute journalistic colleague observed in the hours immediately following the Bryant tragedy, "Regrettably, January isn't over yet".

True to his sad speculation, the world of music suffered yet another catastrophic loss during the late hours of 26 January with the death of iconic composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, actor, author, musicologist, visionary and Hilo, Hawaii native Robert Castle "Bob Shane" Schoen. 

As co-founder and last surviving member of the original Kingston Trio, Shane's contributions to the world of music cannot be overstated. Although they were preceded in their collective mission statement by the Almanac Singers, Leadbelly, the Weavers, the Tarriers and the Easy Riders, the Kingston Trio pretty much spearheaded the folk music (and ultimately folk rock) boom that brought the world the likes of the Highwaymen, the Brothers Four, the Journeymen, Peter, Paul And Mary and countless others of similar intent. In turn, their extraordinary vision inspired the folk rock and country rock of Rick Nelson, Brian Hyland, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Monkees, the Turtles, the Byrds, the International Submarine Band and the Dillards, as well as such like minded and prolific greats as Abba and composer/vocalist Bill Mumy.

In turn, the Kingston Trio is rivaled perhaps only by the Ventures in terms of the sheer volume of musicians who have professed to learn the guitar after being inspired by their music. Like the Ventures, the Kingston Trio also produced instructional records which guided the listener/student through basic guitar lessons, drawn from highlights of their catalogue.

To be certain, theirs is a catalog with few peers in all of music. Beginning in the late 1950s as Dave Guard and the Calypsonians, the group underwent a series of personnel changes, becoming the Kingston Trio in 1957. In tandem with their enormously successful and lengthy residence at San Francisco's hungry i club, the Kingston Trio signed with Capitol Records. Their self-titled 1958 debut for the label is a sublime showcase for some of the folk genre's definitive masterpieces, including Hard Ain't It Hard, Banua, Bay Of Mexico, Coplas, Three Jolly Coachmen, Scotch And Soda, Fast Freight and their monster classic second single, Tom Dooley.

The Kingston Trio's astounding streak in the studio continued unabated well into the mid-1960s, with numerous landmark releases for Capitol and Decca. In turn, the group was second to none in a live setting. Between 1957 and 1967, the Kingston Trio recorded several groundbreaking concert albums, highlighted by their definitive masterpiece, Once Upon A Time, recorded in July 1966 but not released until 1969 on the Tetragrammaton label. 

Both the Once Upon A Time album and the band's 1958 Capitol debut were saluted by Blitz Magazine as being among the best albums of the twentieth century. Likewise, their sublime 1959 A Worried Man 45 for Capitol was in a multi-single tie (along with Bing Day's I Can't Help It, Travis And Bob's Tell Him No and the Bell Notes' I've Had It) for Blitz Magazine's pick for best single of that most crucial musical year. Ultimately, the Kingston Trio were honored by Blitz Magazine as one of the five top bands of the twentieth century, alongside the Monkees, the Beach Boys, Herman's Hermits and the Guess Who.

Among the countless blessings in Blitz Magazine's history, one of the absolute highlights has been our ongoing relationship with the members of the Kingston Trio. In the early 1980s, Blitz Magazine reached out to band co-founder Donald David "Dave" Guard, who at the time was embarking upon a new career as a magazine editor, while continuing to record occasionally as a solo artist. Guard (who had left the band in 1961 to found Dave Guard And The Whiskey Hill Singers) had participated in a Kingston Trio reunion in 1981, and professed encouragement for Blitz Magazine's ongoing support of his endeavors. Tragically, his vision was cut short in March 1991 with his passing from lymphatic cancer at age 56.

While our association with Guard's successor in the Kingston Trio was brief, his legacy was enormous in its own right. First rising to prominence as a member of the Kingston Trio-inspired Cumberland Three (who recorded for Morris Levy's Roulette Records), John Coburn Stewart composed a few songs for the Kingston Trio before succeeding Guard in the group on banjo and as co-lead vocalist. Stewart's remarkable gift for humor was evidenced in abundance on the aforementioned Once Upon A Time album, while his extraordinary acumen as a composer is showcased brilliantly in both the Monkees' Daydream Believer and the Lovin' Spoonful's Never Going Back

Blitz's lone encounter with Stewart came at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California in the early 1980s. The current incarnation of the Kingston Trio (which at the time included Bob Shane, long time member George Grove and the late Roger Gambill) was headlining, and Stewart was on hand to cheer on their performance. After brief introductions, Blitz Magazine and Stewart were engaged in a spirited conversation about the band's phenomenal catalog, when a long time friend that Stewart had not seen in decades approached him and understandably commanded his attention for the duration of the evening. That friend was retired Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter.

And while the Kingston Trio underwent a few changes in the months immediately following Roger Gambill's unexpected passing from a heart attack at age 42 in March 1985, they were soon to stabilize once again with one of the strongest line ups in their history. Back on board with Bob Shane and George Grove was band co-founder Nicholas Wells "Nick" Reynolds. 

A remarkably gifted humorist, world class vocalist (his is the lead vocal on the band's landmark 1959 M.T.A. single) and devout musicologist, Reynolds pursued other interests when the band embarked upon a brief sabbatical in 1967, including seasons as an antiques curator and professional tennis player. His return to the band in 1988 marked one of the most memorable and endearing phases of their legacy.

In the mid-1990s, Capitol Records issued an acclaimed four CD box set chronicling the highlights of the Kingston Trio's affiliation with the label, which also included a number of heretofore unreleased tracks. Reynolds served as the band's liaison for media relations with respect to that release, and spoke at great length with Blitz Magazine about that project, as well as the band's overall legacy. 

Sadly, ill health forced Reynolds' retirement from the band at the close of 1999. He was briefly replaced in the line up by Bob Haworth, who had worked with Bill, Brett and Mark Hudson in the late 1960s as a member of the New Yorkers. Nonetheless, Reynolds and Stewart continued to participate in the acclaimed Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp during the early years of the twenty-first century. 

Tragically, Reynolds succumbed to his long term illnesses on 01 October 2008 at age 75. Ironically, just months earlier, he had enjoyed one final evening in the company of John Stewart, just hours prior to Stewart's death on 19 January 2008 at age 68.

On the evening of Reynolds' passing, Blitz Magazine had the difficult task of contacting Dave Guard's son, composer, vocalist, filmmaker and recording artist (the acclaimed Shy River album), Tom Guard to advise him of the tragedy. Tom Guard remains a long time confidante and dear friend of Blitz Magazine.

All of which should have left Bob Shane as the last active original member of the Kingston Trio. However in 2004, Shane suffered a heart attack at age seventy, while on tour with the band. His illness forced his retirement from the road, though he continued to participate in the band's ongoing studio activities and oversaw their ongoing and staggeringly prolific live performance itinerary from his Arizona headquarters.

As the first decade of the twenty-first century drew to a close, Shane turned his attention towards making available various heretofore unreleased tracks by the band. They included a number of acclaimed CD releases for the now defunct Collectors Choice label, as well as a collection of independently issued rarities chronicling the band's earliest demos and rehearsal tapes. Through it all, Shane graciously kept Blitz Magazine in the loop on each succeeding project, each of which were the subjects of extensive and glowing documentation and review on this end.

"Blitz Magazine rocks!", Shane said on more than one occasion; an affirmation that in and of itself more than made this ongoing labor of love worthwhile.

Although Shane's enthusiasm for his work continued unabated well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, like his colleagues, he was also plagued by steadily declining health. A stroke had further curtailed his activities a couple of years ago, although he kept the faithful apprised on social media and devoted much of his time and attention to his wife, Bobbie and his family. Most heartbreakingly, Shane finished his race during the evening of 26 January, just six days from what would have been his eighty-sixth birthday.

Many have gone on at great length about the impact of the Kingston Trio on their own work. Most notably, the Monkees in 1967 covered the Kingston Trio's Guardo El Lobo, retitling it Riu Chiu in the process. The Fireballs' late 1967 Atco label monster classic, Bottle Of Wine was taken from the Kingston Trio's 1965 Stay Awhile album for Decca. The Beach Boys' drew from the Kingston Trio's version of Sloop John B and turned it into a substantial hit single in 1966. Shane's 1968 solo single, Honey for Decca (recorded during the band's brief sabbatical) was covered weeks later and turned into a massive hit by Bobby Goldsboro. Good News from the Kingston Trio's 1959 At Large album for Capitol became a frequently covered standard in the world of Gospel music. And the aforementioned Bill Mumy even recorded a tribute album to the band for Karl Anderson's Global Recording Artists label.

But perhaps few tributes paid the Kingston Trio (and Bob Shane in particular) were as fitting as one said to have come from the so-called Chairman Of The Board, Frank Sinatra. When asked to comment on some of his favorite recordings, Sinatra cited (among others), the Kingston Trio's aforementioned Scotch And Soda, which eventually saw release as a single in 1962, four years after its debut on the band's first album. 

With the band's Dave Guard credited as composer, Scotch And Soda is for all practical purposes a Bob Shane solo track. Arguably also the band's signature single, Scotch And Soda was their most requested number in live settings, with Shane's husky baritone soaring in a manner that few have equaled. When asked why he never recorded the piece himself, Sinatra is said to have commented that Shane's version was so perfect that there was nothing that he (Sinatra) could do to enhance or improve upon it. 

And with Shane's passing comes the end of one of the most storied, impacting inspirational and influential careers in the history of recorded music. The Kingston Trio's contributions continue to be held in the highest esteem not only at Blitz Magazine, but by the millions worldwide who via their support assured the Kingston Trio their place in the upper echelons of music overall.

In the words of one of the standout tracks from the band's 1964 live Back In Town album, Farewell Captain. And thank you for your service.


ANOTHER FULL DOSE OF LOVE: Beloved veteran vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Evie Sands and her band have spent most of the summer months of 2019 in the studio in preparation for the release of Scandal Du Jour, her highliy anticipated follow up to 2017's acclaimed Shine For Me on her own R-Spot label  Sands (pictured above with bassist Teresa Cowles, drummer Eric Vesper and guitarist Jason Berk prior to a live performance in February 2019) discussed the creative process with Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell, as well as her undertaking the extraordinary step of underwriting the project via a Crowd Funding Campaign. Long time colleague and keyboardsman Adam Marsland also weighed in from Southeast Asia, where he took some time from working on the second season of his video blog, Adam Walks Around and post-production work for recent live dates by the Association to particpate in the Scandal Du Jour sessions. (Click on the above image to enlarge).

By Michael McDowell

Creative autonomy is a tremendous asset for the recording artist. But it comes with considerable responsibilities.

It was the Monkees who initially paved the way for creative autonomy among artists who were signed to a major label, which they did via their so-called Palace Revolt in early 1967. While there had been artists since the dawn of the recording industry in the late 1880s who had contributed to the outcome in various extracurricular capacities, the most frequently invoked methodology up until that point had been the so-called Team Approach. 

The Team Approach basically involved drawing from the most adept sources in every capacity (vocalists, musicians, composers, producers and engineers) to produce the best possible results. But while that template served a purpose for many an artist whose gifts were not multi-faceted, it often produced a sense of discontentment among the more visionary among them, who were predisposed to seeing their efforts through to completion themselves. 

Since the Monkees as a band were blessed in each of those attributes from within, it was inevitable that the continued invoking of the Team Approach on their behalf was not the most viable option for their ongoing aesthetic fulfillment. To be certain, every band and solo artist signed to a major label in their wake owes them a debt of tremendous gratitude for the quantum leap they took in that respect.

Over the course of the next decade, creative autonomy took another giant step. With the advent of the so-called Punk / New Wave movement in the mid-1970s, artists determined to chart their own course began to do so by taking over the business end of the process, as well. Independent labels sprang up in great numbers, with artists often doing their own management, publicity and booking. Not surprisingly, the results varied widely.

Before long, a number of veteran artists followed suit. Disenchanted with long term major label affiliations for a variety of reasons, artists who had been in the spotlight for years and even decades at that point began to assume creative autonomy over every facet of their career. 

Among the earliest to make the transition and flourish in the process were country music legend Bill Anderson and Byrds co-founder Roger McGuinn. Both were blessed with a rare savvy on all fronts, and both continue to oversee their entire operations to the present day.

On the other hand, a number of veteran artists have learned the hard way that being signed to a major label may not have been such a bad option after all.

During their seasons of their respective affiliations with major labels, the artists entered the studio, laid down their tracks, and then performed a series of live dates in support of their efforts. Upon occasion, their touring schedule was augmented by interviews with the press, radio and television. But in general, that was the extent of their contribution to the process.

Cinecyde co-founder and front man Gary Reichel was a key figure in the creative autonomy boom during the late 1970s. It was he who astutely observed at the time that having made the greatest recording in the world was ultimately an exercise in futility if others were unable to hear it.

And while it may not have been readily apparent to other artists as of yet, that was where their major label affiliation was often a blessing. 

It is not uncommon, even in the present day, for a long dormant artist to opt to return to recording and performing, only to discover the hard way that the creative process is not what it used to be. Armed with great ideas and a renewed sense of purpose, they rebound into the studio and pour their hearts into their comeback projects.

But then comes the inevitable question. Now what?

The former major label artist is then confronted with the reality that was readily apparent to the ambitious independents of the mid to late 1970s, who had no such mainstream experience from which to draw. And that is where Gary Reichel's aforementioned observation comes into play.

Beloved musical visionary Ron Dante was among the first to come to this realization, during his affiliation with Roulette Records in 1964 - 1965 as a member of the Detergents. Weary of seemingly endless live dates in support of the group's November 1964 Leader Of The Laundromat single, Dante approached label head Morris Levy to inquire as to when the gifted trio might realize tangible compensation for their efforts.

While generally not remembered for his altruistic tendencies, Levy nonetheless gave Dante a bit of sage advice that succintly put the matter in perspective: "Your money is in touring. You let me worry about the records".

In other words, in that era of the Team Approach, Dante and his Detergents colleagues had done their part by recording and composing a significant percentage of their material, as borne out in their classic The Many Faces Of The Detergents album. It was at that point that their work for Roulette was done. 

But for Roulette (and any other major label, for that matter), the work had just begun. Mixing the master tapes. Post-production. Album cover design. Promotions. Advertising. Mailing out an endless stream of promo copies and press kits. Follow up. 

It was a gargantuan process; one that remains beyond the reach of many artists now, let alone a half century ago. Yet Dante ultimately learned his lessons well, having been a leading light on a variety of musical fronts in the ensuing decades. 

In turn, it was also to Bill Anderson and Roger McGuinn's credit that each succeeded in that respect at such a relatively early stage. As a former newspaper reporter, Anderson had the blessing of the so-called "nose for news" that enabled him to pay closer attention to such details than did many of his colleagues. 

In turn, McGuinn's career had run the gamut of experience, from session work for such artists as Bobby Darin and the Chad Mitchell Trio to pre-Byrds major label projects with the City Surfers and the Beefeaters. Their respective experiences and keen attention to detail both served them well in the long run.

Thankfully, other veteran artists with that "nose for news" and a wealth of experience borne of such misadventures as those which initially befell Ron Dante have taken the proverbial bull by the horns and have seen their careers blessed exponentially as a result.

Enter the beloved veteran five-tool player, Evie Sands.

With a wealth of major label affiliations to her credit (including ABC Paramount, A&M, Capitol / Haven and RCA Victor, as well as brief but most memorable associations with the storied Blue Cat and Cameo labels), Sands over the past few decades has navigated a healthy transition from the majors to the indies (fellow vet Chip Taylor's Train Wreck Records), and most recently overall creative autonomy via her own R-Spot Records. In the process (aided an abetted in no small part by an unwaveringly devoted long term fan base), Sands has continued to excel on all fronts. 

To that effect, Sands and her colleagues have spent much of the summer of 2019 in the studio, working on her forthcoming and highly anticipated new album, Scandal Du Jour. In doing so, she is taking the ambitious step of underwriting the project via a Crowd Funding Campaign.

"Crowd funding campaigns depend upon lots of sharing and spreading the word to work out successfully", said Sands.

"The campaign goes live (on the eleventh of September). It's all massively helpful!"

While an untested concept to date in terms of her own career, the Crowd Funding Campaign, if proven successful (as it doubtlessly will be) will underwrite for the time being both the creative process and the resultant business follow up. To her considerable credit, Sands had already more than proven her mettle on all fronts in 2017 with her highly acclaimed Shine For Me for R-Spot. By all accounts, the forthcoming Scandal Du Jour should follow suit accordingly.

"Scandal Du Jour is a full length album", Sands said, in comparison to the six-track Shine For Me.

"Twice as many songs and ideas to explore. The album will have a mix of high energy, somewhat of an edge, soulful stuff, moody textures and melodic earworms."

Quite a diverse mixture from an artist whose methodology to date has been to produce successive recordings that can at once both augment and stand in contrast to her previous efforts. And it is in that respect that the Team Approach continues to serve her mission statement well.

"The band is Teresa Cowles - bass and vocals, Jason Berk - guitars and vocals, Eric Vesper - drums and vocals, and me on guitar, keyboards and vocals", Sands said.

"Kurt Medlin will be adding percussion."

Sands and her band have previously worked together extensively in various capacities. In the spirit of the Team Approach, each is remarkably gifted in their respective roles. To wit, bassist Cowles is both a veteran of long time favorites Dragster Barbie, and also portrayed renowned session bassist Carole Kaye in the acclaimed Brian Wilson biopic, Love And Mercy.

"I love my band", Sands said.

"We all love making music together and we're all the best of friends. I think it affects the music in a special way."

To that effect, the physical presence of one esteemed colleague is missed at the Scandal Du Jour sessions. Long time band member, Cockeyed Ghost co-founder and Karma Frog Records CEO Adam Marsland presently divides the majority of his time between various locales in Southeast Asia, where he is presently filming Season Two of his acclaimed Adam Walks Around video series.

Nonetheless, through the miracle of technology, Marsland has been a welcome participant in the Scandal Du Jour proceedings.

"Adam is contributing at least one keyboard track for a song, remote recorded in Asia", said Sands.

"Others may be enlisted as the album takes shape."

For Marsland, his ability to participate is a relatively easy byproduct of his current video ventures.

"I have a little portable studio that I carry around with me", said Marsland.

"I borrowed a keyboard at a home studio owned by a friend of mine, Jaye Muller in Cebu (Philippines). 

"Basically, I just set everything up and banged out the part while Jaye and his wife were waiting for me to come down for dinner!"

Marsland readily echoes Sands' enthusiasm for their ongoing collaboration. Both had worked together regularly in Marsland's ambitious Adam Marsland's Chaos Band, in which Sands served as guitarist.

"I may do another thing for her, as well", Marsland concurred.

"These are both songs that we did in the early days of Adam Marsland's Chaos Band, which I did some arrangement on. I think Evie wanted me to play on those tunes because of that, which I appreciate!"

To underscore the success of the best of both worlds mission statements of both Marsland and Sands, Marsland has also devoted much of his on the road studio time in recent weeks to working on a project for yet another beloved veteran band.

"I did recently get asked to do some work on live tapes by the current line up of the Association", he said.

"It's a whole concert. But basically, I just did one song to see if the approach I would take to mixing it would be valid. 

"The last I heard, one of the guys in the band liked it and was going to the other guys. I don't know if it will go beyond that or not. Hope so!"

Meanwhile, Sands and her colleagues are persevering in the studio with considerable enthusiasm.

"At the moment, (I am) developing the next few songs to record, and will begin adding on to the first six", she said.

"So far, we've recorded six basic tracks, six lead vocals, and some backing vocals. The band recorded the tracks together live."

In the process, there should be much in Scandal Du Jour to both placate the long term devotees and please the more recent converts to her cause.

"There's a special synergy that happens in the room when a band records live", Sands noted.

"Listening to each other, in the moment with each other, and playing off of each other. Different nuanced ideas arise, evolve and are captured."

Even so, Sands is not averse to opting for alternative methodologies if the circumstances warrant it.

"It's fine to do it piecemeal, too, with each element recorded one at a time", she said.

"Both ways are good. It's still about songs, feelings, passion, emotion and telling the story. That said, recording tracks live as a band is a blast!"

To ensure optimum results, Sands has remained loyal to proven working relationships in the technological settings, as well.

"Steve Refling is again at the board", she said.

"I love working with that guy!"

Concurrently, Sands is dividing her time in the studio with her unwavering, ardent support of Major League Baseball's premier franchise, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sands is part of an ad hoc entertainment industry quartet that professes and promotes camaraderie between the industry and the team. The foursome also includes Balancing Act and Thee Holy Brothers co-founder and renowned session musician Willie Aron, fellow journalist and author Domenic Priore, and Blitz Magazine Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell.

"Would be nice to have a downtown parade this year", Sands said.

"Lots of baseball and, I'm sure, frustration to endure. Some opponents will be formidable. Let's hope they can get over it and find a second wind to blaze into October!"

In the meantime, Sands and her colleagues are persevering through the studio process with a healthy mix of creative autonomy and the Team Approach, which in her case is almost certain to guarantee the usual optimum results.

"Very happy and excited about this one", she said.

And if previous triumphs are any indication, Scandal Du Jour is certain to be far, far more than just a (in the words of one of her earlier triumphs for the A&M label), Close Your Eyes, Cross Your Fingers moment.