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.