The Kingston Trio - An Interview with Bob Shane

Bob Shane Is An Original!

Kingston Trio performing
Paul Natkin / Getty Images

In 1957 three buddies, one of which was Bob Shane, started a band. Taking folk music, and adding a pinch of comedy, the band worked hard and found an enthusiastic audience. About one year later, The Kingston Trio recorded their first album. Later that year, four of their albums were listed by Billboard Magazine in their list of the top ten. It was the first time that had ever happened.

Even if you aren't old enough to recall their meteoric rise in the music world, you might be surprised how many of their recordings you have heard. "Scotch and Soda," "Tom Dooley," "Hard, Ain't It Hard," and my favorite, the "M.T.A," are just a few of the songs that make it difficult to resist singing along. Possibly more important than any individual songs is the fact that The Kingston Trio has been credited with the revival of folk music in this country.

Although some members of The Kingston Trio have come and gone, Bob Shane continued to perform and tour until 2004. Bob Shane lives in the Valley of the Sun, and I caught up with him in between performances in 2003. He was kind enough to share some of his thoughts, and a few secrets!

Interview with Bob Shane

Judy Hedding: Bob, how did you become involved with The Kingston Trio?
Bob Shane: I formed The Kingston Trio with Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard right out of college in 1957. We were in the San Francisco Bay area. I had gone to high school with Dave, and Nick and I met in an accounting class at Menlo College. Dave was attending Stanford, which was just down the road. We started out singing and playing together in beer gardens and at frat parties. One night a publicist named Frank Werber caught our act and helped catapult us into fame. In fact, we were playing at the opening of the Surf Room in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel when we got a call from Frank telling us to come back to San Francisco--the song "Tom Dooley" had just hit #1 in the country!

After four years of playing with Dave and Nick, we had earned six gold records and two Grammies. In 1961 Dave Guard left The Kingston Trio and was replaced by John Stewart. We continued for another six years with John Stewart, and earned one more gold record. I've kept The Kingston Trio going for 45 years now with various other members.

JH: Your music was so different and original at that time. Which musicians would you say most influenced The Kingston Trio?
BS: We were influenced by The Weavers, Harry Belafonte, Stan Wilson, Travis Edmonsen (of Bud & Travis fame and who also lives in the Phoenix area), and Josh White.

JH: I'm sure you have many interesting stories about your experiences with The Kingston Trio. Care to share any of them?
BS: We crash landed our private plane on Friday, the 13th of March, 1959, in a farmer's field in Goshen, Indiana. This was shortly after, and in the general area of, where Buddy Holly went down. I was very moved and shaken because I realized how lucky we actually were. Consequently, 13 has always been my lucky number.

A few years later we were playing in Statesville, NC and a fellow asked us if we'd like to see Tom Dooley's grave. We didn't realize at the time that we were that close, so we looked forward to seeing the site with great anticipation. We were taken to the country to a lonely field near Ferguson, NC to view the gravesite. A current boyfriend of one of the Gabor sisters had just donated a new gravestone to Tom Dooley, so the original one, which was just a plain block of granite and had only the initials "TD" engraved on it, was given to us. We shipped it, all 400 pounds of it, to our manager in California. We sent it collect so he had to pay for it! To this day I'm probably one of the only people who knows where Tom Dooley's original gravestone is located!

One of the funniest experiences I ever had was doing a show called "Veterans of Comedy." Besides The Kingston Trio, the guests on the show were Shelly Berman, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Kay Ballard, Ronnie Schell, and many others too numerous to mention. We were all staying at the same hotel. Each night a bus would pick us all up and take us to the auditorium. I wish someone would have had a video camera on that bus. The jokes and gags were flying so fast and furious that people were literally rolling in the aisles of the bus and crying. On several occasions, we thought that we wouldn't be able to go on stage because we were laughing hard all the way up to the stage entrance. I felt very privileged to be a part of it. When you have a roster of comedians like that all in one spot, it's history in the making as far as I'm concerned. Those are some of the best comedians in the business.

JH: How about a few bits of Kingston Trio trivia?
BS: Here are some little-known facts for you!

  1. The Kingston Trio got its name from Kingston, Jamaica, because at the time we started singing and playing we were doing a lot of calypso music. To this day, not one of us has ever been to Kingston, Jamaica!
  2. The song Tom Dooley has only 3 verses and two chords on the guitar and has sold over 10 million copies. We're still looking for another song just like it!
  3. In 1958 The Kingston Trio received the first Grammy ever awarded for Best Country and Western performance, for the song Tom Dooley.
  4. In 1959 The Kingston Trio received the first Grammy ever awarded for Best Folk Performance, for our album entitled "At Large."
  5. Tom Dooley's real name was Tom Dula. Tom Dula actually wrote the song "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley" while in prison awaiting his hanging.
  6. I have played live to 10 million people in 45 years.

JH: Why have you chosen Phoenix as your home?
BS: I absolutely love Phoenix. It's about the best place I have ever lived. It's gorgeous and I don't mind hot weather. In fact, I like the heat. I can have a great house here without going into debt like I would if I lived in Hawaii or California! The culture is good, the restaurants are great, and Sky Harbor International Airport is very easy to get in and out of. Since I still tour 28 weeks each year, that is a big plus. I find Phoenix an easy place to commute from, and a place I love returning to. I can't imagine living anywhere else.

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I can't thank Bob enough for sharing his experiences. It was so gracious of him, especially considering his busy schedule. As a fellow Phoenician, I'm very proud to call Bob a neighbor and wish him continued happiness.

Bob Shane Update 2015

I am often contacted by readers to want to connect with Bob Shane. His health is not good and he no longer performs, but I understand that message sent to the contact email at the Kingston Trio store website will be forwarded to him. I have no other direct contact information for Bob Shane to share.