In the 1950s, the group helped drive the folk music revival that paved the way for such artists as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Nick Reynolds, who as a college student grabbed a guitar, donned a broad-striped button-down shirt and quickly helped propel the 1950s folk music revival to the top of the pop music charts as a founding member of the Kingston Trio, died Wednesday in San Diego. He was 75.
Reynolds had been hospitalized in recent weeks with acute respiratory disease and a variety of other illnesses, his son, Josh Reynolds, said today. His family chose to take him off life support.
The group's recording of the tragic 19th century folk ballad Tom Dooley" went to No. 1 in 1958 and earned Reynolds and his partners Dave Guard and Bob Shane a Grammy Award for best country and western performance at the first Grammy ceremony. In that inaugural year, the Grammys had no categories dedicated to folk music, which was booming on college campuses around the country. The following year, the group's album The Kingston Trio at Large" picked up a second Grammy for its members.
The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta ... from Odetta, I went to Harry Belafonte, the Kingston Trio, little by little uncovering more as I went along.
Reynolds typically handled the middle part of the trio's scintillating three-part harmonies, sometimes adding congas and other percussion accents. Although the group's music generally shied away from the politicized content of such forbears as Woody Guthrie and the Weavers, its commercial breakthrough in the late-'50s represented a clean-cut alternative to the sexualized rock 'n' roll of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and others that had American teens in its grip. And it helped set the stage for such upcoming folk-rooted protest singers as Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary.
It really started with the Weavers, in the early '50s," Reynolds said in a 2006 interview speaking of the group that included Pete Seeger. We were big fans of theirs, but they got blacklisted in the McCarthy era. Their music was controversial. Suddenly, they couldn't get any airplay; they couldn't get booked into the big hotels, nothin'.
We played their kind of music when we were first performing in colleges. But when we formed the trio ... we had to sit down and make a decision: Are we going to remain apolitical with our music? Or are we going to slit our throats and get blacklisted for doing protest music? We decided we'd like to stay in this business for a while. And we got criticized a lot for that. ... If Bob Dylan or Joan Baez had come out at that time, they'd have been dead in the water. But four or five years later, [their music] became commercially viable."
The trio also charted hits with The Tijuana Jail," M.T.A." and Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone," a protest song that became popular with anti-Vietnam War activists and that the group eventually sang on the White House lawn as President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, looked on.