Nick Reynolds remembers it as though it were yesterday.
"I met Bobby at Menlo College, where I had transferred from the University of Arizona. He was sound asleep in the back of an accounting class and I said, `I've got to meet this guy, because this is boring me to death, too.' When he woke up, he asked if I had a guitar. I said yes and he said, `Good, I have some bongo drums," and we didn't go back to class for days.""Bobby" is, of course, Bob Shane, and the result, as most of America was soon to find out, was the Kingston Trio. "We began by singing Hawaiian songs," Reynolds says, "and, coming from San Diego, I knew some Mexican songs. Then we got together with Dave Guard, whom Bobby had known in Hawaii, and put it together. A lot of people don't realize how similar Mexican and Hawaiian harmonies are."
It was while performing at coffeehouses around the San Francisco area in 1957 that the three were discovered by a publicist who reportedly signed them to a contract on a table napkin. But the way Shane and Reynolds tell it, it was in Utah that they were really discovered.
"That was the first concert we ever played," Shane recalls, "in 1958 at the Rainbow Randevu. We'd done some club dates and our first album came out when two fellows at KLUB, Paul Coburn and Bill Terry, started pushing `Tom Dooley.' "
"Capitol had been reluctant to release it as a single," Reynolds adds, "but in Salt Lake we ended up with five songs in the top 10 off the album."
In its various incarnations, the trio has tried to return the favor ever since, with regular visits to Utah. This week, however, marks a first. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27, they will be performing with the Utah Symphony in concerts at 8 p.m. in Symphony Hall.
That means Salt Lakers will likely hear "Tom Dooley" again, along with "MTA," "Scotch and Soda," "Greenback Dollar," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and, for the first time locally, "Jamaica Farewell." "For years people accused us of doing it," Shane recalls, "and we kept telling them it was a Belafonte song. But so many asked that we finally said, `Why not?' But we just do it with symphonies."
In a way that brings them back to the beginning. "We started out playing calypso - that's how we got the name Kingston," says the Hawaiian-born Shane. "Then people started calling us folk singers. Then for `Tom Dooley' they gave us two Grammys for country-and-western."
It's also a first for Reynolds, whowill be making his first Utah appearance since rejoining the group 2 1/2 years ago. Of the original members, Dave Guard was the first to leave, in 1961. He was replaced by John Stewart in what some still believe was the best-sounding edition of the trio until it, too, broke up in 1967.
"We'd been doing it for 10 years or so and sort of got burned out," Reynolds explains. "The whole thing had gotten so huge. We were out working all the time and had this eight-story office building working for us - accountants, lawyers, recording studios, etc. They were making more money than I was, and I said, `I think I might take a break for a while.' "
By then Stewart was also ready to try a solo career - a successful one, as it turned out - and even Shane decided to give it a shot.
"I had a fellow write a song for me called `Honey,' " he recalls, "and we had orders for two or three hundred thousand records, but it never got printed. Then Bobby Goldsboro did it and sold 3 million of them. From that I learned I would prefer to work in a group."
That was the New Kingston Trio, which Shane kept going until 1975, when he bought the old name back and hit the road again with Roger Gambill and George Grove. Grove is still with the group, and in fact is responsible for the orchestral arrangements patrons will be hearing Friday and Saturday.
"George is the first guy to work with us who actually majored in music," Shane observes. But even Grove has been quoted as saying he first learned to play the banjo and guitar from listening to Kingston Trio records. "He's a fan who got a chance to become a member of the group," Shane says.
Reynolds got his chance to come back in 1988. "I spent 20 years up in Oregon raising cattle and kids," he says, before moving back to the San Diego area 3 1/2 years ago to help manage a restaurant. "My mom and sisters were still there," he says, "and I decided it wasn't fair to raise kids that isolated in this day and age - like they had never seen a black person. Plus I had a little cabin fever."
Earlier he had performed with Shane and Guard as part of PBS' Kingston Trio reunion special in 1981. "I told Bobby if he ever needed somebody to fill in sometime to give me a call." He did, and the result is what Reynolds calls "the most legitimate version of the Kingston Trio in the last 20-odd years."
These days the group spends about 35 weeks a year on the road, including around 20 orchestral dates per season. Reynolds says it's an "amazing feeling to stand onstage going into a song and hear that sound coming up behind you." But just as thrilling are the people they run into who, like Grove, admit to having been inspired to play the guitar or banjo by the Kingston Trio.
According to Shane, the list includes Lindsey Buckingham, Rick James and the Allman Brothers. "The difference is," says Reynolds, "is that they took it about 10 steps farther. Where we played maybe two chords on `Tom Dooley,' they're playing seven. I realize it's kind of square to say I picked up the guitar because of the Kingston Trio, because we were not known as the greatest musicians in the world. It's much more hip to say Blind Lemon Jefferson or Huddie Ledbetter. But a lot of people have been coming out of the closet, and if we've had any influence at all that's the greatest thing I can think of."
Currently plans are afoot for a reunion tour next year involving not only the current edition of the trio but Dave Guard and John Stewart. For a lot of their fans I expect that will be the greatest thing they can think of. Until then, however, next weekend's concerts are probably as close to it as we're likely to get.
Tickets, priced from $10 to $25, are available at the Symphony Hall box office, with student tickets available at $5. For information call 533-NOTE.