It's ironic that three business school graduates would break ground for the folk movement that included Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary.
But that's what happened, according to Bob Shane, a founding member of the Kingston Trio. (The trio performs with the Utah Symphony Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Deer Valley. Call 533-NOTE.)"We started off as a calypso act," said Shane, adding with a laugh, "but white boys don't do that, so we tried to sell ourselves as an albino steel band."
Seriously, though, it began with the trio's first hit, "Tom Dooley." "When `Tom Dooley' came off the album (as a single), they didn't have a folk-singing category the first year of the Grammys.
"They looked around and saw that country music was dead in sales and needed a boost, so they gave us the first Grammy ever given for a country-and-western performance. And then they added the folk category the next year and gave us a Grammy for best folk album."
Shane doesn't mind the category shift. "You can call us anything you want, just pay us."
That early commerical success and other Kingston Trio hits paved the way for Dylan, et. al, he says. "If it hadn't have been for us, none of those other groups would have come along, because folk music was unheard of. We showed that you can play that kind of music and make money."
While Kingston Trio songs feature three-part harmony and simple acoustic guitar ac-comp-an-i-ment, Shane says most aren't laden with messages of peace or protest, like many of the folk songs that followed from other artists. "Peter Paul and Mary made their entire living off of protesting. We never protested, you know. What have we got to protest? We didn't protest Vietnam. We didn't go to it, but we didn't protest it."
If the trio has a message, it's "that too much fun is not enough," Shane explained. And the group's live shows reflect this.
"We've actually played live to over 10 million people in 41 years," he said. "And I think it's playing live that we enjoy the most. Records are always secondary, it's the live show we like. And part of our show is comedy. We tell a lot of stories and stuff."
And after 41 years and more than 400 songs recorded, the trio has a lot of stories to tell. For example, they could tell about the advice they gave an 18-year-old who came backstage to ask how to make it in show business. They told him to go to college, major in something like business and then get into the entertainment industry. "He came up to us and told us the story last year. He's the CEO of Disneyland."
Although they are no longer topping the charts, Shane says the Kingston Trio appeals to a wide age range. "I'd say 40 to 50 per cent of the people who come are the people we played to (30 years ago) who are now in their 50s and 60s. However, they've brought their kids up on it and they've brought their kids up on it."
The Kingston Trio is excited to return to Salt Lake city because this is where their Grammy-award winning single "Tom Dooley" broke on KLUB radio."Bill Terry and Paul Tolbert were the disc jockeys who broke it and gave us our big break," Shane said.
Now, with songs like "Tijuana Jail," "Scotch and Soda," "MTA" "Raspberry Strawberry," among others, the trio is an indelible part of America's musical history.
"All the rock 'n' roll bands come up to us and say `it it wasn't for you we'd have never picked up a guitar,' " said Shane. "Nothing was intentional, it's just the way it happened."