Thursday, October 2, 2008

This whole thing has sure been a lesson to me...bang, you're dead!

R.I.P. Nick Reynolds.

At a time when so many musical acts once considered kitsch are suddenly being re-evaluated as cool, we're still not seeing much love for the Kingston Trio. Well never mind those bollocks, I say. As I've said on the station before, if you stop judging them by folk purist standards and instead hear them as a pop group who played folk songs, it's clear how brilliant they really were. As my first exposure to harmonies, guitars, hooks, and songs that told a story, I have to tip my hat to them as the doormen to a million musical experiences. Even Dylan gave them props in his Chronicles book.

Nick Reynolds was the boisterous, enthusiastic high-harmony guy who balanced out Bob Shane the romantic balladeer and Dave Guard the snide intellectual. (Also, he was a fairly good conga player on the side and helped steer the group to try the occasional African number, which they would do very, uh, whitely, but they planted a seed in my 5-year-old mind that made Soweto township jive sound intriguingly familiar to me when I heard it much later.) The mix of personalities was a template for folk groups and later, rock bands, of individuals making up a whole and retaining their individual identity. On the documentary DVD that came out a couple years ago, Reynolds did not look well, slurring his words as if he had had a stroke. Maybe he did, but he held his own, contributing his story to the record.

Hard to remember now that there was a time when they were the most popular group in the country until the Beatles came along, but it was true. Call them bland and commercial if you must, but you'd be missing the context: in 1959, just as rock & roll was shifting from the abandon of rockabilly and doo-wop to bigger production numbers, three guys with acoustic guitars came along and made music look easy to the general public, inspiring countless amateurs to give it a go themselves and serving as the perfect gateway drug to the heavier stuff that the folk tradition had to offer. So, here at Ear Candle, we are lowering the flag to half mast in honor of the guy who sang lead on the first version of "Sloop John B" I ever heard.

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