The popularity of the Kingston Trio was incredible in the late 50’s, and in 1959 the group won a Grammy for their folk hit, "Tom Dooley." The initial group was made up of Dave Guard from Stanford University, and Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds from Menlo Collage, also in the Bay Area, where the two sang and played on weekends. Guard and Shane had met in school in Hawaii and continued their friendship in California and Reynolds made three.
The Senior Prom at Jamestown, NY, High School had always been held in the smelly school gym, and a few of us decided to change that and move it to the more comfortable and appropriate Ballroom at the local hotel. So I stood up at a Senior Class assembly and pitched a concert as a fund-raising idea for the Prom. Since the Kingston Trio were so popular, I also announced I‘d bring in the Kingston Trio, the place went crazy. Of course, I had no idea what that would cost or how to book them.
So I visited the head of the local Musician’s Union and told him the plan. He said he’d contact the Trio’s agent and see what their schedule was. Well of course, it was sold out, and I faced humiliation; "But wait," he said, "Louis Armstrong is available on a certain date as he travels between Buffalo and Cleveland." I thought it over, the great Satchmo was huge with older folks, but not so much kids, however, it was an easy out.
Another Senior assembly and I walked out and broke the bad news, The Kingston Trio was not available; "But wait," I said, and explained that I’d arranged for the legendary Louis Armstrong to fill in for them. There was approval, but not like it was for the Kingston's.
Later in my career I learned that what I was doing was called "Four Walling," planning on paying for an appearance with the gate. It is very frowned upon as I learned from Frank Sinatra’s lawyer in a rather contentious discussion. Anyway, Louis did come and sold out a thousand seats. A lot of people did know how special it was to see a living legend.
I stood stage right while he and the band played, and after I heard, "Bourbon Street Parade" I fell in love with a city I’d never been to, but would become very important in my later life. I also had the privilege of spending the break with Mr. Armstrong in his dressing room, but that’s another story.
Louis Armstrong - Bourbon Street Parade
Back to the Kingston Trio. That summer they came to the famous Chautauqua Institution on Chautauqua Lake in western New York, and played to a large audience in the magnificent open air Amphitheater. I had a brief chance to meet them, but no real interaction, and my date left with someone else.
Flash forward to the mid-70’s and I see the Kingston Trio are playing in a local hotel in Tulsa that night, so I decided to go. It was a supper club type gig with a well-dressed crowd of folks who had also been young at the time of the Trio's fame. The only original member was Bob Shane, who had procured the name Kingston Trio, and he had a group featuring him with two other musicians filling in for the early members.
They played the old hits well and did a reasonably good job of recreating the distinctive sound of the original group. At break-time I noticed Shane sitting at the bar, a beautiful young woman sitting on the stool next to him. I walked over and introduced myself and told him I had been at the concert in the Chautauqua Institution, and he remembered it well, a photo of the show and crowd was portrayed on one of their albums. He told me that Guard was dead, and maybe Nick too.
I asked him why he continued to play…Bob Shane looked at me for a minute and then nodded towards the gorgeous woman sitting next to him. "Oh, I see," I said. P.S., The Prom was held in the hotel Ballroom with a big band paid for by Louis Armstrong’s Concert; unfortunately there were some extra-curricular activities in the hotel that night involving alcohol and pre-marital sex, and that ensured it would never be done again. But it was a hell of a party and my date that night left with me.
Louis Armstrong - A Kiss To Build a Dream On and Blueberry Hill
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