October 4, 2008

As Part of Kingston Trio, He Set Stage for Folk Musicians


By Randy Lewis

Los Angeles Times

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 Thursday.

The group's recording of the 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 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 U.S. college campuses. The following year, the group's album "The Kingston Trio at Large" picked up a second Grammy for its members.

Bob Dylan once said: "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 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 & 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. "

The trio also charted hits with "The Tijuana Jail,""M.T.A." and Seeger's protest song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

Originally published by BY RANDY LEWIS.

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