When the Kingston Trio takes the stage in Gold Beach Friday for a concert for the Chetco Bar Fire relief fund, Josh Reynolds will be carrying on a folk music tradition his father started in the 1950s.
“Dad strongly believed in connecting with his audience one on one,” said Josh, 57, son of the band’s founder Nick Reynolds. “He only knew three or four chords, but that was enough. No one worked harder at his craft.”
Nick Reynolds died in 2008. None of the original members of the Kingston Trio are in the band.
Still, the band has a worldwide following that dates back to the late 1950s with recognizable foot-tapping tunes such as “Tom Dooley,” “M.T.A.,” “Green Back Dollar” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Those songs will be among those featured during the 7 p.m. concert at Docia Sweet Hall at the Event Center on the Beach in Gold Beach.
Growing up with music
As a child in 1967, Josh and his family lived in what he called a “modest little cabin on the Elk River” in northern Curry County.
His father moved the family there after vacationing in the area for two months. It was a good place for his father to unwind from the constant touring and pressure of being in a popular band.
“My dad just fell in love with this place; it became our home,” said Josh, who graduated from Pacific High School in 1978.
Josh was a child when he realized that his father was “a big deal” in the music business. His mother and actress Joan Reynolds took him to the Sahara Tahoe Casino. He recalled it “was just this huge auditorium packed with all these people. I was hanging out near the orchestra pit, and then this booming voiced announcer addressed the crowd: ‘Welcome to the Kingston Trio!’” I looked up at mom and said, ‘are they all here to see my daddy?’”
At home, his father didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a celebrity musician.
“When dad came home he didn’t sit around strumming his guitar working on his next big song. Nope. He would put that thing away in the darkest, deepest, old moldy, crawl space and spend all his time with his family,” Josh said.
Of course, hanging around all that music when dad was working couldn’t help but influence young Josh, who says he wasn’t a natural musician, but picked it up through osmosis.
By early 1961, founding member Dave Guard left the trio, and the remaining founders Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds replaced him with John Stewart.
Josh said Capitol Records was “very nervous” about the lineup change — after all, the group’s first album had sold 6 million copies worldwide and was number one on the charts in the U.S.
“After one listen to John (Stewart), everything was okay,” Josh said.
It was Stewart who visited England and saw the Beatles before they came to America, telling his bandmates and his record label that the Beatles were going to be big.
Capitol Records signed the Fab Four a short time later.
Changes in the music scene
Josh said his father stayed true to the trio’s folk roots even as the British invasion and Elvis Presley dominated the music scene with rock and roll.
However, Josh recalled, with the assassination of President Kennedy, folk music changed. Stewart was good friends with the Kennedy clan — he saw what he called “the end of innocence.”
“Folk music morphed. Vietnam, JFK and (Martin Luther) King. The world became suddenly more serious, reflective of social unrest. It wasn’t my dad’s style. It wasn’t the Kingston Trio’s happy-go-lucky style,” Josh said.
Nick retired from the band in 1967 and pursued interests in ranching, business and race cars for the next 20 years. Stewart went on to compose hit songs like “Daydream Believer” for The Monkees and “Runaway Train” for Rosanne Cash.
Remaining member Shane continued the Kingston Trio with different band members stylistic approaches over the next few decades.
At one point, Stewart set up a Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, where camp attendees would break into trios of their own, engaging in sing-a-longs.
“The highlight was singing along with Stewart and then my dad, who came down to check it out,” Josh said.
After Nick died in 2008, Josh said he visited the camp to be close to his father through his music.
“I was devastated when he died. I missed him so much, and I went to the camp to be near what he did musically,” Josh said.
It was after visiting the camp that Josh joined the Tenor Guitar Foundation in Astoria and started playing the guitar. As his skills improved, he returned to the Fantasy Trio Camp and performed with his cousin, Mike Marvin, and life-long friend, Tim Gorelangton.
Josh said his group called themselves “The Lion Sons” based on his father’s astrological sign, Leo, and because playing his father’s music seemed right. He admitted he was nervous, but the new, reinvigorated trio received positive reviews.
“It just clicked. I knew it (performing Kingston Trio music) is what I wanted to do. It felt so natural, and my dad’s music made so many people happy.”
Josh, 56, lives in Portland with his wife and two daughters who “totally support me.”
Josh purchased the rights to the group from Shane, who thought it was important to keep the trio in the family.
Josh takes that responsibility to heart.
“We use just one microphone, we wear the striped suits, the whole bit,” he said. “We want people just to come and enjoy the show. We aren’t looking to get rich, we just want to get people singing along and smiling.”
Friday’s Gold Beach show kicks off a much larger tour across the country. The trio will perform about 25 songs over two hours, and all proceeds will benefit fire victims.
If Nick Reynolds was still alive, Josh thinks his father would be happy the Kingston Trio is still performing, and would likely say to him, “You better be good.”