Friday, September 24, 2010

Kingston Trio: 16 Greatest Hits

The Kingston Trio were a folk and pop music phenomena n the late fifties and early Sixties.  I first saw them on a ABC TV show called Hootenanny which highlighted folk music.  It was presented in a concert form in front of very well groomed college students.  It was here that I heard the first track on the tape, Tom Dooley .  According to Wikepedia, Tom Dooley" is an old North Carolina folk song based on the 1866 murder of a woman named Laura Foster in Wilkes County, North Carolina. It is best known today because of a hit version recorded in 1958 by The Kingston Trio. The history behind the song is that
Impoverished Confederate veteran Tom Dula (Dooley), Laura Foster's lover and probable fiancé, was convicted of her murder and hanged May 1, 1868.Foster was stabbed to death with a large knife; the brutality of the attack partly accounted for the widespread publicity the murder and subsequent trial received.
Dula had a second lover, Anne Melton. It was her comments that led to the discovery of Foster's body, but Melton was acquitted in a separate trial based on Dula's word. Dula's enigmatic statement on the gallows that he had not harmed Foster but still deserved his punishment led to press speculation that Melton was the actual killer and that Dula simply covered for her. Melton, who had once expressed jealousy of Dula's purported plans to marry Foster, died insane a few years after the homicide. Thanks to the efforts of newspapers such as The New York Times, and to the fact that former North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance represented Dula pro bono, Dula's murder trial and hanging were given widespread national publicity. A local poet, Thomas C. Land, wrote a popular song about Dula's tragedy after the hanging.
A man named "Grayson," mentioned in the song as pivotal in Dula's downfall, has sometimes been characterized as a romantic rival of Dula's or a vengeful sheriff who captured him and presided over his hanging. Some variant lyrics of the song portray Grayson in that light, and the spoken introduction to the Kingston Trio version did the same. Col. James Grayson was actually a Tennessee politician who had hired Dula on his farm when the young man fled North Carolina under suspicion and was using a false name. Grayson did help North Carolinians capture Dula and was involved in returning him to North Carolina, but otherwise played no role in the case.
Dula was tried in Statesville, because it was believed he could not get a fair trial in Wilkes County. He was given a new trial on appeal but he was again convicted, and hanged on May 1, 1868. His alleged accomplice, Jack Keaton, was set free. On the gallows, Dula reportedly stated, "Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn't harm a hair on the girl's head."
Dula's last name was pronounced "Dooley," leading to some confusion in spelling over the years. (The pronunciation of a final "a" like "y" is an old feature in Appalachian speech, as in the term "Grand Ole Opry").The confusion was probably compounded by the fact that Dr. Tom Dooley, an American physician known for international humanitarian work, was at the height of his fame in 1958, when the Kingston Trio version became a major hit.
The doleful ballad was probably first sung shortly after the execution and is still commonly sung in North Carolina.  See You tube video for the lyrics. 
The next song is attributed to Hoyt Axton called Greenback Dollar.  Axton also wrote a famous Three Dog Night song called Joy to the World.  His mother wrote some hits for Elvis Presley.
The next song called Tijuana Jail "So here we are in the Tijuana Jail, Ain't got no friends to go our our bail,  So here we'll stay cause we cant pay,  So send our mail to the Tijuana Jail."

One of the first folk songs I ever sang when I learned to play a guitar was Where Have All the Flowers Gone  by Pete Seeger According to Wikipedia, Seeger found inspiration for the song in October 1955, while on a plane bound for a concert in Ohio. Leafing through his notebook he saw the passage, "Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they've all taken husbands. Where are the men, they're all in the army." These lines were taken from the traditional Ukrainian folk song "Tovchu, tovchu mak", referenced in the Mikhail Sholokhov novel And Quiet Flows the Don (1934), which Seeger had read "at least a year or two before".Seeger adapted it to a tune, possibly a pre-existing folk song. With only three verses, he recorded it once in a medley on a Rainbow Quest album (Folkways LP FA 2454) and forgot about it. Joe Hickerson later added verses four and five, and a repeat of verse one, in May 1960 in Bloomington. The Kingston Trio recorded the song in 1961. Believing it to be a traditional song, they claimed authorship, although upon notice from Seeger they had their name removed and credited Seeger and Hickerson.  It is a simple song but as an idealistic young man it had such significance talking about the Vietnam war. 
Scotch and Soda is the ultimate bar song.  "Scotch and Soda, mud in your eye, Oh my do I feel high."

I first sang the next song at scout camp.  It was one of the ultimate camp songs. WimowehThe song also called the Lion Sleeps Tonight, according to wikipedia, was first written in 1939 "by Solomon Linda and performed by his group, the Evening Birds and became a hit throughout South Africa: it sold about 100,000 copies during the 1940s; and it lent its name to a style of African a cappella music which evolved into isicathamiya.

At Stewart Junior High School I sang in a chorus who sang the next song MTA This was in 1964. The chorus goes

Did he ever return?
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.
The Stewart school chorus also sang the big hits Hi Neighbor and They Call the Wind Maria.  We were so on the cutting edge.  The constant debate I had with my school peers was who would last the longest The Beach Boys or the Beatles.  Guess who was right!

A Woody Guthrie song Hard Travelling is next.  It talks about a person travelling through the US during the depression years going from job to job.

Early Morning Rain  is a song written by Canadian Gordon Lightfoot and has also been recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary.  Another song with hobo connotations.

Colours a song written by Donovan is the next track.  Donovan is a wonderful song writer and is often compared the Dylan.  I find Donovan much more interesting especially during his mystical period. 

Goodnight Irene is a well known folk song I first heard when performed by The Weavers .  The lyrics tell of the singer's troubled past with his love, Irene, and express his sadness and frustration. Several verses make explicit reference to suicidal fantasies, most famously in the line "sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown," which was the inspiration for the 1964 Ken Kesey novel Sometimes a Great Notion. Ain't love grand. 
Get Away John is the next track. See You tube video.  John Hardy, it appears, was an actual man, a rough one, who was sentenced to be hanged for murder in 1894. 

The ballad of the shape of things
Completely round is the perfect pearl the oyster manufactures.
Completely round is the steering wheel that leads to compound fractures
Completely round is the golden fruit that hangs from the o-o-orange tree
Yes the circle shape is quite renown
But sad to say it can be found
In the lowdown, dirty run-around
That my true love gave to me
That my true love gave to me

Completely square is the little box he said my ring would be in
Completely square is the envelope he said good-bye to me in
Completely square is the handkerchief I flourish constantly
As I dry my eyes of the tears I've shed,
And blow my nose which turns bright red
For a perfect square is my true love's head
He will not marry me, no
He will not marry me

Hard it Ain't Hard is another Woody Guthrie song and the tape ends with a Bob Dylan song Tomorrow is a long time.  It is a beautiful melody and one of my favorite female singers Sandy Denny also recorded it.

Good day.  .

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