The Kingston Trio was formed in 1957 in the Palo Alto, California area by Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, and Dave Guard, who were just out of college. Greatly influenced by The Weavers, the calypso sounds of Harry Belafonte, and other semi-popular folk artists such as the Gateway Singers and the Tarriers, they were discovered playing at a college club called the Cracked Pot by Frank Werber, a local publicist then working at the Hungry i. He became their manager, and secured them a one-shot deal with Capitol Records.
Their first hit was a catchy rendition of an old-time folk song, “Tom Dooley”, which went gold in 1958. It was so popular that it entered popular culture as a catchphrase: Ella Fitzgerald, for example, parodies it during her recorded version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. It won them the first Grammy award for Best Country & Western Performance in 1959. The next year, they won the first Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording category for the album The Kingston Trio at Large.
At one point in the early 1960s The Kingston Trio had four albums at the same time among the Top 10 selling albums, a record unmatched for nearly 40 years. In spite of this, they had a relatively small number of hit singles.
The group’s music was simple and accessible, with much use of tight vocal harmony, signature riffs (often played on the banjo), and repetitive choruses. Capitol producer Voyle Gilmore enhanced their vocal sound to great effect with reverb and the relatively new process of doubletracking, in which the performers sang along with their own pre-recorded part to produce a stronger sound than with a single voice, in part due to a natural time gap of a fraction of a second between the original recording and the overdubbed part. At first pairs of tape recorders were used, then later multitrack recording machines, to produce the effect.
Guard left the band in 1961 as part of a disagreement over its musical direction. He formed the group Whiskey Hill Singers, and was replaced by John Stewart, who led the group through several more years of popularity until the arrival of The Beatles and British invasion rock bands pushed them from the charts.
In 1967 the Trio disbanded after a final performance at the Hungry i, June 17, 1967.
Shane, the lone member to resist the break-up of the Trio, started a new group, aptly named, “The New Kingston Trio,” in 1969. Eventually, Shane was successful in reaching a contractual agreement with his former partners, Guard, Reynolds, and Werber, to secure and license once again, the original name, “The Kingston Trio” (unencumbered by the adjective new), in 1976.(Blake et al. 1986.) Shane still owns the property today, 2006.
For a number of years in the 1980s Reynolds, one of the original three members, rejoined Shane.
In 2004 Shane retired from the group due to health problems. He was replaced by Bill Zorn, who had been with Shane in an iteration of the group called The New Kingston Trio; Zorn also has been a member of The Limeliters.
In 2005 Bobby Haworth (a one-time member of The Brothers Four) left the group to be replaced by Rick Dougherty, who also had been a member of The Limeliters.
As of 2006 The Kingston Trio consists of George Grove, Bill Zorn and Rick Dougherty.