Sunday, April 20, 2014

A decade passes, and then...

In 1983, with the encouragement of Judy, I entered a contest put on by El Paso radio personality, folk performer, and big band leader, Bob Burns, trying for an opportunity to open for The Kingston Trio.  I thought it would be an excuse to be around for the show and probably get to see Bob Shane again.

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

The idea was pretty good, as talent contests go.

Each single or group got to present a half hour set.  Every entertainer (as differentiated from singers) knows a single song won't begin to show the range and variety an act works so hard to achieve.  Half an hour gives some time for the relationship, and a good handful of songs of different types.

I had an old Wollensak (you heard me) reel-to-reel recorder left from radio days. 
I lugged it out to the garage, along with my old J-200, to see what the truth was. 
The contest was two weeks away. The tape was humiliating, but there was hope, and I had two weeks.

The day came hot and sunny and my nerves and copious perspiration brought back memories of opening at the Marriott with Barbara after sweating in the sound closet with the custodian for half an hour.  (He didn't even buy me a drink!)

I think there may have been half a dozen acts.  Between my experience putting folk shows together, and my on-and-off adventures as a radio disc jockey, I put together the best set and seemed to pretty much have it until the very last act.

During the penultimate performance, the seats began to fill.  About 75 more of them, in fact, outnumbering the day's average audience by a multiple of three.
The last act in the "contest" was "Springfire," an all-male trio of high energy pros with an act similar to Pat & Barbara. They also had (and still do) their own club, and brought 75 of their fans

It was El Paso, 1983, and they opened with their fire-hose version of "Low-riders In The Sky."  (I know an duo who shamelessly milk their own parody, "Ghost Chickens.)

So, a trio opened for The Kingston Trio.

In Bob's room later, he explained why he had finally sprung for the original name.
One of the weirdest things that happened to a lot of big name folk acts was having to negotiate later in their careers for the use of their own names. Pat & Barbara had a similar clause laid on them.

Then we went to hang out in the lounge.  When the one-man-band guy with a chorus on everything who was working the room saw Bob come in, he dedicated a song to him and then sang one written and recorded by John Stewart.

Bob Shane has a great sense of humor in every situation, by the way.
I have also seen him, after hours at P & B's, hold a room of lingerers spellbound as his a capella, unamplified voice rang the place with a powerful, plaintive Hawaiian traditional song, in the native tongue, followed by one of the freestyle, ad-lib hilarious rants he called "toasts."

So, after the approval of a single small audience, I had contracted the disease. 
With Judy's faithful help and support, I was going to try to "do a single."

Perhaps the greatest benefit of that whole little experience was
the lifelong friendship formed with Bob Burns--a class act to this day.

Here are the guys, and the song, that blew me out of the running that fateful day: 


  1. So, by sprung for the original name of The Kingston Trio you mean instead of "New Kingston Trio"?

    What songs did you do for your set?

    1. Right. He realized the original name was important to the fans--a brand authenticator.
      I don't recall the set list, but I'm sure it included Power & Glory (P.Ochs), Coal Tattoo (B.E.Wheeler), Winin' Boy (Jelly Roll Morton), San Francisco Bay Blues (Jesse Fuller), a medley of Dylan songs, Paxton's Ramblin'boy (don't know if I did the medley, or that came later), must have done something funny, but can't recall.
      It was hard core folk--may have even done South Coast or Viva La Quince Brigada.