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From the King to the Kingston Trio

There was no pop star who loomed larger than Elvis Presley during the ’50s, but the King wasn’t the only music sensation that blew up during the Eisenhower era. The Kingston Trio, a clean-cut troika of folk singer-songwriters, were folk heroes in more ways than one before the British invasion.

“The Kingston Trio were the Beatles of their day,” Kingston Trio vocalist-guitarist Mike Marvin said. “They set the tone for the folk generation.”

Marvin joined the Kingston Trio at the invitation of original member Bob Shane in 2012. “Bob asked me to take over the reins and here I am,” Marvin said while calling from his Los Angeles home.

It wasn’t as if Shane, who decided to retire from the act a decade ago, had an open call looking for a new crew of Kingston Trio musicians. Marvin has been part of the Kingston trio family since he was a teenager during the group’s heyday. Founding member Nick Reynolds, who died in 2008, had adopted a wayward Marvin.

“Nick and his wife Joan took me into their family home,” Marvin said. “I learned music and the music business thanks to Nick Reynolds, who was a wonderful man, who was very talented. Nick let me go on the road with the Kingston Trio, and it’s something I’ll never forget. It feels completely natural to be part of this group.”

The Kingston Trio, which will perform Thursday at the Bing Crosby Theater, will play the hits. “Tom Dooley,” “Scotch and Soda” and “Hard, Ain’t It Hard” are part of the act’s set. “We just try to keep the music alive,” Marvin said. “It’s a good time at our shows. The Trio’s music is uplifting. We have so much fun with it. We stick to the original arrangements and vocal harmonies. It’s an honor to play these songs in front of an audience.”

Marvin laughed when asked about what it was like growing up in the Reynolds home in Palo Alto. “It was terrific but I can’t help but think of the note that was hanging up in their kitchen for years,” Marvin said. “The note was from Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager. He wrote, ‘Would you consider using a song Bob Dylan wrote called ‘Blowing in the Wind.’ ”

The Kingston Trio, which also included Dave Guard, passed on the seminal track. “But the cool thing is that Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and so many other legendary singer-songwriters were influenced by the Trio,” Marvin said. “They had such an impact on the world of music.”

Such icons as Paul Simon, Stephen Stills and Lindsey Buckingham have tipped their cap to the Kingston Trio, which formed in 1957. The band’s success paved the way for Columbia to sign Dylan. “Folk was everywhere after the Trio became popular,” Marvin said. “They also had a huge impact on pop culture. Boys cut their hair short and wore button down shirts. That’s how it was until the Beatles changed the world.”

The original members were clean cut and polite but that was just their image, Marvin said.

“Each of those three guys were madmen,” Marvin said. “Dave Guard was a pot-smoking genius. They were wild and so gifted. When I think of Nick Reynolds, I look back at how he did everything on the natch. Nick was a natural born talent, who was just brilliant with a guitar in his hand and he had perfect pitch on top of all of that.”

The Kingston Trio were lampooned by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer with their hilarious film, “A Mighty Wind.”

“That film is so funny and it’s interesting since The Kingston Trio are never mentioned in the movie but that is who it’s about,” Marvin said.

The Kingston Trio, which features Marvin, Tim Gorelangton and Buddy Woodward, is playing before an expanding audience.

“It’s not just people who saw the Kingston Trio back in the ’50s and ’60s who come out to our shows,” Marvin said. “We have their children and grandchildren coming out to see us. A little while ago I ran into a teenager who saw us in 2017. He told me that we inspired him to pick up a guitar and start his own folk group. Hearing that was so fantastic. If we can inspire a kid to make music and we can play these songs to people who enjoy them, that’s pretty great.”

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