Bob Shane of The Kingston Trio has died, aged 85

He was the last original member of the seminal folk trio.

Kingston Trio

Image: Steve Morley / Redferns

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Bob Shane of The Kingston Trio, a major force in the folk revival of the 50s and 60s, died on Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 85.

News of Shane’s passing was confirmed to The New York Times by longtime agent, Craig Hankenson. Shane died at a hospice facility, where he had been living the past few decades. His widow, Bobbie Childress, told the Washington Post that he “had pneumonia and other ailments”.

Shane founded The Kingston Trio in 1957 alongside Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard. With their youthful, clean-cut style and idiosyncratic striped button-down shirts, they went on to become one of the most well-known bands in the United States. Shane, in particular, lent his unmistakable baritone to hits like Tom Dooley and Scotch and Soda.

Shane was born Robert Castle Schoen – he later changed the spelling of his last name – on 1 February 1934 in Hilo, Hawaii, to Arthur Castle Schoen and Margaret (Schaufelberger) Schoen. His parents were successful wholesale distributors of toys and sporting goods.

During his junior high and high school years, Shane became drawn to music, and taught himself to play the guitar and ukulele. He was especially influenced by Hawaiian slack key guitarists like Gabby Pahinui. He then met Dave Guard at a private Punahou preparatory school, and began performing with him as a duo.

Shane and Guard moved to California, where Guard went to Stanford University, and Shane enrolled at Menlo College. That was where Shane met Nick Reynolds, whom he then introduced to Guard. The trio began performing at fraternity parties, but it didn’t amount to anything serious. After his studies, in 1956, Shane returned home to learn the family business, but found himself ill-suited for it. So he tried his hand at becoming an Elvis impersonator – the “first-ever” according to him.

A year later, Reynolds invited him back to California to form a professional trio with Guard. And that’s how, in 1957, The Kingston Trio were born. The name was a nod to Kingston, Jamaica and an intended reference to calypso music, which was popular then. The band found their start playing at venues such as the Purple Onion and hungry i in San Francisco.

In 1958, they released their debut eponymous album which included the seminal hit Tom Dooley. The track, based on the 1866 murder of a woman named Laura Foster, hit number 1 on Billboard’s singles charts and earned the trio a Grammy for Best Country and Western Recording in 1959.

From the group’s formation to its breakup in 1967, The Kingston Trio released 26 albums – including live, studio and compilations – 14 of which made it to Billboard’s Top 10. Following a short stint as a solo artist, Shane returned to performing in a group environment. First in a group called The New Kingston Trio, and then various Kingston Trio line-ups.

Shane would continue to perform onstage until 2004, where he suffered a debilitating heart attack that forced him to retire. He was the last surviving member of the original Kingston Trio line-up. Guard died of lymphoma in 1991 and Reynolds died from acute respiratory failure in 2008. Shane is survived by his widow, Bobbie Childress, a brother, five children and eight grandchildren.

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