BH: I actually had to endure a few years of piano lessons thanks to Mom and Dad. Mom said you should learn how to play the piano because it is a basic instrument. She played the violin so she had some knowledge of music theory.
My first piano teacher was just horrible and we couldn't get along so I was able to convince my Mom to pay for banjo lessons. This came about because both of my Grandfather's brothers played banjo. Uncle Wayne played tenor banjo and Uncle Carl played plectrum banjo. Both of them had interesting backgrounds. In the 1920s Uncle Wayne played banjo in the orchestra of the ships that sailed out of Seattle to China. Uncle Carl lived in the Spokane, Washington area and played with Bing Crosby.
Whenever we would have a family gathering Uncle Wayne and Carl would play the banjo. My Great Grandfather also played the piano so it would be quite an event. Uncle Carl played all over town and he knew most of the musicians. One of his friends was "Dutch" Groshoff who played banjo and guitar. He was my banjo teacher for about three years. "Dutch" had a small banjo band with all of his students and when you were good enough to play "Bye, Bye Blues" you became part of the band.
JBM: What year was this?
BH: This would have been somewhere between 1956 and 1958 when I was 10 to 12 years old. In he band there were between 4 to 6 students including "Dutch's" son Larry. It seems as though life goes in circles. When I joined "The Brothers Four" I replaced a person by the name of Mark Pearson. Coincidentally Mark also took lessons from "Dutch" and was in the banjo band at that time. We kind of knew each other, although not well, because the band would only get together a few times a year for special events. But my parents were well aware of Mark’s father, who was a prominent doctor in town.
Bob's Every Day Banjos
JBM: What happened next in your banjo career?
BH: My family moved to Oregon in 1959 so I had to give up my banjo. It belonged to my uncle and he didn't want it to leave town. We moved to Medford, OR and by now I had picked up the guitar. I still wanted a banjo and my dad kept looking in the newspaper and one day he found an ad that said: "Vega banjo for sale - $150.00." We went over to look at it and the lady had it in the attic where it had been for who knows how long. It belonged to her brother and she wanted to get rid of it. I wiped out my paper route account and bought the banjo.This banjo has been my work horse ever since and I can't even image the value of it today. The new instrument got me back into playing the banjo and then folk music hit the scene. The "Kingston Trio" came out with "Tom Dooley" in 1958. One day I sat by the radio and listened to the song. I said "Two chords, what are they?, Hey I can play that song." From that point on folk music became part of my life. Throughout junior high and high school sang with a friend of mine from Medford Oregon, John Eads. We were known as the "Kinsmen" and with Medford being a small community we were known quite well around town. We were always getting out of school to play for various service clubs such as the Lions, Rotary and Elks clubs. We learned all of the folk music we could from groups like "The Kingston Trio," "The Limeliters," "The Chad Mitchell Trio" and "Peter, Paul and Mary."
The Hudson Brothers
JBM: That sounds like the equivalent of a garage band back in the 50's.
BH: Yes I guess it was. I graduated from Medford High School in 1965 and then went on to U.C.L.A. (University of California at Los Angeles) where I decided I was going to major in music. However, that was when my academic career started to go down hill. I took a job playing at Shakey's Pizza Parlor on the weekends to make some money to put myself through school. I had this little Honda motor scooter that I would ride all over town with my banjo strapped to my back. I played with several piano players but the one notable player I worked with was Ben Sands. His son was the actor/singer Tommy Sands. For a few years Ben and I played at pizza parlors all over Southern California. I was also involved in a few recordings projects which gave me a taste of the music business and that really excited me. Eventually I decided to transfer back to the University of Oregon. It was in Oregon that I received a call from a person that I had known from my high school days in Medford. He was in the radio business and at that time he was managing a group called "The New Yorkers" that later became know as the "Hudson Brothers." They had a Saturday morning variety show back in the 1970s. I joined their group as a rhythm guitar/keyboard player and I was also an occasional banjo player on novelty songs. We used to do "The Sheik of Araby" or something Arabic sounding and Bill Hudson would roll his stomach. The crowd would go nuts.
JBM: He was imitating a Belly Dancer! Its amazing what entertains people.
BH: I worked with that group for a few years before I realized that I wasn't going in the direction I wanted to go. The three brothers were on the road to success but I was like the fourth wheel on a tricycle. I decided to leave the group and let them do their Saturday Morning TV show and I went back to the Northwest playing the nightclub circuit.
Bob Haworth (bottom of picture) during his days with The Brothers Four
JBM: Did you know the McKinley's?
BH: Yes I knew who they were. It was John McKinley and his son. We were invited to one of their annual picnic gathers in Salem. It was at a State Park and we were a little late getting there. We were in the park looking at a map to find them, because it was a nice day we had the windows down and all of a sudden I could hear this plunk-a-plunk-a-plunk-a. As we drove up to the location we could see a hill side with what seemed like about 400 banjo players playing "Chinatown, My Chinatown." I had never been to an event before with so many banjo players. During this time I also did some occasional studio work for Jerry Dennon, who owned Jerden Records, the label that “The New Yorkers” had recorded for. He called me one day and said, "I have some partners on a radio station down in Seaside and you may know them as "The Brothers Four." I said "I certainly do!" and Jerry told me that they were looking for a tenor vocalist to replace Mark Pearson. I went to audition and the next week I was in Bermuda on stage with "The Brothers Four." I performed with them from 1970 to 1985 and that was when "The Kingston Trio" called me. Initially The Trio wanted me to fill in for their tenor vocalist, Roger Gambill, who was ill in the hospital. Sadly, two weeks later Roger passed away and Bob Shane asked me if I wanted to stay on. It really was a difficult decision because during the two weeks this took place I was singing with both groups. I finally decided to go to the "The Kingston Trio" because I thought that working with them would be a lot of fun. The group had once asked me earlier to join them but since they were on the road all the time I wasn't ready then to travel that much. In 1985 I was now ready to make the commitment and off I went for the next 20 years.
Banjo King LP Front Cover
JBM: Before you joined "The Kingston Trio" didn't you make a record album called The Banjo King Plays Ragtime?
BH: Yes. That was during "The Brothers Four" era and it was really a separate project. That was presented to me by Jerry Dennon from Jerden Records. He came to me with this concept of "The Banjo King" hoping to capitalize on the banjo "Dueling Banjo" craze that had hit the country at that time. He had a feeling that the banjo sound, be it 5-string, tenor or plectrum, was a hot marketable commodity.
JBM: Was this in the early 70's before the banjo club scene died?
BH: No, this was in the late 70s and Jerry had some marketing arrangements to sell the album overseas. Subsequent to the LPs release Jerry told me that the album was a big hit in Turkey. I never did received a copy of the Turkish edition so I don't know if it was any different from the US version. It was a fun project and I was actually paid for it.
JBM: Were you playing any of the songs on the album before you recorded it?
BH: A lot of the songs I put together just for the album. I did a lot of research on the ragtime songs because I wanted to play them in their original form. The "Maple Leaf Rag" is a song of which you usually hear only the first part and you rarely hear the entire song. I wanted this recording to recreate these songs with all the various sections and repeats. It was fun doing the project because I perceived it as a historical resurrection. One of the songs I really enjoyed working out was "Nola." I had always toyed with the song and wanted to learn it so this was my opportunity. Some of the songs on the album like "Alley Cat," "The Third Man Theme" and "Tiger Rag" were already in my repertoire. It was two years later that Jerry came back to me and said, "We did really well on that album. Do you want to do another one?" He had a concept that he was going to do a whole series of Banjo King albums. The first one was Ragtime and for the second one he came up with the title "The Banjo King Plays Favorites." It covered a broader category and I included songs like "Classical Gas."
JBM: I have never heard anyone attempt that on the banjo before.
BH: Actually, when I told Mason Williams that I had arranged his composition for banjo he informed me that he’d originally written it on the banjo. That song goes over really well in my shows and now I do it on the 5-string banjo. When the second album came out it was only on a cassette tape. I don't know why it wasn't produced as an LP but it never went anywhere. The interesting thing about those recordings is that someone licensed some of the songs from The Ragtime album and put them on a compilation album with artists like: Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Mason Williams and…who’s this Bob Haworth? There I am among all of these 5-string players. It’s a huge three record collection and I have 8 cuts on the project. Oddly, I wouldn't have even known about it except for a friend mentioning it to me.
Back cover of Banjo King LP
JBM: Did you continue to play the banjo when you joined "The Kingston Trio?"
BH: George Grove was with group when I joined them. He has studied the 5-string where l have just toyed with it. My training has been mostly with the plectrum banjo. I always viewed the 5-string as some kind of hybrid that I didn't want to know about. I think that was an attitude I got from my teacher "Dutch" who favored the plectrum style banjo. When I started playing folk I using my plectrum, since that's all that I owned. Then I started hearing things that didn't sound like the plectrum and I realized it was a 5-string banjo. It was a friend of mine in high school who bought the first 5-string long neck Vega that I had ever seen. I used to go over to his house and fool around with it but it wasn't until I joined "The Brother's Four" that I owned my first 5-string banjo. I bought a 1928 Vega "Griffin" model. Since I am self taught as a 5-string player I have made up different picking patterns than most bluegtas players use. With "The Kingston Trio" " I only played 5-string on a song called "To Morrow", written by Bob Gibson (who also wrote "Super Skier," among other things.) It's a song about a guy trying to take a train ride to the town of Morrow, Ohio. It's kind of a tongue twister and a funny song leaving today to go to Morrow. Dave Guard originally worked out an arrangement of the in “G” tuning, but being a plectrum player I learned it in "C" tuning, and the song’s in “C” anyway, so my version is a little different than the original. I also played plectrum banjo on "Worried Man Blues" just like Bob Shane did on the original recording. Dave Guard played 5-string on that song. Most people didn't know that Bob Shane played banjo and he had given it up by the time I joined the group.
When Dave Guard started playing banjo with the group he would do a lot of "frailing" also known as clawhammer style. He didn't have a good grasp of the best way to play the instrument with the group so he took lessons from Pete Seeger and that's how he developed a completely different style. On the original material you hear a lot of strumming and single picking. Bob Shane probably played plectrum on four or five of the original recordings with "Worried Man Blues" being the most notable. Anything that Bob Shane played banjo on I would play on the plectrum banjo if I had one with me.
JBM: How many years were you with "The Kingston Trio?"
BH: I joined them in 1985 but Nick Reynolds came out of retirement in 1988. I took a leave of absence but I always kept a suit case packed to fill in when Nick was unable to tour. During the 1990s when he was touring I probably filled in a dozen times. In 1999 Nick decided to retire again and so I came back into the group full time.
JBM: What were some of the bigger shows you played?
BH: The one that really sticks out in my mind was with "The Brothers Four. It was the first time we went to Japan and when the curtain went up I saw 4,000 people in front of me and it was the biggest crowd I had ever played for. I was about 22 at the time and I said to myself, "They all came out to hear us?" There was also a similar size crowd that I remember when we went to South Korea. The guys had warned me about it and said that this is garlic country. When the curtain went up all you could smell was garlic coming from the breath of 4,000 people. It was pretty amazing. The biggest crowd that I ever played for was with "The Kingston Trio." We used to do a lot of summer festivals. One time we played a festival in Kansas City and we were on a street. We were told there were 12,000 people there. You couldn't even see the end of the crowd.
Bob Haworth (far right) in The Kingston Trio
JBM: Did you ever deviate from the standard repertoire of "The Kingston Trio"?
BH: Bob Shane was not one to experiment. He found a formula that worked from him and liked to stick to it, even down to repeating the same joke from night to night. Bob would give George and me solo slots in the show and that was the only opportunity that we had to do new things. Initially I would do my own original material but then Bob decided that he wanted everything to be "The Kingston Trio" material that was recorded between 1957 and 1967. Bob felt that the audiences wanted to hear the old "Kingston Trio" material and he kept pretty close to that format.
The Amazing One Man Band of Bob O'Luney
JBM: How did Bob O'Luney come about?
BH: Dick Van Dyke had a one-man band in the movie "Mary Poppins." It was very simple with a bass drum on his back and he played banjo and harmonica on rack. That was my basic inspiration for Bob O'Luney. I thought "Wow, that's really cool!" I started with the bass drum, harmonica and banjo but then I began to think about all the different things I could do. I added a washboard and a lot of other percussion instruments. On my harmonica rack I added a kazoo, jug, slide whistle and siren whistle. Bit-by-bit, as it grew, I found places on my body that I could add more instruments. After I had been out in the public for awhile the costume started to evolve. Once it developed into the red, white and blue costume I have today my biggest day of the year became "The Fourth of July." A couple of years ago, Meri my wife, and I became involved with the Parkinson Foundation. We did a couple of concerts in Colorado and we brought in "The Brothers Four" to be the headliners promoting the events as "Concerts for a Cure." As part of the promotion for these concerts I was going around as Bob O'Luney with a can attached to the side of the bass drum. On the can it said "Donations for Parkinson Research." People would stuff that can with money and I would come away from the promotional events with $50 to $100. Realizing the potential of this gimick, I dreamed up a campaign called, "Bob O'Luney Marches Across America for Parkinson Research." The concept originally was to start at the west coast and go all the way across the country on foot.
JBM: How many months will that take?
BH: About 3 or 4 months but then I started calculating the cost of shoes for the journey and we’ve scaled back. We will take our RV for most of trip but I will walk into the cities where I am going to be featured at and we'll show up for their Walk-A-Thon. By walking into town we will be able to get press coverage.
Bob Haworth Seven String Banjo!
JBM: Bob you mentioned that you had a 7-string banjo?
BH: I worked with Greg Deering on that project and my concept was to have it built like a 6-string banjo but have the 7th string like the drone string on a 5-string banjo. But instead of having the 7th string attached to a tuning peg on the side of the neck, I wanted the string to run all the way up to the head stock. I also wanted to have a 7th string capo that would run from the head stock all the way to the 12th fret. I asked Rick Shubb to make the capo for me and he made two of them since he had to go through all the work of re-tooling to make the special capo. I then told Rick that I wanted to have the capability to mute out the 5th, 6th and 7th strings at various times so I can play it like a five or four string banjo. He said "I have just the thing for you." He came up with this brass clip that attaches to the head and the string can be lowered below the other strings and attached to the clip. I have three of them now on the head. By muting the different strings I can now play the different banjo styles of the 4, 5 and 6 string banjos on one instrument. I also have one of these mutes on the 5th string of my 5-string banjo so it can double as a plectrum. I recently saw a video of Doug Mattocks playing a 5-string as a plectrum with one of Rick Shubb’s string mutes attached to the head.
JBM: Bob, now that you have retired from traveling with "The Kingston Trio" what projects are you working on now and planned for the future?
BH: Recently I have written a few songs as satires about political issues that have been in the news recently. Two of the songs are: "Can You Get Me In?" and "Pizzas for Pesos." The first song makes fun of how easy it is to get into the United States without documentation and talks about wanting the same treatment for traveling to Mexico. The second one makes fun of the fact that a pizza store in the United States now accepts pesos as currency.
JBM: I bet this has raised a few eye brows?
BH: This is also raising awareness about these issues and the songs are getting air play on radio stations all around the country. You can hear sample clips on my website: bobhaworth.com.
Copyright 2007-2008 All Rights Reserved Bob Haworth and Crescent Entertainment