Bob wrote the following during April 2005 while touring with the Kingston Trio: (It’s been awhile since my last Tale, so you can imagine that a lot has happened. With so much to write about, I’ve divided this Tale into three chapters so you can read this easily in sections, or take it in all at once if you have the time).
During December, Bill Zorn was off to England with his wife, Jo, to visit family and do some performing with his Arizona Smoke Revue band. We missed him, but we were glad to allow him the time off for this special trip. We did have a couple of Christmas shows booked during December, so we asked our buddy, David Peel, to fill in for those. David had long been considered to replace Bob Shane when the time came, but various circumstances landed Zorn in that spot and David has now gone on to pursue a successful solo career (for info on Dave's new CD, please email me).
We performed two shows with David in Newberry, SC on December 5th and then a show in Cheyenne, WY on December 10th. All shows were well received, proving once again that our “Last Month Of The Year” format is a winner. We included most of the songs from the 1960 album of the same name, and we added “Glorious Kingdom” from Close Up, “Guardo El Lobo” from Goin' Places and “Sleigh Ride” from my new CD, Christmas All Over The World. We really enjoyed presenting this show, as it gave us the opportunity to do some new music with a variety of different staging techniques. One of our favorites in the show was the title song, “Last Month Of The Year.” For this one we set our instruments aside and stepped to the front of the stage, presenting the song without mics and with only Paul Gabrielson’s bass accompaniment. The audiences loved it!
After Cheyenne, we parted company for the rest of year, and on December 20th, my wife, Meri, and I left on our 12 Days Of Christmas adventure. We spent 4 days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, lounging on the beach and exploring Old San Juan (and each other). Then, on Christmas Day, we boarded a plane for Antigua, where we stayed until New Year’s Day. We had a beautiful beachfront condo unit (courtesy of Bill and Judy Morehead of Cincinnati) with a balcony overlooking Dickenson Bay, which was less than 20 feet away. We had no obligations to anybody for a whole week! Each day I went wogging (my version of a fast walk just short of jogging) and explored different parts of that corner of the island. One outing took me to an old 18th century fort, complete with guard towers and cannons. I’d put in about six miles a day and then come back and swim a mile in the ocean. Meri read about six books and we both came home tanned and relaxed.
New Year’s eve was very special, with music and fireworks all up and down the beach. We strolled down from our complex to The Coconut Grove Restaurant, where a good steel band was playing. At midnight the fireworks started popping, lighting up the sky all along the beach. The steel band played “Auld Lang Sine”, which was the best version I’ve ever heard. Meri and I knew then and there that 2005 is going to be a very special year.
Back from Antigua, Meri and I spent many hours each day planning our next adventure, a three-and-a-half week trip to New Zealand and Australia coming up at the end of January. Luckily, the Trio’s schedule was fairly light for January, although we did have four very important concerts. A hometown performance on January 15th brought out nearly 2000 friends and neighbors for a night at Denver’s venerable Paramount Theatre. As a special treat, we were lodged at The Warwick Hotel, which is managed by our good friend John Wagner. John gave us the Presidential Suite for the night and we invited several people up for breakfast the next morning, including John and his wife Susie, Richard and Linda Kelley (more about them later) and our attorney, Craig Joyce and his wife Holly. After breakfast we were regaled by Tom Ivey’s group, Cripple Creek.
The next weekend we had a wonderful show on Saturday night that Meri had booked at the vintage El Campanil Theatre in Antioch, CA. Just reopened after extensive renovation, this is another of the classic vaudeville-era theatres that are being reborn in communities across the country. Aside from the historical value of preserving these venues, the acoustics in these grand old halls provide a perfect setting for our type of music. Thanks to Chris Gonzalez for putting us in touch with this theater! Her granddaughters know all of our songs and they sat right in the front row singing along all throughout the whole show.
On Sunday we caught the first flight out of Oakland (around 6:00 AM) and headed for Palm Desert. We had two shows that day at Del Webb’s Sun City Resort and we had arranged to record both shows for a live CD release. Since we were within driving range of Phoenix, Bob Shane and his wife, Bobbie, drove out for the day. We even coaxed Bob into joining us during each show for a rendition of his signature “Scotch and Soda”, which elicited a wild response from the audience. Over the next two weeks, Bill and George did the final production work on the album and Bobbie has put together the artwork. A totally in-house production, the CD, entitled Still Goin’ Places (thank-you, Meri, for the title), should be available from the Kingston Trio Store and at our concerts within the next few weeks. It features plenty of old favorites (including “Scotch and Soda”) plus a couple of brand new songs as well.
The next weekend took us to Madison, GA for a one-nighter on Friday. It snowed like crazy that evening, but we kept the audience warm with an evening of great music. The next day we headed back to the Atlanta airport in treacherous weather on icy roads. Flights were cancelled during the morning hours and the airport was actually closed until noon. I was concerned that I wouldn’t make it home that day, which would have had a major impact on the one day I had at home before we left for New Zealand on the 31st. Luckily, the weather opened up later in the afternoon and we all made it to our respective homes before midnight.
Meri and I scrambled all day Sunday to pack and ready the house for a three-week absence. We got very little sleep that night and headed out to the airport before dawn on Monday in a snowstorm. We boarded the plane on time and actually left the gate early, but the de-icing procedure took over an hour, seriously eating into our layover time in Salt Lake City. When we landed in SLC we dashed to the gate for our LA flight and got there just as the agent was walking up the ramp after closing the door to the plane. I won’t print our response here – I’ll let you imagine our remarks. The domino effect was now in motion, as there was no way for us to get to LA in time to make our international connection to Seoul and then on to Auckland on Korean Air.
Fortunately we were on Delta, having cashed in several thousand frequent flier miles that I’ve saved up over the last couple of years. Delta is our favorite airline, hands down, and I had a vague sense of confidence that things might work out. I left Meri with our carry-ons (including my Gold-Tone Baby Banjo and my new Martin LX1E) and headed down to the International ticket counter. Trent Overton, the agent on duty, worked for well over an hour to save our vacation. The end result was that Delta actually purchased Business Class seats for us on Qantas, which is not a Delta code share partner. They re-booked us on a later flight to LA and confirmed our Qantas flight from LA to Auckland (eliminating the Seoul leg.) Whew! We were going to make it!
I headed back to the gate where I’d left Meri and she had used the hour in my absence to make a lot of friends. Kurt Pace, Delta’s Service Co-coordinator in Salt Lake City, had taken a special interest in our problem after finding out that a member of The Kingston Trio was involved. He’d been on the phone from the concourse working with the reservations office and Trent at the ticket counter to revamp our itinerary. In the meantime, Delta agent Walt Price, who was working Gate D-4 , had been entertaining Meri with a song he’d learned during his 2-year missionary service in New Zealand. It’s called “Puha and Pakiha” and it was a novelty hit in the early 1960’s. Puha is a local leafy vegetable used in soups and salads, while pakiha is the Maori word for “white man.” The song tells of a British chap who is lost in the forest for days and comes upon a Maori camp. He tells the chief that he desperately needs a bath and the chief invites him to bathe in a large pot filled with water and puha. As the man is bathing he realizes that he’s being cooked. We found out after seeking out a recording of the song in New Zealand that it’s considered politically incorrect there, since it supposedly demeans the pakiha and talks of Maori cannibalism. Well, it’s a funny song, just the same, and I coaxed Walt into a repeat performance for the video camera.
During our layover in LA we were walking through the airport when a voice called out my name. We were surprised to be approached by Tom Lamb, whom we had met last August at Fantasy Camp in Scottsdale. He and his wife were on their way to Maui and we took a few minutes to sit and chat with them. We were a bit amazed to encounter Kingston Trio fans in the middle of a busy airport like that!
The rest of the trip went smoothly and we arrived in Auckland the next morning, which was actually two days later, having crossed the International Date Line. We had booked lodging at the Sky City Hotel, which is a landmark hotel and entertainment complex in the heart of the city. Arriving well before check-in time we decided to stroll down to the waterfront. The QE2 had just docked and passengers were milling around and embarking on day-trips around the city. We encountered an elderly gentleman who was walking slowly with a cane and Meri struck up a conversation. It turned out that he was on a 4-month round-the-world cruise to escape the winter snows of his native Ithaca, NY. As he was nearly blind, we offered to walk with him and guide him around a bit. Actually, he pretty much guided us, as it was not his first time in Auckland. We helped him find a duty-free shop to buy champagne for his cabin, and then we treated him to lunch at a harbor-side restaurant. After guiding him back to the ship, we headed for the hotel to check in. We got to our room and jet lag hit us. Zzzzzz,,,,
The next day we headed to the zoo in search of a kiwi bird. It’s a nocturnal bird, and although they keep the habitat pretty dark, none were out. We explored the rest of the zoo, met a nice family who showed us the crocodiles that we’d missed and then returned to the kiwi house. This time he was out. I was totally fascinated with this odd flightless bird, having spent many hours shining shoes as a youngster. (Kiwi shoe polish?) We spent several minutes watching him foraging for bugs and then we caught the bus back to the hotel. That night we had a very special dinner in the revolving restaurant atop the Sky City Tower and watched a beautiful sunset as we revolved twice around the city.
The rest of our New Zealand stay (10 days total) included a visit to the glow-worm caves (wow – pretty cool!), an aborted swim with the dolphins in the Bay of Plenty (the weather just didn’t co-operate), a visit to the hot springs in Tauranga, a scenic drive down to Wellington (it took awhile to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road, but I only got pulled over once), a lovely ferry ride from Wellington on the North Island across to Picton on the South Island and a fabulous 5-hour train ride down the east coast to Christchurch.
But one of the highlights of the trip happened totally by accident. When we were planning our trip months earlier, Bob Shane had asked me to try to locate a gentleman named Sir Howard Morrison. He’s an entertainer of Maori descent whose group, The Howard Morrison Quartet, had opened for The Kingston Trio when they toured New Zealand in the 1960’s. Sir Howard’s group was quite well known there and Bob had very much enjoyed meeting him and the rest of his quartet. We had asked about Sir Howard through several sources, including my best hope, a Maori cultural center in his hometown of Rotorua. But I hadn’t had much success in finding out how to contact him.
On the day that we were supposed to be swimming with the dolphins we had walked into the town of Tauranga, where we were staying, and stopped into a CD store. We were chatting with the clerks, who said that they normally carried at least one Kingston Trio CD, but were currently out of stock. I asked about Sir Howard Morrison and they showed me several of his CD’s. He’s still quite well known there, although his style of music is hardly contemporary – he’s more of a Tony Bennett style. Glancing through his CD’s I noticed several covers of Kingston Trio songs, including “Tom Dooley” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone.” I asked the clerks if they had any idea how to contact Sir Howard and one of them went to the office and made a few phone calls. He came back out and gave me a name and phone number for a lady in Rotorua. It turned out that Sir Howard was doing a concert that night (he only performs once every four years!) and the woman whose phone number I now had was part of the promotional staff for the concert. I called, told her who I was and she invited us to come up and enjoy comp tickets to the show. I asked her about meeting Sir Howard and she said she’d pass the message on to him.
We made a pleasant one-hour drive up to Rotorua, a pretty little lakeside town, and found the concert site. I asked a security guard if we could meet with Sir Howard and he took us back to his “caravan” (that’s what they call trailers there.) We realized what a rare honor it was to be meeting Sir Howard, as he is, to this day, a huge star in New Zealand. He was very gracious and invited us in for a glass of wine and a visit. He said that the pairing of his quartet with The Kingston Trio had actually been a little awkward. It seems that his version of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was at that time a national hit, at virtually the same time that The Trio had the hit on it in the rest of the world. It apparently caused a bit of confusion among the local fans, who perhaps thought that The Trio had “borrowed it” from The Howard Morrison Quartet. He asked about Bob, Nick and John and then it was time for him to dress for the show.
We really enjoyed the concert, which opened with a traditional Maori greeting ceremony, complete with spears, war paint and tongues out to here. Sir Howard followed with a few numbers and then acted as MC, introducing a variety of musical guests who were all nationally known artists in New Zealand. It was fascinating to watch the audience and see the reaction to each of the different performers, ranging from Sir Howard’s Vegas style show to a 60’s-era rock star to an Abba parody group to three of the latest contemporary pop artists with current hits. The crowd was all about families, which was something we noticed in general there – lots of family activities. But it was interesting to see all ages singing along with all styles of music. The kids knew the old songs and the grandparents knew the latest pop songs. It was a curious thing to observe and the evening became one of the highlights of the New Zealand leg of our trip.
Our overall impression of New Zealand is that it’s a very laid-back country. In fact, the Australians have a saying: Q: “What time is it in New Zealand?” A: “1950.” And that’s the way it felt – very retro. The only freeways we encountered were within the immediate vicinity of major cities. The rest of the highways are all two-lane roads. We saw virtually no litter or graffiti anywhere, as respect for the land is a high priority. The two cultures, Maori and European, have integrated comfortably (although some tensions still exist at a political level), and the Maori culture is still very vital. English is spoken by everyone, but I got the impression that Maori children are taught to speak in their native tongue and traditional ceremonies feature the beautiful sound of Maori language and song.