George Grove was just a music loving 10-year-old in 1957, when the Kingston Trio released their first album and made it big as folk music superstars with songs like "Tom Dooley" and "Scotch and Soda." Nearly 20 years later, one of the group's founders, Bob Shane, would make Grove one of the core members of the trio's revival.
But he didn't imagine that he would one day become as synonymous with the group as Shane himself. Now in his 34th year with the Kingston Trio, Grove will lead the group - which also includes Bill Zorn and Rick Dougherty - into State College for a March 28th performance at The State Theatre.
"When I started in this group I was 29 years old, now I'm 63," Grove said in a recent phone interview from his home in Las Vegas. "On one hand, it's a job, but on the other hand, it's a labor of love. It became such a part of my life that I simply could not and would not give it up.
Members of The Kingston Trio are (from left) Rick Dougherty, George Grove and Bill Zorn.
"They say 98 percent of the people in the arts are never able to make a living at their craft. ... They can't make a living at something they love, and I've been able to do that."
But it wasn't always easy for Grove and the Kingston Trio. When Shane invited him into the group in 1976, the Trio had been broken up for nine years and was forgotten amid the British Invasion and such American acts as The Beach Boys.
"When I joined the group in 1976, Bob Shane had just purchased the name [and] even though the Kingston Trio was a 'name,' it was a name that we had to build back up," Grove explained. "The Beatles had come along ... folk music had fallen by the wayside.
"We would play anywhere ... Once we started building the name back up, performing arts centers started saying, 'Well, we could book the Kingston Trio.'"
Over time, the name became respected once more and has continued to perform even as members have come and gone - with Grove remaining the one constant. Zorn is a former member of the group who returned in 2004, after Shane retired because of health issues, and Dougherty was a respected member of the folk group The Limelighters before joining the Kingston Trio in 2005.
"The group has evolved into what it is," Grove said. "In actuality, you could look at the group and say, 'There's no original members. It's a tribute group.' ... But the group as it exists is an evolution of folk music that is unlike other groups."
Shane's retirement removed the last remaining original member of the Kingston Trio, but the founder is never far away.
"He still owns the group and we talk on almost a daily basis," Grove said. "Even though he's 77, he's got this wonderful attitude and all this experience, so why wouldn't you want to talk to him?"
Grove's musical ability has added a key element to the Kingston Trio's repertoire over the years - he does the orchestral arrangements for the group to perform with symphonies around the country.
"We've been doing pops concerts with symphonies for 30 years," he said. "The Kingston Trio was the first pop group to do pops concerts - at one point we did 15 to 20 a year.
"That's a wonderful marriage of musical styles, putting an orchestral sound to classic folk songs. It's really a win-win situation for everyone involved."
The Kingston Trio's music was also "a win-win" when they last played The State Theatre, in 2008.
"It did very well," said Kristy Cyone, the venue's marketing director.
"I believe it was a sell-out. We had a lot
of people that were really happy with the show."
In fact, the theater's staff had many requests to book the group again, which they eventually managed.
"Our older demographics are fairly easy to get in touch with," Cyone said. "As of right now, it's selling decently. We're expecting a decent turnout again."
Such turnouts can be counted on because of the lasting popularity of The Kingston Trio.
"I think [the band's success] started in the late '50s and early '60s, because then it was contemporary music," Grove said. "It was Christina Aguilera, it was Justin Bieber.
"It became so popular, so quickly that the Kingston Trio still has a record that even the Beatles never matched; the Kingston Trio had four albums in the Top 10 at one time, and that had never happened before and has never happened since."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick can be reached at 946-7466.