Every time I think I'm coming to the end of this series and can envision only four or five more songs to profile, something comes up and I find myself seeing ten or fifteen beyond that number - and delaying one week's selection for something more immediate.
When I did the KT Wikipedia a month ago, I came upon and used a quotation from Bob Shane from the 1997 book Martin Guitars in which Bob descried the folksinger label attached to the group, saying that they did "folk-oriented material amid all kinds of other stuff." The first song that popped into my head for "other stuff" was "They Call The Wind Maria," a Broadway Lerner&Loewe chestnut that stood out from the folkier selections on the ...from the Hungry i album but remained a highlight of that record because of the sheer power and excellence of the performance. And as with songs previously profiled here like "Scarlet Ribbons" and "Try To Remember", it has been folkies and country singers who have contributed at least as much to the song's popularity as the musical comedy community.
The Trio has long introduced the song as one swiped from a failed Broadway musical, but that's not quite so, unless you prefer to think relatively. Paint Your Wagon played on Broadway for 289 performances between late 1951 and mid 1952 - at seven shows a week, that's about 40 weeks - not enough to retire on but what should have been well past the break-even point for shows of that era. Production problems created cost overruns that ate up the modest profits. Now that's not a flop - unless of course you remember that Lerner and Loewe were almost co-equal with Rodgers and Hammerstein as the dominant composers on postwar Broadway and unless you compare Wagon with genuine L&L hits that ran for years like My Fair Lady and Camelot.
Still, Wagon would likely be dismissed to the dustbin of history were it not for this song and another great tune, "I Was Born Under A Wanderin' Star." "Maria" was sung in the original cast by Rufus Smith, the least-known but fully equal member of that group of stunningly talented Broadway baritones of the era that included Gordon MacRae, John Raitt, Richard Kiley, Robert Goulet and more - and the recently-deceased Harve Presnell (d. 6/30/09), whose version here is from the 1969 movie and is as Lerner and Loewe conceived it:
The Kingston Trio gives us the next three versions - first, the one that many of us fell in love with from Hungry i, a fabulous version in a nightclub without orchestra or chorus (forgive the fanzine images of Mariah Carey, whose parents did in fact name her after this version of the song but got the spelling wrong):
Now, I never fully embraced John Stewart doing Dave Guard-era Trio songs - until the Flashback album. That version here is a superior performance - five years down the line Shane is in even better voice, Stewart's lead guitar and background vocals are haunting, and Stewart and then Shane just blow away the rhythm guitar part at the end - and John Triofan Lee's mastering brings Nick Reynolds' bongos up to a proper level - just magnificent:
And an excellent piece of evidence showing why Bill Zorn is the only singer in folkdom with the vocal power to take Shane's place in the group - here's the current KT in an equally wonderful rendition:
And another Big Voice from the days of yore - I hope some here remember Vaughn Monroe:
Frankie Laine, from 1998, late in his career:
It would have been a treat to hear Laine do this in his prime.
Carlie Slaven presents a delightfully unique and original bluegrass version:
Finally, our surprise selection of the week - actor Pernell Roberts of Bonanza and Trapper John MD set against videos of the former show in its glory days:
Contrary to some people's suppositions, I do not actually live at the computer, and next week's Weekend Videos may well go the way of last week's - into the dark cavern of lost good intentions. I'll be in Manitou Springs CO rehearsing like crazy for our show there - hope to have a WV anyway but no promises. Then again - no one seemed to miss one last week....:)