Music News

O'Luney Tunes

As he prepares to perform at Thornton Fest, an annual event in the metro-area suburb, Denver's Bob Haworth, clad in patriotic garb that includes a stars-and-stripes stovepipe hat and red, white and blue boots, quickly inventories the weapons in his musical arsenal. "There's one," he says, kicking his leg to trigger the bass drum on his back, "two," knocking his knees together to clang two cymbals, "three..."

His list is a long one. All told, Haworth carries about three dozen instruments while performing as "Bob O'Luney's Amazing One-Man Band," including various percussion and wind mechanisms, noise-making doohickeys and a mutant seven-string banjo called a "guit-jo" that serves as his main ax. "And that may be off a little," he confesses, "because I've got a bunch of whistles that I never think about playing." Still, there's nothing superfluous on his homemade rig--92 pounds' worth of gear that resembles a torture device for the musically inclined: "Oh, no, I get around to everything, and I try to play all of them within one song."

Moreover, Haworth is able to do so on the move. The jaws of his astonished listeners fall faster than rain from a summer thunderstorm as they watch him strumming a Dixieland melody on his guit-jo and steadily walloping his back-borne kick drum. But what these passersby don't realize is that Haworth is far more than a 36-trick novelty act. On the contrary, he is an accomplished singer and guitarist with an impeccable folk-music pedigree: He served as a member of the Brothers Four, one of the best-known acts to emerge during the late Fifties/early Sixties folk boom, for fifteen years and has been a part of the Kingston Trio, arguably the era's most popular folk outfit, since 1985. So what on earth is Haworth doing raising a ruckus while wandering around the fairgrounds in an outfit more garish than anything in Elton John's closet? Haworth provides an answer in the context of a new composition whose title serves as his claim to entertainment royalty. "Michael Jackson's the King of Pop, and Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll," he says. "Well, I'm 'The King of Fun.'"

Born in Spokane, Washington, in 1946, Haworth first came into contact with music courtesy of two banjo-playing uncles, one of whom performed with Bing Crosby. At age eight he took up the instrument himself, playing in an all-banjo troupe while in elementary school. "Then, in 1957, I heard the Kingston Trio when 'Tom Dooley' came out," he notes. "And I really got into folk music."

From then on, Haworth, who spent his youth in Medford, Oregon, immersed himself in the sounds and songs associated with the genre. So it was only natural that after graduating from high school in 1965 he would head to the University of California-Los Angeles to pursue a degree in music. In his words, he "dinked around in school" while earning money as a film-score banjoist. That changed when he was phoned by a friend in Oregon who managed a threesome known as the Hudson Brothers. The group--a Portland outfit that would go on to national fame hosting a goofy mid-Seventies television variety show and a concurrent kiddie program--was looking for a guitarist, and Haworth fit the bill perfectly. He spent the next two years with the combo, touring the Northwest until, as he puts it, "the brother thing got to be too overwhelming."

Little did he know that he had more brothers in his future--specifically the Brothers Four, a quartet of fraternity types from the University of Washington who hit number two on the pop charts with "Greenfields" in 1960. Haworth signed up in 1970, and over the course of the next decade and a half, he recorded twelve albums for CBS with the clan and enjoyed lucrative tours of Japan, where the quartet had a sizable following.

Then, in 1985, Haworth received a call from representatives of his boyhood favorites, the Kingston Trio. The reason, he recounts, "was that their tenor/guitarist [Roger Gambill] had suffered a heart attack, so they asked me to fill in. And, well, he died, so I was stuck with the gig." Not that Haworth was blase about this opportunity. "That was a giant thrill to be asked to join them," he allows. "They were the top folk group of all time."

After stepping into the Trio, Haworth stayed on the road steadily for three years, performing in approximately 200 shows per year. This level of activity decreased substantially after original Kingston Trio guitarist Nick Reynolds returned to the fold in 1988, but because Reynolds's health prevents him from touring full-time, Haworth continues to play with the group for two months each year. He's already got a weekend commitment with the Trio in July, which he's looking forward to. "It's a situation where I've maintained a good relationship with the guys and I know the repertoire, so I can stand in without any rehearsal," he asserts. "It's real easy for them to depend on me."

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Marty Jones