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Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Limeliters

Glenn Yarbrough died this summer, and while he probably wasn't very well known to those under sixty, but to father's generation he was known as part of The Limeliters. My father had the record shown to the right. They were part of the folk revival, along with The Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, and for a few years were wildly popular.

The other two members were Lou Gottlieb and Alex Hassilev. Gottlieb was the baritone and emcee, and on the live records showed off his comedy chops (introducing a sing-a-long, he says, "Our camp motto is: Clean Mind, Clean Body. Pick one."). Hassilev was the bass, and Yarbrough had a tenor with vibrato that sounded so heavenly it was hard to believe it was human.

They named themselves after a club in Aspen, Colorado, and released several albums in the early '60s before breaking up after a near-fatal plane crash, but re-teamed many times (later, without Yarbrough, who established a solo career). They played many folk staples, like "If I Had a Hammer," and had songs about whistling gypsies, the Spanish Civil War, lots of travelin' and wanderin'. But after listening to a two-CD set featuring four of their albums, I think they're strength lay in their comic songs.

For example, there's "Charlie the Marauder," an anti-suburb song about a man who moves to the suburbs and during a blackout enters the wrong house and kisses a woman who is not his wife. "Gunslinger" is about the psychological problems of Western villains: "Gunslinger, gunslinger, where did you go wrong?/ When you were a child were you forced to compete with brothers that you never could beat? /Did you always feel you didn't belong, Gunslinger?"

They sing a song about a communist, "Harry Pollit," but that ends with him going to Hell, so I don't think they were Stalinists. And perhaps the most outrageous song, given that it was performed in 1961, was "Vickie Dougan," about an actress and model who wore low-cut backless gowns, which created "another cleavage."

The Limeliters and their glorious harmonies and relatively innocent topics are like a conduit to another time, and for me is a connection to my dad, who also loved The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary. I was born during their popularity, and wouldn't mind taking a time machine to see them in concert. In just a year or two Bob Dylan would come along, who would unite folk music with rock, and as great he was (is) the folk scene hasn't been the same.

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