Sunday, November 06, 2016
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.