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The Chad Mitchell Trio

+ {The Mitchell Trio} + {Chad Mitchell}

Known for primarily being the stamping ground for a young JOHN DENVER, there was indeed more to this popular all-singing triumvirate than at first meets the eye.
Formed late 1958 by Gonzaga University (in Spokane, Washington) students Chad Mitchell, Mike Kobluk and Mike Pugh, the folk-revival group took an invitation the following summer from a Catholic priest to travel with him to the heart of New York City. Through musical arranger Milt Okun, they played radio shows and a prestigious spot at NY’s Blue Angel club, which helped the trio ink a deal with Colpix Records; their formative 45s `Sally Ann’ and `Walkin’ On The Green Grass’ bombed along with parent debut LP, THE CHAD MITCHELL TRIO ARRIVES! (1959) {*5}; session man ERIK DARLING performed 5-string banjo on debut (guitar: Victor Messer).
Spurred on by a guest spot on calypso folk star HARRY BELAFONTE’s Carnegie Hall LP, Colpix delivered a second low-key album, THE CHAD MITCHELL TRIO and THE GATEMEN: IN CONCERT – EVERYBODY’S LISTENING (1960) {*4}; sadly the live takes were dubbed, and just who were The Gatemen?
With Kapp Records on board (and Joe “Speedo” Frazier superseding Pugh), things took an upturn for the collective when, in 1962, they had their first Top 50, `Lizzie Borden’, a song remembered from the Eartha Kitt stage musical vehicle, The New Faces Of 1952. Augmented at this time by guitarist/banjo-player and future BYRDS leader, Jim McGUINN, aka Roger, who’d become their official 4th member (bassist Bill Lee was the 5th!), The CHAD MITCHELL TRIO secured their inaugural Top 40 entry with MIGHTY DAY ON CAMPUS (1962) {*6}; check out rousing trad cues `The Whistling Gypsy’, `Johnnie’ (aka `Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye’) and `Whup! Jamboree’.
A second live set, AT THE BITTER END (1962) {*7}, recorded at the famous Greenwich Village venue, fared a little less commercially, although it stands out as their best by far, the addition of WEAVERS man Fred Hellerman probably its forte. Balancing between trad cues and tight cover versions, the young folk singers established their own blend through readings of TOM PAXTON’s `Come Along Home’, ED McCURDY’s `Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’, WOODY GUTHRIE’s `The Great Historical Bum (The Bragging Song)’ and CAMP & GIBSON’s `Blues Around My Head’ and `You Can Tell The World’.
Abandoning the title of `In Action’, and losing out to PETER, PAUL & MARY on chart space for a version of DYLAN’s title track, CHAD MITCHELL TRIO opted to release the studio album as BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND (1963) {*5}. Featuring another of the bard’s faves, `Adios Mi Corazon’, alongside rollicking versions of the Fiddler On The Roof connections, Jerry Bock and Larry Holofcener on `The Story Of Alice’ (3 parts), the set showed signs of ambition.
Their willingness to produce politically-conscious protest material on their musical agenda was rewarded via two Mercury-label Top 40 LPs, SINGIN’ OUR MIND (1963) {*7} and REFLECTING (1964) {*7}; these guys were courageous in their song choices from the likes of IAN TYSON, BESSIE SMITH, The ALMANAC SINGERS, PAXTON, SILVERSTEIN, MacCOLL, et al; not so endearing were two further attempts as The Mitchell Trio, THE SLIGHTLY IRREVERENT MITCHELL TRIO (1964) {*5} and TYPICAL AMERICAN BOYS (1965) {*5}, as it looked like their time had come and gone; OCHS, PAXTON, SEEGER, Sylvia Fricker and DYLAN, they all had in hand in giving the group a musical grounding.
And then CHAD MITCHELL left, his place taken on the below-par THAT’S THE WAY IT’S GONNA BE (1965) {*4} by the aforementioned DENVER, who was given the unenviable task of leading the harmony way on their post-BYRDS take of DYLAN’s `Mr. Tambourine Man’; the title track was a GIBSON-OCHS try-out, and others included ERIC ANDERSEN’s `Never Coming Home’, DINO VALENTI’s `Get Together’ and some other post-war types. Taking their cue and title from ANDERSEN’s VIOLETS OF DAWN (1966) {*4}, The MITCHELL TRIO were now in folk music’s dark ages courtesy of DYLAN’s new electric-folk advent; other songs from FRED NEIL, PAXTON (again!) and Fred Hellerman were worthy, the group were a tad too twee for the new marketplace; Frazier departed not long afterwards – replaced by Mike Johnson; David Boise subsequently superseded Kobluk during recording of their next live set.
The talented DENVER was given free rein when he supplied the trio with a couple of gems on ALIVE (1967) {*6}; one of them, `Leaving, On A Jet Plane’, he retained for a solo chart-topper when he took off a few years later. Basically, confusion was such that with CHAD MITCHELL now delivering solo material (all of it below standard), and The MITCHELL TRIO counteracting this, the buying public just bailed out in droves, although the threesome would alter their somewhat dubious moniker to Denver, Boise & Johnson. With the classic CHAD MITCHELL TRIO line-up re-forming on various occasions (some with the inspired invitation to include DENVER as a guest), the group issued the odd album or two.
© MC Strong/MCS 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Oct2016

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