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Glenn Yarbrough

Born Glenn Robertson Yarbrough, January 12, 1930, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, YARBROUGH was better known as lead tenor with early 60s folk group The LIMELITERS. Having sung at local church meetings as a teenager, his booming vibrato-vox was praised by many who on occasion heard him sing at college (St. John’s in Annapolis) and on his subsequent post-Army radio and TV shows in South Dakota. The singer’s first foray into the public eye was when Jac Holzman produced his first 78 single for the Stratford label in 1951: `Follow The Drinking Gourd’ (b/w `The Reapers Ghost’).
Having a buddy like Holzman (who’d founded the Elektra label in the early 50s) helped him no doubt to establish himself as a solo artist. In fact it was Elektra where Glenn kicked off a proper solo career, releasing two LPs in the space of a year, HERE WE GO BABY! (1957) {*7} – alternatively known as “GLENN YARBROUGH” – and SING FOLK SONGS (1958) {*5} – credited with Marilyn Child. The former was produced by Fred Hellerman (of The WEAVERS) and featured the highly sought-after ERIK DARLING and JOSH WHITE on `House Of The Rising Sun’, `Johnny I Hardly Knew You’, `Hard Ain’t It Hard’ and `This Land Is Your Land’.
Released on the appropriately-titled Tradition imprint, COME AND SIT BY MY SIDE (1960) {*7} found minstrel-like acoustic-pop arrangements to priceless jewels such as `Waltzing Matilda’, `All ‘Round My Hat’, `John Hardy’, `Poor Boy’, `Banks Of The Ohio’ and the Elvis-like `Lonesome Valley’. The subsequent early-60s period was as a sidekick to Lou Gottlieb and Alex Hassilev in the harmony-fuelled and fruitful folk trio The LIMELITERS.
Offered a contract at RCA Victor on his departure, YARBROUGH almost immediately got under way through TIME TO MOVE ON (1964) {*6}, a record of MOR proportions, although it does have a handful of folk-ish moments from JESSE FULLER’s `San Francisco Bay Blues’, IAN TYSON’s `Four Strong Winds’, GIBSON & CAMP’s `Stella’s Got A New Dress’ and Fred Hellerman’s `The Honey Wind Blows’; the light-entertainment sides were topped by `The World I Used To Know!’, the first of several covers from the pen of Rod McKuen.
With a triumvirate of McKuen ditties on show (`Love’s Been Good To Me’, `Isle In The Water’ and `The Lovers’), ONE MORE ROUND (1964) {*7} sold better than his previous effort, with its light orchestrated score and arrangements by Perry Botkin Jr. and Floyd Cramer’s piano licks were good pastel touches on BUD & TRAVIS’ `Cloudy Summer Afternoon’, and the GIBSON-SILVERSTEIN-written `Baby, I’m Gone Again’, `The New “Frankie And Johnnie” Song’ and `Ten O’Clock, All Is Well (The Town Crier’s Song)’, the latter actually another by GIBSON-CAMP. Bubbling under the Top 100, COME SHARE MY LIFE (1965) {*6} increased Glenn’s star somewhat, although his fixation with poet/singer McKuen had far exceeded any normal hero-worship (something akin to Scott Walker’s musical hype of Brel); example, `Stanyan Street’ and `The Warm And Gentle Girls’.
Taking his cue from the Steve McQueen movie, `Baby, The Rain Must Fall’, YARBROUGH all but had a Top 10 hit with the title track, while his accompanying LP (not a soundtrack!), BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL (1965) {*6}, was his best-selling by far, reaching the Top 40. With no less than five McKuen pop-styled songs (`Everybody’s Rich But Us’, `I’ve Been To Town’, `Rusting In The Rain’, `Love, Let Me Not Hunger’ and `She’), one could hardly call this folk, more like easy-listening crooner-music for the nostalgic numpties.
IT’S GONNA BE FINE (1965) {*5}, THE LONELY THINGS (1966) {*4} and LIVE AT THE hungry i (1966) {*3}, continued his relentless journey to success, although most folk purists were going off their one-time golden boy. However one dressed up FOR EMILY, WHENEVER I MAY FIND HER (1967) {*3}, the cheesy arrangements and production stemming from Botkin and George Tipton, the results were a slight on contemporary folk music of the era. Gone was McKuen. In his place one had to endure Glenn’s MOR takes of SIMON & GARFUNKEL’s title track, IAN & SYLVIA’s `The French Girl’, BOB DYLAN’s `Tomorrow Is A Long Time’, BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD’s `Everybody’s Wrong’, BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE’s `Until It’s Time For You To Go’, BREWER & SHIPLEY’s `Comes And Goes’, Tony Mastin’s `Golden Under The Sun’ and PHIL OCHS’ `Pleasures Of The Harbor’ and `Crucifixion’. Needless to say, YARBROUGH reverted to type (and McKuen) with his follow-up, HONEY & WINE (1967) {*3}, an unconvincing attempt to manipulate and manufacture the record buyer (examples: Mason William’s `They Are Gone’ and GOFFIN & KING’s title cut). Ditto LET THE WORLD GO BY (1968) {*3} and WE SURVIVED THE MADNESS (1968) {*3}, his last efforts for R.C.A. before he shifted to Warner Bros.
Glenn was granted his wish of singing only Rod McKuen songs by way of a couple of tribute albums, but it was plainly clear from the 70s onwards that his halcyon days as a folk star would never return. That’s not to say his subsequent albums weren’t good (and there were a plethora, as you would see in his discography), it’s just that nearly all of them were aimed at an easy-listening aficionado of a certain age group.
Sadly, on August 11, 2016, at the age of 86, Glenn died of dementia complications; he’d been cared for by his daughter Holly for several years. In 1998, Glenn and Holly released a version of the musical, …ANNIE GET YOUR GUN! {*5} (follow-up to FAMILY PORTRAIT (1994) {*4}), while in 2006, Folk Era Records added NO ONE IS ALONE {*5} to their CV.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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