Tom Guard
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Tom Guard


Band Rock Folk


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By Michael McDowell


“It’s hard when you’re standing in the shadows of a very famous man.”

So sang Hank Williams Junior in 1966, after years of endeavoring to live up to the expectations of those who were anticipating the songwriting and performing genius of his late father, Hank Williams Senior (who died in 1953) to emerge in the younger Williams. Indeed it did, but only after the younger Williams asserted his artistic independence and subsequently cast his own shadow as one of the pioneers of country rock. In the process, he amassed an impressive and lengthy list of his own classic singles, including A Country Boy Can Survive, I’m For Love and the semi-autobiographical Family Tradition. That family tradition has in turn manifested itself in Hank Williams III, who embraced the legacies of his father and grandfather and has in the process made a cohesive argument for genetics as a factor in artistic potential.

Enter Tom Guard, whose own heritage by definition would likewise seem to automatically invoke the genetics theory in terms of expectations. Tom Guard is the son of the late Donald David “Dave” Guard, co-founder of the Kingston Trio. The Kingston Trio is of course one of recorded history’s most beloved and influential bands and was selected as one of the top five groups of the twentieth century by Blitz Magazine.

From the band’s inception until his surprise departure in 1961 to front the Whiskey Hill Singers, Dave Guard was the Kingston Trio’s resident visionary, banjo player, arranger and musical director. Although his subsequent solo output was comparatively less frequent (highlighted by the Up And In CD, recorded months before his tragic and untimely death from cancer in 1991), Dave Guard remained a highly influential figure. Not only in music circles, but within his own family, as well.

Yet unlike Hank Williams Junior (whose father died when the younger Williams was three years old and who was in his late teens at the time that he recorded his aforementioned lament), Tom Guard turned 48 on 20 April, and therefore was 31 at the time of his father’s passing. So to infer that, comparatively speaking, Guard had even greater opportunity to learn from the best is within reason.

Tom Guard’s musical and cultural education began in the idyllic and artistically fertile state of California. Born in Redwood City in 1960, Guard and his family (including parents Dave and Gretchen, along with sisters Catherine and Sally) lived a nomadic existence for the first few years of his life. They relocated to Sydney, New South Wales in 1962, where the elder Guard served as compere of the Dave's Place television program. The family returned to California in 1968, in time for Tom to benefit from first hand observation of California culture at its zenith.

“People tell me that (Los Angeles) was great in the fifties and sixties”, Guard explained.

“I remember Disneyland, the Farmers Market, Will Rogers Beach and seeing most of the Batman TV cast come and do a show in the Rose Bowl. Every summer, we would come to the US via Dad's parents’ house in Hawaii. My Mom's parents lived in Pasadena. I remember driving down Hollywood Boulevard in 1967 saying, ‘Look, hippies!’ And the parents told us it's not the look, it's the ideology.”

California rock and roll was also at its creative apex, with the quartet that received the nod from Blitz Magazine as the best band of the twentieth century in the forefront, the Monkees. It was at that time that both bands formed a mutual admiration society of sorts.

“My friend, George Dussault is a big Chip Douglas Hatlelid fan”, explained Guard, in reference to the bass player who left the Turtles in order to produce the Monkees’ definitive masterpiece, the May 1967 Headquarters album.

“After the release of the recent Kingston Trio At The Santa Monica Civic In 1961 (CD), George told me the Monkees had done Guardo El Lobo. Dad once told me he was at Cyrus Faryar’s house and Micky Dolenz was over there. I was seven and it was 1967, when the Monkees reigned. I really began to suspect Dad was no ordinary guy when he told me things like that!”

Like Hank Williams Junior, Tom Guard followed the lead of his father and became an avid student of many divergent styles of music. This diversity is reflected handsomely in his long awaited solo debut, Shy River, slated for 13 October release.

In earlier rough demos, Guard opted for the title track to open the proceedings. He has since revised the order to commence with the more hard-hitting, I Have It In Mind. That song's not so subtle nods to Grand Funk Railroad's Rock And Roll American Style and Sin's A Good Man's Brother will no doubt confound the expectations of those looking for an answer song of sorts to Fast Freight or Run Joe.

It isn't that Guard is seeking to downplay his pedigree. Indeed, by confounding expectations, he is fulfilling it.

"I want to bring back a missing element of the Trio if I did draw on Dad's name", Guard explained.

"Songs like Run Joe, South Wind and more. Run Joe, I can kind of play that. It takes some really intense vocalizing".

To be certain, Tom Guard has remained a devout student of his father's work.

"I love that record, Goin' Places. Dad thought they were running out of material after At Large. But his playing just got better and better. So it compensated”.

Likewise, Tom Guard not only compensates in his own way throughout his work, but also sustains listener interest through diversification. I Have It In Mind segues into the engaging acoustic original, Mama San. A salute to his paternal grandmother, Mama San underscores Guard's observation about his father's instrumental dexterity getting "better and better" and how it is echoed in his own work.

"My producer asked me if Mama San was 'just a filler'," Guard noted, with no small degree of incredulity. "I told him it is my best song ever. I finally wrote a song in my range. The toppermost for that one!"

Keeping it in the family has paid handsome aesthetic dividends, as evidenced by Aloha Mister Guard. That tribute to Dave Guard nonetheless required some degree of refinement en route to the finished master.

“We had so many vocal double and triples”, Guard explained.

“It sounded garbled. So I redid the vocal track at the studio with better microphones, etcetera. That is such a good song. But so many things made it. Now you can't hear the voice as well. But the overall sound is good. Ken Lang is playing it a lot on Shady Grove Radio, along with Crossing Over The Road and Above And Beyond”.

In bringing the long lost Dave Guard composition, Above And Beyond to life, Tom Guard was especially conscious of the attention to detail that his father paid in the studio.

“You should see my Dad's charts”, he said. “Whoa! Above And Beyond is so cool”.

The family tradition continues with Guard’s daughter, Tara, serenaded herein with Tara Shakti. But of all of the relational nods found in Shy River, the one that takes center stage is the one that showcases the unlikely amalgamation of seemingly incongruous elements.

With the bass tuned to EBEA for the purpose of making chords comes Pascal; a tribute to Guard's teenaged son, who was named after the French mathematician and inventor, Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662). Pascal also appears as a guest backing vocalist on this CD (along with his sister, Tara and Tom Guard's sister, Catherine). The song's evocation of the Poppy Family's Where Evil Grows and the guitar runs from Cream's Deserted Cities Of The Heart (both of which, according to Guard, were unintentional) give it a feel that would have been right at home in the top 30 of Windsor, Ontario's CKLW-AM in 1970.

As noted, Tom Guard’s insatiable appetite for diversity has led him to become an avid student of a variety of musical genres. That, combined with his father’s penchant for perfectionism, inspired him to tackle one of rock and roll’s most beloved and complex classics to provide Shy River’s lone cover.

The May 1967 Tower label See Emily Play single was the apex of the Syd Barrett era of Pink Floyd’s career. Its multi-layered arrangement echoes that of Quincy Jones’ work on Lesley Gore’s Hey Now, whereby Peter Schickele’s “two unfriendly groups of instruments” maxim produces results in which the sum total exceeds the individual parts, albeit with far less frivolity.

Or perhaps not, given the way in which Guard made his mark with that track.

“Yes, See Emily Play was tough to recreate”, he said.

“I'm told that is why they never played it live. George Dussault is an ace guitar player, who has a recording studio in nearby Rhode Island. He did some awesome drumming on the track. I told him to invoke Keith Moon and (John) Bonham, but not to forget Nick Mason's back rolls and fills”.

Still, it doesn’t end there. The frantic transition that bridges the first and second verses in Pink Floyd’s version benefits greatly from both Guard’s pedigree and his penchant for experimentation. To wit, not only does said bridge adapt well to a Three Jolly Coachmen-ish banjo flourish, but the Renaissance era inspiration that has brought such maverick bands as Tartanic to the forefront in recent years has again demonstrated how Peter Schickele’s maxim has wide-ranging and satisfying results when applied with a modicum of understanding.

“Rory MacEachern; eighteen year old bagpiper from two doors down plays at least twenty gigs a year, two jobs, school, plays hockey and baseball”, said Guard of his unlikely sideman, who brought a touch of Tartanic to See Emily Play.

“I recorded him in my self made, thrown together studio and he just loved it. A whole new experience for him! Now he signed up for five years active duty as a US Marine”.

Although some of the aforementioned selections are guaranteed to garner attention upon first listen, it was Shy River that Guard selected as the title track. To be sure, Shy River works on multiple levels, not the least of which is its name. It could be said that Shy River reflects the artist’s long standing inner turmoil of articulating his own musical vision, tempered by the futility of living up to the expectations of others with regards to his heritage. To his considerable credit, Guard has risen far above any such concerns. Ironically, he did so in part by invoking his father’s perfectionist tendencies.

“The original song order is something over which I struggled”, he said..

“There have been four revisions since I got some feedback from others on which are truly the best songs. (Earlier versions of) Shy River are uncompressed raw mixes. There are still some flaws that since have been mended”.

Part of that mending process came from utilizing the same team approach that worked so well for the Kingston Trio and Capitol Records’ Voyle Gilmore.

“Voyle Gilmore (was) the Trio's George Martin”, Guard concurred. “That was just three guys on three track often playing their axes and simultaneously singing into one microphone. Talk about an ear! I was encouraged to make the vocals louder and we did on most. The mastered versions really are better. I hope all the songs work together with all the compression. George named a session drummer for the Beach Boys that he was trying to emulate at times when drumming on my songs”.

And to reiterate his individualism, Guard has to date emphasized his preference for the parts of Shy River that were afforded comparatively less feedback.

“I like the songs people don't say a lot about”, he said. “Pluto, Between You And Me and When The Shock Wears Off. Everyone likes the morbid Oasis. I'm very happy with the piano on it. I am really jazzed about how my arrangements came out. I really put a lot of focus on song order. I want it to flow”.

Nonetheless, Guard rightly defaults to his father’s impeccable legacy as his standard of excellence.

“I hope there is appeal for the tunes”, he said. “Strangely enough, I think Dad would like the sea faring dittyness of When The Shock Wears Off. I almost feel as if Dad wrote some of the songs himself. I’m proud that I could stay focused, as my Dad often could”.

To that effect, Guard is entertaining the possibility of incorporating more cover material into subsequent projects.

“I wish I could cover Kingston Trio tunes”, he said. “Dad had such chops. It would be hard to do them justice”.

But first things first, including the release of Shy River. After several false starts, its 13 October release date coincides with daughter Tara’s birthday that same week and ironically comes just days after the tragic and unexpected passing on 01 October of Kingston Trio cofounder, Nick Reynolds.

“Peter Rubbo just e-mailed me all thirteen masters and they sail!”, he enthused. “Pluto and See Emily Play are resurrected into the dynamic journeys I intended for them to be”.

Then comes the inevitability of taking Shy River on the road.

“I need a band. Talk about commitments! I'm rehearsing the stuff now and I can write charts, so others are kept out of the grey area”.

And if the results confound expectations, so be it.

“I checked the Electric Prunes' MySpace and some of their recent tunes were surprisingly un sixties”, said Guard.

“(The Kingston Trio’s) You're Gonna Miss Me and a lot of others give me a very transcendental shift. I think it's that weird banjo riff kind of fading off on You're Gonna Miss Me. Dad and I were driving around with Tim Hauser of the Manhattan Transfer in the ’70s. Tim was telling me about what a psychedelic guy Vassar Clements was.

“I like that kind of angle. Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd were both surprised to hear what was dubbed ‘acid rock’. Clapton said, ‘It all sounded like the Kingston Trio’. They were expecting something else”.

Above And Beyond indeed.
-- 30 --

- Michael McDowell


Shy River: Eleven originals and two covers make up this album which is currently receiving airplay and available on CD and digital downloads.



Tom Guard's influences stem from his father's involvement with The Kingston Trio and the folk revolution in the late fifties. In his teens, he was often listening to the family's record collection which ranged from Folkways to rock to jazz to blues and soul. His own passions found him immersed in jazz fusion and so-called art rock from the UK. A few years ago a friend offered Tom some studio time so he took it upon himself to hone his songwriting skills and make it happen. With some learning and experimentation he managed to write eleven original songs and record two covers. Above and Beyond, a country style ballad was written by his father and the other, See Emily Play by Syd Barrett involves an extraordinary mix of bagpipes, tabla and even some banjo picking by Tom. He says, "The experience has helped me to make smart and final arrangements and resist speculating over the multitude of possibilities." The album's title track, Shy River is a poem for his wife which also sends a message to the world that, in being shy, he may also be considered shallow and selfish. So he's letting the rivers flow. There's no better way to express one's self than to ride the rapids now and then. With this in mind he plans to tour and produce another record or two right away. He also teaches guitar and banjo at home in Massachusetts where he lives with his wife, Karen and their three teenage children.