By: Columnist Bob Grafe
When I mention to friends that I grew up along the banks of San Francisco Bay, I have to be careful these days how I mention that I was always attracted to the goings-on at the hungry i (or as people referred to it then as “the eye”) night club in North Beach, San Francisco.
At that time, the club was located in the basement of the International Hotel at Kearny and Jackson streets. The club only sat about 300 people around its three-sided stage and would usually run a couple of shows each night — frequently offering up yet-to-be-discovered talent appearing on stage just before the headline act.
During my youth, the hungry i (the club’s name remains a mystery with some thinking the lower-case “i” was meant to represent “intellectual” while the club’s owner, Enrico Banducci always claimed that it was Freudian and short for “the hungry id.”) was one of “the city’s” hot spots to launch a performing arts career.
Today, however, (and this is why I have to be careful how I tell this story today) the hungry i has relocated from its original location to Broadway Street and is now a topless strip bar operated by Déjà Vu beginning their business venture after the original club closed its doors in the very late 1960s and the “hungry i” name was sold off separately.
What I think about most from those “early” days of my race to adulthood, is the music that was generated from within the walls of the hungry i from the likes of The Limeliters, jazz legend Vince Guaraldi, master folk singer Glenn Yarborough, a young Barbra Streisand and my favorite folk group, The Kingston Trio.
I could hardly wait for the moment when I was actually old enough to enter into the depths of the club to actually see and hear “in person” The Kingston Trio.
No longer would I be relegated to standing next to a side door of the club where I could actually hear Trio member Bob Shane knock out his favorite rendition of Scotch and Soda or Trio member Nick Reynolds verbally play with the audience while singing his story of The M.T.A. or Tom Dooley.
By the time I actually made it “legally” through the doors of “the Eye” the original Kingston Trio had dropped (via an expensive buy-out) singer/banjo player Dave Guard from its ranks and welcomed in John Stewart, a 21-year-old member of the folk group Cumberland Three.
Over the years, I have been a side-line follower of the Kingston Trio collecting bits and pieces of their history as I could — intended to enhance the listening pleasure that I have always received from them during most of my life. From written biographies of the original and subsequent members of the Trio, to song books, to albums to tapes and now to CDs.
Now, after 50+ years of being a true “fan” of this singing group, it finally dawned on me, and I reluctantly accepted the fact, that “they” wouldn’t be around forever to share their musical talents with us.
Original Trio members Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds have already passed on and Bob Shane resides relatively quietly in Arizona fighting an uphill battle with chronic health problems.
At that same time, I pondered just how much time “I” (not to be confused with “i”) would have left as I phase into the early years of senior citizenship, how I would miss the actual live performances of the Kingston Trio that I’ve attended or viewed electronically over the years, and I questioned how I could keep their “comfort” music for me going on forever during the remainder of my life.
While today three new members of the Trio continue performance tours as a tribute to the original and later Kingston Trio members, it just is not quite the “same” as it was originally.
In a deliberate rather than a desperate effort, I began to search out ways that I could still enjoy the original Kingston Trio performances and the other musical skills of many wonderful performers who have provided me with a variety of musical enjoyment excellence over the years.
When I searched the Internet for my personal selections of “comfort” music, I really hit a treasure trove. Not only did the Internet sites offer access to the lyrics of most of the music that I was interested in, but many sites actually offered full or abbreviated sheet music — especially for piano and guitar.
But, when I searched http://www.youtube.com for the Kingston Trio and hundreds of other performing artists, I was absolutely amazed at how many films from actual live performances and musical movie excerpts were available to me.
Music has always been a comfort for me throughout my life. Now, as a slower-than-I-used-to-be senior citizen, I really appreciate the skill and knowledge of computer geniuses that now allows us to access literally unlimited musical forms — right in the comfort of our own homes.
I guess if I ever return to my city-by-the-bay — San Francisco — there won’t be the pull to once again stand by the side door of the hungry i with my ear near the opening attempting to pick up on any new musical numbers.
And, I certainly won’t be trying to get a peek in the door to see any new talent!