Celebrating the 25th anniversary as a folk music trio, Greg Trafidlo, Laura Pole and Neal Phillips, known as Trifolkal, have released their Silver CD including their version of “500 Miles,” original novelty number “Tweet and Text and Like” and more.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE: Happy 25th anniversary to the trio. I remember those early days. When we moved to Roanoke, Virginia, Greg, you were the first musician I met there, and the group felt to me like Virginia’s own version of Peter, Paul and Mary. Now you are covering my favorite Peter, Paul and Mary flip side, “500 Miles,” which I actually learned first as an early ‘70s single by the group Heaven Bound.
GREG TRAFIDLO: We studied Peter, Paul and Mary’s harmonies with a single microphone technique, their instrumentation and arrangements for years. A close listen to those arrangements show that they switch parts seamlessly and their harmonies are so tight that it is hard to tell who is singing which part. It doesn’t get better than that. I saw them at McCormick Place in Chicago in the mid ‘60s and their harmonies knocked me out.
LAURA POLE: At song circles, we did “500 Miles” and everyone joined in. Once we found the right pitch, it became evocative and emotional.
GM:The two of you also had the opportunity to play with Peter Yarrow.
GT: Trifolkal was booked to perform at the Rancho La Puerta Health Spa, in Tecaté, Mexico. We were not there five hours, when Neal had to fly back home due to a family emergency. That left us without a third member of our trio. As fate would have it, Peter was there to perform as well, and he graciously agreed to perform with us. I was aware of his reputation for musical precision. It is one reason Peter, Paul and Mary were as exceptional as they were. I told Laura before we practiced with him that if we remembered all we learned from studying their music we would hopefully be fine. I think we rose to the occasion, fortunately. Years later I ran into Peter at the Folk Alliance in Austin, Texas, and he graciously treated me as if we were both part of the musical brotherhood.
Greg, Laura and Peter, courtesy of Greg Trafidlo
GM:The A side of the original Peter, Paul and Mary single, “Settle Down (Goin’ Down That Highway)” was written by Mike Settle, who I first became familiar with as a member of The First Edition, after his New Christy Minstrel years. Greg, you bring a tender emotion to another Mike Settle song, “Little Boy,” with Joy Truskowski on flute. Where did you find this song for your Silver album?
GT: I have known this one for a long time. It appeared on the 1961 album called Sing Hallelujah by Mike Settle and the Settlers. In the mid ‘60s I was deep into the folk revival. Television shows “Hootenanny” and “Rainbow Quest” were my introduction to that style of music. I learned this song as a teen and played it with my high school folk group. It’s stuck with me ever since. In fact, I have a cassette of my old band mate, John Duner, and I performing it at the Two-Way Street Coffee House in our hometown of Downers Grove, Illinois. In 1999, I even got to play on a bill with Mike Settle at the Shel Silverstein Memorial concert in Nashville. It was a thrill to meet one of my musical heroes. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that its true power was revealed to me when I performed it at my mother’s funeral service. On this new recording, Joy Truskowski, who we met at Third Street Coffeehouse in Roanoke, joins us on flute.
GM: The Roanoke Times listing of you at Third Street Coffeehouse is where you got the trio’s name, accidentally. I still have that mid ‘90s weekend music listing in our attic.
GT: Third Street is also how Neal officially joined us. We had met Neal at the Great Smoky Song Chase previously, then he and his wife Claudia moved to Blacksburg, while she was focusing on her PhD at Virginia Tech. Neal saw us on a Friday night at Third Street and we said that we needed a bass player. By Sunday afternoon he learned all our songs. A few years later, when we were just using our names in the act, The Roanoke Times had a case of spellcheck gone wild and Trafidlo, became Trifocal. Now we call ourselves, Trifolkal, a far sided trio. Other acts were impacted, too. Curley Ennis became Curlew Tennis.
GM:Speaking of Curley, in the ‘90s film City Slickers, it is Jack Palance’s role as Curly where I first learned “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” I love the fast-paced harmonies the three of you bring to the song.
GT: As a young kid I was fascinated by the harmonies of the Ink Spots, Mills Brothers, Ames Brothers, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, but mostly Gene Autry and Roy Rogers with the Sons of the Pioneers. I thought all cowboy movies heroes carried six shooters and guitars. I always wanted to honor that tradition, minus the weapon. When Laura, Neal and I began to click musically, I had “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” in the recesses of my heart and head hoping someday we would work it up. I knew we could do it justice. Plus, it’s a great nostalgia piece for our silver haired audience.
GM:Lets go from that new “Tumble” recording to one from the ‘90s which is still a crowd pleaser in your shows, the laundromat novelty song, “The Tumbler.”
GT: That is one that stays with people. Everybody knows Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” We called a Sony vice president about recording our novelty version. It went through three lawyers. A week later they said, “We’ll let you do it” and we gave the original songwriter, Don Schlitz, credit along with Neal and my name on our Foxfire album.
GM:Neal, you are back with another novelty number, “Tweet and Text and Like.”
NEAL PHILLIPS: It was inspired by a very clever song by Lou and Peter Berryman, “Cheese and Beer and Snow,” essentially the three things everyone knows about Wisconsin. I was fascinated by the construction of the lyrics, so I took that song apart and, with the permission of Lou and Peter, created a songwriting exercise for my local songwriting group in Philadelphia. Each songwriter was to choose three related words and write a song using certain rules modeled on the Berrymans' song. In addition to the social media theme of the lyrics, the song uses a different melody. I also added a bridge and some goofy word play at the end. The result is a new song, not a parody, with a tip of the hat to the Berrymans.
GM:In the ‘70s, my friends and I were fortunately to see Harry Chapin at a couple of outdoor summer shows on stage with his band and his brothers, Tom and Steve. I was thrilled to hear you include “Circle” from his Sniper album.
NP: “Circle” is a song that all of us have loved for many years. It's one person's story, but also it is a "we" song that everyone can relate to and sing along. We've played it occasionally as a trio, and I performed it in solo shows and worked out a guitar arrangement using an alternate tuning and experimented with recording it for several years off and on, but I could never quite get it to click until I brought it to Trifolkal for this album.
GT: I met Tom Chapin in Roanoke at one of his children’s shows, saw him at the Heritage Festival in Downers Grove and at the Grammy Foundation in D.C.
GM:You also know Dean Milano from Chicago, who spent the early ‘80s with The New Seekers, playing concerts with their hit songs from the ‘70s and songs by The Seekers from the ‘60s, including your album’s opening number, “I’ll Never Find Another You.”
GT: Dean played bass and sang with them. We have written a song together, “The Artist,” which appears on his album and mine and whenever Dean and I get a chance to perform together in Chicago, “I’ll Never Find Another You” is also on the set list.
NP: The seeds of the Silver album were planted in 2012 when Trifolkal rented a house in Bethany Beach, Maryland, for a retreat. Each of us brought a song or two that we thought might work with the trio, and we made some rough recordings in the living room. There's something magical about sitting around with your friends and harmonizing for the first time on a new song. Several songs from that retreat really seemed to click, including The Seekers’ “I’ll Never Find Another You,” The Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” “500 Miles” and more. We started including these songs in our sets, but it wasn't until last year that we went into the studio to work on these and other tracks.
Silver also includes “Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep,” “I’m a Beauty” and “How Beautiful Upon the Mountain.” Trifolkal will have their Silver CD release concert and party Sunday, December 2 in Hardy, Virginia.
Neal, Laura and Greg, courtesy of trifolkal.com
Peter, Paul and Mary
Flip side: 500 Miles
A side: Settle Down (Goin’ Down That Highway)
Top 100 debut: January 19, 1963
Peak Position: 56
Warner Brothers 5334
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.
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