The Coachmen: Subways of Boston

Early-60s San Francisco folk revival trio

“The Coachmen” was a popular name in the ‘60s, having been used by garage rock bands from California and Nebraska, but it was also the name of this San Francisco-bred folk trio. The group began when Don Koss and Doug Tanner joined together to play for their City College fraternity. The duo soon became a trio with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Doug Brown, and gigged as the Coachmen in Bay Area venues, including San Francisco’s legendary Purple Onion. Within two years they’d signed a recording contract with the Hi-Fi label and issued their debut, Here Come the Coachmen! The following year they released this second and last album, Subways of Boston; founding member Doug Tanner was subsequently drafted, and the group parted ways.

This sophomore release is built mostly from variations on traditional material, such as the title track’s play on the Kingston Trio’s hit recording of Steiner and Hawes’ “M.T.A.,” itself based on “The Ship That Never Returned” and its variant “Wreck of the Old 97.” The track list draws in Frank Loesser’s WWII-era “Rodger Young,” Blind Willie McTell’s “Delia” (itself a variant of the Delia Green story, more recently told in Johnny Cash’s cover of Blind Blake’s “Delia’s Gone”), Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” and “Almost Done (on a Monday),” Oscar Brand’s bawdy “Zulika,” and Harry Loes’ gospel “This Little Light of Mine.” They also pull in folk revival versions of material with international origins, including the British and Irish “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” and “I Will Never Marry,” and the South African ceremonial “Bayeza.”

The Coachmen sang and played well, though on record they sounded like a regulation issue folk revival group. They had good ears for material, picking up songs from others in the scene, and adding their own variations. If you enjoy the sounds of the 1960s folk revival harmony groups like the Kingston Trio, the Coachman’s two albums are also available as the two-LPs-on-one-CDs Hootenanny and Essential Folk Classics with the non-LP track “Soldier’s Joy.” Like others of Essential Media’s reissues, a few audio artifacts (groove distortions, in this case) suggest the remastering was from vinyl. But this is still quite listenable mono, and given the relative obscurity and rarity of the Coachmen’s records, a nice add to a folk revival collection. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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