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Legend gets bandied about in the music business as if anyone can apply. Legend alternatively connotes talent, presence, artistic accomplishment, enduring career, lasting influence, a reputation for excellence, or an elusive combination of each. Without an appointive body conferring status to deserving applicants, any artist with a cult following or music critic with a thesaurus feels entitled to dole out the standing implied, ever lessening the significance. But with Glenn Yarbrough, there is no debate - no question. The voice is the legend.
With over seventy-five albums to his credit, including both his chart topping stint as the Limeliter's lead tenor, and his marathon solo career Glenn Yarbrough's voice has graced millions of listeners lives. The mile marker's of Glenn's success are varied - his #1 hit "Baby The Rain Must Fall," his best selling collaboration with Rod McKuen's poetry The Lonely Things, his two recent albums Family Portrait & Sing Annie Get Your Gun both recorded with his daughter Holly, are as important to him as his sailing milestones.
Never known for taking the easy path, Yarbrough has made his decisions from the heart, only to later see where his voice would lead. His heart told him to accept a scholarship at St. Johns College in Annapolis, MD, turning down several scholarships offered by larger Universities to study St. John's arduous Great Books series. But it was his voice at St. Johns that led him to an all night singing session in 1951 with roommate Jac Holtzman (who later founded Elektra Records) and visiting artist Woody Guthrie. Glenn's found his heart in Guthrie's songs, and the next day purchased a guitar.
Flash forward several years - past a stint in the army as both a radio operator and, surprisingly, in the Army entertainment school where Glenn first honed his performance skills. Skip by Glenn's first paid entertainment job as a radio and TV host in Rapid City South Dakota to 1957 when Glenn followed his heart back to Greenwich Village and his voice led to his first album Come Sit By My Side on the New Traditions label. And despite his "day" job as a bouncer for the Seamen's House Hotel, Glenn's heart kept him up well past closing time singing and playing at all night parties. It was at one of those "hootenannies" as the vernacular of the times called it that Glenn's voice led him to a job offer from famed promoter Albert Grossman. His heart told him to take that first job at Grossman's club, Chicago's Gate Of Horn for three weeks. His voice did the rest.
Six months later, when his engagement actually ended, Glenn took another job at a club out in Aspen Colorado, where the legendary voice came into it's own. After playing the club for the summer, the owner offered Glenn a lease option, which Glenn accepted. Concurrently Glenn was traveling occasionally and happened to guest on-stage at a club in Hollywood, CA, where he met two men. One a young banjo and guitar player, the other a bass player, comedian and musicologist. Chance drew them together, but the three heard a sound that could not be denied. Glenn invited them back to Aspen with him where the three went to rehearse their material and hone their act. The club was called the Limelight. The banjo player's name was Alex Hassilev. The bass players name, Lou Gottlieb. And the trio called themselves the Limeliters.
Two months later, the Limeliters owned Aspen and made their debut at the hungry I, San Francisco's legendary folk club & home to the west coast's popular folk music scene. The rest is history. Hit records, international touring and acclaim, and a fair degree of fortune followed. Glenn's voice had made a lot of that possible. Of course it wasn't really what his heart wanted. "I wanted to take a crack at sailing around the world," Yarbrough said, "Time to be alone." So in 1963 he quit the Limeliters to follow his heart.
RCA intervened though, and convinced him to record one solo album, just to see what would happen. Called Time To Move On, the album spawned a monster hit in the form of "Baby The Rain Must Fall," and Glenn's dreams of sailing were put on hold for 5 more years while he recorded several albums for RCA, started his partnership with poet Rod McKuen - which birthed Glenn's album The Lonely Things, and Rod's book of poetry Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows - and further ingrained his voice into musical legend. By 1967 Glenn had founded a school for underprivileged children, and by 1969 had begun work on the Jubilee - the 55 ft Ferro-cement Ketch that he, his wife Annie, and one year old daughter Holly would board in 1970 to embark upon a five year cruise of the world.
Glenn returned to occasional recording and touring, creating more of the magical music that he will always be remembered for. Live At The Troubadour was recorded during that time, as was Just A Little Love, Come Closer To Me, and a host of other albums, many released on Glenn & Annie's record label, Brass Dolphin.
Meanwhile, Glenn continued to flirt in and out of the music business, sometimes recording, sometimes touring, usually staying on dry land just long enough to fund the next voyage at sea. He started to realize something though that "Sailing, although it's not easy work, is self indulgent. If I were a doctor, I would be useful in the remote places I go to. Here in the states though I've come to realize that what I do is meaningful to a lot of people." He also realized that as much fun as sailing was, it really was the joy the music brought that meant the most to him. "I have met fans who drive hundreds of miles to attend my concerts, who have named their children after my songs, who tell me after a concert, with tears in their eyes, just how much my music has meant to them over the years," he said. "And at night when I return to my hotel room, I think about how lucky I am that these wonderful people have made me a part of their lives."
So in recent years his recorded output, and the time he spends on the road, has increased. A great deal of that work is available on Folk Era Records, including two of Glenn's most recent recordings - both done with his equally talented daughter, Holly. In 1994 they went into the studio together for the first time to record Family Portrait. The result was a graceful album that gorgeously captured both their voices amongst a quiet collection of songs, with gems like "Arrow" and "The Bramble & The Rose" capturing attention. Then in 1996 a new opportunity opened for Glenn when he was cast as Frank Butler in a touring version of Irving Berlin's classic American musical, Annie Get Your Gun. With all the excitement about being in a musical for the first time, Glenn couldn't help but find his way into the studio to record the timeless songs like "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)." Holly joined him in the studio for a second time to sing Annie Oakley's parts, and the result is the most spirited rendition of Annie's songs to be released on CD.
Despite the extensive time Glenn is spending on the road in Annie, he's still finding time to perform his Forgotten Carols tour - one of the shows closest to Glenn's heart. The story is a retelling of the entire Christmas story as narrated by Glenn - who looks quite a bit like the original Santa Claus these days. Some of the classic Christmas songs are on his Christmas With Glenn Yarbrough album, and nobody sings them like Glenn. There's also work being done to create a syndicated radio show that will be part autobiography, part Old-Time radio-play, and part interview. Since the broadcast will supposedly take place from an island lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest, the program represents another full circle for Glenn. As his music returns to the sea his legendary voice at last follows his heart.
"I could have been a sailor,