“All my life’s a circle,” sing The Limeliters as they croon a classic Harry Chapin song. In several ways, joining the band has been coming full circle for me, Steve Brooks - the newest member of The Limeliters.
For one thing, I was born the same year as the Limes. Back in 1959, the musicologist Louis Gottlieb decided that if he was arranging songs for groups like the Kingston Trio, he could do it for himself. He recruited baritone Alex Hassilev and the extraordinary tenor Glenn Yarbrough. Within months, they had a record contract. They named themselves after a ski lodge in Aspen, where they first woodshedded their act: The Limelite.
For another thing, I grew up with a lot of songs The Limeliters made famous. I didn’t know that songs like “Meetin’ Here Tonight,” “Those Were the Days” or even “If I Had a Hammer” were first recorded by the band. I simply breathed them in from the musical atmosphere, after The Limeliters had put them there.
I really started getting familiar with the group when they played the Kerrville Folk Fest, and after my friend Andy Corwin joined, 15 years ago. I’ve been a Limeliters fan ever since. So it was an honor and a thrill last summer, when Andy called up and asked if I’d like to audition. It was more of a thrill to start learning my parts in Gottlieb’s intricate arrangements.
It’s the kind of sound you can instantly identify, with equal parts of three-part harmony, impeccable musicianship, humor and Las Vegas pizzazz. You can understand why it’s lasted 60 years, and why new generations keep rediscovering the sound – as they did when the classic “Time are Gettin’ Hard, Boys” became a viral hit from the soundtrack of “Breaking Bad.”
So for me, the circle will be complete on January 19, when I make my debut as a Limeliter, in front of a hometown crowd. The band now calls Austin home – Andy himself has been here since 2006. Even better, we’ll be kicking off a new season for the Austin Acoustical Café. After six months of rehearsing, I can’t wait for Eddie Collins, our guest banjo player, to hit the first notes of “Hard Travellin’," and for Rick Dougherty's tenor to soar on "Wayfarin' Stranger." And to take my place in a chain of great folk musicians who have, in the words of a song by Tom Chapin, “passed the music on.”
- Steve Brooks