In late 1963 and early 1964, everything was going right for the Cumberland Trio, a Knoxville folk band that was actually a quartet. The group—Jerre Haskew, Tom Kilpatrick, Andy Garverick, and Jim Shuptrine—had formed on the University of Tennessee campus in the early ’60s, and their tight three-piece harmonies, surprisingly sophisticated songwriting, and polished stage presence immediately marked them as legitimate contenders for folk stardom beyond Knoxville.
In December 1963, the trio won a contest at the National Collegiate Folk Festival in Florida, beating a group that included future Byrds member Chris Hillman and ’90s country star Vern Gosdin. Early the next year, they opened for Joan Baez in Knoxville; appeared on ABC’s folk-music program Hootenanny alongside Bill Monroe and Doc Watson; performed at the Grand Ole Opry; and recorded songs in Nashville with Chet Atkins. Every move they made seemed like a step toward the big national stage occupied by the Kingston Trio, the Seekers, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.
Something unexpected, however, stopped the Cumberland Trio short. Within a few months of the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, folk was dead and forgotten as pop music. (It seems the Knoxville tradition of almost making it big goes back further than most of us remember.) The trio’s album, recorded in New York’s Gotham Studios in the summer of 1964, was never released. (It didn’t help that the band’s label, the fledgling Record Industries Corporation, went out of business that same summer.) After a brief and misguided effort to reinvent themselves as a rockabilly band, the trio called it quits, with its four members heading into long and successful professional careers in Atlanta, Chattanooga, and North Carolina.
Since a pair of reunion concerts at the Bijou Theatre in the early ’00s, the trio has remained semi-active. They released a CD of the Chet Atkins recordings and some live material and both a CD and DVD of the reunion shows. Now the band’s only album, thought to be lost for nearly 50 years, has finally surfaced. Lost and Found: The 1964 New York Sessions is available now as a digital download at thecumberlandtrio.bandcamp.com, with a physical release soon to follow.
It’s a remarkable document—world-class ’60s folk-pop, as good as almost anything by the Cumberland Trio’s contemporaries. The sound quality is still rough, but the trio’s performance is impeccable, with originals “I Wish I Were a Babe” and “A Lion Named Sam” fitting in next to traditional songs like “Ride Up,” “John Henry,” and “Old Blue.” Classic Knoxville music, and more than worth the wait.