From 1960 to 1963, at the height of the folk revival, the Limeliters were one of the most popular groups in the United States. With a string of records for RCA and as many as 310 concert dates per year, Lou Gottlieb, Alex Hassilev, and Glenn Yarbrough brought their unique vocal blend to coffeehouses from coast to coast. “The combined talents of the Limeliters made them a perfect act for the campus folk fraternity,” wrote Dave Laing of the Guardian. The group’s lively repertoire included “A Dollar Down,” “Have Some Maderia, M’Dear,” and “Lonesome Traveler,” and they even had a national hit with the Coca-Cola theme song, “Things Go Better with Coke.” “The Limeliters transported us to another level,” wrote Naomi Donson in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. “They remain examples of the best kind of folk music 40 years after their formation.”
Gottlieb performed with the Gateway Singers in the mid-1950s, but eventually dropped out to obtain his Ph.D. in musicology from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Born in France, Hassilev moved to the United States as a child and was working as an actor when he met Yarbrough in the late 1950s. Yarbrough served in the U.S. Army for three years during the early 1950s and played his first folk concert during the Christmas season while stationed in Korea. The three musicians met by chance at the Cosmo Alley coffeeshop in Hollywood in 1959. Gottlieb was working on arrangements for the Kingston Trio; Hassilev and Yarbrough were performing as a duo. Impressed with their act, Gottlieb suggested that the three of them work together arranging material for the Kingston Trio. Soon, however, they discovered that their voices blended well and decided to try their luck on the folk circuit. “They had the uncanny knack of making three voices sound like six,” wrote John Puccio in Sensible Sound, “and thanks to their velvet harmonies making a trio sound like a choir.”
With their previous experience in performing and arranging, the Limeliters hit the ground running. “This literate musical/comedy folk trio was in business,” wrote Leland Rucker in MusicHound Folk, “two months after they first met…” The group played its first gig at the Limelite, a club co-owned by Hassilev and Yarbrough. Next, the as-yet unnamed band was booked at the prestigious Hungry i Club in San Francisco. The club owner informed the group that he wasn’t about to put “Yarbrough, Hassilev, and Gottlieb” on the marquee; he asked where they had played last and then dubbed them the Limelite, later to be expanded to the Limeliters. After a strong showing at the Hungry i, the group signed with Elektra Records and released their first album in 1960. “We caught a wave,” Gottlieb told the Los Angeles Times. “We were doing something right.”
After the Limeliters self-titled debut in 1960, the group signed with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Their first RCA effort, Tonight in Person, was recorded live at the Ash Grove in Hollywood, and the album climbed to number five on the Billboard album chart. “From their rousing traditional concert opener, ‘There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight’…,” wrote Cary Ginell in All Music Guide, “this album is a winner all the way and one of the shining examples of the best of the urban folk revival of the early ‘60s.” Ginell also noted that Gottlieb’s role as master of ceremonies greatly enhanced the group’s stage presence, “peppering the act with scholarly witticisms, wry asides, and zany non sequiturs.” Hassilev’s command of several languages also added to the group’s reputation as an intellectual folk trio.
The Limeliters gained exposure on television and were featured in a number of commercials. The group scored its biggest hit with “A Dollar Down” in 1961 and embarked on a hectic touring schedule that included stops at the Village Vanguard in New York, Mister Kelly’s in Chicago, and the Hollywood Bowl. “We worked incredibly hard. It was nothing to play one night in Miami Beach and the next night in Seattle,” Gottlieb recalled. The group toured with other popular acts like stand-up comic Mort Sahl and jazz singer Chris Connor. “We were singing for Coca-Cola,” Gottlieb recollected, “and we made a TV show called ‘Hootenanny’ that paid handsomely. The record royalties were good…. So it was a very profitable thing.”
A number of events and conflicts came between the Limeliters in the mid-1960s. Personality conflicts between the three members led them to jokingly refer to themselves as “the Bicker Brothers,” and Yarbrough’s distinctive tenor seemed custom-made for a
Members include Lou Gottlieb (born in 1923 in Los Angeles, CA; died on July 11, 1996), bass, vocals; Alex Hassilev (born on July 11, 1932, in Paris, France), guitar, banjo, vocals; Glenn Yarbrough (born on January 15, 1930, in Milwaukee, WI; left group, 1963; rejoined group, 1973; left group, 1981), guitar, vocals.
Group formed, 1959; recorded the Limeliters for Elektra, 1960; signed with RCA Victor, recorded The Slightly Famous Limeliters, 1961; contracted to Coca-Cola, early 1960s; released a series of albums between 1960-65, including Folk Matinee (1962), Makin’ a Joyful Noise (1963), and London Concert (1965); disbanded, mid-1960s; re-formed, 1973; performed with the addition of new singers, 1980s-1990s.
Addresses: Record company —Collectors’ Choice, P.O. Box 838, Itasca, IL 60143-0838, phone: (800) 923-1122, website: http://www.collectorschoicemusic.com.
solo career. After Yarbrough’s departure, the group continued for a short time with the addition of Ernie Sheldon. Around this time bands such as the Beatles and Monkees were topping the charts, and the popularity of folk music waned. Gottlieb had also grown tired of life on the road. He began to have health problems in 1963, survived a near-fatal plane crash, and suffered from what he called a “crisis of pessimism.” Despite the breakup, the group continued to be a national phenomenon. “Limeliter LPs were still finding a wide audience,” Irwin Stambler and Grelun Landon wrote in the Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music, “after the group had ceased performing.” Yarbrough went on to a successful solo career and scored a hit with “Baby, the Rain Must Fall” in 1965 while Hassilev returned to producing and acting. Gottlieb founded a hippie commune named Morningstar Ranch in Northern California.
In 1973 Gottlieb, Hassilev, and Yarbrough performed a reunion concert at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. “Yes,” Ginell wrote, “Lou, Alex, and Glenn were back, all heavier (’It was our fat period,’ Alex likes to report), but soberly glad to be back together again in concert after ten years.” In 1981 Yarbrough departed once again, this time to sail around the world. The group continued performing during the 1980s and 1990s, however, first with Red Grammer and later with Rick Dougherty. Gottlieb died in 1996, leaving Hassilev to carry on the Limeliters’ legacy with new members. “The trio were, and still are,” Puccio wrote, “the most polished, most urbane, wittiest, and best-sounding folk singing act around.” Many fans who loved the band and bought all of their albums in the 1960s, continue to follow the Limeliters with enthusiasm. “In the wake of the great Woody Guthrie came many groups, exponents of the songs spawned by America’s diverse people and the tradition of the open road,” wrote Donson. “None were better than the Limeliters.
Limeliters, Elektra, 1960.
The Slightly Famous Limeliters, RCA, 1961.
Folk Matinee, RCA, 1962.
Sing Out!, RCA, 1961.
Makin’a Joyful Noise, RCA, 1963.
Reunion, Stax, 1974.
Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music, St. Martin’s Press, 1983.
Walters, Neal, and Brian Mansfield, editors, MusicHound Folk: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Guardian (London, England), July 20, 1996, p. 32.
Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1996, p. 1.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, March 12, 1996, p. 4B; March 21, 2001, p. 1.
Sensible Sound, May 1998, p. 100.
“Beginnings,” Diggers, http://www.diggers.org (September 11, 2002).
“Limeliters,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 9, 2002).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"The Limeliters." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/limeliters
"The Limeliters." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/limeliters
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