Bob Carey was one of the more important -- and most tragic -- players from the '50s folk revival scene, despite the allegations of some critics that he is "understandably forgotten." He was a member of two key groups from this era, the Folksay Trio and the Tarriers, both originally in the company of sidekick Erik Darling, and the tandem work of the two musicians helped set the stage for the folk boom of the late '50s, almost as much as the work of Pete Seeger and the Weavers. Carey was born in Brooklyn in 1935, and at an early age became a devoted folk and blues enthusiast: one of his special idols was blues singer Josh White, whose sound and repertory he chose to emulate when he started performing. This choice seemed to pay off in an unexpected way when Carey became a winning contestant in 1953 on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts with a rendition of White's "Apples, Peaches and Cherries." Unfortunately, Carey was drafted that same year, but just prior to going into uniform, he and a pair of friends, Erik Darling and Roger Sprung, cut four sides as a trio for Stinson Records, credited as the "Folksay Trio", which -- so far as anyone can say -- appear to constitute the first such new recordings by young male folksingers in this era. Those four numbers included "Tom Dooley," a song -- in an arrangement new and unique at the time to the Folksay rendition -- that turned the Kingston Trio into a world-wide phenomenon a half-decade later.
But at the time the Folksay record was little more than a curio -- pressed on red vinyl, no less -- that sold to a small number of serious folk enthusiasts, and Carey went off into military service. When he returned to New York in 1955 and made the rounds of the music community surrounding Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, he was quickly recruited into Darling's newest music venture, the Tunetellers. That group, a sextet, quickly fell apart, but Darling and Carey re-formed them as the Tarriers, a quartet with Carl Carlton and Alan Arkin -- they required a bit of fine-tuning, with Carlton ultimately leaving, before the Tarriers finally settled down as a trio. With Pete Kameron -- who also handled the Weavers and the Modern Jazz Quartet -- managing them, they went on to years of success on Glory Records, a tiny label run by music publisher Philip Rose. Their 1957 hit "The Banana Boat Song" rode the charts for two months, giving them a solid audience to build on over the next five years. Darling actually began writing his own songs -- when he wasn't adapting old blues and folk numbers to a more modern commercial style -- but most of the Carey songwriting credits came from the typical practice of the era, of commandeering publishing rights to folk songs.
Over the next few years, even as Arkin quit the trio (to be replaced by Clarence Cooper), the Tarriers soldiered on. Better recording contracts followed with bigger labels, though they had no successes as big as their signature hit; and Darling -- after initially juggling his spot in the Tarriers and his work as Pete Seeger's replacement in the Weavers -- left in 1962. Carey ended up the only original member of the group, playing alongside Cooper and multi-instrumentalist Eric Weissberg. The Tarriers might have carried on that way indefinitely -- the folk revival was still going strong, and they always had a solid audience -- but even before Darling's departure, Carey's increasingly erratic behavior was becoming a problem. Those who knew him at the time variously blamed his problems on alcoholism and drug use, but whatever the specific manifestations, they all grew out of some long-unresolved personal problems. And among other difficulties for the group, there was always the serious chance that Carey would fail to turn up for a show. That risk alone caused the Tarriers to expand to a quartet with the addition of bassist (and future Woody Allen collaborator) Marshall Brickman, just to cover them in case of an unexpected absence by their last founding member. Barely a year after Darling's departure, Carey had been dropped from the group he'd co-founded
What followed was a downward spiral, though he initially did get a shot at a solo career. He appeared on at two installments of the folk music showcase Hootenanny in 1964, doing "I'm on My Way" and "I Got a Woman". Ironically, earlier that same season, the Tarriers would appear accompanying Carey's longtime idol Josh White, whose set included "Apples, Peaches and Cherries," the song with which Carey had broken through with such promise a decade earlier. He recorded some solo sides for the Kameron co-owned FM label, a short-lived company whose roster also included folkies Jo Mapes, Fred Neil, Cass Elliot (as part of the Big 3), jazz singer Chris Connor, and the comedy/music duo of "Allen & Grier" (aka Katie & Jake Holmes). All of Carey's sides were featured piecemeal on various multi-artist compilations (mostly using the word "Hootenanny" in their title). Sad to say, Carey was not among the fortunate up-and-coming figures on the label, which folded in late 1964. He later led an outfit called the Tiffany Singers, who recorded for Roulette Records during what proved to be the waning days of the folk boom. He subsequently went to work for a music publishing house in New York City, but his days as a recording artist were over. According to a 2001 article by Dave Samuelson on the Folk Era Records website, Carey was found dead sometime during the second half of the '70s on a bench along New York's Central Park West.