The Highwaymen (folk band)

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For the country supergroup, see The Highwaymen (country supergroup).

The Highwaymen were a circa 1960 "collegiate folk" group. They originated at Wesleyan University and had a Billboard #1 hit in 1961 with "Michael", a version of the African-American spiritual Michael, Row the Boat Ashore, and another Top 20 hit in 1962 with "Cotton Fields". "Michael" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record.[1][2]


As a freshman in 1958, Dave Fisher,[3] who in high school had sung in a doo-wop group, joined with four other Wesleyan freshman – Bob Burnett, Steve Butts, Chan Daniels, and Steve Trott – to form The Highwaymen.[4][5] Fisher, who would graduate in 1962 with the university’s first degree in ethnomusicology,[6] was the quintet's arranger and lead singer.[1] In 1959, United Artists released his arrangement of the spiritual "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore"; the recording reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart on 4-11 September 1961 under the abbreviated title of "Michael",[7] earning the quintet the gold record.[8] The single also reached #1 in the UK[9] and #4 in Germany.[10] Later members were Gil Robbins (father of actor Tim Robbins), who joined in 1962 when Steve Trott entered Harvard Law School, and guitarist/bassist Johann Helton.[5][11]

The original Highwaymen, minus Daniels (who died in 1975), reunited in 1987 for a concert for their 25th college reunion. From that time until the death of Dave Fisher in 2010, the band recorded several albums and performed from 10 to 30 concerts a year.[citation needed] Their only new studio album from this period, The Water Of Life A Celtic Collection, was recorded and engineered by their bassist Johann Helton at JoTown Records in Boise, Idaho.

The group broke up in 1964. With Dave Fisher as musical director and the only remaining member of the original quintet, The Highwaymen continued for another five years with new members Renny Temple, Roy Connors, Mose Henry, and Alan Scharf. They recorded two albums, Stop! Look! & Listen and On a New Road, and performed countless concerts and appeared on virtually every television variety show. Temple, Connors, and Henry were previously in a popular Florida folk group called The Vikings Three. Alan Scharf had an earlier career as an actor which continued after The Highwaymen disbanded. He went on to do small roles in a few movies including the cult classic The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and many national, regional, and local commercials. He continued his singing as a cantor in Congregation Beth El, a synagogue in La Jolla, California. Roy Connors became an advertising executive and formed his own ad agency, Forsyth & Connors, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale. Roy built the company to become the second largest agency in Florida. Connors wrote and produced national TV commercials and jingles, and performed in a number of national commercials. He became a feature song writer on the CBS children's TV show, "Captain Kangaroo", where he wrote original songs for the cast. After many years of loss of contact, Scharf and Connors reconnected in southern Florida, forming a duo called 2 GUYS, singing many of the folk songs they sang as members of The Highwaymen. More information on Roy and Alan can be found at their web site: and on Facebook. The web site for Roy Connors can be found on Facebook at

Of the original quintet from Wesleyan (all of whom made the Dean's List),[2] one attended Harvard Business School, two attended Harvard Law School, and one attended graduate school at Columbia University, then proceeded into business, law, and academia. Fisher alone stayed in the music business. After the second incarnation of The Highwaymen, Fisher traveled to Hollywood where he composed and arranged music for films and television and worked as a studio singer and musician. He wrote more than a thousand songs, many of which have been used in movie and television productions. After serving in the Army Reserve, Burnett graduated from Harvard Law School in 1967 and "went on to a long career in law and banking."[12] Chan Daniels was an executive for Capitol Records.[13] Steve Butts received a Ph.D. in Chinese Politics from Columbia, and until retirement, had served as an academic administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Grinnell College, and Lawrence University. He also taught baroque music performance and statistics at Columbia and the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music.[14] Steve Trott, after graduating from Harvard Law, became a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. Later, he served in the United States Department of Justice during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan and in 1987 was appointed a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[15][16]

In 1990, the group sued country music's Highwaymen, made up of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson over their use of the name, which was inspired by a Jimmy Webb ballad they recorded. The suit was dropped after the foursome agreed to let members of the original group open for them at a 1990 concert in Hollywood.[citation needed]

The group last performed in August 2009 at the Guthrie Center in Massachusetts. The rock and roll magazine Blitz described the Highwaymen’s record of their 1963 concert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the best compilation or reissue of 2009. Blitz also named the band's album When the Village Was Green one of the best releases of 2007.[17]

Daniels died of pneumonia on August 2, 1975 at the age of 36.[18]

Fisher died on May 7, 2010, at the age of 69.[19]

Burnett died of brain cancer on December 7, 2011 at his home in East Providence, Rhode Island. He was 71.[20][21]

Today, just two of the five original members are still alive - Steve Trott and Steve Butts.[22] To date, The Highwaymen have recorded ten albums.


The Highwaymen had a significant impact on the folk scene of the early 1960s. Aside from two major hit singles and several appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, the group contributed two future standards to the folk repertoire ("All My Trials", "Big Rock Candy Mountain") and played the central role in uncovering an important, long-overlooked song by Lead Belly, "Cotton Fields", which subsequently became a major addition to the repertoires of both the Beach Boys and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Highwaymen also made the first recordings, or at least the first recordings in the United States, of a seminally noteworthy song by Buffy Sainte-Marie ("Universal Soldier").[23]


Roy Connors

Renny Temple

Alan Scharf

Mose Henry

Dave Fisher (July 19, 1940 – May 7, 2010)[3]
Bob Burnett (February 7, 1940, Providence, Rhode Island – December 7, 2011)[12]
Steve Butts
Chan Daniels (died August 2, 1975, aged 36)
Steve Trott (born Stephen S. Trott, December 12, 1939, Glen Ridge, New Jersey)[24]
Gil Robbins (born Gilbert Lee Robbins, April 3, 1931, Spokane, Washington – April 5, 2011)[25]
Johann Helton (born in 1953)

Notable songs[edit]


  1. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 136. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  2. ^ a b "". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  3. ^ a b Schofield, Derek (8 June 2010). "Dave Fisher obituary". The Guardian. 
  4. ^ Beach, Randall. "". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  5. ^ a b Original Highwayman Begins Final Journey Rowing Boat to Farthest Shore, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Dec. 2011. Retrieved 14 Dec. 2011.
  6. ^ All About Jazz (2010-05-13). "Dave Fisher | Jazz | Guitar, acoustic". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  7. ^ Joel Whitburn (1994) Top Pop Singles 1955-1993. Menomonee Falls/Wisconsin: Record Research Inc.; p. 274
  8. ^ "". 2010-05-14. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  9. ^ Stephen Nugent, Pete Fowler, Anne Fowler "The Log Of American British Top 20 Hits, 1955 - 1974", in: Charlie Gillett, Simon Frith (eds.) (1976) Rock File 4 Frogmore, St. Albans: Panther Books; p. 193
  10. ^ Günter Ehnert (ed.) (1990) Hit Bilanz. Deutsche Chart Singles 1956-1980. Hamburg: Taurus Press; p. 97
  11. ^ Johann Helton at Ada Community Library, Boise Weekly, by Jennifer Spencer. 19 May 2010. Retrieved 14 Dec. 2011.
  12. ^ a b Bob Burnett, 71, Performer in the Original Highwaymen, Dies, The New York Times. 10 Dec. 2011. Retrieved 13 Dec. 2011.
  13. ^ "". 2010-05-13. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  14. ^ "Biographies of the Highwaymen" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  15. ^ Martin, Douglas (May 12, 2010). "Dave Fisher, Member of the Highwaymen, Dies at 69". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ Lewis, Randy (2010-05-13). "Obituary of David Fisher in Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  17. ^ "Death of Dave Fisher". 2010-05-14. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  18. ^ Grimes, William (April 9, 2011). "Gil Robbins, Folk Singer of the Highwaymen, Dies at 80". The New York Times. 
  19. ^ Dave Fisher, Member of the Highwaymen, Dies at 69, The New York Times. 12 May 2010. Retrieved 13 Dec. 2011.
  20. ^ Bob Burnett dies at 71; member of folk group the Highwaymen, Los Angeles Times. 11 December 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  21. ^ [1][dead link]
  22. ^ Grimes, William (April 9, 2011). "Gil Robbins, Folk Singer of the Highwaymen, Dies at 80". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ "". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  24. ^ "Biographical Directory of Federal Judges: Stephen S. Trott". Federal Retrieved 2011-12-12. 
  25. ^ Thursby, Keith (2011-04-11). "Gil Robbins dies at 80; member of the 1960s folk group the Highwaymen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 

External links[edit]