The Tarriers recorded "Tom Dooley" on their debut album in 1957, a year before the song became a massive hit for the Kingston Trio. The group also released and had a minor hit with "The Banana Boat Song," before Harry Belafonte recorded the same song and started the calypso craze. Despite the talent of Erik Darling, Alan Arkin, and Bob Carey, the Tarriers never received credit for their originality, nor found a niche in the bourgeoning folk boom of the late '50 and early '60s.
Darling put together several combinations in the early to mid-50s, hoping to emulate the success of the Weavers. He formed a group called the Tunetellers with Bob Carey, Carl Carlton, Al Wood, and Ray Yavneh, but an ill-fated appearance at the Circle in the Square Theatre brought a quick end to the partnership. Darling, Carey, and Carlton regrouped with Alan Arkin and named their group after the Irish folk song "Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill." Former Weavers' manager Pete Kameron worked to find the band a recording contract, but the major labels initially showed no interest. The band dissolved and re-formed without Carlton, then polished their live act in New York's Catskill Mountains.
In the fall of 1956, the Tarriers recorded their first tracks in a Manhattan studio for Glory Records. The sessions produced "The Banana Boat Song," a calypso-influenced piece that Darling had first heard from Bob Gibson in Washington Square. While the song reached number four on Billboard, RCA quickly grabbed the song for inclusion on Belafonte's new album. The Tarriers returned to the studio in 1957 to record additional tracks for their self-titled debut, and released "Those Brown Eyes," "Pretty Boy," and "Quinto" as follow-up singles. When these singles failed to chart, Glory allowed the year-long contract to lapse.
The group launched a European tour in 1957, playing a number of dates at the Olympia Theater in Paris and releasing a live set on a French record label. Despite this success, Arkin opted to leave the group and was replaced by Clarence Cooper. The Tarriers recorded a second studio effort tilted Hard Travelin' for United Artists in 1959, but the album failed to find an audience. Darling's talent was nonetheless recognized by Fred Hellerman, who invited him to take part in the Weavers' next rehearsal. Throughout 1959, Darling juggled his career between the two bands until scheduling conflicts led to his departure from the Tarriers.
After Eric Weissberg joined the Tarriers, the band recorded Tell the World About This for Atlantic Records. Internal problems began to threaten the group, however. Carey became less reliable and Marshall Brickman was hired as a standby in case he failed to show. In 1963, Carey was booted from the group. In the spring of 1964 when Weissberg departed for National Guard duty, the group temporarily disbanded. When he returned, the band re-formed with Al Dana replacing Brickman and in 1965, joined Judy Collins on a tour of Poland and Russia. After the tour, the Tarriers fizzled out.
The Tarriers left behind a handful of worthy folk recordings and in a number of ways, were ahead of their time. Other groups would emulate the arrangements and song choices with greater success. The presence of Carey, an African American, and later Cooper, also expressed a racial diversity that was unusual, especially during the early part of the revival. "...The original Tarriers brought folk music to the American Hit Parade on its own uncompromised terms," wrote Dave Samuelson. "Its success helped pave the way for the Easy Riders, the Kingston Trio, and many other acts to follow." In 2001, Folk Era re-issued the band's debut along with a number of live tracks. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.