The Town Criers were formed at the folk club the Drinking Gourd in San Francisco, CA, in the summer of 1963 by Marty Balin (born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati, OH, January 20, 1942), Bill Collins, Jan Ellickson (born in Chicago, IL), and Larry Vargo (born circa 1937; died December 20, 1991). They were a folk quartet patterned after the Weavers, performing in the commercial folk style of the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and the Limeliters. Balin, Collins, and Vargo all had previous professional experience. Balin had recorded pop/rock as a solo artist for Challenge Records. Collins had been a member of the duo "the Double Bills," which had expanded into a trio as the Tallymen and released a single on Infinity Records before breaking up when members were drafted. Vargo had been in the group Saints Three. Ellickson was a then-recent graduate of the Evanston Hospital of Nursing in Illinois who had moved to San Francisco and become interested in folk music.
The Town Criers naturally played their first dates at the Drinking Gourd, but they soon expanded to appearances around the San Francisco Bay Area, eventually extending to bookings in Portland, OR, Reno, NV, and Hawaii. They appeared regularly as an opening act for national stars at the hungry i nightclub in San Francisco. Starting in the fall of 1963, they recorded a series of demos, although they issued no recordings at the time. At a time when folk music had peaked in popularity, soon to be circumvented by the British Invasion led by the Beatles, the Town Criers were not able to find enough work to make the group a full-time occupation for their members. In the summer of 1964, Collins left, and soon after the Town Criers broke up completely. Balin went on to form a rock group, Jefferson Airplane, the following year. Collins went into writing and performing commercial jingles. He also became an actor, appearing in such films as Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Ellickson returned to nursing. Vargo, based in Marin County, CA, founded the Mayflower Chorus, for which he wrote and produced local musicals until his death.
In 2003, the track "900 Miles," credited to Marty Balin & the Town Criers, appeared on the various-artists album Early Days of the Future: Adventures in West Coast Rock, issued by the British label Prism Leisure. In 2006, Collectors' Choice Music issued the first full-length Town Criers release, Live in San Francisco. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi