Dave Fisher and four other freshmen at Wesleyan formed a group that began singing folk songs together in 1958. Dave sang lead and arranged the group’s music. Folk music was finding its way onto the charts in the late fifties and early sixties and the group was fortunate enough to sign with United Artists. The group named themselves the Highwaymen and released their first album in 1960. The album included their version of an African work song, Michael Row The Boat Ashore. The single reached #1 on the Hot 100 in 1961.
The group’s second single failed to reach the top forty, but they had better luck with the B-side of the single. That song was a cover of Lead Belly’s 1940 Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song). Performances and releases of the song by Odetta and Harry Belafonte had helped bring the song more attention before the Highwaymen released their version in 1962. Their single reached #13 on the Hot 100 and peaked at #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
The Beach Boys later recorded several different versions of Cottonfields. They released one version as a single in 1970. While the single failed to reach the Hot 100 in the US, it topped the charts in at least three other countries and reached the top five in a half dozen more.
Appearances on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show helped the Highwaymen promote their brand of folk music at a time when other folksingers were also having success. 1964 brought the British Invasion, and the group responded to the new sound by disbanding.
Dave reformed the group with four new members, and they recorded two additional albums. They also continued performing at live concerts and performed live on Hullabaloo in April 1965.
The group disbanded again in 1967. Dave moved to Hollywood and wrote over a thousand songs for movies and television.
When the Country supergroup recorded Highwayman and named their group The Highwaymen, the original Highwaymen sued over the name. Eventually, everybody agreed to let both groups use the name, and the two groups even shared a stage in 1990.
Most of the group reunited in 1987 and continued performing together until Dave’s death in 2010.