Perfect Sound Forever

Fred Neil:
The Other Side Of Greenwich Village 60's Folk Scene- Part 2

60's recording session with Fred Neil
photo courtesy of the Fred Neil website

By Toni Ruiz & Henry Llach

Richie Havens, born in Brooklyn (1941), had been a member of gospel and doo-wop groups but when he commenced to write poetry, he soon found himself in the Village, and later, in 1969, Havens would open the Woodstock Festival. One of the first acts he encountered in the Village though, upon his arrival, was Dino Valente and Fred Neil performing as a duo at the Wha?, and was blown away: "The in-crowd would drop everything to be there, especially to see them close out the show with their folk rock version of Ray Charles's "What'd I Say"... They were completely involved in the music of their youth and writing the music of our future." 18

 Dino Valente and Fred Neil were seen as the example to follow by all the newcomers who wanted to be cool. The atypical and rhythmic 12-string guitar strumming that both of them used had its origin in Bob Gibson (1931-1996). John Sebastian has mentioned the Gibson's influence on Neil's, Valente's and Havens' styles: "Gibson was the first guy to take a 12 string and kind of knowing Leadbelly had done it, and jazzed up a folk music strum a little bit". 19

 Gibson, who had recorded four urban folk albums in the second half of the '50's (compiled in the excellent CD Joy, Joy The Young And Wonderful Bob Gibson, Riverside, 1996), co-wrote the song "What You Gonna Do" for his Where I'm Bound album (Elektra 1964) with Neil, his last album before a self imposed hiatus.

In 1961, Gibson had formed a duo with Hamilton Camp. The latter's landmark album was Paths Of Victory (Elektra, 1964) that would include a bunch of Dylan covers with double-tracked voice and trendy tunes. It seems that Camp had also jammed at Chip Monk's with Neil and Fred, where he could learn some Dylan's unknown pieces, that he would record for that album.

The ground-breaking album of both, Gibson & Camp, solo or as a duo, was Live At The Gate Of Horn (Elektra, 1961), in which Camp would add enchanted vocal melodies to folk standards like "Old Blue," "John Henry" or "Betty And Dupree." For Roger McGuinn, the album sounded like the Beatles even before the fab four would exist. Because the Gibson & Camp album, McGuinn, who later would start The Byrds, and like Gibson came from Chicago, began playing the 12 string guitar.20

 In 1961, Bob Gibson, who would support and promote many up and coming talents like Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Phil Ochs, created New Concept, his own management office, that tried to book himself "and some other folkies in some of the places available. We had an incredible roster of people, Freddie Neil, David Crosby, Bobby Dylan, Richie Havens and several others, nearly whom went on to do great work." 21 Dylan, after landing a record deal with Columbia in 1962, signed with another Chicago native, who had moved to New York, Albert Grossman, who had first managed artists like Odetta and Gibson himself.

Meanwhile, Bob Gibson presented Neil in Chicago and Toronto. In Hollywood, Camp, Gibson and Neil did a series of folk music radio programs. Gibson would maintain his close friendship with Fred, helping in the mixing of his last official release, the Other side of this Life album in 1971.

 By his hand, Vince Martin (born 1938) was crucial in Neil's life and career. Both of them would perform as a duo since 1961 -and would record an album in 1964 Tear Down The Walls (Elektra)- thinking in the Gibson & Camp model. Born in NYC and really named Vincent Marcellino, Martin had recorded the huge hit "Cindy Oh Cindy" backed by the popular folk group The Tarriers, one of the first integrated folk ensembles. Martin went on to release several singles, mostly on the Glory label, before finding himself immersed in the folk boom, where he would eventually hook up with Fred in early 1960: "I was sitting there playing guitar with Hoyt Axton, a cold winter night, when Dino Valente came in, and then Freddy came in. Dino introduced me to Fred that night. We jammed all night long." 22

It was not long before hard drugs appeared on the scene and began to take their toll on both music and musician. Valente was busted and spent time behind bars in the late sixties, preventing his career from taking off. Neil also battled drugs, making him someone that industry would shy away from embracing, to quote Jac Holzman, the man who gave Fred his first recording contract: "listening to 'Blues on the Ceiling you could almost forgive him his irresponsibility as a human being.' 23 His tenure at Elektra would be short lived.

Karen Dalton was a junkie almost all her adult life and lived long periods of sorrowful existence until she died of AIDS-related illness. Regarding Hardin, Paul Colby wrote: "For some reason that I could never quite understand, a pitfall into drugs and boozed seemed to go with the territory... Some guys are like puppies that break their leash and run headlong into traffic. There's no way you can stop them." 24

 Soon, drugs and the pressure to succeed caused many to retreat. Karen Dalton would flee to the country, mostly Boulder (Colorado) and Woodstock. Both Neil and Tim Hardin would also spend considerable time in Woodstock, attempting to escape the pressures of city life.

 Neil specially became withdrawn and uncomfortable hanging out with strangers. Steve De Naut, who joined Neil on bass in the mid-sixties, confirms: "He used to like to hide out from all the young folksingers who sucked up to him. Sometimes he'd hang out there for days and nobody knew where he was. We did a lot of speed in those days, and smoked massive quantities of hash."25

 He also was innately suspicious of anything that even hinted at commerciality. "He's a good friend of Lenny Bruce's, and of these jazz musicians," said John Sebastian,"and they equated commercialism with some kind of selling out. With some kind of a denigration of what they did. And so this kind of selling out was something that Fred was very afraid of." 26 Fred in fact, was friendly with Bruce, doing a show with him at The Gate of Horn in Chicago, in December 1962, a show that would end up with Bruce being arrested on obscenity charges. Neil admired Lenny Bruce and became a close friend of the embattled comedian, according Howard Solomon and Sam Hood, both Village club owners friendly with both artists.

 Lenny Bruce was a huge influence and friend to all; Hardin lived for a time in Bruce's L.A. home, where he composed many of the songs that would be eventually released on Tim Hardin 1 and Tim Hardin 2 (Verve/Forecast 1966-67), and would even dedicate one of his best songs to the comedian, "Lenny's Tune," released on Tim Hardin 3/ Live In Concert (Verve/Forecast, 1968). Neil's partner, Vince Martin, also was hired by Lenny Bruce in 1962 to open for him at the Bel Air Hotel in Miami: "He asked me if I knew his face, I said yeah, 'Lenny Bruce, got your record, man.' He then said he hated folk music! 'You're the only folk singer I ever heard who isn't and doesn't act like a wounded bird. Wanna open the show for me next week?' Working with him for a month was a book on its own." 27

 Another artist who opened shows for Bruce was Judy Henske who did the honors when Lenny played the Unicorn in Los Angeles. Henske was a terrific blues singer who had been a member of the Whiskeyhill Singers, who when in New York would regularly open for another up-and-coming comedian, Woody Allen. Henske's manager was Herbie Cohen, owner of the Unicorn in L.A., where Bruce performed and would eventually be arrested.

Cohen soon branched into managing some of the acts that performed at his club, like Frank Zappa, Wild Man Fischer, Captain Beefheart, Tim Buckley, and for a time, Fred Neil. It was Cohen who hooked up Neil with Nik Venet at Capitol, soon after Fred left Elektra. His freelance executive presence in recordings of Henske, Neil and Buckley, would bring back impressive line-ups, including musicians like stand-up bass player Jimmy Bond, Jr., guitarist John T. Forsha and drummer Billy Mundi.

Unfortunately, few of these artists would achieve commercial success. Valente recorded only one poor selling solo record before joining Quicksilver Messenger Service, reinventing himself as a rocker. Karen Dalton recorded two albums and disappeared. Martin did the same, his last record coming out in 1973. Hardin, would continue to record, off and on, until his drug related death in 1980. Henske would not release an album for more than thirty years. Fred Neil went south to Coconut Grove, Florida, where he retired from the music business, living off the royalties generated by his songs, especially "Everybody's Talkin'."

In hindsight, these musicians were not really folksingers, their styles being too diverse and influenced by too many musical strands to be labelled simply as 'folk music.' On one hand, they were influential among their fellow musicians, seen as trailblazers of a new era, where all different types of music would play off each other, but on the other hand, they became difficult for record labels to be able to pigeonhole, simply not knowing what to do with such innovative sounds. Record companies at the time were looking for the next Kingston Trio. It was not until a handful of small labels, led by Elektra, Vanguard and Verve/Folkways, began to take chances signing the more eclectic 'folksingers' that artists like Fred Neil and Dino Valente were afforded the opportunity to record.

 Karen Dalton songs sounds like rural blues but her down-tempo rhythm and gravely-voice atmospherics had more of jazz than folk. About her, the bass player Eric Weisberg has said: "I just can see some fat cat record executive chomping on a cigar and asking "what's the image we're selling here."28

 Judy Henske is another artist that was not easy to label. Her selections achieved a perfect balance of jazz, blues ballads and folk standards. Live, she would pepper her act with comedy bits: "People used to say to me 'Why don't you just do blues or folk. But I liked all kinds of music, so I did jazz, murder ballads, blues, folk, anything I wanted. You can live your entire life in a box, or you can get out of the box, which is what I did." 29

 Tim Hardin's style was basically Chess blues mixed with strong doses of Mose Allison, Ray Charles, and Lefty Frizell: "I've always thought of myself as a jazz singer. Jazz to me is just personal. Everyone who is a jazz player, according to my definition, plays like only he plays. No one else plays that way. I also feel that jazz is blues is jazz is blues is... Blues is not a restrictive term... If it ain't true it ain't jazz and if it's true it's the blues." 30

 Dino Valente's live performances were legendary: an unstoppable hurricane of twelve-string guitar and hoot vocals. Paul Kantner, later Jefferson Airplane's leader: "Nothing ever stood out with Dino on tape, 'cause he really connected visually and vocally... There was a certain thing to him that was not really capturable, ever, really."31 With him, no genre/style was the clue. The legendary jazz reviewer Ralph J. Gleason would describe the commanding and comprehensive art of Valente this way: "He is a philosopher as well as a poet and a performer with the power to move people." 32

 Fred Neil was stretching the bounds of traditional folk, making his music an unique creative expression: fusing blues, pop, jazz, traditional folk into sounds that would soon to be labelled folk-rock. Murray Kronis, a fiddle player who knew him in Toronto, thinks it's unquestionable that there was an all-embracing quality to Neil's music: "He didn't worry too much what other people thought, especially the recording industry which would prefer that he played something identifiable like blues or folk or something... I realize that he was talking about his music as a fusion of influences and styles from folk, blues, jazz and whatever, but the word "fusion" never came up in our conversation. Fred was ahead of his time." 33

 In Fred Neil's case, we also have The Voice: Odetta echoes the thoughts of many when she says "There are two voices I heard in my life that no microphone can possibly capture. Paul Robeson is one, and the other is Fred... when you hear him in person there are other levels... his voice is a healing instrument." 34

Howard Solomon, Fred Neil's one-time manager: "He used to say to me that his writing was a process of ongoing tuning to the caverns of his voice. He hardly ever repeated a note or phrase the same way twice though he often reached for it. He was more a jazz improvisational player and rarely stuck to the same way from one performance to the other." 35

 Fred Neil, Dino Valente and Karen Dalton were a different breed of folksingers, more musically inclined than the topical songwriter-artist of the day, in a way they were well ahead of their time. Recommended listening: Sessions (Capitol, 1967) by Neil, Dino Valente (Columbia, 1968) eponymus album by himself, It's So Hard To Tell You Who's Going To Love You Best (Capitol, 1969) by Karen Dalton or If Jasmine Don't Get You The Bay Breeze Will (Capitol, 1969) by Vince Martin.


 In 1962, Fred followed Vince Martin to South Florida, giving birth the Coconut Grove folk scene. David Crosby, Mama Cash Elliott, Lisa Kindred, Buzzy Linhart and others would soon follow would create a vibrant folk-blues-jazz scene attached to that special Southeast jasmine breeze. Then, Neil would record his first album: an under-rated duet with Vince Martin titled Tear Down The Walls (Elektra, 1964) that exhibited strong American roots influences.

Bleecker & MacDougal (Elektra, 1965) followed, his first full-length masterwork full of galloping folk-blues and master balladry, showing raga influences. By then, he was only playing New York sporadically, mostly at the Nite Owl Café and the Café au Go Go, moving to Los Angeles after signing with Capitol records. During this time, Neil would be backed sometimes by The Seventh Sons, the Buzzy Linhart acoustic-excursionist band. Richie Havens and Buzzy Linhart, among others, also would play the same venues and gigs and would make popular this new kind of progressive folk style -also preferred by Sandy Bull, John Fahey and Richard Fariña- that was already light years from traditional patterns.

The end of the decade was maybe his best recording period ever. Although based in Coconut Grove in Miami -where he really fell in love forever with dolphins- Neil would record for Capitol Records his three last albums (Fred Neil, Sessions, Other Side Of This Life) with Nik Venet at the controls. Much unreleased material from the Capitol period remains, disgracefully, in the vaults. He rarely performed live, save for the odd set in California, Woodstock or Miami.

"Everyone wanted to record with Fred" 36, says his long time friend and partner Ric O'Barry. Bob Dylan, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, all of them tried to do something with Fred. Jimmy Buffet, who was in the studio recording his album Son Of A Sailor at the same time that Fred was in the studio, badly wanted to record a version of "A Little Bit Of Rain" with Fred but Fred being Fred, he would not do it. He was very uncomfortable both in the studio and onstage, very shy and introspective, always was, and would not have it, but EVERYONE wanted to do something with him 37. John Sebastian said it best: "the first thing that you have to understand about Fred Neil is that you won't understand." 38

 In 1968 Fred Neil would disappear of sight, settling for a time in Woodstock, returning permanently to the Grove by the early seventies, where he would devote much of his time to these dolphins, working closely with the Dolphin Project, which he founded with his friend Ric O'Barry.

Riny Van Eijk, Connie Floyd Austin, Riccardo Cantarelli, Ben Edmonds, Richie Unterberger, Ric O'Barry, Susan Sherman, Bobbi Newman, Howard L. Solomon, Vince Martin, Bobby Ingram, Steve De Naut, Charlie Brown, Herb Metoyer, John Braheny, Murray Kronis, Bruce Langhorne, and last but not least, all the members on EVERYBODY'S TALKIN' FORUM



 1 Joel Selvin: "Fred Neil. The Other Side Of This Life" (Obituary, Mojo magazine, September 2001)

 2 Fred W. McDarrah: Beat Generation: Glory Days In Greenwich Village (Schirmer Books, 1996)

3 Robbie Woliver: Hoot: A 25-YearHistory Of The Greenwich Village Music Scene (St. Martin's Place, 1986)

 4 Bruce Langhorne interviewed by Toni Ruiz (November 2001)

 5 Bruce Langhorne interviewed by Toni Ruiz (November 2001)

 6 Richie Havens: They Can't Hide Us Anymore (Harper Collins, 1999)

7 Renaldo & Clara movie (directed by Bob Dylan, 1975)

8 Fred Neil interviewed by Don Paulsen (Hit Parader magazine, January 1966)

9 Richie Unterberger: Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers (Miller Freeman Books, 2000)

10 Bob Dylan interviewed by Bert Kleinman, liner notes to Dylan on Dylan (Columbia, 1984)

11 Charlie Brown interviewed by Henry Llach (May 2002)

12 Paul Colby & Martin Fitzpatrick: The Bitter End. Hanging Out At America's Nightclub (Cooper Square Press, 2002)

13 Liner notes to the CD reissue It's So Hard To Tell You Who's Going To Love You Best (Capitol, 1969/ Megaphone CD, 1999)

14 (Tim Hardin link)

15 Sleeve notes to In My Own Time (Just Sunshine/Columbia, 1971)

16 Ralph J. Gleason: liner notes to Dino Valente (Columbia, 1968 /Koch CD 1998)

17 Richie Unterberger: Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers (Miller Freeman Books, 2000)

18 Richie Havens: They Can't Hide Us Anymore (Harper Collins, 1999)

19 Richie Unterberger: Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers (Miller Freeman Books, 2000)

20 Roger McGuinn interviewed by Syd Griffin (Mojo magazine, June 2000)

21 Bob Gibson & Carol Bender: I Came For To Sing (Folk Era Books, 1996)

22 Simon Wordsworth: Fred Neil. The Last Undiscovered Greenwich Village Folk Legend (Goldmine magazine, April 11th 1996)

23 Jac Holzman interviewed by Shari Roman (Mojo magazine, July 1998)

24 Paul Colby & Martin Fitzpatrick: The Bitter End. Hanging Out At America's Nightclub (Cooper Square Press, 2002)

25 Steve De Naut interviewed by Toni Ruiz (June 2001)

26 Richie Unterberger: Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers (Miller Freeman Books, 2000)

27 Vince Martin message -Everybody's Talkin' forum:

28 Liner notes to the CD reissue It's So Hard To Tell You Who's Going To Love You Best (Capitol, 1969 / Megaphone CD, 1999)

29 Liner notes to the CD reissue of Judy Henske / High Flying Bird (Elektra, 1963-1964 / Rhino CD, 2001)

30 Tim Hardin interviewed by Michael Zwerin, liner notes to Tim Hardin 3 -Live In Concert (Verve Forecast, 1968 / Polydor CD, 1995)

31 Richie Unterberger: Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers (Miller Freeman Books, 2000)

32 Liner notes to Dino Valente (Columbia, 1968/ Koch CD, 1998)

33 Murray Kronis interviewed by Toni Ruiz (April 2001)

34 Ben Edmonds: "I Don't Hear A Word They're Saying..." (Mojo magazine, February 2000)

35 Howard Solomon message -Everybody's Talkin' forum:

36 Ric O'Barry interviewed by Henry Llach (May 2003)

37 Ric O'Barry interviewed by Henry Llach (May 2003)

38 Ben Edmonds: "I Don't Hear A Word They're Saying..." (Mojo magazine, February 2000)

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