Bruce Langhorne was a crucial figure in the early folk-rock figure as a session guitarist on early electric recordings by Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, Richard & Mimi Farina, Richie Havens, Gordon Lightfoot, and others. Here he talks about his work in the mid-1960s with Richard & Mimi Farina, themselves overlooked early folk-rock innovators these days.
Did you know Dick & Mimi before you began recording with them?
I was a friend. Actually, I met Dick before he married Mimi, and Dick used to be married to Carolyn Hester. I used to play on Carolyn's sessions, or I played on some of them anyway, and I met Dick at that him. And Dick and I just instantly clicked. We became instant friends, and I considered him a really, you know, one of my best friends up until he died, even though we didn't see each other all the time. But when we saw each other, we had total rapport. And I thought Mimi was just the sweetest, most beautiful, most wonderful girl that any guy could ever marry. I loved them both a lot.
They were so good. They were just so good. But I have to say, I mean, a lot of people think that since I was so prominent in the music world, and in that particular part of the music business at that point, that I had a huge hand in everything that I touched. But in this particular case, that really wasn't the case. Dick was the real mastermind.
But it was through Carolyn that I met Dick. And it was through Dick that I met Mimi, and I guess they just wanted me to play with them. I used to play this giant Turkish tambourine that appears as percussion on some of their albums.
Especially on the instrumentals.
Do you know how they came to record on Vanguard?
My guess would be that it was through Joanie [Baez, Mimi's sister].
Because she was already on Vanguard?
Yeah. I would imagine that they probably--I think there are some of Joanie's albums that Mimi sang backup on, if I'm not mistaken. So that's how I would imagine that they came to be on Vanguard. Maynard Solomon, who ran Vanguard at the time, he was sort of a guy on the scene, you know. He was like, you know, he had Joan Baez and a lot of other people on Vanguard. So it's quite conceivable that even if Mimi had not been Joanie's sister, Richard and Mimi might have chosen to record on...wait a minute. They also recorded on Elektra if I remember correctly.
Actually what happened was, Richard did three solo songs on an Elektra compilation album. But the Fariñas together never released anything on Elektra.
Oh, they didn't? Okay. Because I know that they knew Jac Holzman, who was head of Elektra. And I know that, as a matter of fact, they stayed with Jac. But I get the time sequenced mixed up.
So when you started to record with them, what did you see your contribution to the sound as being?
Well, I really...you know, like, Dick is the kind of musician who generates a thread. This is sort of my own conceptualization about how music works. I think that certain musicians are capable of generating threads. And a thread is something that other musicians can just really hang onto, and build the whole thing. Bob Dylan is like that. And Dick was like that. And he really came with a concept of what a song should be, and the principal...I feel that the principal driving structure in all of the arrangements was what Dick was playing on the dulcimer.
It was such an unusual instrument for the contemporary music at that time.
It was such an unusual instrument, and it was, you know, playing it the way he played it. Because at that time, if I remember, in that folk circle that included the people who played at Gerde's, and the people who played at Club 47 and places like that, the premier dulcimer player was Jean Ritchie. She played traditional dulcimer, and she was really horrified by the way Dick played. Because Dick played these rhythmic phrases. He played the dulcimer like much more of a percussion instrument, and he played non-traditional stuff. You know, he was really quite a...he was quite an innovator on that instrument. And that was definitely the thread and the heart of the arrangements. And my contribution was just to listen and see where I could help.
On those albums, especially at the time of the first album, it was real new for musicians like that from a folk background to use electric instruments. You were key in that process, not just with them, but on Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home" album. Was that something you guys were pretty self-conscious of doing, or was it more of an organic process?
It was just something that evolved organically. You know, because...when you look at what folk music is? Folk music is the music of the people. And if you look at folk music in any country in the world from any era, the instruments that are used are the instruments are available to the people, you know, to the indigenous people. And for us in America at that time, it happened to be the electric guitar. It was like everyone had electric guitars, and there were electric guitars everywhere. And all the records that you heard featured electric guitar. So it was a perfectly natural evolution, and young, forward-thinking people like Dick and Mimi, and like Bob Dylan, had no choice but to move forward, because it was right there in their face, and they were contemporary artists. They were not traditional artists. It was sort of inevitable, and of course the resistance was also inevitable, because people don't like their icons to change.
On the tracks that you played on, especially on those like "Raven Girl" and "Self-Agitation Waltz," you have a distinct reverbed or tremoloed tone. Am I correct in thinking you were using tremolo?
This is what I used to do. When I used to play electric guitar, I started as an acoustic guitar player. And I had this old Martin that I just played on everybody's sessions, because it was just such a wonderful-sounding instrument. So when there were sessions coming up where electric was needed, I would take an old pickup and clamp it into this old Martin. And I was friends with Sandy Bull...fabulous instrumentalist. But Sandy Bull had a really great Fender twin reverb amp that I used to borrow for sessions. It was one of those old brown, classic amps that was just...it was just a super amp. I used to borrow that all the time for sessions, and I believe that the sound is tremolo, or at least I'm not...it's hard for me to remember specific tracks. But I know that what we tried to do, or what I tried do, was I tried to find the tremolo that was compatible with the time of the tune. Because I was very influenced, personally, by Roebuck Staples. You know who he is?
From the Staple Singers.
Yeah. Well, Roebuck Staples used to play this Fender, and he used to set up a tremolo that was in time to the song, which I just thought was so cool. The tremolo would be going wuh-wuh-wuh, wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh, and the song would be going "ch-ch-tm, t-t-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch." "Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh"...and it was just, it was just so excellent (laughs hard). So anyway...
There weren't that many tracks where the Farinas had a full band with drums. There aren't any at all on the first album, and just a few on the second. Was that just because they were maybe easing into the full rock sound?
Uhhh...I mean, they were evolving, and they were trying things. The tambourine that I used was really cool, because it had a bass tone, and it had an edge tone, and it had jingle tones. So it could pretty much do what a drum set with a bass drum and a snare drum and a hi-hat would do. Because it would keep all of those, it would have something to say in all of those registers. So I think that Dick was interested in working with me on that, because it was a unique sound, and it complimented the unique sound of his dulcimer.
You also played live with them. Mimi said she doesn't remember them ever using a full band.
I don't remember him ever using a full band. I don't ever remember him playing live with them with a full band.
How was it playing live with them, compared to playing with them in the studio?
Total fun. It was total fun. I mean, we used to play just for fun. Everything we played was not a rehearsal for a recording or a performance, you know, sometimes we would just, you know, Dick would come up with a song and he would play it, and they would sometimes stay with me when they were in town. And we just had lots of fun.
If they'd been able to keep recording, how do you think the music might have evolved?
Well, you know, Dick was sort of an Irish-Cuban...he was of Irish and Cuban background? I think if Dick were alive today, he would be doing just really super-cool salsa. I think that it probably would have continued to evolve and stay contemporary. I believe that they would not have allowed age to stand in the way of their relative position in the world, stand in the way of the type of music that they did, in any kind of way. I believe that if Dick had lived, he would have turned out to be one of the top writers in the country. I think he would have been very popular. I think he was a very good writer. And I think he would have been a cultural icon. They would have been cultural icons. Because Mimi definitely had her part to contribute.
My last question is, when you compare the Fariñas to other people working in folk and folk-rock, what made them different?
Well, they had a real sense of rhythm and structure. Their stuff was contemporary. They were a really talented pair. Dick was a genius.
As a songwriter primarily, or other things?
Songwriting. He was a writer. He was a
genius writer, I thought. And they were young, they were contemporary,
they were hip, they were beautiful. There was no reason why they should
have not gone, like, to the top.
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