When all these New York-based musicians, or at least ones who did their recording in New York, were starting to go electric, you played on a lot of those records. Was there a sense of,  like, there was a limited pool of musicians who were sympathetic? And that's why so many of them, like Paul Harris, Harvey Brooks, Russ Savakus, Felix Pappalardi, Bill Lee, play on so many of the early folk-rock records?

There was a young crop of musicians who happened to be there. And it happened to be, I was part of that crop, I was young once. And I was part of that, and I was exposed -- it's really who you hang out with, it's like how know, when everybody used to play together, I got to sit in with the Butterfield Band in Chicago. And Harvey, he played with everybody. I guess Felix, yeah. Felix was probably the first arranger to come into that fold. But yeah, I think it was just, it was mostly people out in New York who were hanging around, who knew people in the folk thing. And I think once the Dylan stuff hit, I think all the people, like Al Kooper and me...there were a lot of people on that session who suddenly got hired to fuel this folk-rock phenomenon. I guess I did get a lot of work from that, but I didn't get a lot of work as like an electric guitarist, because I mean, I really wasn't. I was primarily an acoustic guitarist.

But you were using a pickup and playing with band arrangements. That's what makes it different than, say, a Carolyn Hester or Odetta record.

Yeah...Well, not really. I mean, like the Dylan sessions weren't arranged. They weren't! (laughs) They were not arranged.

Do you remember anything about what Tom Wilson was doing at those sessions?

Hanging out in the control room. "Oh, we got a take." "Oh, that's really cool!" (laughs)

It's too bad I can't interview him, but some musicians have said that when he produced them, he spent most of his time on the phone with girlfriends.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, he was like...but see, like...production. I discovered, like, production, directing, and a lot of things, where people get their names onto projects, has to do with putting the right people together for the right projects. Like, in my movie scoring career, I worked with Jonathan Demme on several projects. And one thing that really blew my mind about Jonathan Demme was that Jonathan Demme would put a bunch of people together, and then just step out of the way, and let the interaction and the project take over and have its own life. I think that's the kind of producer that Tom Wilson was, and I also think that's also the kind of producer that John Hammond was too. I think that they were producers who really had so much love and respect for the artists that they would just...and they had faith, this is the thing. Some producers felt that they had a job to do, that the universe would not do the job, but they had to do it, you know. And other producers felt that hey, you know, put the right people together in the right circumstance, and it will evolve. And I think that's the kind of producer Tom was.

You did sessions for what I see were the three labels most involved in this transition: Columbia, Elektra, and Vanguard. Did you get any sense of what the labels were trying to do to slot in with what was going on?

I think Jac Holzman was definitely hands-on, and I think Maynard Solomon was definitely hands-on. Jac, for Elektra, and Maynard for Vanguard. I think they were both very bright, very sophisticated people who knew the music and knew the artists. You know, Dick and Mimi used to like stay with Jac, and they were tight with Jac. I remember doing a session for Vanguard, and I think Maynard -- I think it was for Joan Baez, or something. And Maynard brought in the first four-track tape recorder that I'd ever seen, 'cause everything had been stereo up to then. He brought that in, so he was embracing the new technology, and he was working with the tradition, trying to keep it pure. He had a foot in both worlds. And he was using the technology to serve the tradition. I thought he was a real innovator. I remember about Vanguard, I remember hearing artists say that Vanguard didn't pay much. So that was a complaint.

I think that Columbia probably made the best deals, and I think that Jac Holzman made fair deals. But I don't know that he paid as much. But nobody got really big money back in those days.

I used to hang out a lot with Hugh Masekela when he and Stew Levine were forming Chisa Records. And they had some really interesting experiences in that period of time, with distributors. 'Cause they tried to form their own record company. And they said that standard policy for distributors was, if you had a hit, they would not pay you until they saw if you were going to have another hit. If you had another hit, then they'd pay you for the first hit. Otherwise, they would count on your production company going down the tubes, and not having enough money to take them to court. So they would just keep all your money. And that was standard in the industry.

Peter Fonda did a single for Chisa.

Yeah, he did. As a matter of fact, my connection with Chisa was through Peter Fonda. Or my connection with Peter Fonda was through Chisa, 'cause I scored films for Peter. And I met Peter through Hugh. I played on "Grazing in the Grass" with him, and the Johannesburg Street Band album, and some other projects. And we used to get together and get stoned and play drums at my house all the time. It used to be a ritual. And he introduced me to Peter, because they were like trying to produce Peter and they really...they had no idea of how to go about producing him, 'cause he was kind of folky, and they didn't know. So they hired me, and Peter and I got to be friends. And then when Peter...after he did Easy Rider and had some success with it, he hired me to [do] the score for Hired Hand, which is, they're about to re-release it. I think the original company was like Warner Brothers or somebody, I think somebody else brought the rights, and they're, it was Universal.

Peter talks about that album in his autobiography. One single came out, a Gram Parsons song, in 1967.

I wanted to ask about some other people you played with during the time covered by my book. You were on Tom Rush's Take a Little Walk With Me, where one side was acoustic and one side was electric covers of old rock'n'roll songs.

I've actually done two albums with Tom. I used to do concerts with him, too. Tom is great. He's a very nice man, very smart man.  Tom Rush was...I mean, I don't want to call him a dilettante, 'cause he was much better than that. He's very talented, musically, he had a great voice. But I always thought that he didn't take his music that seriously. He wasn't driven, you know? I mean, I don't want to say this as a negative at all. Because I really liked playing with him, I liked his music. And I think he was a wonderful person. He was a wonderfully good friend to me. But I think that he always -- I think he always had a philosophical perspective on his music, on the music that he was doing. And I think where other people would fight tooth and nail for some thing that their ego had been attached to, he would be very likely to say, "oh, okay. You like it that way? Okay, fine." Because he was that big a person. And I think he was very influential. I think he had a great voice. I think -- I don't think he had the intensity of some other performers of the era, which is why he was probably not as successful as, like, Dylan.

Gordon Lightfoot -- I find his case pretty interesting, because he really kept more feet in folk than rock, but there was still some folk-rock influence to his records. He did expand his sound a little, and you were on some of his early songs.

I didn't work or hang that much with Gordon. I did record with him. I think he did keep his feet more in folk, and I think he went on to do, like, country, which had its own evolutionary path, which also adopted electric music, which also expanded on folk roots. Which incorporated, like, traditional folk ballads -- a synthesis between Irish-English folk ballads with guitar and banjo and bluegrass, which, bluegrass got to be quite sophisticated. Just incredible virtuoso performances, and still some of the best virtuoso players nowadays are in Nashville. And that was true when I was playing in New York, too. There was one guy that I did a session with, I think he played with Elvis?

James Burton.

James Burton. I did a session with James Burton. And he blew my mind. He was such a good player. He was so incredible. And there was that level of playing in Nashville, which was just incredible, and still is. Those players are still just really cool.

You don't have to answer this if your contact with Gordon was pretty brief, but did you get any sense of what he thought of going from his folk-country roots to something more electric or contemporary?

No, I don't really know. I didn't know Gordon that well.

Judy Collins?

Judy and I hung out a lot. Judy was classically trained. She was a wonderful pianist, and she was a wonderful writer. And she was very -- she was a very, very sophisticated musician. And though she did folk, she had...she was also capable of doing Kurt Weil, Jacques Brel. That was all within her musical aesthetic sense. And I played with her. I traveled with her and recorded with her quite a bit. Judy was very influential on me musically, 'cause she really exposed me to a type of music that I didn't really listen to. I listened to Bach and Mozart, I didn't like Beethoven much. But I didn't listen to any of the contemporary European composers, like Jacques Brel and Kurt Weil and all those people. I just didn't listen to any of them. I was really kind of stuck in baroque. I did listen to Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. I was into the dramatic composers of the early 20th century, but I was sort of turned off on the whole romantic era.

It seemed like she was pretty comfortable moving into the new way of arranging stuff, not just with rock, but also with orchestras.

She was a very sophisticated musician. At one point I gave her -- it was in one way the worst, and in one way the best advice that I've ever given anyone. She came up to my house one time. I was living up in Westchester County. And she came up, and she'd been fooling around with songwriting. And I'd been working with her, and I'd been working with a lot of other artists. She came up and she played her songs for me. And I listened to them, and I didn't really hear anything in her songs. They didn't get to me. So I told her that I didn't really like what she was doing. And I told her, why don't you try writing some stuff about -- I gave her some advice about what to try to write about. I read in a subsequent interview with her that had been a really significant moment for her, that what I had said had really hurt her. And she went on, fortunately, she didn't let me discourage her (laughs). And she went on and wrote some really great songs, like "My Father." That's a great song.

Do you remember what your advice was?

I think I told her, why don't you try writing about a relationship? Write a song about the beginning of a relationship, when you're just starting to fall in love with a person, and the middle of a relationship, when you're just there and happy, and the end of a relationship, where it all starts to come apart. And that's what all the pop songs were about (laughs).

They still are, most of them.

Yeah, they still are. So it was like, it was really poor advice for me to give to someone who was as sophisticated as she was. But it was all I could come up with at the time, because I really wasn't Mr. Advice. I really couldn't tell anyone what to do. I just had no idea. I didn't want to tell anybody what to do, 'cause I thought everyone should just do their own thing.

You produced a Jack Elliott record where he used some rock arrangements, to a mild degree. I see him as an example of someone who wasn't suited to make the transition into folk-rock, and wonder what you think about that or that record.

For me, I consider working with Jack Elliott something that I probably really shouldn't have done, because I got hired to work as a producer with Jack Elliott. And Jack Elliott needed a really special kind of producer. And I wound up doing part of that album and getting production credit, but at some point, I remember just really, kind of just dropping out of that album, just letting Andy Wickham, who was at Warner Brothers at the time...I really kind of dropped it in Andy's lap. I said, Andy, I don't think I can do this. Because it was like, Jack was like very difficult, because he would not do the same song twice anything like the same way. So the only way you could really work with Jack, is to record exactly what Jack did. And the only [way] you could be a good producer for Jack was to record what Jack did, and if you loved Jack's music enough, that you could extract from the vast vocabulary, you could extract those pieces that were really significant, and real and excellent. Because he had a bottom line of excellence below which he would not go. But then he had some heights of excellence which he would reach, which it was really the producer's job to extract those. And I just...I didn't really have the patience, and I worked with him.

And if I were producing him again, first of all, I wouldn't do it. But if I were advising someone how to do it, I would tell them, just give Jack an audience and a mike, and just record and record and record and record and record and record and record, and get his best performances and knit them together to make a superb performance. It would have to be someone who was a composer, who had some good sort of musical sense. And then take this Jack Elliott performance, and write around...write bass parts or drum parts or string parts or kazoo parts or whatever, and put that out as a sophisticated Jack Elliott [record]. Because he would give you a core, but it would be difficult to extract to make into something that would have commercial viability. That's what I think.

Richie Havens, I wanted to ask about.

He's a wonderful, wonderful person, and he's a wonderfully sincere person. I think he's a wonderfully uncorrupted person. And I think...I mean, I always like to just be with Richie. 'Cause Richie's a really warm guy. And I think that he just did whatever was inevitable. His guitar playing was always incredibly strong rhythmically, and I think it was only natural that he should work with...I remember working with him with a conga player, and I think it was only natural that he should work with drums and with electric instruments. Because he was that strong in that rhythm. He was really phenomenal. His guitar was like a whole electric orchestra, very sophisticated rhythmically and very swinging.

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 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 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'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.

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                unless otherwise specified.