Legendary folk musician Cyrus Faryar talks about Beat Generation, Monterey Pop Festival, Hawaii, and Roland Kirk

"Fortunately, music often manages to slide by and lend an open moment of simple enjoyment. I'm wondering when cell phones will be surgically inserted into our bodies with the mind-body app. Kind of like a pacemaker in the brain; just start to hum and the whole tune arrives."

Cyrus Faryar: Misty Rain Roots

American folk musician, songwriter, and record producer, Cyrus Faryar born in 1936. He was active in musical, theatrical, and performance events in high school. After graduating from high school and attending college, he became involved in the entertainment industry, opening the first coffee house in Hawaii. He later moved to Southern California and became active with several groups. When Dave Guard left the Kingston Trio to pursue his interest in early folk music styles, Guard asked Faryar to join his new group, The Whiskeyhill Singers. After the Whiskeyhill Singers disbanded Faryar moved to San Diego to perform with other folk musicians. After his San Diego period Faryar returned to Hawaii, where he helped form the Modern Folk Quartet, and produced two records of his eclectic neo-folk music style. Still living in Hawaii, he continues to perform occasionally with his recognizable and distinctive deep baritone voice.

Born in Tehran, Persia (present day Iran) in 1936 to a family of Persian descent, he was a childhood friend of folk singer Dave Guard. He attended Punahou School, graduating in 1953. He attended the University of Hawaii in Manoa Valley, but left before obtaining his degree. By 1957 Faryar's avant-garde interests led him to establish a "beat" style coffee house in Honolulu. Faryar's Greensleeves coffee house was, like those popularized first by San Francisco's beat generation in the Broadway section of the city, a gathering place for local musicians, poets, and writers. By 1961, Faryar had left Honolulu and established himself in San Diego. Dave Guard then recruited him to join his new group, the Whiskeyhill Singers, who also included Judy Henske.    Photo © by Henry Diltz

After the Whiskeyhill Singers broke up, Faryar returned to Hawaii, and formed a new singing group, the Modern Folk Quartet, with Chip Douglas, Henry Diltz and Jerry Yester, which lasted three years before itself disbanding in 1966. At the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, Faryar led a band dubbed the "Group With No Name," which made an anonymous appearance. Later that year, he collaborated with Mort Garson and synthesizer virtuoso Paul Beaver, providing the narration for the album The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds, a pioneering psychedelic LP on Elektra Records. In 1968, he performed on Cass Elliot's album Dream a Little Dream. He released two solo albums as a singer/songwriter in the early 1970s, but became better known as a producer, particularly for the Firesign Theatre, and playing sessions for Linda Ronstadt and others. He has also continued to record and tour with re-formed versions of the Modern Folk Quartet (or Quintet), as well as recording Hawaiian music following his return to live there.

Interview by Michael Limnios  Photos © by Jerry de Wilde & Henry Diltz

How has the Beat movement and counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The thought that comes to mind first: What actually is a 'counter culture’? I'm remembering arriving and beginning life in NYC. It's the early 60s and the vibe seems to be a wonderful and amazing freshness; unhindered by old patterns and welcoming a whole new energy. What was once "Hep" is now "Hip". It felt as though many of the old rules had just evaporated; offering a whole new fashion of clothes and responsibility.

How do you describe Cyrus Faryar sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy and mission?

In my teens, it was Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin and Ella. And then there were ‘The Five Blind Boys'. So many flavors coming from so many intentions. I guess I was bound to feel a bit like a crooner with a story. Not so many rules-- just sing it as it comes. As the 'folk' thing continues, inevitably it develops a seasoning of intentions and began to be a growing vehicle for deepening thought and reflection on the world around us. Folk music was clearly a history of preceding cultures bearing stories of love and loss and passage through our sometimes not so easy lives. Dylan, Tim Hardin, Judy Henske and on. The Weavers showed us social responsibility and a need to keep a record of human behavior, happily enough, in the form of musical story.

Philosophy? For me it always pretty much felt that music and song just arrived- sometimes a misty rain, now and then something you sort of stumbled upon while taking a stroll; life has pretty much always been kind of like an accident continuing to happen- unplanned and unexpected. Always much more of a surprise than careful consideration. On any good day it's like finding a penny as you wander. I usually always pick it up when I see one.

"I've long wondered where the term 'Beat' or 'beatnik' came from. Was it the sound of a drum or a statement of exhaustion? Kind of a new poetry but then, so was EE Cummings. I suppose it had to do with a growing freedom to just say what was on your mind, not bound to the rules of poetry with similar sounds at the end of the sentence. As always, one kind of hears the continuing sound of a door opening; making way for a new idea or view of 'what really matters' into our lives. (Cyrus Faryar, The Farm, Los Angeles, 1970 / Photo © by Jerry de Wilde)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Returning to Hawaii after my early intro to folk music and some gigs in San Diego, Hollywood and Scottsdale, to name a few, I opened a coffee house in Honolulu and got to meet any and all visiting folk singers, solo or group, and enjoyed the great opportunity to listen and learn about the new and growing world of singing to people after serving them coffee. Bud and Travis, the Travelers Three, Bob Grossman. I do believe that one night, I spotted Ava Gardner in a corner with a scarf over her head; just in for an espresso while they were making movie somewhere on the island.   

This coffee house, the Greensleeves, was where and when I met Henry Diltz, the banjo guy who became my friend for life. Lots of stories there, you can be sure. I believe that one of the greatest gifts from folk music was that so many became a part of a new music and social awakening, no diploma required, just an ordinary amateur with a beautiful voice that could touch your heart.

Long before those days, I knew Dave Guard and Bob Shane while still in high school. Who could have imagined what happened just a few years after we graduated. Dave and Bob were class of '52, I was '53.... skip ahead a few and imagine my surprise to get a phone call from Dave just as I arrived in Scottsdale for a gig and he said, 'Hey Cyrus, how'd you like to join the Kingston Trio? Well, actually, I'm going to step out of that and start a new group. Interested?'. Well, another unexpected life accident...And let's be clear about all this; almost everyone I met became an influence that helped weave the structure of my life in music and song. Too many to relate, and honored and appreciated more that words could tell.

Are there any memories from gigs, jam, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

The MFQ played in the Village a couple more performances at the Village Gate - openers for the main act. One was for Woody Allen, he was cute and very funny although I don't remember just what he said, he was well received and definitely on his way to fame.

The other major trip in that same location was opening for Roland Kirk, quite a while before he did the name change. And it was great! I mean, who ever saw anyone play two instruments at the same time? Back then, I think we were still wearing our black suits and ties: not too sure, but maybe prior to our clothing revolution. Here's the memorable part; major instruction about music and show business. We were heading through the little dressing room and had to pass through the larger, more open space reserved for the headliners. There we had to slide quietly past Miles Davis seated next to Roland and...as we passed, Charlie Mingus grabbed the neck of my guitar up by the capo and said, "Hey Man...what's that?” I replied, politely, "that's a device to achieve an open sound in a higher register". Mingus replied..."Bullshit". And we walked stoop shouldered and embarrassed to the stage.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

When you're alone at home with only yourself and some instrument, I think it's generally a sweet moment; just noodling, open to whatever comes along from the sky or the universe. It's that relationship with a familiar unknown that is sort of like a parent or partner or perfume and wind. When you're on stage it's the relationship with an audience; people there for their own reasons, hoping to have a good time and be entertained or upset or excited. I remember the days when, in a coffee house, they didn't clap their hands or applaud loudly, they just snapped their fingers. It's been quite awhile since I've heard that, anywhere.

"The thought that comes to mind first: What actually is a 'counter culture’? I'm remembering arriving and beginning life in NYC. It's the early 60s and the vibe seems to be a wonderful and amazing freshness; unhindered by old patterns and welcoming a whole new energy. What was once "Hep" is now "Hip". It felt as though many of the old rules had just evaporated; offering a whole new fashion of clothes and responsibility. (Cyrus Faryar, Renais Jean Hill and Sebastian / Photo © by Jerry de Wilde, 1969)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

As to today’s music, I think it's quite clear what has fundamentally changed and hopefully can return to earlier pattern. Its called 'making a living' and it sure is different now. I guess in troubadour times someone sang the news of the days to the villagers on their route and in return, maybe got a nice meal and a place to stay for the night. Skip ahead a century or two and find the world of composition- publishing and royalties and earning a living from two sides- performance and reward for authorship. A penny or two, here and there and sometimes, a decent payday. We all slightly understand how it has changed and it seems to favor an area disconnected from the creative side. Composers of any kind are sort of a conduit that channels from the mystery zone, not an Internet. The curious aspect is the arrangement of fees for a service and, apparently, a conviction that any monetary reward belongs to the electronic provider, not the author. I'm told that there actually is slight fee which can become immense when multiplied by the number of users. It would be interesting if every time a song is played, a part of a penny went to the singer or writer. Kind of like the old days. Well, they say Change is eternal; let's see what happens. And I kind of miss Tower Records. I recall stopping by one day and seeing copies of a record I had made for Elektra Records.  On sale for just under a dollar. Fame but no fortune is one of the rather humorous moments.

What were the reasons that made the 50s-60s to be the center of Folk/Beat researches and experiments?

One of the joys of the old days was that wonderful arrival of non-professionals; just people who loved to sing and did so with any kind of voice or feeling. Some sang really loudly and some just sort of hummed in a private way; each feeling their part of a universal gift, a love of expression with rhythm and melody. Housewives, busboys and mechanics- so many voices just up on stage from their own garage and singing with such feeling that you simply couldn't ignore the heart within. It suggests that the tidal wave of creativity born during the 60s simply continued and evolved; molded in part by the events in the world around us - deep issues and conflicts and wars. Lives were being changed at an increasing rate, along with the material factors of our changing home. Some things held precious began to be set aside by uncertainty in daily life. Behind that energy, music and song continued to be a spokesman for a new reality; and continues to this day. Our creativity is, after all, a reflection of how we perceive that eternal unknown.

 What are the lines that connect the legacy of "beat" generation with music, poetry and literature?

The legacy of previous generations might be considered by another concurrent:  How about fashion. It's one thing to consider what we eat and what we say or listen to and value in our science and politics, but what we wear is kind of up there also. In my high school days we weren't allowed to wear Levis to school. Well, that sure changed. And then there's the issue of undergarments being worn on top of the other clothing. For a while there it did get really a touch outrageous; thank you Madonna. Underneath whatever clothes us are the factors that allow something once forbidden to become open and popular. All this just speaks to the notion of Life as a continuing state of constant change, not always pretty but generally momentary; eventually replaced by either stricter rule or free and unrestrained. I do think that we are influenced a lot by those persons and names who decide to become leaders and dictate their perceptions of what's proper upon us. Not always fun or friendly, you know. We've often witnessed the transformation of one who offers to govern, change into one who must rule. Still happening today in so many ways. Fortunately, music often manages to slide by and lend an open moment of simple enjoyment. I'm wondering when cell phones will be surgically inserted into our bodies with the mind-body app. Kind of like a pacemaker in the brain; just start to hum and the whole tune arrives.

"I think that the happiest moment in life is seeing someone else being thrilled with a gift or embrace, shining with joy. I remember being shown a brand new baby, Michelle and John from The Mamas & Papas just back from the hospital, and then, some years later, that baby, now grown, repeating the event with their own band new one. They had been living up the hill in a cool house once owned by Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy." (Modern Folk Quartet, © by Henry Diltz)

What has made you laugh from the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 and what touched (emotionally) you?

For me, the whole of the Monterey Pop event is a bit like a fabulous banquet with so many different dishes and flavors; from outright bar-b-q to ice cream and cake. There should be one very year. Each player was so unique and amazing in their own way. It felt like an endless outpouring of talents and gifts. Some of the performers were old friends and they were just as amazed being part of that wonderful menu of great artists. I know we overlook it but now and then I'm am grateful beyond measure that I can relive and re-listen to it all again, in my home, thanks to memories on a disc. I reckon that in the old days, it was once and over. Hard to imagine. Some years ago, I worked at a radio station as a DJ and, there it was, available forever on a platter or disc or tape.

What is the impact of Folk Roots music and Beatniks on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I've long wondered where the term 'Beat' or 'beatnik' came from. Was it the sound of a drum or a statement of exhaustion? Kind of a new poetry but then, so was EE Cummings. I suppose it had to do with a growing freedom to just say what was on your mind, not bound to the rules of poetry with similar sounds at the end of the sentence. As always, one kind of hears the continuing sound of a door opening; making way for a new idea or view of 'what really matters' into our lives. When I was just a kid, it seemed that any and everything new was groovy and would always be. Then as I matured, I noticed that I favored some over others and actually didn't really like everything equally. I suppose that with age and wisdom comes preference. Excitement should be followed by satisfaction, at least sometimes. Truth be told, I actually do like just about all of it with, some favored. I kind of lean toward the romantic sometimes and Joni James and Willie Nelson and that guy who sang 'Ghostriders in the Sky'.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I think that the happiest moment in life is seeing someone else being thrilled with a gift or embrace, shining with joy. I remember being shown a brand new baby, Michelle and John from The Mamas and Papas just back from the hospital, and then, some years later, that baby, now grown, repeating the event with their own band new one. They had been living up the hill in a cool house once owned by Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy.

(Photo: Modern Folk Quartet)

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