Modern Folk Quartet – live at Hollywood Bowl – No on proposition 14 Rally – September 23, 1964 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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Ending up our week of live Folk music during the pivotal period where Folk Music ran running and screaming into the mainstream. A set from The Modern Folk Quartet (or MFQ), during their appearance at the No on Proposition 14 rally from September 23, 1964. I ran other acts from this Political rally at the Bowl throughout the week, and thought it would be a nice capper; more or less showing the links between Folk and Rock, as it soon evolved into.
Wikipedia sums it up quite nicely:
Cyrus Faryar, Henry Diltz, Chip Douglas, and Stan White formed the quartet in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1962, after Faryar had returned from the mainland U.S. after a period singing with Dave Guard’s Whiskeyhill Singers. They took the name Modern Folk Quartet as a conscious parallel with the Modern Jazz Quartet, who were known for their use of sophisticated counterpoint. The MFQ adopted a similar approach to vocalization; a fellow folk musician commented: “They were singing diminished, flatted ninths, jazz chords … really advanced stuff”. The group moved to Los Angeles, where they became regulars at the Troubadour club. After White became ill, he was replaced by local singer-guitarist Jerry Yester, who had performed with the New Christy Minstrels and Les Baxter’s Balladeers. Herb Cohen became their manager (later manager of Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley and others) and the quartet recorded their debut album in 1963. Simply titled The Modern Folk Quartet, it was produced by Jim Dickson (later manager of the Byrds) for Warner Brothers Records. MFQ performed with an array of popular folk group instruments, including guitar, banjo, ukulele, bass, and percussion, and four-part vocal harmonies. An album review called their material “a superbly chosen selection of concurrently new traditionals and original adaptations of standards from the folk music canon” that benefit from the group’s fresh approach.
For much of 1963 to 1965, MFQ was based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, then the center of the folk-music movement. They performed at clubs, such as the Bitter End, and “hundreds of college concerts”. In November 1963, MFQ appeared in the Warner Bros. film, Palm Springs Weekend. During the sequence at Jack’s Casino, they sing “The Ox Driver’s Song” and a second unidentified song. The group released a second album in 1964 for Warner Bros. titled Changes. A review noted “with an ear toward sustaining the fresh sound of their predecessor [album] they blend their arrangements and adaptations to another impressive lineup of modern compositions from the group’s contemporaries”. These include early songs written by Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, John Stewart, and Chet Powers (aka Dino Valente). A third album for Warner Bros. was not forthcoming. Yester explained “we were on the road so much that when we were off, we didn’t really want to work … We basically performed with those two albums worth of material. I don’t think we had enough for another album until we changed into folk-rock”.
In 1965, MFQ began exploring a rock sound. Faryar saw the progression “as a logical outcome of how we think. We would have had to change our whole mental attitude to stay where we were”. He also admitted being influenced by other bands: “The Byrds whet our appetites for folk-rock. Whatever sweet music the Byrds came up with, they legitimized this transition from folk to folk-rock … We had developed a rock set when we played with the Lovin’ Spoonful at the Cafe Wha? in the [Greenwich] Village” (the Spoonful’s John Sebastian sometimes also sat in on drums with the MFQ between playing sets at a nearby club). Their first attempt to record rock was with producer Charles Calello. A single “Every Minute of Every Day”, backed with “That’s Alright with Me” was released in April 1965 by Warner Bros. It was largely unnoticed and Faryar felt that the material was wrong for them. The group moved back to Los Angeles and debuted their folk rock set at their old haunt, the Troubador. Faryar recalled reactions similar to Dylan’s electric debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival:
“People reeled aghast and some fled as I brought out my Rickenbacker and we were all suddenly electric and cranking out electric tunes. The folkies were largely horrified. There were a lot of purists there, into the whole Appalachian thing. So it took a little bit of time, but we gradually won people over”.
As one of the bands largely part of the Folk-Rock transition, they haven’t gotten the credit for what they accomplished at the time. As a somewhat myopic gauge of success being chart placement, MFQ didn’t cause much stir. But those who were interested, and certainly other musicians, were hip to what MFQ were doing and had done – and for that, Modern Folk Quartet are no mere overlooked footnote. They deserve a place.
Have a listen. Incidentally, the MC for the show is actor Richard Beymer, in case you were wondering.