By Richie Unterberger

His name might not be known to the general music fan, but throughout the 1960s, Cyrus Faryar moved in the inner circle of folk and folk-rock without quite managing to break through to stardom himself. In the early 1960s, he'd been in the Whiskeyhill Singers, a folk group also including ex-Kingston Trio member Dave Guard and esteemed singer Judy Henske (who went on to a notable solo career of her own). After their sole album (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), he joined the Modern Folk Quartet, who recorded a couple albums for Warner Brothers at the end of the folk boom (also, as it happens, reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice).

    Like many other young folk groups, the MFQ went into folk-rock, but were only able to make a few singles in their new incarnation before disbanding. The MFQ's Jerry Yester went on to produce the Association with the Lovin' Spoonful, record psychedelia as part of a duo with his then-wife Judy Henske, and form the band Rosebud with Henske. Another MFQ alumni, Chip Douglas, joined the Turtles and produced the Monkees; yet another ex-MFQer, Henry Diltz, became one of rock music's most renowned photographers. Faryar, meanwhile, went on to play on sessions by the likes of Fred Neil and Linda Ronstadt & the Stone Poneys, and produce the Firesign Theatre. And, in the early 1970s, he finally got to record his own pair of singer-songwriter albums for Elektra, about a decade after his recording debut.

    Why had it taken this long for Faryar to step into the solo spotlight? "I think, partly, because I didn't promote myself aggressively," Cyrus says from his Hawaii home today. "I was basically content to be a part of something. I didn't feel that real drive to be a star, just happy whatever it was that the band was able to do was so much of an expansion of one's individual abilities. It's an old chestnut, the sum is greater than the parts. And being in the MFQ satisfied a lot of that. I mean, I always had a personal enthusiasm for songs that the MFQ never do. I've always loved the blues and stuff like that. But I kind of set it off to one side. I think what happened is at some point there was an hiatus in the MFQ's career, and Jac Holzman, who had become a friend, just said, 'Hey, you wanna make an album?' And I said, 'Sure.' A few things came together. It was not much of my doing, to tell you the truth."

    "I think he always felt most comfortable in a group," agrees Holzman, Elektra's founder-president. "The reason those albums happened was because of Ron Jacobs, who had a company called Watermark Productions. [He] said that they would produce the records and pull the people together with my approval, if I was interested in going forward. Ron Jacobs was a famous boss jock in L.A. at that time., [and] has since gone back to be a big DJ in Hawaii, from which he had originated. But the reason those albums happened was because Ron Jacobs and I agreed to do them."

    Faryar had actually already contributed to an Elektra project, as the narrator of the 1967 astrological concept album The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds; he would also be the voice of the Indian guru on the early-'70s Elektra comedy record A Child's Garden of Grass. "There was a studio built into my house, it was part of an outgrowth of an arrangement made with Watermark, which was Ron Jacobs and some others," he elaborates. "They met in my living room and decided they would do a joint venture. My contribution would be my home as a recording studio, 'cause I had a big old living room. The atmosphere, the idea, of having a recording studio which was sort of hidden in your living room, where it was this comfortable, non-sterile place, was very appealing to them. And the bathroom was the echo chamber. They made some other records too; they initiated the recording of [the jazz fusion group] Oregon. They began at my house; they were called Music to begin with. They would come and stay at my house and practice. Child's Garden of Grass was recorded at my house." None other than Harrison Ford did carpentry work on the studio, long before his ascent to stardom as a Hollywood film actor.

    "I went back to Hawaii for a month or two to work on my own album, and wrote a few songs," resumes Cyrus. "As I left the house, there was rock'n'roll coming out of my living room, and I was pleased to get away to something peaceful. Because in a way, they kind of took over the house a little bit. And while I was in Hawaii that month, [the songs] kind of came together. They were there in bits and pieces, and became assembled into sort of a reality. There are any number of my own songs which I declined [to put on the album], which I thought, well, that's not a complete song. The ones that seemed to fit the mold stayed, and the incomplete songs just parked someplace. There's a great song called 'Papaya Smoothie'—god knows where it is now."

    The album was cut in Faryar's studio with backup from friends, including drummers Mike Botts and Russ Kunkel, and bassist Brian Garafalo. Other sidemen of note in the supporting cast included Oregon's Collin Walcott, Ralph Towner, and Paul McCandless; pianist Craig Doerge, a member of Rosebud alongside Cyrus's old cohorts Judy Henske and Jerry Yester; the Dillards' Rodney Dillard, who played dobro on "Brother, Friend"; guitarist Dick Rosmini; and Alex Hassilev of the Limeliters, who was by the this time himself working as a producer in his own home studio (one of the first in Los Angeles), and who composed the electronic score for "Springtime Bouquet." Faryar himself produced the record, though as he modestly notes, "There really wasn't too much to it, because it was so much a collaborative effort. I just happened to be the singer and the guitar player, and everybody else was involved. I didn't feel like I was the captain of the ship commanding; I just wasn't the boss. Everybody who was there, [the] musicians, were really there as friends to help me realize my musical dream. So it was about as ego-less an experience as you could hope to find. It was just great, and it really fit the whole context of being in your living room."

    With its gentle tone, oft-languid feel, and Faryar's vocal ease with the low notes, the record is rather in the style of '60s folk-rocker Fred Neil, with whom Cyrus had worked as a sideman on the classic Fred Neil album. There were, however, some eccentric production touches that added a layer of eerieness, such as the saw on "Companion," the glass harmonica on "Evergreen (Earth Anthem)" and "Kingdom," the stormy effects at the close of "Ratte's Dream," and the ARP synthesizer on "Springtime Bouquet." "I think it was Paul Beaver who had the ARP, it was a very primitive early oscillator device," remembers Faryar. "It was huge, this wonderful, big black thing full of wires, and you had to keep plugging and unplugging to get every change of sound. Alex [Hassilev] was there patching things, and we said, 'get a sound,' and I'd say, 'that's great!' And he'd say, 'You like that, wait a second.' And he would quickly change it to something [else]. So we wandered through that, finally captured some and settled on them, and just laid it on there, quite sort of spontaneously."

    Cyrus also thinks that  on 'Companion,' Collin Walcott "played an esraj, an Indian stringed instrument, which I was told was originally made with the gourd being a human skull. I thought that was pretty trippy. We used a more modern version, which was just wood, or a gourd of some kind. But it's a goofy, weird, strange stringy sound, which Collin loved to play, and we had a lot of fun with that."

    Though most of the material on Cyrus was written by Cyrus, he did opt for a few songs from outside sources. "Kingdom" was penned by his wife of the time, Renais Faryar. "Evergreen (Earth Anthem)" was the work of Bill Martin, with whom Faryar had been acquainted since his '60s folk days, when Martin was working with future Association member Russ Giguere; Martin would later co-author the script for the movie Harry and the Hendersons. "I Think He's Hiding" had been on Randy Newman's first album, and was here sung with help from a three-dozen-strong chorus of friends, including David Crosby, Henry Diltz, Cass Elliott, folk legend Bob Gibson, Renais Faryar, famed producer Paul Rothchild, Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, and Simone & Marijke Posthuma of the Fool (who had done some design work for the Beatles' Apple company and also recorded as a band, Faryar having produced a rare Fool single on Mercury). "Everybody just belted it out in my living room," Cyrus fondly recalls. "In lieu of payment, I ordered a couple of dozen pies and ice cream."

    If there's any regret Cyrus has about his maiden solo effort, it's that some of the songs were sweetened with strings (conducted and arranged by Kirby Johnson, who did similar work on albums from the time by Van Dyke Parks, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, and Carly Simon). "The first album, when I first gave it to Jac Holzman, it bothered him," he recalls. "There were some songs...when I listen to it myself, I understand why, because taken from a certain point of view, it's rather a lot about transcending mortality and going across the great divide, which was a bit disturbing. Jac insisted—and I caved in—upon having violins, some overdubs, some strings to sweeten it. So the strings and overdubs went on, and made it less disturbing. They, to my particular taste, didn't add anything. They just softened some of the edges, which the powers that be found a little too edgy. I have original mixes which are much cleaner and purer." But overall, he was happy with the experience—"playing in the studio in my own home with my friends was the best possible fun."

   Also fun was the press party to launch the album's promotion. "Instead of being downtown someplace at some club, we did it at my house, which made sense, 'cause the album was recorded at my house," says Faryar. "We tented the carport and the area between the house and the top of the driveway, and then we laid any number of oriental rugs on the ground. My friend Anton ordered a couple of pounds of caviar, a stage was put up, and we had quite a blast. People sat on the pillows"—150 of them, made specially for the occasion—"ate caviar, there was a lot of laughter and merriment. And if I'm not mistaken, it spent my entire promotional budget," he laughs. "That was my abiding impression, that whatever modest sums had been set aside for any promotion were blown up in one great night. Everybody left and said 'that was really unusual and really swell,' and then it disappeared into memory. That's what I think happened."

    Whether because the promotional budget had been spent or not, Cyrus was not a big seller. That did not, however, prevent Faryar and Elektra from recording a follow-up album soon afterward, Islands, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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