Ruthann Friedman - Biography

By Eric Brightwell


           Ruthann Friedman was a singer-songwriter folkie who drifted in and around the edges of fame in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Though she wrote the number one hit, “Windy,” and created a body of appealing fried folkish psychedelia, she never became widely recognized.


            Ruthann Friedman was born in the Bronx on July 6th, 1944. The Friedman family was musically inclined and sang together regularly. Her father was a union organizer and Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie loomed especially large in the Friedman family repertoire. Ruthann first picked up a guitar at eight years old and, after her family relocated to the San Fernando Valley, she began performing, early on earning an appearance on a televised talent show when she was twelve, by which time she’d already written her first song. Not long after, her sister introduced the younger Friedman to all things bohemian and Ruthann immersed herself in literature and music of a different bent.


            Eventually, Friedman dropped out of college and headed over the Hollyood Hills, soon becoming a regular performer at the Troubadour’s hootenannies, where she met and hung out with guitarists like Steve Mann and Hoyt Axton. She was also experimenting with drugs; drinking at the West Hollywood bar/restaurant Barney’s Beanery, smoking weed at the west coast offices of The Fifth Estate and dropping acid which, along with the discovery of Mark Spoelstra and Bob Dylan’s music, Friedman credits with pointing the direction she would next take.  As a young hippie guitarist, Friedman played for food whilst traveling around the west.  At one point she stayed in Denver, Colorado, where she played her first paying gig, at The Green Spider Coffee House.  At another point she stayed in North Beach, San Francisco with Mann, playing at local venues including The Coffee Gallery and The Coffee and Confusion. 


            In Hollywood, around 1965, Friedman met and dated Van Dyke Parks who convinced her that she could, with her talent, make a career of music. Parks helped her navigate the music business at Warner Brothers and introduced her to the fledgling sunshine pop band The Association.  The band let Friedman stay at their home near Melrose and Vermont where the musicians experimented musically and otherwise.


            In 1966, Friedman lived in the Haight (around Fell and Cole) with Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin and Jack Casady and Casady’s girlfriend, Ginger Jackson (one of The Merry Pranksters). In October, Jorma Kaukonen, whom Friedman briefly dated, joined the band. That same month, when singer Signe Anderson quit the band to focus on motherhood, Friedman believed she might become her replacement. But almost immediately, Grace Slick got the job.


            Friedman’s recording debut was instead with The Garden Club, a one off duo with Tom Shipley of Brewer & Shipley. The sunny slice of pop-psychedelia, “Little Girl Lost and Found,” was written by Tandyn Almer and was dominated by Friedman’s multi-tracked vocals. Almer had previously written “Along Comes Mary” for The Association.  Though “Little Girl Lost and Found” was a local success, the song came nowhere near matching the commercial success of Almer’s previous hit. Friedman was living in David Crosby’s Beverly Glen home when she wrote a song for The Association that would easily trump the chart accomplishments of both of Almer’s compositions.  Friedman’s song “Windy” not only provided The Association with their second number one (following “Cherish”) but was also a hit that year for jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. It’s success convinced Friedman to not take a job at the post office and instead focus on music.


            Afterward Friedman moved north, to Half Moon Bay where she spent a year and practiced music with Jorma Kaukonen’s brother Peter, in the three-guitar-pronged Petrus, who recorded one album in 1968 for A&M that has unfortunately never been released. She then drifted to Malibu and Mexico and then to a Laurel Canyon home on Wonderland Avenue. After a year in Palm Springs with an artist, Alan Payne, the two moved to Venice, California. From her base there she recorded with arranger/woodwind player Steven Schuster at Mickey Hart's Ranch and various studios in the Valley.


            In September 1969, in Big Sur, Friedman performed at the sixth annual Big Sur Folk Festival, a two day even that also featured Joan Baez, The International String Band, Sal Valetino, Carol Cisneros, Dorothy Morrison, Joni Mitchell, The Flying Burrito Brothers, John Sebastian, Mimi Farina, Julie Payne, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Chris Etheridge and James Hendricks. Though filmed and released as Celebration at Big Sur, both the concert and film have been eclipsed in the public’s conscience by Woodstock, held just a month earlier. Joni Mitchell introduced Friedman as a friend with an impending release., Constant Companion (1969-Reprise) was recorded at Sunwest Studios in Ventura over the course of a couple of days and  produced by Joe Wissert. (The Van Dyke Parks-produced “Carry On (Glittering Dancer)” which was later added to Water’s 2006 re-release of the record.). The result was an eye-opening collection of introspective, jazzy, folk-pop. Unfortunately, shortly after the album’s release, Friedman’s sister that had proved so influential, died of an overdose.


            In 1971, Friedman wrote and performed “Rebel” and “White Dove” for a hippie/biker exploitation film, Peace Killers. It was directed by Doug Schwartz, who would later strike gold creating the television series Baywatch.  The songs on the soundtrack would prove Friedman’s final, recorded musical efforts for some time. Around 1972, Friedman started The Writing High Stationary Moving Company with her friend, Alan Coghlan. She married Jeffrey Carlisle and they had two daughters, Sandy and Lisabeth. Hurried Life: Lost Recordings 1965-1971 (2006-Water) was released toward the end of the same year that Water re-released the revelatory and long out-of-print Constant Companion. Like it, the lost recordings are by-and-large similarly hazy, fried, autumnal and impressionistic. Today, Friedman still performs, mostly in Berkley, Chicago and Los Angeles.


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