As a musician, Richard Farina will always be primarily known for the recordings he did in the mid-'60s as half of Richard & Mimi Farina. He did, however, make a few very obscure solo recordings in the mid-'60s, as well as doing an earlier duo album with fellow folksinger Eric Von Schmidt. For that reason he merits an entry of his own, although readers seeking information about his musical and personal partnership with Mimi Farina should also look under Richard & Mimi Farina.
Farina, in fact, is much more well known now as a novelist and poet than he is as a musician. Born in 1937 to a Cuban father and Irish mother, he spent various parts of his youth in Brooklyn, Cuba, and Ireland. His life prior to the 1960s is still the matter of some mystery, but it's believed that he spent time in Ireland in the 1950s working with the Irish Republican Army and also time in Cuba as that country was undergoing revolution. He attended Cornell University in the late '50s where his experiences would form a foundation for his novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like up to Me, and where he became friends with future major American author Thomas Pynchon. In 1960 he was working in New York as an advertising copywriter, a job that ended upon his marriage to noted folk singer Carolyn Hester.
Farina was already a writer of short stories and poetry, which he would have published in numerous magazines over the next half-dozen years. However, he became interested in performing music as well after marrying Hester who helped teach him to play dulcimer. The couple lived in England for a while in the early '60s, sometimes playing together before their marriage dissolved. Through Hester, however, Farina had already met Bob Dylan (who got signed to Columbia partly as a result of his appearance as a harmonica player on a 1961 Hester session). While in England in January 1963, Farina made his first recordings, as part of a duo with fellow folksinger Eric Von Schmidt; Dylan helped out with some harmonica and backup vocals. The tracks -- ordinary folk revival fare with little hint of the talent unveiled on Farina's later recordings, save for his dulcimer playing -- were not issued until 1967 on the little-known British LP Dick Farina and Eric Von Schmidt on which Dylan is credited under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt.
The most important thing that happened to Farina in Europe, however, was meeting Mimi Baez, sister of folk star Joan Baez. Richard and Mimi married and returned in 1963 to the States where they began to play as a duo, concentrating on original material written by Richard. Signed to Vanguard, they made two uneven but generally fine and innovative early folk-rock LPs in 1965, presenting an eclectic range of dulcimer-guitar instrumentals, poetic electric rock, and sad harmonized ballads (see entry on Richard & Mimi Farina for more details). Around this time, Richard Farina also did three solo tracks on which Mimi Farina did not participate. These are found on the Elektra compilation album Singer Songwriter Project and include two songs that Farina also recorded with his wife for Vanguard ("Bold Marauder" and "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream"). The third, "Birmingham Sunday," was never done by Richard & Mimi Farina, although Joan Baez recorded it for her album 5. There were, in fact, plans for Farina to produce a Joan Baez album, and although this never happened, a couple of Baez tracks he did produce were released on the posthumous Richard & Mimi Farina compilation Memories.
In April 1966, the novel that Farina had been working on for years, Been Down So Long It Looks Like up to Me, was published. Just hours after a publication party, he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in Carmel, CA, leaving his considerable potential -- as a musician in his partnership with Mimi Farina and as a writer -- unfulfilled. ~ Richie Unterberger