INTERVIEW: Love Is All They’re Living For (Bob Hare Talks the Nature Boy Trio and the Insomniac Cafe)

Bob Hare (1931-2011) was the proprietor of the Insomniac Cafe, a fabled beatnik haunt in Hermosa Beach, CA, which ran from 1958-1965. Legends such as Lennie Bruce, Allen Ginsberg, Van Dyke Parks, and Linda Ronstadt all played there; the cover artist of the Beach Boys’ “Smile” album, Frank Holmes, poured the joe in the early sixties; and Eden Ahbez and his Nature Boy Trio may’ve developed what later became the “Eden’s Island” LP inside its four bohemian walls. Hare even claims he sold copies in the cafe’s bazaar of books, crafts, and art. Below is the interview I conducted with him in 2001 over the phone. It only took me 18 years to transcribe it! (Brian Chidester)

Brian Chidester: So the last time we spoke you were talking about the people who played at the Insomniac and you mentioned Eden Ahbez and Gypsy Boots. Would you tell me more about that?

Bob Hare: They used to play as the Nature Boy Group or the Nature Boy Trio. It was just Eden and Gypsy and one other guy. They were the real thing, you know, living outdoors and way ahead of their time.

BC: And when would you say they started playing at the Insomniac? Do you remember the exact year?

BH: From the beginning. 1959. They played for us all the time.

Insomniac Cafe

The Insomniac Cafe, Hermosa Beach, CA, exterior, c. 1960.

BC: So then what was an average show by the Nature Boy Trio like?

BH: Eden was the center. Big set of drums, gong, always a bamboo flute. Tied to his waist. He’d sit Indian position on the floor and play and read his poems.

BC: What did the other guys play?

BH: Gypsy Boots played, if I recall, the maracas or… and get the crowd into it… get things riled up.

BC: And this was around the time-frame he became a regular guest on the Steve Allen Show? Or maybe earlier?

BH: About then. He was very famous and all that. Eden was more famous. Everybody knew Eden from the song “Nature Boy.” It was spoken of by the young people, the beatniks, in hushed tones.

Eden Downbeat photo

BC: Do you remember how he’d get the drum set to the cafe? And the gong?

BH: No, I don’t. Maybe someone drove him? I know he always showed up if he said he would.

BC: And how would you describe Eden as a person?

BH: Gentle. Sweet. He always filled the room with love.

BC: So you may or may not know this, but Eden cut a solo album in 1960, on Del-Fi Records. It was called Eden’s Island. Did he ever mention that? Or play any of the songs from that LP?

BH: I’m sure he did. We sold copies at the bazaar.

BC: Oh really?

BH: Yeah. I’m not sure how many.

BC: There’s an ad from the L.A. Free Press for a fashion show at the Insomniac in 1965 and it features live music by Nature Boy. I’m assuming that was Eden as well.

BH: Yes. That was the last year of the Insomniac. I believe they were down to two then: just Eden and Gypsy. They played, and the girls showed off the latest fashions, which would have been closer to hippie by then.

BC: Any last memories of Eden you want to mention?

BH: Just that he was a gentle spirit and everyone at the Insomniac loved when he came around. I think he’d be happy that people still recognize him as a pioneer.

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6 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: Love Is All They’re Living For (Bob Hare Talks the Nature Boy Trio and the Insomniac Cafe)

  1. Interesting thing about this entire blog is that eden ahbez was emphatic about his new name being lower case — that only the divine (i.e., God) deserved upper case. (Though he named his kids in upper case names.) Of course, when he was George McGrew (nee Aberley), he used conventional spelling. In all instances where I refere to ahbez, I respect this choice.

    • Hi Andrew… thanks for the comments. It is true that he insisted on a lowercase spelling in 1948 in interviews just following the rise of “Nature Boy” on the charts. It was something he may’ve insisted upon at other times during his life as well; yet he was by no means consistent about it. His application, for instance, with the state of New York to have his name officially changed from George A. Aberle to “Eden Ahbe” was actually written all caps by Eden himself. As was his original 1946 self-published sheet music booklet for “Nature Boy.” Also no “z” at the end of his name yet. (That seems to’ve appeared sometime in 1948 too.) In hundreds of lead-sheets which the artist composed by hand during the 1950s and ’60s he writes his name on the paper variously as: “Eden Ahbez,” “eden ahbez,” and “EDEN AHBEZ.” In publishing imprints during the 1950s he calls himself “Ah Bez” and in one unrecorded song from 1959 refers to himself as “Old Ahb.” Almost every person I ever interviewed who knew him remembers him wanting to be called “Ahbe,” and in the 1970s he referred to himself on released singles as “Ahbe Casabe,” “Eden Abba,” and “Abba.” None of them were spelled all lowercase and all of the releases were self-produced. Which means no label or editor behind the desk put capitals there without his permission. Eden did it himself. I’ve seen numerous signed documents, signed letters, and signed photographs, as well, and he sometimes writes his name with a capital “E” and “A,” sometimes all lowercase, almost always written in cursive letters. On lead sheets he prints his name. I acknowledged this in one of the early articles on this blog—his insistence, in 1948, on the all lowercase spelling. But for the purposes of easy legibility, I suppose, and because Eden himself was never consistent about it, have opted to spell his name in most of the postings using normal capitalization. Again, I appreciate your input here, but there’s a lot more about this composer than is generally available online. Hope that makes sense. Best, Brian Chidester

      • Thanks! Will Friedwald turned me your material. We’ve had countless discussions about this, and he shared his ahbez essay with me from his upcoming NKC book. I got re-interested in it after Clint Holmes told a version of the acquisition story at Birdland, and I posted an old Life photo of the pre-ahbez bandleader George McGrew atop the picture of ahbez. When’s your book coming out? Consider me a guaranteed sale.

      • Oh, cool, give my best to Will. He asked me a lot about Eden for his NKC book, and the section on “Nature Boy.” The book I’m writing on Eden is on pause right now as I’m in the midst of finishing a feature-length documentary on his life and music which will hopefully be done by the end of 2020. I don’t mind spelling his name all lowercase, BTW, as I love the idea of only the Divine and Nature being worthy of capitalization. He loved novelty in general; sincerity too. It made sense for him to insist on something like all lowercase letters. Being outlandish, I believe, is needed if we are to penetrate the veil and tap into the unconscious, or unified field. Playing it smart won’t get you there. It’s all or nothing. Eden knew that.

  2. I certainly understand the pre-hippie tie-in but Rod McKuen was mostly in California from the mid-50s on. I wonder if the two met or if McKuen ever recognized eden as a root of the tree? Tom Moore

    • They knew eachother. There’s a blog below on this site where McKuen recounts Ahbez coming to one of his poetry readings in the mid-sixties. Scroll down.

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