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 of the album in the cafe’s bazaar of books, crafts, and art. Below is an 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.
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.
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.