1960 album cover
|Birth name||George Alexander Aberle|
|Also known as||eden ahbez
15 April 1908|
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Origin||Brooklyn, New York|
|Died||4 March 1995
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
George Alexander Aberle, known as eden ahbez (15 April 1908 – 4 March 1995), was an American songwriter and recording artist of the 1940s to 1960s, whose lifestyle in California was influential on the hippie movement. He was known to friends simply as ahbe.
Living a bucolic life from at least the 1940s, he traveled in sandals and wore shoulder-length hair and beard, and white robes. He camped out below the first L in the Hollywood Sign above Los Angeles and studied Oriental mysticism. He slept outdoors with his family and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. He claimed to live on three dollars per week.
Ahbez was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish father and a Scottish-English mother, and spent his early years in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, which branched off from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. He was then adopted, in 1917, by a family in Chanute, Kansas, and raised under the name George McGrew.
During the 1930s, McGrew lived in Kansas City, where he performed as a pianist and dance band leader. He probably also lived in New York City for some time, although little is known of that period of his life. In 1941, he arrived in Los Angeles and began playing piano in the Eutropheon, a small health food store and raw food restaurant on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. The cafe was owned by John and Vera Richter, German immigrants who followed a Naturmensch and Lebensreform philosophy influenced by the Wandervogel movement in Germany. He was a vegetarian. He recalled once telling a policeman: I look crazy but I'm not. And the funny thing is that other people don't look crazy but they are.
Their followers, known as "Nature Boys" and who included Robert "Gypsy Boots" Bootzin, wore long hair and beards and ate only raw fruits and vegetables. During this period, he adopted the name "eden ahbez," choosing to spell his name with lower-case letters, claiming that only the words God and Infinity were worthy of capitalization. He is also said to have desired the A and Z (alpha and omega), the beginning and the end, in his surname. During this period, he married Anna Jacobsen and had a son.
In 1947, at the prompting of Cowboy Jack Patton and Johnny Mercer, ahbez approached Nat "King" Cole's manager backstage at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles and handed him the music for his song, "Nature Boy." Cole began playing the song for live audiences to much acclaim, but needed to track down its author before releasing his recording of it.
Ahbez was discovered living under the Hollywood Sign and became the focus of a media frenzy when Cole's version of "Nature Boy" shot to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and remained there for eight consecutive weeks during the summer of 1948. It was ahbez who gave Burl Ives the idea to cover Stan Jones' "Ghost Riders in the Sky" after overhearing Stan recording his version of the song. Ahbez was covered simultaneously in Life, Time, and Newsweek magazines. Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan later released versions of the song. Ahbez also faced legal action from Yiddish musical composer, Herman Yablokoff, who claimed that the melody to "Nature Boy" came from one of his songs, "Shvayg mayn harts" ("Be Still My Heart"). Ahbez claimed to have "heard the tune in the mist of the California mountains." However, legal proceedings resulted in a payment to Yablokoff of $25,000 in an out-of-court settlement. To that end it is worth noting that the first two measures of the song's melody also parallel the melody of the second movement in Antonín Dvořák's Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 81 (1887). It is unknown if ahbez and/or Yablokoff were familiar with Dvořák's piece, or if they arrived at the same melodic idea independently.
Ahbez continued to supply Cole with songs, including "Land of Love (Come My Love and Live with Me)", which was also covered by Doris Day and The Ink Spots. He also worked closely with jazz musician Herb Jeffries, and, in 1954, the pair collaborated on an album, The Singing Prophet, which included the only recording of ahbez's four-part "Nature Boy Suite". The album was later reissued as Echoes of Eternity on Jeffries' United National label. In the mid 1950s, he wrote songs for Eartha Kitt, Frankie Laine, and others, as well as writing some rock-and-roll novelty songs. In 1957, his song "Lonely Island" was recorded by Sam Cooke, becoming the second and final ahbez composition to hit the Top 40.
In 1959, he began recording instrumental music, which combined his signature somber tones with exotic arrangements and (according to the record sleeve) "primitive rhythms". He often performed bongo, flute, and poetry gigs at beat coffeehouses in the Los Angeles area. In 1960, he recorded his only solo LP, Eden's Island, for Del-Fi Records. This mixed beatnik poetry with exotica arrangements. Ahbez promoted the album through a coast-to-coast walking tour making personal appearances, but it sold poorly.
During the 1960s, ahbez released five singles. Grace Slick's band, the Great Society, recorded a version of "Nature Boy" in 1966 and ahbez was photographed in the studio with Brian Wilson during a session for the Smile album in early 1967. Later that year, British singer Donovan sought out ahbez in Palm Springs, and the two wanderers shared a reportedly "near-telepathic" conversation. In the 1970s, Big Star's Alex Chilton recorded a version of the song that has been released as a bonus track from the album Third/Sister Lovers (Rykodisc edition, 1992).
His wife died in 1963, and his son drowned in 1971 at the age of 22. From the late 1980s until his death, he worked closely with Joe Romersa, an engineer/drummer in Los Angeles. The master tapes, photos, and final works of eden ahbez are in Romersa's possession.
He died on 4 March 1995, of injuries sustained in a car accident, at the age of 86. Another album, Echoes from Nature Boy, was released posthumously.
- "United States Social Security Death Index". Eden Ahbez, 4 March 1995. FamilySearch. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
- "Little Known Brooklyn Residents: eden ahbez". Brooklyn Public Library. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
- Life magazine, 22 June 1948, pp.9–10
- "A Strange, Enchanted Boy". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
- "Hippie Roots & The Perennial Subculture". Hippy.com. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
- Karen Iacobbo and Michael Iacobbo, Vegetarian America: A History, 2004, p. 171.
- William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Africa (1857–2009), 2010, p. 306.
- "Nature Boy (1948)". JazzStandards.com. Retrieved 8 Feb 2013.
- "Little Known Brooklyn Residents: eden ahbez". Brooklyn Public Library. 22 Jul 2010. Retrieved 7 Feb 2013.
- Life Magazine May 10, 1948, pp. 131-135 Nature Boy.
- "Herman Yablokoff". The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
- Gottlieb, Jack. Funny, it doesn't sound Jewish: how Yiddish songs and synagogue melodies influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood 1. SUNY Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-8444-1130-9.
- Richard Morton, Strange Folk USA, Record Collector, #387, April 2011, p.37
- "Eden's Island: A blog about eden ahbez, the composer of "Nature Boy"". Brian Chidester. Retrieved 16 Apr 2013.
- "Grace Slick and the Great Society - Nature Boy - YouTube". RoachForge. Retrieved 16 Apr 2013.
- "Eden Ahbez: The Hippie Forefather's Final Statement to the World". Retrieved 18 February 2014.
- "Fuller Up Dead Musician Directory". Retrieved 29 June 2010.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Eden ahbez|
- Joe Romersa's Tribute Site to ahbez
- Biographical info
- Soundclips from Eden's Island
- Full lyrics of Nature Boy