NEW YORK — Buzzy Linhart, a whimsically eccentric singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose compositions were recorded by Bette Midler, Carly Simon, and others, died on Thursday in Berkeley, Calif. He was 76.
His son Xeno Rasmusson confirmed the death. He said Mr. Linhart had been in declining health since having a heart attack in 2018.
The anthemic “(You Got to Have) Friends,” written by Mr. Linhart and Moogy Klingman, became Midler’s unofficial theme song after appearing in two versions on her debut album, “The Divine Miss M” (1972). It was also sung by Barry Manilow on his first album and, later, by the Muppets, in a duet with the actress Candice Bergen, and by Eddie Murphy’s donkey character in the hit animated feature film “Shrek.”
On his own, Mr. Linhart wrote the shimmering ballad “The Love’s Still Growing,” which closed Simon’s debut album and which was subsequently recorded by the Roches for “Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the ’60s,” a 1999 album on which various artists performed songs from the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene.
Mr. Linhart was a prominent figure on that storied scene. He was also a busy session musician in the ’60s, playing guitar, vibraphone, and other instruments on albums by Jimi Hendrix, John Sebastian, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and others. His compositions, included on a clutch of albums released mostly in the early to mid-70s, sifted elements of folk, jazz, blues, ragas, and psychedelic rock into a highly animated mix.
Mr. Linhart’s vocal style was quirky. He tended to sing, or scat, wildly around a melody, offering zany screams along the way. He was also known for his manic live performances.
“No sooner has he hit an opening chord than his eyes roll back in his head and he begins to bob and weave like a dervish in a trance,” Robert Palmer wrote in a 1977 New York Times review of a show at the Other End in the Village. But, he added, “Mr. Linhart’s talent is genuine.”
William Charles Linhart was born on March 3, 1943, in Pittsburgh and raised in Cleveland. His parents, William and Agnes (Koons) Linhart, were both musicians. Mr. Linhart played drums as a teenager and quickly expanded his skill set to include to vibes, marimba, guitar, and piano.
At 18, he joined the Navy so he could perform in a Navy band. He received an honorable discharge 18 months later. He then moved to Florida, where he met the seminal folk artist Fred Neil.
By 1963, the two musicians had traveled north to join the hot Greenwich Village scene. There Mr. Linhart met, and became roommates with, Sebastian, later to become famous as the lead singer of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Mr. Linhart’s engrossing performance of the Dino Valenti song “Get Together” inspired another key musician on the scene, Jesse Colin Young, to record that song with his group, the Youngbloods. It reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart in 1969.
At one point, after Midler heard Mr. Linhart perform “Friends,” she asked if she could sing it at her residency at the Continental Baths on the Upper West Side. Her recording of the song made Billboard’s Top 40 in 1973.
Mr. Linhart earned generous FM radio play, especially, in the New York area, for songs from his highly eclectic albums “The Time to Live Is Now” and “Music.” He was the musical director of the cult 1974 comedy film “The Groove Tube,” in which he also appeared as a nude hitchhiker, and a regular performer and writer on Bill Cosby’s short-lived 1976 variety show, “Cos.”