MANHATTAN, NY—Mike Farris was devastated after his parents divorced when he was 11 years old. Farris began using drugs and alcohol from an early age, a lifestyle that landed him in reform school. He nearly died from an accidental overdose before he was 21 years old. Maybe this was his first wake-up call.
He moved in with his father in Nashville, Tennessee, gradually freeing himself from his addictions, and began playing guitar and writing songs. Upon recovery, he formed the Southern blues jam band Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies in 1990, but the endless touring through the bar circuit sent him back to his old habits. The band split after three albums, and Farris went on to sing in several bands, including a brief stint fronting Double Trouble, the former backing band for the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Finally, while attending the funeral of a friend, Farris decided he had enough. He moved from New York to Nashville and worked on getting himself cleaned up. Farris became a practicing Christian and rejected drugs and alcohol. Since 2002, Farris has released two solo albums, a live album as Mike Farris & The Roseland Rhythm Revue, and a charity EP as Mike Farris & The Cumberland Saints. Since 2011, he has been promising to release a third solo album, Already Alright.
Mike Farris performs solo, as an acoustic quartet, a five-piece electric band or with the nine-piece revue. At SubCulture on March 9, he sang accompanied solely by his acoustic guitar. As soon as he began a two-hour set, one feature became strongly evident: Farris sang with an amazing voice. The mesmerizing vocals were smoldering blue-eyed soul, but with house-shaking Sunday morning fervor. The gospel-fueled honeyed yowl showcased enormous range and unlimited passion.
Farris’ diverse set was comprised of recently-written original songs, songs from his years with the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, and obscure songs from America’s songbook. Many tunes were influenced by 1960s folk and soul music; others were rooted in early American spirituals and pre-war era blues; still others were inspired by early jug bands and old-time country. He melded Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” with a Bob Marley song, and imaginatively redefined Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” into a very slow and dark reworking.
For the last half hour or so, he solicited requests from the audience. Most of these requests were for Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies songs, and he gave these tracks a new acoustic interpretation. Altogether, the set transcended genre and defied categorization. Farris brewed the classic ingredients and deftly blended all these classic American genres into something new, sweet, joyful, thrilling and uniquely his own.
For more information on Mike Farris, go to mikefarrismusic.com.