Mike Farris : 2007-04-23A true GMA highlight was interviwing Mike Farris, former lead vocalist of Double Trouble and the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies. Read my review of his CD.
Mike: Hello, Randy!
Randy: I really enjoyed the record.
Mike: It's been a real gift, I'll tell ya!
Randy: Sometimes, I hate to say it, some Christian artists have exaggerated their connections in the music biz, saying they played with a certain band or something, and it turns out they failed an audition or something, but when I heard the Double Trouble mention I thought, "I'll see if Tommy Shannon's website has anything about it," and I don't know if you've been there lately, but he's got a picture of you on there with the Double Trouble band...
Mike: Oh yeah?
Randy: ...and makes the comment that you're a good friend and he still considers you one of the best vocalists he's worked with and I thought, "There's a nice endorsement right there on Tommy Shannon's website."
Randy: So I said, "this guy's for real."
Mike: Tommy's a sweet, sweet, gentle cat, man.
Randy: You can kind of tell just by reading his website comments, he's just really concerned about individuals, people, and remembering friends over the years.
Mike: Yep. And they really were--I say "were," they are--I still talk to them, keep in touch with them all the time, but they were real touched by Stevie, man. Stevie must have been just an extraordinary human being. Because they talk about that dude every single day, to this day.
Randy: He's been gone for almost twenty years.
Randy: How long did you play with them?
Mike: I was with those guys for about two years. I was still in throes of drug addiction and stuff like that. That probably played a little part--it wasn't a direct part of why we couldn't make things happen.
Randy: Sounds like geography was part of it, everyone was separated.
Mike: Not even that, it was those guys were just a little--I think they were just burnt out on each other, man. Like an old married couple, man. Just at it all the time. They'll be the first ones to tell you, too. I'm not telling you anything I wouldn't tell them. I tell them both all the time, "Y'all are like an old married couple." Just at it all the time, man.
Randy: Chris and Tommy?
Mike: Mmm hmm.
Randy: This afternoon I'm going to be interviewing Joanne Cash. I'm excited about that. You mentioned Johnny Cash as an influence growing up, some of his records, and also Dave Rowe, of course, how did that come about with him playing (bass) on your record?
Mike: It was one of those things just...I had a bunch of people in town I could have called when I got ready for this album, but I wanted to start out fresh. My best friends who are extraordinary musicians here in town, who are like, really notable cats, I just didn't want to call them 'cause I wanted to start out fresh, and these guys knew me from that era, and at the time I wasn't real sure if I could be around those guys and hold up to the temptation of them going, "Man, c'mon, we'll go--I know you don't drink beer, but we'll go have a beer or something and hang out," and I just didn't want to be around that. I went and found these guys and Dave turned into a--he was a wellspring, man. He turned me on to all these other musicians and other cats and stuff. Dave's turned out to be one of my really good friends.
Randy: Who plays the guitar solo on "I'll Take You There"?
Mike: A guy named Rob McNelly. Extraordinary guitar player here in town. I've known Rob for ten, fifteen years, and now he's playing with Delbert McClinton and the guy who's playing the pop staples guitar all through it, the verses and the intro, is a guy named Joe McMahan. He's incredible.
Randy: I love that song, love that guitar part on there. They didn't have the credits, I just had the prerelease stuff, so I was curious to know who had played on that because that song, I just love that when the guitar kicks in there, it's awesome. Talk a little bit about the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies, a great name for a band, and how many years were you in that project?
Mike: We together for about I guess ten or eleven years. We were together for maybe two years in the early nineties, when we got a record deal with Atlantic, which is a dream come true, it's home of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Jay Wexler, Tom Dowd. Had the world at our feet, touring with people like Neil Young, Allman Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews, it was just amazing. We accomplished a lot of things, but it was always just kind of out of our reach. I think that was meant to be, though. All those things were meant to be. I don't think I was on the right path, I don't think I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Randy: Was that the period where you got involved in some of the abuses with drugs and things?
Mike: Yeah. I was pretty much a drug addict by the time I was sixteen. And just before we formed the Wheelies, two years before that, I had cleaned up and gave my life to Christ and at the time I didn't know I had the ability to sing. I'd never sang before. I didn't play guitar, I didn't write songs or anything like that. I was just one of those kids like so many kids out there who find themselves at some point who wasn't raised with a mom and dad or a family, without God being a major part in their life and trying to lead them. I was one of those kids. I was stuck there all of a sudden with life facing me, early twenties going, "Man, I don't know what my purpose is in life. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing." I rededicated my life and it was revealed to me. I woke up one morning and I wrote this song. First song I wrote was a song called "Ride the Tide" and two years later it was a top ten hit on rock radio. Everything just kind of fell into place. But as soon as He gave me the gift, I fell right off the wagon. I thought I was going to be able to go into bars and be with all those people who needed to hear this stuff and needed to have somebody exert this godly light. It ate me alive. It took me fifteen years to get back. A long, hard journey to get back to the point where I said, "Okay, I'm going to give it back to You, I can't take it no more," and I gave it back to Him.
Randy: I saw on the PR thing, was it a funeral, a death of a relative or something that really woke you up, so to speak?
Mike: Yeah. We were walking away from the grave site and I saw a relative of mine who I knew had struggled with the same things that I was struggling with, and I was high right then at the time. About a six-day binge. We got in the car, we were the last ones there and I saw this guy. I looked in my rearview mirror, there he is. He just looked so lonely. It was just such a poignant moment for me. I looked in my rearview mirror and I said, "I'm not going to be that person ever again. That's it. I'm going to go home, clean up, and I'm going to rededicate my life and I'm going to find out what God wants me to do. It may not be music, but it's got to be--it will be better." And it's hard to wrap your head around it at the moment, you're like, "Am I really going to be able to hang on, am I really going to be happy driving a truck or doing whatever?" But in reality, yeah, you would be. You'd be really happy and content doing whatever. Basically, God wants us to be here in this world, and His desire is for us to be happy.
Randy: Have life and have it more abundantly, right?
Mike: And more abundantly. And humans are supposed to be happy in their work. If you're not happy in your work, something's wrong. You're not in your right spot. Everybody's got a spot, a place in this world. I didn't know if He was going to give me music, allow me to have music again in my life or not. Every day I just thank God that I get to do this. He's letting me have it again.
Randy: Have you run into John Davis from Superdrag? Do you know him at all?
Mike: No, he's from Knoxville, I believe.
Randy: I interviewed him two years ago when he came out with a very similar story. He had some Christian background and experience, and then he fell away and got involved in drugs and everything else, a lot of alcohol for him. For him I think it was actually driving by a graveyard, and he kind of just realized where he was headed with his lifestyle and that, and came back to the Lord and put out a very cool album, but just some of the similar stories. He had, with Superdrag, some top couple of hits and MTV airplay and all that stuff, but inside, obviously he knew there was something missing, and I was just struck with some of the parallels of both you guys. He plays with a couple of guys out here in town. A guy from Sixpence, Matt Slocum.
Mike: Oh yeah, that's how I know that guy!
Randy: Yeah, very similar story. Not ever making it huge big, but big enough to get some hits and get some fame and mess up your life a little bit and then realize that, and then straighten it out.
Mike: If you're not on top of it, and you're that young--every time I see this kids on TV, these new bands like My Chemical Romance and all these bands, I don't know them personally or know what they're going through or whatever, but a lot of these kids, you see them doing interviews and stuff, and they've really got it together, they got a plan, they've got a vision and all this stuff, and I'm like, "More power to you, brother," 'cause you've got a grip on it, you're not getting caught up in the hype, and the record label's calling you a star all the time instead of calling you what your name is, and all that, the ego is under attack, it's always being fed.
Randy: Even in a place like GMA, it's tough, because you've got a lot of young bands and everyone wants to interview them or do whatever--I enjoy them, they're a lot of fun guys, but I really enjoy some of the older guys that have been through it and got past that. Like last night, Oz Fox, obviously Stryper was huge when I was younger, he's just out there having a good time, and the other guitar player, Paul Jackson, he gave me a pick for my son, and it was an Oz Fox pick. I'm going, "You're not even giving me a Paul Jackson pick, it's an Oz one." He goes, "Yeah, I use his picks, whatever. We don't care. It's like, 'You take this solo.' 'No, you take this solo.' The ego thing? Twenty years ago, maybe, but it's nice to be comfortable, been through it, and not get caught up in the hype anymore."
Mike: My favorite Oscar Wilde quote is, "Youth is wasted on the young."
Randy: Yeah, exactly. When you need the energy and you know what you're doing you don't have it anymore.
Randy: Salvation in Lights obviously, it's a got a nice selection. There's some good variety in there. Obviously a lot of oldies covered in that. Did you just pick some that you'd known about for years, just some favorites you always thought you wanted to record, how'd you choose some of those old classic standards to put on the record?
Mike: Well, it was just a bunch of stuff. Actually, this whole idea had been around for several years but really for the last five years. Back when I was in the throes of drug addiction, that was what I really wanted to do. At some point, that was the album I wanted to make. Cheetah Wheelies fans and Mike Farris fans, from when I was doing solo stuff, those things I was doing acoustic stuff, acoustic shows up in New York and when I'd go to Europe and stuff, so I was doing "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" and "Change is Gonna Come" and stuff like that back then. Those songs, I was singing those things when I was high because I wanted that so bad. Back then I was crying out through those songs. Now, it's a different place I'm singing it from. It's just basically the songs that mean something to me, that have been with me for years and years and helped sustain me. There's something about these old songs that just resonate. I think they will continue to. I think because they were born out of struggle, and they came from a deep, deep soul from back then. When stuff like that happens, I think it just doesn't go away. "Highway 61 Revisited," it's not going to go away. You know what I mean? "Sergeant Pepper" ain't going to go away. That's not a real deep album, that's just a good piece of art.
Randy: Staying power is the real test of artistic excellence.
Mike: Yeah. Leonard Cohen, man, it ain't going nowhere. For me, it's an honor and a privilege every day for me to be able to be a part of this whole project. To be able to be one of the people who get to present this to America again. Like I was telling these other people, these songs have been put away in America's collective closet, just thrown away. Nobody's pulled this stuff out in I don't know how long. It's almost like the British invasion. When Clapton and the Stones and the Beatles when they came over and they were like, "Look what you guys got!" and they were reinventing it. That's basically what I was doing. Not on such a grand scale as they did it.
Randy: When was "Lonely Road" written?
Mike: It was written probably a year and a half ago with a guy named Sam Mizzell he helped me write that, he helped me finish that one. All that was a good thing too. The fact that I didn't write all these things, like often in my career I wrote everything with the band and stuff. There's very little that I didn't have to come up with, I had it all on my shoulders, and dealing with drug abuse, too. It was almost like God was going, "Just lean on me. I'll bring it to you." "Lonely Road" came to me, I had the idea, and I met with Sam, and I was like, "I've got this idea, what do you think about this?" He was like, "I like that a lot!" We did it, and the arrangement on it was way more contemporary, commercial, whatever, so when we got to the record I felt like we were missing a couple elements and I was like, "We've got to get something like this on the album." And I got this song, but I didn't know how we could do it to make it fit this album, 'cause it was a totally different song, and so we had to mess with it, mess with it for a little bit and come up with the arrangement to make it fit the album, which actually made it even better.
Randy: Well, I think it fits great.
Mike: Yeah, it's got that real stacks, Memphis soul thing to it, and I just absolutely love it, man. I love singing it and everything, and the horns and all that. And the message, the message is all about me coming back into the fold.
Randy: Kind of your testimony song?
Mike: Exactly. I thought it was important to have something like that on the album, more personal.
Randy: Great. Thanks for your time, Mike.
Mike: Thank you!