Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Peverett Phile Interviews: Mike Finnigan

Hello, welcome to the biggest interview yet... Mike Finnigan, an American keyboard player, whose specialty being the Hammond Organ. Finnigan had toured and sessioned for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Etta James, Sam Moore, Crosby Stills and Nash, Dave Mason, Buddy Guy, Manhattan Transfer, Taj Mahal, Michael McDonald, Maria Muldaur, Peter Frampton, Cher, Ringo Starr, Leonard Cohen, Tower of Power, Rod Stewart and Tracy Chapman. His recording with the group Finnigan & Wood entitled "Crazed Hipsters" is considered a midwest R&B/Rock cult classic. He recorded two solo records in the 70's, one notably with legendary rhythm and blues producer Jerry Wexler. Finnigan is also considered by many such as Jerry Wexler, Mavis Staples, Etta James, Stephen Stills. John Porter, Stephen "Doc" Kupka and Tom Wilson as one of most soulful vocalists ever. That's what Wikipedia says, let's see what Mike says. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Mr. Mike Finnigan...

Me: Hello, Mike, welcome to the Phile, sir. How are you?

Mike: I’m usually better than I think I am, glad to speak with you.

Me: This is a huge honor and a great privilege. You have in the past worked with every major act I can possibly think of. We'll go into that later, but, tell me, who have you worked with lately?

Mike: I spent a good portion of 2007 and 2008 on the road with Joe Cocker. Quite a whirlwind tour. 28 countries in 15 months. In between, I worked on Taj Mahal’s new CD, “Maestro” (nominated for a Grammy), a CD by Curtis Salgado which has been nominated for several Blues Music awards, and Randy Jackson’s “Music Club” CD.

Me: I don't know how to play an instrument, Mike, but if I did it would be the Hammond B3 organ, my favorite sound. How did that become the instrument of your choice?

Mike: I used to play drums as a teenager. I got into a band that already had a drummer playing piano (I’d had a couple years of lessons as a little kid). Around this time, I first heard the great Jimmy Smith and was tremendously onspired by his playing and the sound of the Hammond organ.

Me: Do you own one B3, or more?

Mike: I own two B3’s and a Hammond model A100. Three Leslie Speaker cabinets and a Hammond tone cabinet.

Me: What was your first band? Was it the Serfs?

Mike: Yes, the Serfs was my first ‘real’ band. We got together in 1964 while I was attending college at Kansas University.

Me: Okay, tell me about "Electric Ladyland" and Hendrix. You played on two songs, right? How was that, and how was Hendrix to work for?

Mike: “Rainy Day” and Still Raining, Still Dreaming” were taken from what was recorded as one long piece. A jam, really. Something we put together on the spot. Jimi later split it up and added the lyrics. Naturally, it was a thrill to play with a man who was certainly one of the most influential and innovative artists of the era. Hendrix was soft spoken. A total gentleman. It was a relaxed date.

Me: Where was the album recorded, and how long did it take you to record your parts? I read somewhere that Dave Mason was given a hard time by Hendrx, were you?

Mike: It was recorded at the Record Plant in NYC. All the music, other than some wah wah stuff and some other guitar riffs, Hendrix added later, was recorded live, no overdubs. I think the tracking session took about 2 hours, at the most. Hendrix wasn’t ‘hard’ on any of us. It was a very easygoing session. I worked with Dave Mason for several years in the 70’s and never heard him say anything like that.

Me: Ever see the original UK cover of that album? Oh, man, that's all I could say. They don't make album covers like that anymore.

Mike: I have a vague memory of scantily clad - or perhaps, naked - women. Ladies are always ‘electric.’

Me: Mike, what is the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood? How long have you been a part of it?

Mike: The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood was a band I was in from 1970 from 1972. Jerry Hahn is a great guitar player. Played with John Handy, Jack DeJonette, Gary Burton, Lou Rawls. Our band was signed to Columbia by the great John Hammond. We were perhaps the first ‘Fusion’ band. The word ‘fusion’ hadn’t been coined yet. We did one critically acclaimed album for the label.

Me: You are known as an R & B musician, right? What other music do you like? I am a big new country fan.

Mike: I like all kinds of popular American music. Jazz, R&B, Country, all of it.

Me: I didn't know you played with Les Dudek. Did you meet him in Florida? I met him a number of times as he lives here in Orlando.

Mike: I met Les Dudek in Los Angeles. I played on a couple of his albums before we formed a group together with another guitar player, Jim Krueger, and did an album for Columbia in 1978.

Me: Speaking of Orlando, you were on a Sister Hazel album, a band I know from Orlando as well. Did you record with them down here?

Mike: I only vaguely remember that project. Not sure where I did the work on it.

Me: Man, I am so overwhelmed with your resume, Mike. You played a lot over the years with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Ever played with Young? He does most of his own thing, right?

Mike: I played with CS&N for almost 30 years. Did all their albums between 1979 and 2005. I did two albums with CSN&Y.

Me: Someone told me you played at Live Aid in '85. Is that so, and if it is, who did you play with? How was it?

Mike: I did Live Aid with CS&N. It was quite memorable. A huge crowd.

Me: You are on one of my favorite albums of all times, by one of my favorite singers of all times, John Hiatt. You played on "Stolen Moments", right? What was he like to work with? Did you get to go on tour with John?

Mike: I did that album as a singer. I sang on two or three tracks. I sing. I’ve never toured with JH. I love his work. One of the best song writers we have, and a distinctive and soulful singer.

Me: You played also with Ringo. Are you like most people in the world, a Beatles fan? Is there anybody you met that you were like "Whoa, I can't believe I am playing with this person."?

Mike: Of course I dug the Beatles. The Ringo thing was for one of his solo albums. Stephen Stills produced a few tracks and I was in the band. Ringo is a very friendly guy. Easy to know, no high-hat attitude whatsoever. I still see him once in a while. I’ve felt rather star-struck on many occasions. Jerry Wexler called me out of the blue in 1976 and said, “I like the way you sing. Let’s do a record.” I was floored. We did an album in Muscle Shoals for Warner Brothers which really didn’t get much attention. Working with him was amazing. He’s one of the biggest reasons I became a musician. I spent hours with him before, durin,g and for years after the project. He remained a friend until his death this year. He was one of the most influential figures in the history of popular music. Playing with Ray Charles was a tremendous thrill. I’ve spent many years playing and singing with Etta James. Like Ray, she’s been one of my favorites since I was a kid. There have been many others who I respect so much and was especially grateful to have played and/or sung with. Dr. John, Taj Mahal, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples. Too many to mention, really. By the way, Delaney Bramlett died today. He’s been a friend for many years. An iconic and influential presence on the scene for decades. I had the pleasure of recording with him just last spring on his latest CD. He will be missed.

Me: Etta James. Man, alive. Not many people can say they recorded with her.

Mike: She’s one of the all-time greats. I think she’s been somewhat neglected when people talk about important artists. In her prime, there was nobody better than Etta. Stunning artistry and power. Some of the most transcendent moments I’ve experienced in music have been with Etta.

Me: Mike, so many people you have played for have passed. How do you cope with that?

Mike: I remember when Richard Manual (The Band) died. That hit me hard because we were friends and spent a lot of time together. and I’d just been on the road with him when they toured with CS&N. So many other friends have passed on. I just remember Richard particularly because I was talking tonight to my son, who’s visiting for Christmas, t and telling him that Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Mac Rebbinack and Richard Manual have all played my piano. I cope with it by trying to live in the day I’m in, on the spot I’m standing on, and recognizing that nobody has ‘tomorrow’ coming to them.

Me: You must've been around a helluva lot of drugs all these years. Have you ever been sucked in, and if so, how have you escaped being healthy?

Mike: Well, I had more than my share and abused the privilege. I haven’t had a drink or a drug since July 19, 1986. It’s fine for other people, just not for me.

Me: Was there anybody you played with that you said when you were playing with them, what the fuck am I doing? Like Corey Stevens for instance.

Mike: There have been occasions when I was glad I was getting paid for my efforts. That’s what being a pro is all about.

Me: Do you get to choose who you play with, or take any gig? Have you turned down anybody?

Mike: Of course I decide whether or not I want to take a gig. I have turned many people down, but I’d rather not mention any names. No point in needlessly embarrassing anybody.

Me: Is there anybody you wish you could play with?

Mike: Too many to name…

Me: I saw a documentary years and years ago that Leonard Cohen did not socialize with anybody when he recorded, that he would have the band go in the studio in the day and he would go in at night. Is this true? Did you have to go up to Canada to record?

Mike: I overdubbed the organ stuff on the album I did with LC at Capitol studios. I didn’t see him.

Me: Do you prefer to record or tour?

Mike: I like both. Playing live is kinda like being a doctor who is in general practice. Recording is more like surgery. There is something special about live playing. It feels more natural…even honest. The immediacy of the experience is palpable and the people aren’t merely passive witnesses, but important participants.

Me: Congrats on being put in the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. Are you originally from Kansas? Was that a big honor for you? You need to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, my friend.

Mike: I’m originally from Ohio, but I started out playing professionally in Kansas while I was in college at Kansas University. I played at CS&N’s induction in the R&R HOF. Thanks for the compliment!

Me: Tell me about the Phantom Blues Band, Mike. Who is in it? Is that a hobby of yours, that band?

Mike: The PBB is a group of blues veterans, all of whom have played a lot with a virtual who's who of R&B, and R&R. Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray, Otis Rush, Taj Mahal, Jimmy Smith, Rolling Stones, BB King, and on and on. It's more than a hobby. Besides our own CDs, we have recorded witha lot of other artists. We did about 5 tracks on Taj Mahal's new CD, "Maestro," which just got a Grammy nomination. We also did a Cd for bluesman, Curtis Salgado which has been nominated in several categories for Blues Music awards. There're plans for us doing a joint Bonnie Raitt/Taj tour later this year.

Me: What are your current plans? Are you going on tour with anybody in '09? Any new albums?

Mike: I'm gonna tour with Joe Cocker this spring and early summer, and the other tour I mentioned. I've been doing some session work in LA since I got back from Joe Cocker's tour last September.

Me: You have an amazing voice. Ever think about doing a solo album with all your friends guesting?

Mike: I’ve done several solo albums over the years. The Phantom Blues Band is a band that I get to sing a lot with. We’ve done two CDs in the past few years that I’m very happy with.

Me: This is a question I ask everybody I interview... what is your favorite Foghat song?

Mike: Probably “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” Etta James did a similar version that I’m sure was inspired by Foghat.

Me: My dad was Lonesome Dave Peverett of Foghat. I know you never recorded with them, but with all the bands you performed with, you must of been on the same bill as my dad.

Mike: I think I was when I was playing with Dave Mason. I know we played on the same bill together back in the 70s sometime, somewhere.

Me: Is there anything you would like to tell the readers of the Phile?

Mike: This aint rehearsal, it’s the gig.

Me: Mike, thanks so much for doing this interview. I have so many questions for you, but I didn't want you to waste too much time answering them, you're a busy man after all. I do have to ask you this though... Jamie Waters?

Mike: Help me out… I know I should remember the name, but I’m drawing a blank. Embarrassing, but more frequent these days.

Me: Mike, I cannot thank you enough for doing this interview. Was it fun? It really meant a lot to me that you took time to answer all my questions. Happy new year, sir. Hope to see you in person one day. By the way, is there any websites you would like me to plug?

Mike: It was more than tolerable. You ask better questions than many of the alleged 'pros.' I would be grateful if you mentioned my page on myspace and the Phantom Blues Band page. All the best...

Sure thing, please check out Mike's Myspace page at and Thank again to Mike and Jeff Cameron for setting this interview up. The Peverett Phile Interviews will be back tomorrow with Brad Barnes from Stone Avenue. Until then, spread the word, not the turd. 

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