When singer Mike Farris launched the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, a Southern blues/rock act, in the early '90s, he thought he’d make one album with the band and move on.
He thought wrong.
The group recorded and toured steadily for about ten years. Farris, however, would eventually leave the group, which has since disbanded, to launch his solo career with 2002’s Goodnight Sun
. He’s been recording solo albums ever since, and 2015’s Shine for All the People
even nabbed a Grammy.
“I’m a curious music nerd, so it was important for me to get out and explore music with other people,” he says via phone when asked about his decision to go solo. He headlines the Rock & Roll Holiday Ball that takes place at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Rock Hall
. “I wanted to record with a lot of these people. I wanted to leave the Wheelies, but I’m loyal to a fault, and I stuck with it. In my heart, I really wanted to explore more musical directions with other people.”
With his latest effort, Silver & Stone
, Farris takes inspiration from soul singers like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. The title refers to his wife's wedding ring, and the album is a celebration of their 23 years of marriage and her steadfastness in sticking by him as he struggled with addiction and alcoholism.
The studio band includes famed musicians such as “Memphis Boy” Gene Chrisman (Dusty Springfield, Elvis Presley, Dan Auerbach) and Derrek Phillips (Robben Ford, Hank Williams Jr.). It also includes keyboardists Reese Wynans (Joe Bonamassa, Double Trouble) and Paul Brown (Waterboys, Ann Peebles) and guitarists Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin, John Hiatt), Rob McNelly (Delbert McClinton) and George Marinelli (Bonnie Raitt).
Bluesman Joe Bonamassa plays the riveting solo on “Movin’ Me.”
“We won a Grammy for Shine for All the People
, and it seemed like a good pivot point,” says Farris when asked about Silver & Stone
. “It was time to burn the boats, so to speak, and move forward and onward. I need to turn new ground to stay stimulated musically. Off I went. I think it’s the best record I’ve made. It sounds great, and it’s a great choice of songs. One of the biggest thrills was having a loose framework, so I could allow the personalities of the players to come through. You can’t do that with anybody. You have to have guys you trust and know. I could trust their musicality. This town has plenty of guys who can play you under the table. I was looking for musical people.”
For the Rock Hall show, Farris will concentrate on holiday classics.
“We do the Soul of Christmas shows each year in town, but this is the first time we’re taking it out of Nashville,” he says. “The first stop ever outside of Nashville will be in Cleveland. My regular band will be with me. The Christmas band is a big band. There are horns and singers. It’s a Christmas show like no other Christmas show. We’ll do Christmas songs in the soulful way that we do it, and we go off the Christmas map into guilty pleasure land and just rock out and have fun.”