Skip to content Skip to navigation

Singing a tune of gratitude

March 1, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
| Reprints
Mike farris show flyer
Mike Farris show flyer

Mike Farris's music defies restrictive labels. Press material describes his Sunday night live shows in Nashville as “rafter-raisin' boogie stew, equal parts honky-tonk spirit and Christian revival.” The roots of what he studies and performs are in the music of black churches, but he considers it much broader than gospel.

Likewise, Farris's recovery eludes a convenient description. He says it was drawn from spirituality and strong social support, but his few experiences with the chain smoking and war stories common to a structured support meeting told him that this wasn't the path for him.

“People come up after every single show and tell me they're in AA or NA,” says Farris, 38. “I think it's great. It didn't work for me, but it needs to be there.”

In recovery for four years, the performer who routinely worked while under the influence and fed a “morbid fascination” among his fans in his years as a rock artist (with the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies) has now found broader appeal and critical acclaim. Last fall he was named 2008's Emerging Artist at the Americana Music Awards-he is proud of that honor because he says it reflects the fact that he draws from all original roots of popular music. In addition, Farris's album Salvation in Lights was voted the top CD of 2007 by Christian Music Today.

“When anybody makes the decision to make themselves a better human, God rewards them 10-fold in their quality of life,” Farris says.

Destructive path

Farris refers to his history a typical “broken home” story. He started using alcohol and drugs around age 15, and by 21 he says it was pretty much all he did.

He got clean for a while and moved from his native Tennessee to New York, where he signed a record deal but soon resumed his use to an even greater extent. He routinely worked under the influence and no one seemed to mind much.

“The music was a gift to me; I never had to go to school for it or anything,” he says. “The real challenge for me was learning how to live. I was scared to death to make the jump and get clean. I just didn't think I had it in me to live without it.”

Farris traces his recovery to a trip back to Tennessee for a family funeral. It gave him an opportunity to talk to his father, who had been estranged from the family and who Farris suspected had struggled with many of the same issues he was experiencing. As his father got ready to drive away from the cemetery, Farris took a look back in the rearview mirror and thought, “I'm not going to be that man.” On that visit he admitted to his mother-and himself for the first time-that he was an addict and an alcoholic.

“From that day everything changed,” he says. His loved ones offered to take him to treatment, but instead he stayed in Tennessee and found a men's Bible group at a local church and attended some support meetings.

He experienced the pain of withdrawal without a formal detox program, something he now says was probably “kind of stupid.” He didn't return to New York, and he says his faith and the support of his wife and family got him through the most difficult times.

“Once I stood up to it and got through the initial shock of it, I realized that we all sell ourselves short,” he says. “We're capable of so much more.”

Making music

Farris's career has reached new heights in the past couple of years. Every Sunday the singer-songwriter performs his “Sunday Night Shouts” at the Station Inn, a widely known bluegrass club near downtown Nashville. He describes his music as having a “rockin' feel” without much of rock's guitar sound. “It's fascinating to me how powerful music is.”

He is working on a number of songs for a new album, and some of the Sunday Night Shouts have been recorded for a live album to be released in early 2009. He believes his music is influencing a number of people, many in ways he probably can't even realize. One of his only regrets professionally is that his longtime manager, Rose McGathy, died shortly after he got clean and hasn't been around to see his latest triumphs. “She was with me through all this mess and believed in me,” he says.

“It all started when I made the decision to stop living for myself,” Farris concludes. “At that point, a whole world unfolded in front of me.”

Addiction Professional 2009 March-April;7(2):40

Topics