Q&A with Jim Elwyn and Gary Gordon of late '60s band, Farm --- bluesy country rock from Southern Illinois

"If I could change anything it would be reducing the onslaught of overproduced cookycutter meaningless garbage on the radio."

FARM: Going Up The Country Blues

Farm was a late '60s band from Southern Illinois, whose bluesy, country rock style was very similar of that of The Allman Brothers, and Canned Heat. In fact, Farm did an excellent version of the The Allman Brothers' "Statesboro Blues", which is featured on their first and only album. Farm so impressed Canned Heat's manager at the time, he offered to represent them, but the band turned him down. Farm disbanded about a year after their debut self-title album was released in 1971. The lineup consisted of bassist Jim Elwyn, percussionist Steve Evanchik, singer/guitarist Gary Gordon, keyboard player Roger Greenwalt, guitarist Del Herbert and drummer Mike Young.

Their 1971 debut "Farm" was recorded at Golden Voice Studios in South Pekin, Illinois and was limited to a 500 copy pressing on a small record label from Flora, Illinois, this Farm released a very obscure and rare album of heavy garage psych with fuzz guitars, congas, mouth harp, organ, bottleneck and timbales. The album contains five tracks: The opening instrumental 'Jungle Song' and 'Sunshine In My Window' are both strong guitar-propelled numbers that sound heavily influenced by both The Allman Brothers and Santana.  Elsewhere, 'Cottonfield Woman' was a nice slice of blues-rock, while as you'd probably expect from the title 'Let the Boy Boogie' and a cover of 'Statesboro Blues' were okay slices of boogie. The band toured, opening for a number of nationally known bands including Canned Heat, but never could catch a real break. A couple of the band members reappeared providing support to Gene Hood's album "Out of the Clouds". All original members did re-record these same tunes in a 90's style a few years ago but never released it. The group make reunion concert in 2007.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Jim: I discovered at about the age of 9 that I had the gift of timing and feel for music. The blues is the basis for many genres of music. Watching old pros at a young age I fell in love with the bass. It took many years of listening and working with other gifted musicians to figure out it’s not the amount of notes you play but the quality and placement of the notes! The term less is more. The blues can be happy or sad, but is always honest.

Gary: Blues music gives me confidence in my own playing and production. And blues is a good vehicle to bring folks together. I'm cutting a new and quite different version of Spoonful and musicians love being a part of it. Working musicians don't get to play music like this so often. Its a million miles from "bar band blues". Blues is very important to me being my early inspiration. I still carry that timing and since of dynamics today.

How do you describe your sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

Jim: My philosophy towards my sound is what was good 100 years ago is still good. I am my best with a Fender P bass but have used Gibson, Richenbacher, Danos and uprights. I try to avoid coloring the sound of the instrument, allowing the voice of the bass to speak for itself. Having played in orchestras I firmly believe that each instrument has its own unique piece of the puzzle. Put all the pieces together and you have a work of art.

Gary: The music I make has integrity. It's real. My music is clear and clean, uncluttered, with tone rather than "flash". The songs are to the point, concise with something to say. No noodling round. My philosophy behind the music is to find, write or co-write strong material. To share the songs with the players who work with me, that is, feature others as well as myself.

What is the story behind the name “FARM”?

Jim: I believe the name FARM was just a natural due to the fact we all grew up in farming communities.

"The term less is more. The blues can be happy or sad, but is always honest." (Jim Elwyn - Photo by George Leemon)

Which memory with the band makes you smile?

Jim: I have so many memories it’s difficult to cite just one but I think the day we recorded the LP was most amazing. It was basically a live recording! As time went on the band grew tighter but that moment in time was captured in the studio.

What were the reasons that made your generation to start the Psychedelic Blues, Folk and Rock experiments?

Jim: We were influenced by many styles of music and would jam for hours. Riffs would turn into songs.

Gary: I think the best reason why we got the Folk, Blues and Psychedelic forms happening simultaneously is television became available in most homes and radios in most cars. That in turn helped create a demand for live music and experimentation. We had music going on the radio when travelling and a radio in the barn when we were working. I got familiar with The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Flatt and Scruggs later The Beatles first thru radio. Blues artists were featured on TV by '66 and '67 perhaps sooner. I got excited by the music of Furry Lewis, Lightnin' Hopkins, Ray Nance and Ray Charles, then onto Canned Heat thru TV shows. And, I wanted to see those artists. Also the school library kept Downbeat Magazine. I loved every issue.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Jim: Every great musician I have met has been a blessing and another lesson.

Gary: Important meeting for me would be.... Hooking up with a guitar teacher at age 11 who took me to see great artists live. Webb Welten knew the importance of that, of helping me in that way. Meeting those who became my bandmates in Farm. Our sound engineer George Leemon who ensured we always sounded our best. Our abilities accelerated like a rocket during that time. Meeting folks with record labels that wanted to help us. Genuine folks who respected our music and appreciated it. The Loyd Agency in N.C. and Strictly Country in Europe.

What is the best advice ever given you?

Jim: Probably the best advice given to me was to listen to every part of a song and place my notes where they belong and focus on the overall feel of the piece.

Gary: Wade Ray told me to "play for the song" Keep the song foremost not the individual players. You get a lot better performance and set the ego aside.

Gary Gordon - Photo by George Leemon

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio session which you’d like to share with us?

Jim: The best memories are the impromptu concerts where we would just set up in a park and play.

Gary: There are so many great memories from gigs and sessions that it's almost impossible to really remember one over other. We had a great booking agent who really kept us busy and we liked that. We played three gigs in one day and at the final gig, (a college concert that started at 11PM) our bassist laid down onstage during the break and went to sleep. When the band started again he got up and played flawlessly immediately after standing. Brought the house down.

I had a session in Cincinnati years ago with Dobro guitar legend Josh Graves from Flatt and Scruggs. Josh took a good look at me in my t-shirt and long hair and called me over saying "We don't want any of that bomp itty bomp shit" I laughed and replied "There won't be any". We became fast friends and remained so.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Jim: I miss the simple songs that tell a story and would enjoy less showoff grandstanding.

Gary: I miss good sound and dynamics. It was easy to hear shows that sounded great when I was young. That has slowly changed into almost all shows featuring lousy e.q. and mix. I was at a small show this week that had a 49,000 watt P.A. And the engineer was a novice. Too bad but all too common in America. My fears have been realized. Folks are numbed and dumbed down to accepting awful live sound. They are listeing on a cheap home system too. In the '60s and '70s folks took pride in having a fine turntable and amp along with the best sounding speakers. Not for volume but for quality. Paul Butterfields band wasn't loud, nor was Muddy or Bo Diddley. Today's blues events are hopelessly loud affaird, more akin to a poor rock concert except louder. Bluegrass is getting loud too. Folk is the last bastion of quality here. I've heard and been part of many gorgeous "folk" shows. Just performed all acoustic on tv and they got it right. Sound was still very good. Being an engineer, producer and player I'm always desiring the very best sound live.

"It makes me laugh when performing someone makes an oops and looks over at me knowing nobody else noticed. Beautiful music brings tears to my eyes. Heard a live rendition of Let It Be with a grand piano, violin and acoustic guitar." (Jim Elwyn - Photo by Todd Kennedy)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Jim: If I could change anything it would be reducing the onslaught of overproduced cookycutter meaningless garbage on the radio.

Gary: Since music isn't selling much these days I'm hopeful that the theft can be stopped. Writers and artists should be paid for the work done. I know folks with a lot of hits that face a very uncertain future unless music starts to sell again. I'm also hopeful that songs will continue to inspire people. For good, for change.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the FARM era and activity?

Gary: That era is filled with good memories for me. When I'd look over at Mike Young onstage, he'd be grinning. And, I was set up next to Jim Elwyn's bass so the feeling of power from the combined bass and drums was easy to play to. The timing was impeccable. You couldn't help but feel good about it. The noise we were making onstage, and never the exact same way twice. Always evolving. I had fun watching Del as he got into it and we interacted back and forth with our guitars. Del would get very charged up sometimes and the music elevated, shot right up to another level and the band went right it. I thought of it then and now as the opposite of progressive rock. Feel good music with power is what we did. You couldn't help but feel good about it. When we had our re-union concert, two shows one evening in 2007, several fans and friends came to meet me with tears in their eyes. Folks had travelled from many states and some from abroad to see and hear us after 34 years. It was touching to meet and see old friends again.

The feeling I got onstage was a lot like I got when I was smack in front of Albert King or The Who. Awesome power, along with awesome amount of "feel good". It's kind of hard to put into words. I've gigged alongside of Artimus Pyle, drummer with Lynyrd Skynyrd, a friend and a powerful drummer. But, I don't think he equaled the timing, power and feel that Mike Young brought to every gig. The only sad thing about Farm is the LP didn't convey how we were live. We had live tapes that were far beyond the LP. Those tapes burned and our original eight track recording of the LP burned too. I remastered for the cd from the original master tape which was kept at another studio and had survived. To not have those live tapes is such a shame. Still, I've been blessed to make a lot of good music and Farm was a most important part of that.

"My philosophy behind the music is to find, write or co-write strong material. To share the songs with the players who work with me, that is, feature others as well as myself." (Photo: Gary Gordon)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the current music circuits?

Jim: It makes me laugh when performing someone makes an oops and looks over at me knowing nobody else noticed. Beautiful music brings tears to my eyes. Heard a live rendition of Let It Be with a grand piano, violin and acoustic guitar.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Chess era with White Blues Gang of 60s (Butterfield, Gravenites, Goldberg, Miller etc) and continue to Farm?

Jim: FARM was a culmination of everything we listened to over the years blended into our own style, a little of old and a little new with at times the power of a freight train and other times a tenderness but always warm and thick.

Gary: Paul Butterfield brought real blues to young white audiences. He'd hire great black players like Sam Lay on drums. For me Chess Records was the best link to authenticity. I bought a lot of their LPs and soaked em up. I never attempted to copy any licks, but just absorbed the feel of the music. Especially Muddy Waters.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Jim: I would like to go back and jam with some of my buddies who have passed on.

Gary: There's a lot of time's I'd like to return to. Especially since some of my friends have passed on. Well, how about back once again to a little theater called "The Palace" 1967 seated about 10ft. in front of Albert King!

Photo: Farm Reunion

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