June 10th, 2014 Last Updated on: June 10th, 2014
Happy Birthday, Gary Farmer! This Native film icon is noted for his standout roles in Powwow Highway, Dead Man, Smoke Signals and many other classics of Native American film. He's even starring in the new Sundance series, The Red Road, which features him as a tribal Chief. With all this success…why is Gary Farmer singing the Blues?
Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Native American Cultural Editor
Q) Happy Birthday, Uncle Gary! Seems like you should be on top of the world! So, why are you singing the Blues???
A) Well, I've got a new CD out, called UNDER THE WATER TOWER and you guessed it…it's the Blues! It's the fourth CD for me and it's actually the first of my four CDS that is actually all my own writing and I produced it as well.
Q) Congratulations! How does it feel to produce and to write all of your own songs? How does it feel when it's all your own writing? I wrote all the songs on all three of my CDS, so I do think it feels different when you perform your own songs. How is that different for you?
A) I think until you write your own stuff it doesn't seem to count for much, I guess. I don't know. I work in the Blues area and there's just so much great music out there that I was happy to survive playing all of that for a number of years. And then, I just felt the pressure to begin to write and to express my own take on the Blues, I suppose.
Q) Are you improvising as you go? Are you a spontaneous creator or do the songs arrive fully formed?
A) My songs, usually, they come to me at a very funny point. Usually, when I'm traveling, I get inspired quite a bit on the road and I've been on the road, travelling, with the band for the past seven years. That's usually when I come up with ideas and stories and then, I take the time to put it all together. I try different things with it and find where I want it to be and then, make it happen. It's become a good process.
Q) UNDER THE WATER TOWER is great! So, if the outcome is any indication, the process works wonderfully well!
A) I've gotten stronger at the process as the years go by. So, that's been good. It's like I retired to music, but I didn't. I didn't retire from anything. It's like acting has always been the mainstay for me, but music was always the passion, the love, to execute.
Q) Your CD is great! I have always enjoyed your acting and now, I enjoy your music. So, I am glad that you are multi-talented!
A) I think that any creative person, especially someone who makes the commitment to be an artist, you have to make yourself available. It's not always happening for you in one area, so you have to, in order to continue that exercise in developing your own skills, you have to continue to find new means. I've worked as an actor, a musician, a television producer, a television director, a documentary maker, I kind of founded a radio network and helped to put the television network on television in Canada for the APTN and I published a magazine. So, I guess there's no flies on me. I have been very active in a lot of areas.
Q)Wow! Such energy!
A)Hahaha! Sometimes it comes out like that.
Q) Your music is certainly energetic and filled with passionate emotions. How do we get your latest CD, UNDER THE WATER TOWER?
A) I guess I'm kind of old fashioned. The only way you can get the CD is to attend a live show and see me after or mail $20 to me at Gary Farmer, PO BOX 31096 Santa Fe, NM 87594.
Q) You're so talented in so many ways and you're so inspiring to so many folks. How did you choose the Blues?
A) In my community, everyone plays the Blues or a form of the Blues. To me, it's roots music. In my mind though, I”m Tuscarora, part-Tuscarora, so I always felt that when the Tuscarora came North in 1712, by a route which later became the Underground Railroad to some freedom in the North, I always felt that that music, when people first met in the fields, Native America was there and when the Black slaves came that Blues music came from that relationship. So, the Blues has always been in my life. And I've certainly lived the Blues, that's for sure.
Q) So, is that why you're singing the Blues?
A) That's always been who I felt I was…the Blues…that's why I explored it. I try to put a new twist on it, mostly with the writing, because most of my songs are kind of issue-based. Some of my songs are certainly about the love of my life and stuff like that, but for the most part, my songs are questioning our existence, my own existence, and for me, it's a creative outlet.
Q) Why do you think the Blues are so enduring?
A) I don't know, it's the people's music. To me, it's certain rhythms, a collection of rhythms we all use. There's only so many notes, so there's only so much you can do, but I just am a big fan of the music of the Southeast. The music from the Southeast, it's probably one of the least exposed musical areas I've been to. I'm from the Northeast, but live in the Southwest, and I spent a fair amount of time in the Northwest and of course, the Heartland, but I would love to take my music to the Southeast, its birthplace, and spend some time relating.
Q) What else is inspiring you these days?
A) I have a new series, called “The Red Road” on Sundance Channel, and I spent some time down in Atlanta where they shot it and I spent some time down there where they shot it, and I checked out the music intensely while I was there.
Q) Congratulations on your new series! I really enjoyed it! I teased you about the “Smoke Signals” line that “the only thing sadder than Indians on TV is Indians watching Indians on TV,” but I'm a fan! It's great!
A) Thanks. Looks like they're ordering new episodes, so that's a good thing. If anybody wants to contact me for bookings or to order music, they can contact me at [email protected] and discuss things.
Q) Thank you so much for celebrating with me…and HAPPY JUNE BIRTHDAY GARY FARMER!!!
A) Thank you!
Dr Dawn Karima is a Native American Music Award Winner for her cd, THE DESIRE OF NATIONS. Her new release is THE STARS OF HEAVEN. Both are available from iTunes, Amazon, CDBABY and Writtenheritage.com!
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