I find myself somewhat fascinated when musical artists of the Deep South merge with the Far North, or vice versa.
Especially in decades past, I think of the stark contrasts between ways of life (or how I imagine them to be starkly different) and the influences each had that may have shaped their perspectives. Musically, I think of The Band, and Arkansas’ own Levon Helm joining a bunch of Canadian boys to make some of the finest roots-rock music to date. Or maybe Neil Young, who undoubtedly drew much influence from music of the south. But if you were to ask the late Ronnie Van Zant, “a Southern Man don’t need him around anyhow.”
Robert Connely Farr is another such musical merger switching longitudes. From the Deep South of Mississippi, to the High West of British Columbia, RCF has brought his dirty country blues roots across the border.
His 2019 fall single, “Ode to the Lonesome” is what caught our ear, and we decided we’d better ask this man some questions. So here are his answers.
Music Mecca: So what brought you from Bolton, Mississippi to Vancouver, Canada?
Robert Connely Farr: Happy accident I guess. I was actually visiting a friend in Seattle for a few weeks and took a road trip up to Vancouver one weekend and it was like a punch in the chest: this is where I am going to live. Pretty much like that.
MM: What’s something you love about living in Vancouver?
RCF: Perspective – I love that I get to call this place home. It’s a fairly young city, and with my background in architecture, I love to watch it grow. I love the people & problems. All of them. The poor & hungry, men & women, different ethnicities, orientations, gentrification – such a stark contrast from the South in a way, but not really on a fundamental level. And I feel like it is my job here to be a good ambassador to my home Mississippi- a place that I love deeply that has challenged me and offered me the opportunity to grow in ways I never imagined.
MM: What’s the music scene like there?
RCF: It’s sick. East Vancouver is a hub of incredibly talented and passionate musicians and songwriters. Frazey Ford, Bob Sumner, Waingro, TrailerHawk – hell you will walk into a record store and see Steve McBean or Dan Bejar or Lighting Dust performing. Vancouver gets all the great arena shows but that’s not my jam. The thing I love the most is seeing Canadian legends who aren’t from Vancouver on their way though town – people like Herald Nix who is a Canadian country-blues legend & Leeroy Stagger, who is one of Canada’s most prolific songwriters.
MM: Who are your primary songwriting inspirations, and what drew you into a life of music?
RCF: Primarily Neil Young – fitting I know. But currently its been Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, a respected elder of the Bentonia Style of the Delta blues. Jimmy was taught by the same guy that taught Skip James & has been mentoring me for a few years now. He was a big reason Dirty South Blues happened. He brought music right back home for me, literally. My home is about 20 miles as the crow flies from his old juke joint The Blue Front Café.
MM: Do you have a particular atmosphere or pastime that aides in your songwriting process?
RCF: I pretty much always start with an acoustic guitar & voice recorder (I record everything – there’s diamonds in the dirt). It’s usually chorus or a hook first and the rest of the song happens. Songwriting is tricky because sometimes nothing comes for a while and then bam: ten songs over the course of a few days or a week. Patience is critical. I like how Neil Young talks about not “making” a song happen but “letting” it happen, and respecting the time and process involved. Mr. Young is a very wise man. And I constantly listen to new music. And lately that “new” music has been incredibly obscure Mississippi blues artist from the early 1900’s
MM: So your song “Ode to the Lonesome” is what caught my ear. Could you talk about the creation and inspiration behind that song?
RCF: This was the last song I wrote for Dirty South Blues. I actually wrote it the morning before we recorded the album. I was literally having a morning meditation at Stagger’s studio, the Rebeltone Ranch in Lethbridge, Alberta, and saw this beautiful old Harmony tenor guitar hanging on his wall, picked it up and the song wrote itself in the amount of time it took to play it. Leeroy walked in, heard it, and was like “let’s do that one first” and we did it in one take. That recording session for Dirty South Blues was incredibly special because I didn’t know the session musician and they hadn’t heard the songs. It was all about the music and being present in that time and place. We changed keys and things on the fly. It was electric and beautiful.
MM: Are you currently working on new music?
RCF: We’ve been recording here in Vancouver at Hipposonic Studios (old Little Mountain Studios – ACDC, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi – some of my favorite albums as a kid were recorded here!) and we are sitting on a few albums worth of beds. We are approaching the new album as a three piece with my longtime bandmates Jay B Johnson (played with the late Billy Cowsill and the Blues Shadows) and Tom Hillifer aka #TommyRibs & it is steeped in the Bentonia Style / Hill Country sound of the Mississippi Blues. We had our first recording session immediately after playing the Bentonia Blues festival last year. It’s greasy and dirty, just the way I like it. And I’m playing all of the lead which is a first for me. We will be covering some obscure Mississippi legends who are dear to me like Jack Owens and Leo “Bud” Welch.
MM: What artists or songs are you digging lately?
RCF: Jimmy Duck Holmes, R.L. Boyce, Sallie Mae Hemphill out of Mississippi. Lasers Lasers Birmingham, Lilly Hiatt, Paul Cauthen – oh there are so many – Greg Vandy at KEXP Seattle puts out a weekly radio show called the RoadHouse and features great up and coming artists as well as the legends. And I’ll have it known I’ve been a die-hard Drive By Truckers fan since the first time I saw them in Athens, Georgia in ’98.
MM: What’s on the agenda for Robert Connely Farr as we dig deeper into the new year?
RCF: Not getting cancer again (go get checked people!!!), getting this new album released, and getting back home to Mississippi to be with my family.
MM: What artist alive or dead would you most like to have coffee or beer with and just shoot the shit?
RCF: Well, I don’t drink so it would be coffee and it would definitely be Neil Young.