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20 Questions With Mike Felten

The veteran Chicago bluesman on invisible people, chickenwire gigs & showing up.

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Mike Felten introduced us to his alter-ego Fast Mikey Blue Eyes when he premiered his fantastic album of the same name right HERE last month. Today, the veteran Chicago bluesman adds a few more details to his self-portrait by speeding through my ridiculous questions. No wonder he has the blues:

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and other details you’d like to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Mike Felten aka Fast Mikey Blue Eyes. I’m a Chicago boy, a neighborhood kid. Developed a voice.

What is your musical origin story?
Been performing all my life. Mom was an award-winning barbershop singer with Four On The Edge. Lessons at the Old Town School, Blues clubs, Maxwell Street and the Chicago folk scene. Music led me to a group of unique people outside of my own sphere. Now I’m trying to explain who I am. I have some tools to draw my picture on my cave wall.

What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
Fast Mikey Blue Eyes. Seventh album. Original material. Joined by Corky Siegel, Harmonica Hinds, Barry Goldberg, Brad Elvis and a cast of stalwarts. Tried to go with a stripped-down blues sound. Wound up with some rock and roll.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
Original material drawn upon a lifetime of playing American roots music in every little bar, crossroads, coffee shop. A unique perception of Chicago.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
You’ll learn the stories of the invisible people. You’ll step into a time and place that you may know intimately or totally alien to you. You may get a fresh outlook or an explanation.

What album / song / artist / show changed your life?
Chuck Berry. Rolling Stones opened up new worlds to explore. Win Stracke, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Utah Phillips. Lefty singer songwriters. John Lee Hooker opened up guitar playing.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
Always wrote songs. Hard to remember the first. They evolved into a lot of new ones. Talkin’ 66 was one of those. Think one of the first gigs was Judy & Carol’s party — $4 for the band.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
I remember Mickey’s in Madison. Punk club on the floor with a hot sweaty crowd pushing in. It was great. Played with a variety of illnesses, fights spilling onto the stage, reservations before casinos, chickenwire gigs. Strangest might have been a Ramadan party that had camel rides. Camel got loose and ran through the neighborhood. Took a National Guard tank for a 2 a.m. ride. Lots more.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
Opening act walking off the stage because people were talking. Syd Straw going off on the audience for making noise. Butting heads with Wesley Willis.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
Breathing. Playing guitar.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Willie Nelson, Phil Spector, John Lee Hooker, Janis Joplin.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I went and saw Barbra Streisand last year.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Got the Jay O’Rourke catalog. Nina Simone, I Feel Good. Rickie Lee Jones. Leonard Cohen. Merle Haggard.

How about some other favourites? Authors / movies / painters / philanthropists / you name it.
Authors: Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment. Nelson Algren, John Steinbeck.
Movies: Big Fish, Adam at 6 A.M., About Schmidt.
Artists: Ivan Albright, Motley, Man Ray, Tali Farchi, Royce Deans, Luke Felton, George Hansen, Art Shay, Howard Finster.

Who would you be (or have you been) starstruck to meet?
Bill Malone, author of Country Music USA. Louisiana Red, Nelson Algren, Utah Phillips, Johnny Cash.

Tell us a joke.
We are living it.

What do you drive and why? What do you want to drive and why?
2003 Ford Mustang. My second one. Paid for and I love it.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Mind control. Everyone could get me, love me and react to my stimulus.

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I can turn a phrase. Love shoveling snow. I show up.

What do you collect?
Books/records. Art that attracts me.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Six-pack of beer, veggie dip & chips.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
Computer games.

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
Dogs and cats. Love them, but I’m at the age where I’m afraid they are looking at me as food.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I volunteer at the Chicago History Museum. I love the paths that got us here and the similarities to where we are now.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
If you are engaged in something that may turn out to be a great story or song, pursue it. Abandon all else. I’ll let you determine if that was good or bad advice.

Listen to Fast Mikey Blue Eyes above and keep up with Mike Felten through his website and Facebook.