Interview of George Faber by Harvey Kubernick and David Chatfield:
Q: Can you discuss your legendary mid-west group the Finchley Boys. What kind of venues did you book and did you share some bills with known headliners like REO Speedwagon and the Silver Bullet Band?
We played many different venues, from college gigs to rock festivals. Probably our biggest gig was the Kickapoo Creek Rock Festival—40,000 attendees with REO, BB King, Canned Heat and others. We were regulars at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago and played the one in Toronto for a week straight, a double bill with Sam and Dave.
The Finchley’s also played The Palace Theater and Project Artaud in San Francisco and spent quite a bit of time in that city. We played for some eclectic crowds—including Sylvester (for his album release party) and were somewhat “adopted” by the Cockettes—our theatre counterparts in the avant garde, psychedelic performing world. To be honest, they pretty much took us under the wing to make sure we didn’t starve.
On the flip side, we were extremely popular in the Quad Cities—I think I was a pioneer of crowd surfing at the Col Ballroom in Davenport, and the Hullabaloo in Moline.
Another memorable gig was at The Bitter End in New York. Picture a psychedelic rock band in a folk bar. Not exactly a great fit if you know what I mean.
We shared the bill with Rod Stewart and The Faces at Beavers Lounge in Chicago; Rod and Ronnie Wood joined us for an hour-long jam on the last set.
Another unforgettable show was with Iggy and the Stooges and MC5 in Ann Arbor Michigan. Iggy was up first—and during his set, he smashed a TV set with a sledgehammer and dove into the broken glass. MC5 were closers…they whipped the crowd into a frenzy and had them rip the curtains from the ballroom windows and set them on fire. The Finchley Boys performed the middle set, and in the spirit of performance anarchy, I went with my usual and pulled out a live 7-foot boa constrictor—not to be upstaged in that company.
Here’s a sidenote about that. Alice Cooper came backstage at one of our shows at the Kinetic Playground and asked if he could see the snake up close. Next thing you know, he was using one in his act.
Q: You had a 50th year reunion of the Finchley Boys. What was that like? A video exists. Did you have an almost telepathic relationship with the other musicians in the band?
I was resistant at first, thinking the music was too dated—and that it may only have worked in the specific timeframe it created in. It turned out I was wrong, and it was extremely gratifying to take a musical walk down that memory lane. It was the nostalgia that drove the magic of that performance—both for the bandmates and the audience.
Q: Can you discuss the challenges of the Finchley Boy’s last recording “Gold Grey Morning” a song you started writing with Garrett Oostdyk in 1968 and finished in 2017?
Through that reconnection, Garrett and I started a long-distance songwriting relationship and have written a ton of songs together. We’re still at it.
Re: Cold Gray Morning: Garrett and I wrote this back in the 60s, we just tweaked the music and the lyrics and it was the last recording we did with the entire original band because Michael Powers (our original drummer) passed away not too long after that.
Q. Is that recording available?
Yes, I’m sure Garrett has it on his computer.
Q: For openers, I am curious about your writing process. Then and now, do you do lyrics first and then music or visa versa? Did you do demos and re-create them in the studio as master recordings? Did you literally write songs every night in the back of a truck, guitar and vocals, after some of your gigs?
Back in the day, I didn’t play guitar so usually the writing would start with a guitar riff from Garrett and I would add lyrics and a melody. Garrett and I still do it basically the same way.That style of writing continued with my collaborators in Stronghold. Nowadays (since I’ve taught myself to play the guitar) I write lyrics and music at the same time; as I’m strumming a progression, I’m mumbling lyrics then I go back and refine them.
In Stronghold we would write songs in the in the back of the van before or after gigs. The arrangement of those songs happened organically on gigs…someone would play something, and we’d play around with it at a rehearsal sometime later.
Q. You co-wrote the most eclectic jazz influenced songs on the Stronghold album with James Henderson who was the guitarist in Stronghold. Before Stronghold he was n Black Oak Arkansas and toured with Steely Dan. Do you think Henderson's time spent with Steel Dan influenced his co-writing with you?
Jimmy Henderson and I cowrote a lot of the songs on the Stronghold record and his Steely Dan influence is entirely possible. To be honest, we never made that connection with our music at the time.
Harvey: I read thru the rest of your questions thought I’d do my best free flowing on some of the next answers vs. responding to each one…I guess I covered so much in the first ones that I’m running out of steam. Feel free to call and I can embellish as needed.
Working with Lenice Bent was a pleasure, we were aware of her experience as an engineer on Aja and were excited to see if she could bring some of that magic to our record. In many ways, I think she did. She called our music cock rock which I still think is funny.
David Carr was great to work with and very talented as an arranger. He filled out the sound brilliantly. We added a keyboard player when we returned to the Midwest. We decided after hearing how much Dave’s input improved the sound, it became a necessary add.
One memory I have when we were making the record at Sound Image was when we were staying at an apartment complex in Burbank that rented by the month. It seemed to be a popular place for artists of all kinds who needed a place in the LA area that wasn’t permanent. It was there that a skinny guy with a cowboy hat approached me because I was wearing a T-shirt that said The Fabulous Nighthawks. He told me that they were friends of his. It turned out that guy was Stevie Ray Vaughan, and he was working on his first record at Jackson Browne’s studio. We hit it off because of our mutual love for the blues. He offered to play guitar on our record, but I told him we already had a great guitar player. When I told Jimmy, he said we should definitely have him play on our record. Jimmy was aware of his talent and know of him in the Black Oak days—but I opted not to. Oops. :)
A couple years later we opened the show for him in Chicago and he snuck up on stage and surprised me during our set by playing a guitar solo on When a Man Loves a Woman. As usual, when we performed that song, I was off stage singing without a mic as the band played softly…when I returned to the stage for the bridge crescendo, there he was.
Exciting to know that the Stronghold record Hold Out Forever is being heard in different countries for the first time, thanks to David Chatfield. Never would have called it 40 years later! The internet has made it interesting in that regard…I’ve heard from many people finding my music in far-away places and it’s always a treat.
Regarding the video:
It was directed by Bill Slichter and John McNaughton. We put the storyboard together just by interpreting what was originally a love song, i.e. “you and I against the world can hold out forever” to holding out for a record deal that was not a rip off. Back then (and still today), I’ve been a dedicated martial artist, so we decided to incorporate that into the video. All the extras were friends from the martial arts world.
That said, one of the things that makes the video work is the campy sense of humor and to this day, it’s fun to show somebody who has never seen it. They always get a laugh—ninja and all.
It will be a big improvement when the newly mastered music is added.
Concerning the concert in the sky:
That came about because some of my music was being featured in the on-board music streaming on Sun Country Airlines. Sun Country came up with the idea of a concert in the sky; if you were a lucky caller at a Mpls radio station, you would win a spot as part of the audience. Mpls had a cloudy weather stretch and part of the promo was to fly above the clouds to see the sun while listening to live acoustic music. The show went off without a hitch although some turbulence made guitar playing a slight challenge. It was me and Dan Wilson. (Dan was the leader and songwriter for Semisonic and has gone on to have a successful songwriting career with a few Grammy’s to his name.)
I would love to record When a Man Loves a Woman or any of my new material with David producing.
My favorite guitarist is in CA—he lives in the desert near Joshua Tree, and he would jump at the chance to be part of the project.
Regarding my discography after the Finchley Boys and Stronghold:
The self-titled black-and-white CD which contains Count the Tears has had a lot of exposure due to a licensing deal with Bose speakers. They used it as a demo to show off their speakers, and it was featured on compilation CDs when you bought cars with Bose systems…it was also used to demo vocal clarity on docking stations in retail stores including Target and other big box retailers. Pope music did a remastering and titled it “It Beats Working” which is a song on the album. They redid the cover art and packaging and pressed it in both “regular” and in gold which the audiophiles loved. The Bose deal created a lot of interest in “finding me” thru that song. All pressings sold out.
Circle Around a Circle took forever to record because we were trying to record it on a rare digital yet reel-to-reel machine that kept malfunctioning. I’m proud of the end product and I especially like the way the cello and violin embellish some of the songs.
Wounded Sky was back to being produced by Tim Snow, the same producer who did the self-titled record. Tim is a wonderful producer; very meticulous. It’s always hard work but the end product is worth it.
Faber Blues was produced by Geoff Poore and me. I did five blues chestnuts and five original songs on that record. We recorded it live in the studio with minimal overdubs. It was a big challenge but a lot of fun to work that way. It sold incredibly well in the audiophile community and was used as a demo for BAT electronics and had play at the Consumer Electronics Show for several years—which created a lot of demand and sales for the CD. It sold out of two pressings.
9 out of 10 songs came about after a former drummer in my Mpls band asked me to give vocal coaching to his son who was only 16 at the time. I realized he was way into pro tools and had built himself a nice little studio—so we recorded that project in a much less fussy way than the previous records. It’s what I’d call scrappy (mostly one-takes) but I like the way it feels.
Regarding guitar and harmonica: I might have said earlier that I’ve been playing harmonica since I was 12. Having grown up close to Chicago, as soon as I was old enough to take a train there I did. I would get a room at the Y and hang out on Maxwell Street, not old enough to get into any of the venues but I could hear the music pouring out into the streets.
Special influences: Little Walter, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Sonny boy Williamson/Rice Miller
I taught myself guitar late in life with the goal of being able to write and accompany myself. I figured at that late stage I should concentrate on that, so fingerpicking was a natural progression. I also simultaneously worked on open tune slide guitar.
I’ve always had an interest in Delta blues bottleneck style, people like Robert Johnson, Sunhouse, and Bukka White.
One more big influence in general was Lowell George from Little Feat. A few years before my connection with Sound Image, he approached me after hearing some demos that the band had done, and he invited me to meet with him in Laurel Canyon to talk about him producing a record with me. Unfortunately, soon after we met, he died while he was on tour with his solo project.
I still perform live whenever the gigs come my way. I do a lot of solo/duo and trio gigs at breweries, wineries, bars, coffee shops etc. I also still perform with my band George Faber and The Icons, mostly private stuff and fundraisers. It’s a variety band that paid for all of my recordings and then some since I started it back in the 90s.
Regarding my YouTube roots music: During the Covid lockdown, I wrote too many songs to count. It’s hard to say who my songwriting influences are; I really never give it thought…I just write songs that come to me and they change with my mood.
I would love to comment on the specific songs that are on Hold Out Forever, but I would need to see a list of who I collaborated with to jog my memory. I may have kept the files from BMI so I’ll look for them.
One last thing to share…it popped into my head given the multiple mentions of Hold Out Forever and When A Man Loves a Woman. Back in the late 80s, I was asked to be on the show Star Search. I hadn’t watched it and wasn’t sure what that early singing competition was all about but said yes to a free trip to LA. I decided that being a “star” meant doing an original—so I did Hold out Forever which of course was a song the judges had never heard. Ironically, I was up against a guy (who had been on a winning streak on the show) who performed my longtime showstopper, When a Man Loves a Woman. Talk about ironic. Needless to say, he won. C’est la vie.