Mike Finnigan: Rocking out with the coolest man in Leftblogistan

April 24, 2009 by  

Mike Finnigan is:

A) A universally respected musician that has played with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Etta James;

B) A one-time player on the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team;

C) A liberal d-list blogger’s best friend;

D) The coolest cat you’ll ever know;

E) All of the above.

If you answered “E,” give yourself a point. Because while Finnigan’s five-decade musical career has made him one of the most respected keyboardists and vocalists on the planet, he’s also played a huge role in helping shape how thousands of people get politically active on the Internet. Because just as his music career is the stuff of legends, his friendship with John Amato of Crooks & Liars means he will also go down as liberal giant (he is 6-foot-5, after all).

“Mike is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met,” said Amato in an e-mail exchange. “As a musician he’s a living legend and I’ve had the privilege of jamming with him. He’s been a political activist for decades and inspired me to get active in politics.”

But while politics has always played an important role in Finnigan’s life (“If you didn’t know politics in my family you better just sit down and shut up. It is just part of the culture,” said Finnigan.) It is his epic musical career for which he most known and respected.

Growing up in a musical family in Troy, Ohio, Finnigan was a young man with many interests. He dabbled as an amateur basketball player and was a talented enough basketball player to earn a four-year ride at Kansas University. But music was always his calling, and he left Kansas after two years to pursue his dreams.

“I played as a freshman but I was gradually losing interest and if you aren’t fully plugged in there it isn’t for you,” said Finnigan. “So I left my four-year scholarship behind, and my parents thought I was nuts.”

Finnigan, who started out as a drummer but moved to the Hammond B3 organ, started playing music with some veteran musicians. Building his music career from the ground up by playing numerous gigs at clubs in and around Ohio, Finnigan and his band – The Serfs (“We thought we were pretty hip with that name. People of the soil.”) – earned a contract with producer Tom Wilson.

While in New York recording their first album “Early Bird Café,” Finnigan’s prowess on the Hammond B3 caught the ear of Hendrix, who nabbed him and two of his band mates to work on the album “Electric Ladyland.” Jamming with Hendrix on two tracks, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming,” Finnigan’s career officially took off.

From there, Finnigan has worked on numerous projects with an untold number of historic and diverse musicians over the years, including Etta James, Dave Mason, Jerry Wood, Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young), Cher, Ringo Starr, Bobby Womack, Santana, Dan Fogelberg, Elvin Bishop, Eddie Money, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Leonard Cohen, John Hiatt, Bonnie Raitt, Alice Cooper, and many, many others.

While known primarily as a brilliant R&B keyboardist with a distinctive voice, Finnigan has dabbled in countless other music styles, including cutting a country album in 1993 with his youngest brother Sean and former Bread member Rob Royer. Finnigan remains proud of the project but says his age scared away record companies.

“We had some killer songs and killer players and had the luxury of doing it slowly and thoughtfully,” Finnigan says on his official MySpace page. “We came within a whisker of making a deal but when the label found out I was 47 years old, they panicked and backed out. It was (and is) I believe, some of the best singing I’ve ever recorded.”

Currently, Finnigan tours with his own blues group, the Phantom Blues Band, as well as the likes of Joe Cocker, Taj Mahal, the Phantom Blues Band, Raitt and other veteran musical stars. At 63, Finnigan says he long ago started taking better care of himself, helping him cruise through what is often a grueling road schedule.

“I was up for most the ’70s and ’80s, but in 1986, I quit drinking and drugging and all that and started taking care of myself, so it’s not easy, but if you’ve doing it for as long as I have it’s not that hard, either,” said Finnigan in a telephone interview, adding that playing with Cocker is truly a positive experience for all involved.

“It’s not as easy as it was when I was 30, but working with Joe is a piece of cake,” said Finnigan. “Everyone gets along, they’re professional and good people. It’s an ego-free zone.”

Finnigan said that he understands how difficult it is to make it in the music business, and that modern musicians are severely hampered by a lack of venues to perform.

“I’ve been damn lucky, really. There’s been so many really good guys and girls that don’t just catch a break,” said Finnigan. “In general, there’s not any live music, any more. When I was starting out you’d go somewhere like Tulsa where there would be 50 places where you could play, but not anymore.”

Finnigan added that a new generation of music lovers has come along and now expects their music for free, thus making it even more difficult for musicians to make a living.

“Making money in the music business is getting harder and harder,” said Finnigan. “Part of it has to do with there’s a lot of people who think music should be free. If you like music, then you ought to support the art. If I want to listen to a Sonny Rollins’ album, I should pay Sonny Rollins.”

But while his place in music history is etched in stone, there are many who know Finnigan primarily as the host of “Mike’s Blog Round Up” at Crooks & Liars. Finnigan was there at the start as a friend of Amato’s, going so far as loaning Amato $400 to start the popular blog. When C&L (which got its name from a newsletter Finnigan used to compile and send to friends called the “Crooks & Liars Update” ), Amato reached out to his friend Finnigan for help.

“After C&L grew and I became insanely busy, I wanted to make Mike part of the website because of (the inspiration he’d given me) and I also wanted to pass traffic around to the good and less known writers of the liberal blogosphere, because their links had helped me so much,” said Amato. “I asked him if he would like to do a daily column called “Mike’s Blog Round Up” and he quickly accepted. It’s been a fixture on C&L for many years and has helped uncover some incredible writers.”

For Finnigan – a proud life-long liberal – “Mike’s Blog Round Up” has given him an outlet for his politics, which he says haven’t changed much over the years. Though the nation’s politics have changed around him.

“I don’t know what a democrat is supposed to be and I sure don’t know what a republican is supposed to be any more,” said Finnigan. “These days, someone like Nelson Rockefeller would be a leftist. And, hell, I’m like Che Guevarra now.”

While Finnigan is as well-rounded an individual as you are likely to ever meet (“He’s a fountain of knowledge on almost any topic,” says Amato), his family remains the strongest source of his pride.

“I’ve been married 40 years, and that’s unheard of in the music industry,” said Finnigan, who curtailed much of his touring when his children were young in favor of working of working on soundtracks and advertisements closer to his Southern California home. He even did work with Fox, “Before they went ditzy.”

“We were talking once and my children said they remembered me being home a lot,” said Finnigan. “I was only on the road anout three months a year. Between 1976 and 1996, that was pretty civilized time for me, I did a lot of studio work.”

So who is Mike Finnigan? Well, he’s an important person to untold numbers of people around the globe for reasons raging from his music to his politics. And he most certainly is the coolest man in all of LeftBlogistan.

–WKW

More on Mike Finnigan

  • Mike Finnigan’s MySpace page
  • Phanton Blues Band home page
  • Mike’s Blog Round Up at Crooks & Liars
  • See more of Mike Finnigan on YouTube
  • Mike Finnigan’s (partial) Discography
  • Comments

    35 Responses to “Mike Finnigan: Rocking out with the coolest man in Leftblogistan”

    1. Tengrain on April 24th, 2009 7:57 am

      Mike also tours with Joe Cocker. I just about fainted when I learned that.

      Too cool for school.

      Regards,

      Tengrain

    2. Gary C. on April 24th, 2009 10:13 am

      Mike Finnigan is top-shelf in every aspect. I’ve known him since the late 1960s and the cat just gets better and better. He is truly the “fine wine” of Hammond organ and soulful vocals.

      Give ‘em hell, Mike, you’re the best.

    3. Tim Dawson on April 24th, 2009 10:38 am

      I first heard/saw Mike when I was at Kansas State University…blew me away. I think it was 1975, 1976ish. The band was Finnigan and Wood. Played in a bar in Salina, cover charge was $3.00. His birthday is tomorrow…April 26. Happy Birthday Mike. All the best to you and the family. TD

    4. Robin Church on April 24th, 2009 12:28 pm

      Mike’s a national treasure! I’ve been a fan since the ’60′s, and he just keeps getting better.

    5. Deborah Shuler on April 24th, 2009 2:30 pm

      I believe it was 1962 the first time I heard Mike play with his band, The Satanics. I was so young and naive that I didn’t think that was an odd band name for an Irish Catholic lad. I can honestly say it was a turning point because it was the first time I witnessed a live band play.

      At age 15 I knew what I liked and Mike was playing it with a vengeance. He was 16 and I was convinced he was my white Ray Charles. I have been a fan for 47 years and I can’t wait to see him with Joe Cocker in June. Mike is as high on my list as you can get. My list includes everyone from Ray Charles to Prince with a few white cats in the mix.

      Mike sets the standard for speaking his mind politically. I can’t find anything to disagree with in his writing. Each time I read his comments I nod and wish I had said it first! Finnigan shows us all that we don’t have to fade out as long as our passion fuels us.

    6. dgun on April 24th, 2009 4:54 pm

      Hendrix, basketball, politics…

      Yeah, I would say that guy is pretty cool.

    7. dgun on April 24th, 2009 4:55 pm

      The wind cries dgun

    8. hugh.c.mcbride on April 24th, 2009 7:32 pm

      Heeey, dgun — where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?

    9. calgarylady on April 24th, 2009 8:14 pm

      Cheers, Mike Finnigan!

    10. Open Thread | My Blog Channel on April 24th, 2009 8:29 pm

      [...] In-house, around-the-C&L-conference-table chit-chat: William K. Wolfrum has a lovely tribute to our own Mike Finnigan (of the blog roundup) here. And it ain’t even his birthday. [...]

    11. Lost in Tarnation on April 24th, 2009 11:13 pm

      That’s an amazing and impressive career Mike, and a great tribute, WKW. If I could say something that didn’t seem hopelessly inadequate I would, so let my speechlessness express my admiration.

    12. Batocchio on April 25th, 2009 12:56 am

      Nice piece about a great guy.

    13. Vern Rutter on April 25th, 2009 4:39 am

      Came over from C&L. My fav album of all time is Electric Ladyland. The Rainy Day sequence and its B3 licks are a (“…spff, spff, I see what you mean, man…”) hilite.

      Didn’t have a clue about Mike except the “Round-up” which I look forward to every day. Now I do.

      Wow, just wow. I’ll be listening. Thanks for all you do, Mike.

    14. Bill on April 25th, 2009 4:58 am

      If you can find one, please post a video of Mike doing ‘Death Letter Blues”, his signature song. If you don’t love him after that, you don’t know squat about the blues and what talent is. Not only that but he is one of the best human beings in the world and one of the funniest.

    15. sherry on April 25th, 2009 6:47 am

      way too cool, but i knew that because of blue gal!

      he’s a nice guy too.

    16. Jim on April 25th, 2009 8:23 am

      I grew up in Wichita listening to Mike (Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, Finnigan and Wood, and solo) back in the 60′s and 70′ and onward and have always loved his music. One of the best ablums I have is “Black and White” by Mike from the early 80′s, and I would love to see this on iTunes. Great write-up about a national treasure!

    17. Where’s the Outrage? » Mike Finnigan on April 25th, 2009 6:43 pm

      [...] I’m very happy to have a great video of Mike Finnigan from Crooks and Liars.  Mike has been on my radio show.  He helped me with my tribute to Miles Davis. He has a great working knowledge of music.  From listening to Mike, there was no way I would have known that he has such a soulful voice.  Mike has played with Etta James and Jimmy Hendricks.  Now, that’s cool.  William Wolfrum has written a great post on Mike. [...]

    18. Mike Finnigan on April 26th, 2009 3:28 pm

      Well, Bill…looks like some of my good friends and some bloggers have checked in with more kudos. I’m humbled and grateful all…
      MF

    19. connecticut man1 on May 6th, 2009 2:04 pm

      This was a great write-up. He is the B, C and D list Bloggers best friend and, more importantly, he digs up great stories to link to. One of the main reasons Crooks and Liars will always be my favorite A list Blog.

    20. connecticut man1 on May 6th, 2009 2:06 pm

      And a side note: I would hate to have to dig through his email because I am betting he gets a crap load of tips.

    21. John on July 25th, 2009 10:00 pm

      It was 1965 and I had resigned Jimmy and the Galaxies, gotten married and moved to Wichita KS to get a “real” job in aerospace. I really missed
      setting behind the drum kit and was looking for a music fix. I kept hearing the name Mike Finnegan and found him in a basement club I believe was called the Cellar. I knew from the first note from his Hammond B3, Mike was destined for stardom, but never guessed it would last this far or this long. He would later play at Oak Lodge in Baldwin KS where I had played in 1964, and meet up with some of my mates at the Kansas Music Hall of Shame who became the Rising Sons and the Red Dogs. If my memory serves me correctly, Mikes drummer in Wichita was stationed at McConnell Air Force base and I set in a couple times when he was detained at the base. Congratulations Mike on a illustrious well deserved career. YOU are truly one of the greats.

      I hope to see you in concert in LA now that I am living in Huntington Beach.

      JR

    22. Todd on August 13th, 2009 8:41 am

      Hey, I first heard of Mike Finnegan when my older brother played in a local band in Mcpherson Kansas. back in the late mid ’70. Any one Know how to get a CD of Black and White I found the DFK CD.

    23. Larry Schalk on September 27th, 2009 1:00 pm

      Last weekend, Mike and the PBB performed with Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal (BonTaj Roulette) at the House of Blues in Vegas. (Thanks again for the heads up, Tim Dawson.) Originally from Kansas, it was the first time I’ve heard Mike perform live in 35+ years. After the show, Mike came out front to see me and we’ve exchanged a few emails since. A true gentleman with amazing talent, a lot of class and a heart of gold.

    24. David casmaer on November 14th, 2009 6:59 am

      My brother was bouncing the bunny club on south broadway 1968 and he let me come in and sit over next to the band stand. I was 17 underage but I got to see first hand, the best band I ever saw, [finnigan and wood] ronnie kissack was playing drums with them and his drum solo on love light was unbelieveable, what a band—-wichita ks.

    25. William K. Wolfrum Chronicles » Blog Archive » Intervention’s Candy Finnigan - the last drink’s on her on November 30th, 2009 10:33 am

      [...] The opening years of the Finnigan’s marriage kept Candy’s roll going. Mike quickly went on to become an in-demand and well-respected musician, playing with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Etta James. [...]

    26. Ray Anderson on May 18th, 2010 4:14 pm

      There was a guy named Kenny Barnes that had the Bunny Club in Wichita in the 60′s. Finnegan and Woods were playing a gig there. Barnes had a teen club on Sundays and I remember checking out that B3 with that massive Leslie speaker. The Bunny Club had just ended a run with one hot horn band out of Dallas called the Soul Brats. I knew Finnegan was pretty hot, but never thought his crew could touch the Brats. I managed to sneak in when Finnegan and Woods were playing man was I wrong. I later got a copy of Crazed Hipsters and wore it out. I remember the early 80s and working in a radio station in the Netherlands when a copy of the DFK band LP arrived. I wondered how long Finnegan was going to keep it up. Well, here we are well over 40 years and the man is as fine as a musician could care to be. It is incredible how many great musicians have connections to that cowtown called Wichita. Dave Casmear, who commented above, is one of the great drummers and, unfortunately, a kept secret that should have got out years ago. No doubt that when Mike decides to hang up his spurs they will be gold.

    27. Rob Long on June 6th, 2010 7:06 am

      First getting to see Mike in 1972, at “The Store ” in Emporia Kansas, raised the bar for any future thing comeing from a B3 and a leslie. When Finnegan and Wood were in town, the other bars would generally close. Up to that point it was Jimmy Smith for me. I was a Jerry Hahn Brotherhood fan and looking back, I think that band laid the groundwork for fusion, labels irrelevant. Many times in the 80′s, I would hear a commercial on T.V., and tell my wife, “that was Finnegan”. Vocals are so stellar, how much talent can one person have?

    28. Ramona on July 8th, 2010 4:56 am

      Holy cow, I had NO idea he was such a talent! A whole other life. . .

      Mike has added me to his round-up twice now (at my pleading), and my visits spiked dramatically both times. I’m the absolute worst at plugging my blog, but the last time I asked he took it wrong, I think, and we had a little go-round until the dust settled and he kindly included me.

      Okay, so now I’m REALLY intimidated and probably won’t ask again. But it’s great to know a little about the people we come in contact with–if even ever-so-slightly.

      Nice post, Bill. You always find something interesting to write about.

      Ramona

    29. jack callender on July 18th, 2010 5:36 pm

      I ran a club in Wichita called Dearmore’s 1962 through 1965. Mike played in the club with the Serfs for about a year primarily in 1964. Most of the band members in the Serfs were in the Air Force stationed at McConnel AFB. The three band members I remember best were Mike, Kenny the drummer and Freddie Smith the tenor saxaphone player. The Serfs were definately the best band in Wichita. I am very pleased to hear that Mike has led a happy and productive life. He is a man of excellent character. I did always expect, however, that the Colonel, that is his wife’s father would shoot him prior to any marriage ceremony.

    30. The music keeps playing for Mike Finnigan « Important Blog News « William K. Wolfrum Chronicles on February 23rd, 2011 5:30 am

      [...] a feature I wrote on Mike, his music career, hius trials and tribulations and long-time sobriety, as well as his beginning [...]

    31. Larry Richards on March 19th, 2011 12:04 pm

      Mike, I played with Tommy Wright (drummer) in Texas from 1977 to 2003. He was my best friend, he passed away April 2009.

    32. Wolfrum’s Morning: It’s on the House (and Senate) « William K. Wolfrum’s Morning « William K. Wolfrum Chronicles on April 16th, 2012 5:16 am

      [...] Raitt – featuring friend-of-the-blog Mike Finnigan on the Hammond Organ – performs on the Late Show with David [...]

    33. Hassan on October 5th, 2012 4:12 pm

      Magnificent goods from you, man. I have understand your
      stuff previous to and you’re just extremely great. I really like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it wise. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is actually a wonderful website.

    34. Buzz Ritter on October 31st, 2012 10:51 pm

      Mike Finnigan made me listen….used to go dance to F & W at the Fireside Club in Hutchinson, KS, and at the Lamplighter in Salina, KS. Last saw Mike live at Bethany College (Lindsborg, KS) in 1972, appearing with the Stein Brothers and Pagan Ballet, also Tommy Hapner…….still play my vinyl of “Crazed Hipsters” regularly. I saw Mike backing up Bonnie Raitt last week on Austin City Limits, and it brought back all those great memories. Thank you so much, Mike Finnigan, and please keep playing!

    35. Dennis "Spider" Johnson on March 24th, 2013 5:26 am

      I to am a long time fan and loyal follower of Mike. As a lad in 19634-64 my Dad, George Johnson and has partner Herman Meckel Owned the Music Store right there in downtown Wichita. I used to hang out at the store on Saturday Mornings and see Mike as he worked for my dad for a period of time. He always showed an interest in other people and was a ginuwine human being. Well years later I attended Hutch High and had the pleasure of seeing and partying with Mike and his bands (Serfs, F & W) on more than1 occation. I always ws amazed how good Mike was on vocals let along the damn B-3. Mike did his best to always hang with his loyal fans at the after gigs..often going to several in 1 night just to please those throwing after parties. I threw one of these in Manhattan KS 1975. F & W were playing and I went to see Mike at the Holiday Inn upon their arrival. We shared a number and I had mentioned I was throwing an after partyu and it would mean the world to me if he would join us. Well Mike not only joined us but he rode with me in my car after the show (which was a sell out) Mike and the band staying until the Cops showed up due to number of cars blocking the roads LOL wow what a time it was! Then came the big time…I loved Mike when he toured with Dave Mason…Mike stole the show I had the pleasure of catching them in Evansvill Indiana back in the 80s when I just happened to be there on business and they were performing that night only. Then having the opportunity to see him several times with C S &N, Joe Cocker and now Bonnie and of course The PBB all have etched a place in my heart of ever. Mike Thanks for the memories you have given me!

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