An exclusive post-pandemic chat with the Native American guitar hero
Micki Free’s newest collection, Turquoise Blue, takes a look at the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted his life, his music and the country.
His aggressive guitar style and soulful vocals hew close to traditional blues stylings, but he said the political slant of the music is something new for him.
“I don’t do the political thing much, but the times called for it.,” Free said from his Arizona home. “These songs came out in a time of stress, but I leave it to the listener to decide how political they are. When they made us stay indoors, I had to cope with the lockdown, so I wrote ‘Bye 2020.’ I was telling COVID to get the fuck out of here and leave us alone. ‘World on Fire’ is about the state of the world – all the BLM stuff and the cities burning and humanity going wild and not caring about your brothers and sisters. ‘Heavy Mercy’ is my take on the situation we’re in as humans. We need some heavy mercy, baby, for ourselves and each other.
“That said, I’m not a Democrat or Republican. I’m a human and believe in the Golden Rule and karma. As I was writing, I contacted friends like Cindy Blackman-Santana, Gary Clark Jr., ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and Steve Stevens, from Billy Idol’s band. I asked them if they wanted to participate and they all said: ‘Yes.’ It came out just the way I wanted it to. I think it’s the best record I’ve done.”
That’s high praise, considering Free’s long musical history. He won a Grammy for “Don’t Get Stopped in Beverly Hills,” a song his band Shalamar contributed to the Beverly Hills Cop film soundtrack. He’s co-written songs with Gene Simmons from KISS, jammed with Carlos Santana and Prince, cut five solo albums and released five recordings of Native American flute music, including the Native American Music Award winning The Native American Flute as Therapy. Free is of Cherokee/Comanche and Irish descent.
The guitarist said he chose the title, Turquoise Blue, as a nod to his style and his heritage.
“I wear a lot of turquoise,” Free tells Rock & Roll Globe. “Some tribes think the energy of the stone prolongs life. In Native circles, they call me the bling king, because I wear so much turquoise. The blue stone is sacred to me and I get power from it. I also called it Turquoise Blue, not Blues, because it’s not strictly blues, it’s blues rock. I’m informed by folks like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, but I put it together with the rock stuff I grew up with – Jimi Hendrix, The Stones, Robin Trower, Aerosmith and the rock guys of the 60s and 70s.
“I wrote the songs at home, but I don’t have a home studio. If I did, I’d never leave the house. When a song is ready, it’s in my head. I never make demos; I just play the song for the band in the studio and then we record it. I cut it at my favorite place, Ken Riley’s Rio Grande Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wrote, produced, arranged and performed on all the songs and everyone played exactly what I wanted them to play. There was no room for any input. I had the vision and Ken added a little chili sauce, a nice fire to the sound. He had some suggestions that were tasty, so I listened to him.”
The album opens with “Bye 2020,” a hard rocking, mid-tempo tune, featuring dueling guitar solos by Free and Steve Stevens, with Free’s joyous vocal up front in the mix. “World on Fire” is a tribute to the guitar style of Carlos Santana, with Free emulating Santana’s familiar, string bending style. Three vets from the Santana band sit in on the track – Andy Vargas contributes the lead vocal, Cindy Blackman-Santana plays drums and Karl Perazzo adds his subtle percussion touches. Free channels Sade’s mellow vibe on “Spring Fever,” a love song that takes us for a stroll around Paris in the springtime.
VIDEO: Micki Free Live at Oakley Lindsay Center
The album’s sole cover is a gritty reinvention of “All Along the Watchtower” that hints at the iconic version cut by Jimi Hendrix on Electric Ladyland.
“I don’t do many covers,” Free said, “but this is my favorite Hendrix song, written by Bob Dylan. His style has influenced me throughout my career. In their review of the album, Vintage Guitar magazine called the track a tour de force. It was quiet a compliment.
“I can’t wait to get back on the road and start playing these songs live. This album is also out on my own label, Dark Idol Music, and I like it that way. I don’t have to answer to anyone and I don’t have to follow what some label wants. If this record succeeds or fails, it’s all on me. I can’t live with someone else taking the shot for me. If it’s live or die, I want to do it my way.”
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