Brooklyn born, raised
in New York, Denis fell under the harmonica's spell at the age
of nine. "A school mate of my older sister's would play Stephen Foster
tunes on harmonica while we walked to school. I really loved that sound
but I didn't get my own harp until age twelve. At seven, I took singing
lessons. Later, after we moved from Long Island to Beacon, an upstate
‘city' along the Hudson River, Pete Seeger gave a little concert
in our grammar school classroom. I wasn't much larger than his twelve
string guitar and practically sitting under it in the first row, as he
played and sang. Naturally we sang along! By high school I would catch
his local shows whenever I could, and listen to AM radio all night. With
those ‘clear through' stations you could pick up shows as far away as
Louisiana and Chicago at night. Living close to a media center like New
York also exposed me to all kinds of music. I guess it just took root
and eventually grew to be the better part of me."
At Fort Benning, Georgia
in 1967 he formed his first band, a vocal trio. "I sometimes
believe that little experience saved my life. It was an escape, just a
diversion from the madness, but on a certain level it worked as an avenue
of pure expression, especially in the original stuff. My assignment took
me to Friedberg, Germany, Elvis Presley's military home." Returning
to the states in 1969, he took up residence in New York City, studying
film, music and communications at Fordham College, graduating in 1972.
"In the summer
of ‘76 I enrolled in a South Florida Music school and by the fall I was
jamming with Jazz legend Ira Sullivan at the Unitarian Church in
South Miami, joining his ‘Friends' band by ‘78, primarily as a percussionist.
We played all over South Florida: clubs, festivals, benefits and before
large crowds ‘cause jazz was crossing over in the late seventies and the
biz was at a zenith. It was a great experience and opened doors for me
as a solo artist. I used to front my own instrumental thing around then,
playing alto and tenor sax, percussion, flute and chromatic harmonica,
slowly returning to the diatonic harmonica (my first instrument other
than voice). I learned from Ira first hand, on the job, and anybody was
likely to show up and jam at an Ira gig. . .from Lee Konitz and Horace
Silver to Jaco Pastorius or J. Johnson of the Allman Brothers!"
While performing at
The Coconut Grove Music & Art Fair, he met Calvin ‘Fuzz' Samuel of the platinum selling recording groups Manassas and CSN&Y (among
others). "I was thinking more about ‘songs' then, esthetically and
spiritually but also as commodities. Fuzz taught me how to take a song
from an ethereal idea to an actual performance on tape or otherwise. It
was a valuable apprenticeship. We'd go over to Fred Neil's house
(writer of ‘Everybody's Talkin') to hear him working on a new song or
just jamming. In England (with Fuzz in 1981) I found a manager who took
me to Nashville by way of Texas, visiting songwriter Jug Brown,
writer of the top 40 country hit, ‘Dreams of a Dreamer.' Later when he
went back to Nashville, I tagged along. There I began tracking my songs."
"At the end of
‘82, I ran into Pete Seeger in Rhinebeck, NY during one of his ‘Clearwater'
festivals on the Hudson River. I stayed for over a year, sometimes bunking
at Pete's barn, writing songs, some of which appears on ‘Moodswing Woogie'.
He would back me on either twelve string guitar or banjo and I would play
harp and sing backup in turn at various sloop singer gigs, Woody Guthrie
or Clearwater festivals and events during most of 1983. For his annual Carnegie Hall gig in November, he invited the sloop singers to back him on stage. Again by chance,
I got to do two numbers with him up front! I will never forget the sight
of Pete hunched over his guitar (and one of the few times I saw him play
six string!) - looking ageless!"
In 1984 Denis released
his own single and then an album on his label, Flat Baroque Records.
The 1988 LP ‘Pryvit Blewz,' (Private Blues) features veteran session men, Harvey
Mandel, Paul Harris, Scott Petito, Mark 'Slick' Aguilar, and Fuzzy, as
well as, Albert Williams, Victor Schwarz, Dave Remelis, Harry Morgan and
the amazing ‘Smokin' Ed Hubel. Ed appeared on the Memphis influenced track Hustler's Lament licensed to Mobile Records' ‘Copulation Compilation - MMR10'
which remained in the top ten ‘Street Beat' sales charts from 1992
until 1999. A classic comedy CD, and on its third record company it still can be found for sale as a CD now in 2007 during these waning days of the medium.
By the mid-nineties, Denis had settled down, thanks to an invite from Nashville songwriting partners Alice and Albert Williams, to a long delayed domestic life in a remote southwestern Oregon coastal town, with a nice girl, far from the maddening crowd. There he met Howard Kaylan of the hit group, The Turtles, also a resident and together they worked on producing a local music festival and booked Country Joe McDonald to headline. Denis opened in a trio billed as Denis Farley & Friends, produced the festival poster and coordinated other stage and show activities. Local favorites The Borderline Blues Band, and Stephen Bruce closed the show.
In 1996 he released, "Moodswing Woogie" a collection of tapes and performances, some live, some in the studio that he retrieved from the storage bin now that he had time to rummage around. One tape from the fall of 1983 included Pete Seeger during a live performance at South Street Pier, the culmination of the Sloop Clearwater's annual Pumpkin Sail.
The title tune featured Brantley Kearns, fiddler extraordinaire still basking in the faded glory of Dwight Yokum's salad years with Warner Brothers, but also a veteran of many a top L. A. band and session while having appeared in such films as McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Beverly Hillbillies among others. More great musicians were captured on tape over the years, reprising performances from earlier sessions and remixed efforts were Harvey Mandel, also on the title tune along while master bassist Fuzzy Samuel co produced. James Cruce from J. J. Cale's band laid down a solid beat.
The great Gregg
Gerson produced, co wrote and played keys and drums on 'Somebody Else's Blues. Brad Hauser from the New Bohemians quested with one of my NY bands, The Avengers - Todd Giudice, Jeff
Smith and Chris Pritchard on two tunes cut in Woodstock at Apple Head Studio, one of Michael Lange's many interests.
My good friend Jimmy Eppard brought his talented 'Cromatix' (later to be part of "The Band" and "Levon Helm & The Crowmatix") - Randy Ciarlante, Howie Brown and Mike
Dunn to play on another two tunes cut at the budding Apple Head Studio, then at Michael Evan Birnbaum's house during a snowy Woodstock day.
Kevin Hurley and the great Paul Harris appear on "The Pearl" cut in Miami in the fall of 1987. There were so many great folks on this record, for more information go to the credits page . "I tried to mix it up like the old minstrel
shows or revues."
After this release Denis performed at B. B. King's Blues Club in Hollywood, California and then settled back into the quiet life in Oregon before taking a job in Amytville, New York with Cham-Ber Huang of Huang Harmonicas. Cham-Ber had a great tag line, "The Paganini and Stradivarius of the Harmonica"
Denis stayed in New York about a year expanding his knowledge of the construction, technique, literature, maintenance and lore of the harmonica while taking time out to perform with Levon Helm & The Crowmatix at the I.M.A.C. Theater in Huntington, New York during the Spring of '98. There he teamed up with long time friend, Jimmy Eppard and many of the crew from from the Woodstock sessions back in 1990 for "Long Shadows" and "Gal Rider".
By the summer of '98 Val and Denis were looking for new territory to explore and settled in Northern New Mexico, near the "one horse town" of Ojo Caliente, home of the famed mineral springs. On the way west we passed through Memphis and took time out to pay homage to the "King", Elvis at the Graceland Memorial, touring the grounds and house.
"This rural life suited us at the Mineral Springs, so we stayed for around three years. While here I had time to expand Pouring Rain Music and Flat Baroque Records, pitching songs and recording new material in Nashville, while performing locally in Taos and Santa Fe, making an appearances on Albuquerque rock radio in support of the Candy Kitchen Wolf Rescue Ranch and performing again at the ranch in support of the Wolves at Ramah, NM. In 2000 I again teamed up with Fuzzy Samuel to perform at the San Luis Obispo First Night and at clubs and other venues in California.
Around this time through an acquaintance . . . ha ha, TBC (to be continued ;)