PENINSULA PROFILE: Singer-songwriter for Prairie Flyer, FarmStrong gets his satisfaction

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Prairie Flyer, featuring singer-guitarist Jim Faddis, Andre Vachon on Resophonic guitar and mandolin, Jason Stewart on banjo and mandolin, Dave Hackwith on stand-up bass and Steve Blanchard on guitar, will reunite for two concerts on the North Olympic Peninsula this coming week. Both start at 7 p.m. and have tickets available in advance for $12.50 at Brownpapertickets.com. If any are left, tickets will be sold at the door for $15. the venue Friday night is the Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road north of Sequim, and then Saturday night the band comes to the Gardiner Community Center, 980 Old Gardiner Road just off U.S. Highway 101, about 10 miles east of Sequim. For information, phone 360-797-4598.

FarmStrong, a country blues and bluegrass outfit with Faddis, Rick Meade, John Pyles and Cort Armstrong, can be seen some Thursday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Wind Rose Cellars, 143 W. Washington St. The band also has a busy summer planned, with appearances at Sequim’s Lavender Weekend Street Fair at noon July 18, the Five Suns Bluegrass Festival in Moses Lake on Aug. 1 and 2 and Olalla, Kitsap County, Bluegrass and Beyond Festival on Aug. 16. Then the men will return to the Olympic Peninsula for a Concerts in the Woods series show at the Laurel B. Johnson Community Center in Coyle — that’s rural Jefferson County — on Sept. 6. For information about FarmStrong, see CortArmstrongMusic.com.
About his heroes, young Jim Faddis felt strongly.

“I would have given my left hand to sound like Ray Charles,” he recalled, thinking back to the first concert he attended: Brother Ray at the Long Beach, Calif., Civic Auditorium in 1962.

Faddis turned 10 that year, and it wasn’t long before he discovered another inspiration: Bob Dylan.

Growing up in Delano, Calif., he’d have Dylan on his record player from 5:45 a.m. till 6:45 a.m. when he caught the bus to school.

And on Dec. 17, 1965, a 13-year-old Faddis got to see Dylan, again at the Long Beach Civic.

“This was right when he went electric. So after he did an acoustic set by himself, he came out with a hard-rocking band.

“All these people were booing him,” which horrified Faddis. How could they?

Faddis came of age playing guitar, singing — and working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley.

A charter member of the United Farm Workers, he picked plums for $1.65 an hour in 1968 and ’69.

Then he irrigated the orange groves.

And pumped gas.

He’d make about $800 in a summer, and that would pay his tuition, room and board for a year at California State University, Sacramento.

All the while, Faddis made music.

His mother, Lillie, played fiddle and guitar, so Faddis took up the latter and, by the time he was 19, played in a rock ’n’ roll band.

“We played covers from the ’60s and ’70s: Grand Funk Railroad, Joe Walsh, and one of my favorites, ‘Ride, Captain Ride,’ ” by the Blues Image.

Faddis carried his rock and R & B sensibilities with him, along with his admiration for Ray Charles and Dylan, forward a good 25 years to his next life.

Look in on Faddis circa 1997 and you’d find him in Spokane, starting a band called Prairie Flyer.

The group would go on to play bluegrass festivals all over the West, with Faddis on guitar and singing in his high, clear voice.

He became well-known for that singing and for his original songs, which appear on Prairie Flyer’s seven albums as well as on Faddis’ solo CDs, “One More Ride” and “In My Dreams.”

For 12 of these years with the band, Faddis had another profession.

He smiles ironically when speaking about it now: For 35 years Faddis was a police officer.

He started out as an Explorer Scout with the Delano Police Department, got a degree in criminal justice at Sacramento State and went to work with the Idaho Bureau of Narcotics.

“I was affectionately known as a narc,” he deadpans.

After a decade in Idaho, Faddis went to the Spokane Police Department, where he was a city cop for 25 years.

He retired from law enforcement in 2009, and he and his wife, Karen, moved to a house near Dungeness Spit.

Prairie Flyer, meanwhile, has gone through some personnel changes.

Members have moved to points south and east, and their gigs have gotten rare. Which makes next weekend a golden one for fans of acoustic music.

Prairie Flyer will arrive for a concert at the Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road, at 7 p.m. this Friday; then it’s on to the Gardiner Community Center, 980 Old Gardiner Road just off U.S. Highway 101, for another 7 p.m. show Saturday.

Lovers of acoustic music also know Faddis for FarmStrong, a local band seen at venues including Wind Rose Cellars in downtown Sequim, the Pourhouse in Port Townsend and the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle.

Faddis shares the singing with Cort Armstrong and Dobro player Rick Meade, while John Pyles handles the big bass.

Faddis and Armstrong met at the Buzz’s open-mic night a couple of years ago, and soon found they had a common discography in their heads.

“Do you know this one?” “Yeah,” was how it went.

Then Faddis and Armstrong added a couple of men to form FarmStrong and, last year at Dungeness Community Studios, recorded their debut album, “The Summer Sessions.”

It has songs by Taj Mahal, Bill Monroe and John Prine, from “Blue Night” to “Cakewalk into Town.”

But it does not have the number FarmStrong has been getting attention for lately.

“Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” the 1972 Temptations hit, was requested by at least two women last time FarmStrong played at Wind Rose Cellars.

The band gives it the bluegrass treatment, replete with Faddis’ lonesome vocals.

“I love that song,” he said. It has the right mix for a bluegrass cover: “Papa” is recognizable right away, but it’s not overdone.

Getta Rogers, another local singer-songwriter, can’t forget the first time she heard Prairie Flyer.

Five years ago at Port Angeles’ Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts, Faddis’ voice struck her right off.

The high-lonesome sound is not something that comes easily to most singers, she said, yet “with Jim it’s so true and authentic, it’s like he’s lived every note.

“His music reminds me of my country-girl roots,” added Rogers, who grew up in the high-desert town of Smoky Valley, Nev.

A couple of years ago, Rogers went to sing and play guitar at an open-mic night in Sequim.

“It was very intimidating among the musicians there, and [Faddis] in particular,” she said.

“Some of those open-mic nights were pure magic. Jim was the cornerstone player.

“His original songs made many of us cry.

“As a songwriter, his work makes me feel like giving up — and working harder, all at the same time.”

Watch Faddis with his rhythm guitar, and you see a man who loves his work.

Cradling his instrument like a longtime dance partner, he sings as easily as most people tell a story to a friend.

Faddis remembers the days, though, when he wasn’t so comfortable.

Starting out, he wanted to sing like Hank Williams or Chuck Berry. People told him he sounded just like Neil Young.

“At some point, all of that blends together,” he said, “and all of a sudden, you’ve got to sound like you.”

If you’re covering someone else’s song, don’t try to re-create how it sounds on the record, he said. Give it your own soul.

“The greatest compliment,” Faddis said, is “You own that song.”

One tune he’s adopted as his own: “The Rocket” by Fred Eaglesmith, a song he sings with Prairie Flyer and now with FarmStrong, if need be.

These songs, over his years in law enforcement, proved a saving grace.

“At the police academy, they said, ‘Don’t make this your whole life.’ I took that to heart. And I have had this whole other life in music,” he said.

Faddis would work four 10-hour days and then, with Friday off, drive a few hundred miles to a weekend bluegrass festival somewhere in the Northwest.

He doesn’t do as much of that now, save his Folklife trips to Seattle over Memorial Day weekend and a handful of festivals in Washington this summer.

Back in Sequim, he volunteers with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department on the cold cases team with a retired FBI man and a retired homicide detective from San Diego.

And Faddis is digging in to his music with as much feeling as ever.

“I think as a performer, it’s something you have to do. I don’t think you give it up.

“I just want to keep on playing, in whatever configuration,” to share his words and music.

Faddis is always thinking about tunes that might work with a country-blues or bluegrass arrangement.

Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been to Spain,” a hit for Three Dog Night, is one.

When it comes to lyrics, he has a list of immortals in his head, such as John Hiatt’s “Something Broken” and Jackson Browne’s “Fountain of Sorrow,” the second single from “Late for the Sky.”

Near the end of a recent conversation, Faddis recalled one sweet moment with Prairie Flyer.

It was the first time the band ever got a “true standing ovation,” as he put it, at the Wenatchee River Bluegrass Festival in Cashmere.

“I don’t think I walked off,” he said. “I floated off that stage.”

Last modified: June 07. 2014 6:57PM
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