Will McFarlane's 60th Birthday Blues Jam @Blue Note Grill
By: Mark Winston
Blue Note Owners Bill and Andrea Wittington (and crew) gave up their day off to host Will McFarlane's family and friends for a very special afternoon. An all star congregation turned out to honor and celebrate, not only a terrific musician, but a very special human being. On hand were many notable area musicians. In contrast to his traditional kilt, Will was wearing a t-shirt with the message, "I have forgotten more guitar solos than I know how to play."
"It has always been a pleasure to play with Will. He is one of the most soulful musicians I have ever known." - Danny Gotham (Pictured on Guitar Above)
"Will is the most musical person I have had the good fortune of being around. His musicality and spirituality makes our performances together a very fulfilling experience." - Joel Sugarman (Pictured on Bass Above)
"It is good to see a great musician that also has a successful family life. The man really stands out in a crowd and it is a pleasure to play with him." - Derek Arnold (Pictured on Bass Below)
"When living in the DC area I got to see Will perform with Bonnie Raitt. Will had the gig I aspired to, he is a talent, both musically and personally. Will is a performing artist I consider to be at the apex of musicianship." When Will first moved to NC, Armand was the first musician who sought him out to jam. "Will has been like a big brother to me" - Armand Lynchek (pictured on guitar below)
Also on hand were open mic host Butch Hass (Mudbones Blues Review), Elliott Galdy, Jennifer Evans, Rich Bartlett (Critical Junktion), Chuck Taylor & David Sword (Good Rockin' Sam), Mike Davis (Pictured Above on Harp), Clark Stern and numerous other performing artists. I apologize to the many artists whom I was unable to interview and recognize.
In addition to the musicians and family on hand, I had the honor of meeting Jim Henry who related to me a very personal story and will help give you a feel for why I, and so many others, delight in Will's enlightened presence. Jim is friends with Blue Note owner Bill Whittington. Jim was very fearful that Bill had made a poor business decision in opening The Blue Note and was going to end up loosing his life savings. Reading between the lines, I think Jim was at a low point in his life. He would not even come out to the club and support his friend for many months. I really did not get all the details but Jim finally came out and during a break Will walked up to him and Jim related that their conversation was deeply moving and enormously life changing. Jim credits Will as having "sensed the need" and is now a regular member of the Blue Note "Blues Dancers." His brother who has Downs Syndrome ended up writing a song (Rock City Blues) and Jim was delighted in hearing the song performed at Will's birthday party.
Biographically, Will McFarlane spent six years touring with Bonnie Raitt, from 1974 to 1980. He was initially inspired to take up guitar at the age of 12 when he saw the Beatles play the Ed Sullivan Show. McFarlane was also inspired by R&B in high school and focused on Motown material while developing as a rhythm guitarist.
Will learned how to "listen" while playing in Raitt's band. While with Raitt he shared the stage with many living blues legends and soaked up as much as he could from them before and after each gig. In search of a more balanced family life, McFarlane left Raitt and moved to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, playing on records for Bobby Blue Bland, Little Milton, Etta James and Johnnie Taylor as part of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. His musical accomplishments encompass straight blues, country blues, folk, country, rock 'n' roll, as well as singer-songwriter material. McFarlane is a Nashville Musicians Hall of Fame inductee.
Soon after relocating to Muscle Shoals, Will had a spiritual awakening. His younger brother was murdered while McFarlane was still with Raitt, and he says he reeled for three years afterwards. He became a Christian, but continued to make his living playing secular music at Muscle Shoals Sound, as well as traveling in ministry.
Will and wife Janet are about to celebrate their 36th anniversary. Janet was able to fill me in on some of Will's current activities. Will recently did session work with Joss Stone on her forthcoming album. Joss is an amazing vocalist who has been seen on many awards shows the last several years. She is often compared to Janis Joplin and his been sitting in with a who's who of the recording industry including
Lee Ann Rhymes,
Rod Stewart, and
Rob Thomas. For those of you who only know Will from the local blues jams, our "friend" is a "world class" recording artist. Here is a clip from a session with NC's late Skeeter Brandon.
Earlier this year Will was featured on the cover of Christian Musician Magazine. Editor Bruce Adolph wrote a wonderful article that captures Will's spiritual side.
Will has joined The Don Ray Band which is an all original, Americana/Roots Rock, national touring band. They have a new album Full Throttle was produced by Will McFarlane and Don Ray, recorded and mixed by Jimmy Nutt at the NuttHouse studio in historic Sheffield, AL. and mastered by engineering legend Glenn Meadows at Mayfield Mastering in Nashville.
At one point during the afternoon will remarked, "I sure miss this in Alabama. I have many life friends in this room and that is a deep blessing!" The McFarlanes have deep roots here in North Carolina, their daughter and 3 grandchildren are here with one on the way. Over the years they have made many acts of charitable service, performing at many high schools and prisons throughout our state.
Back in May of 2009 Chapel Hill area musicians got together to honor and raise money for ailing Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward. This video features Will McFarlane, Armand Lenchek, and Danny Gotham on guitars, son Jamie McFarlane on bass, Tony Bowman on keys, Chris Kannenberg on percussion with Will and Janet McFarlane on vocals.
At a May Day concert in Chapel Hill at Southern Village on 5-1-11
Danny Gotham, Armand Lenchek and Will McFarlane perform a George Harrison song "Isn't It A Pity"
It was my first time at The Blue Note and I really enjoyed the people and the atmosphere. Jim Henry said Will McFarlane calls it a "grown ups bar." Ben Palmer hosts a Monday night Jazz Jam and Butch Hass hosts the Tuesday night blues jam. The club will be hosting the West Coast Blues Camp, June 23-24.
Saturday afternoon will have a roundtable West Coast Blues session with all the players focusing on more of the entire band aspect moderated by local musician Lenny Terenzi. Lunch will be included in the cost of the session. Saturday evening will have the great JUNIOR WATSON performing a headline gig. Sunday afternoon will feature a guitar clinic with JUNIOR WATSON followed by an all-star jam featuring all the camp players and even a few local sit-ins!