Gary Farmer says he began playing harmonica as a teenager and the instrument kept him company when he spent much of his time alone, on the road as an actor. Although he has become well known for his work in films such as “Powwow Highway,” “Dead Man” and “Smoke Signals,” his work as a bluesman with The Troublemakers is right up there as well.
You can discover this side of Farmer when he and his band crank up the volume Friday (Nov. 23), 8:30 p.m., at the KTAOS Solar Center, 9 State Road 150, north of El Prado. Cover is $7 at the door.
When he first started his band, it was natural that he picked up the harmonica to use as his voice. Farmer says he learned to play “by ear and heart.” It was not long, however, before Farmer was singing as the band’s frontman. He also writes The Troublemakers’ songs.
Farmer, born to the Cayuga Nation and Wolf Clan of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy), is quick to point out that blues music has roots in both African-American and American Indian culture. He says evidence of American Indian influences in the American roots genre includes similarities with gourd dance, round dance and stomp dance songs. In addition, Farmer notes that the call-and-response common in blues music is also found in American Indian singing.
When he writes songs, Farmer, who now lives in Santa Fe, draws freely from his personal experiences and observations. As one example, Farmer talks about a song he wrote that chronicles the story of a girl who killed herself in an alcohol-induced car accident. In another, called “Foster Child,” he gives voice to the many children who face the world without the support of loving parents. For Farmer, the act of turning human sorrows into song, dance and celebration is a part of American Indian heritage that he feels “is extremely important.”
He said his reason for playing music is to encourage this process. “That’s why I do it — to get people to move and dance.”
The band isn’t new to Taos. They were here last April. Since then, Farmer has worked on a couple of films and an international radio project. “Winter in the Blood,” is a film based on James Welch’s novel by the same name, which will be presented at the Sundance Film Festival. Farmer plays the role of Lame Bull.
Farmer also acts in “AKA Jimmy Picard,” a new film directed by Arnaud Desplechin based on “Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian,” written by George Devereux. The non-fiction text follows an American Indian soldier who uses the alias Jimmy Picard and is troubled by psychosomatic illness after his experiences in World War II.
In collaboration with Radio Bremen, the public radio station for Berlin, Germany, Farmer read the essay, “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. The piece was aired on Austrian national radio.
“It’s a very profound speech,” said Farmer.
The band released “Love Songs and Other Issues” in 2007, “Lovesick Blues” in 2009, and most recently “Under the Water Tower.” They are working on a new collection that features songs by all of The Troublemakers that have been in the band. All four CDs have been recorded at Jono Manson’s Kitchen Sink Studios in Chupadero, N.M.
“I always like to thank Jono Manson,” says Farmer. “He’s such a creative force down here in New Mexico ... I’ve learned so much from him. It’s good to have people like that in our creative community.”
For their Taos show, The Troublemakers will play from their new collection as well as “Under the Water Tower,” which has been nominated for a blues award. To listen to song samples, visit us.myspace.com/garyfarmerandthetroublema. Call the venue for more at (575) 758-5826.