By Joe Milliken
A versatile singer, songwriter, guitarist and record label owner, Charlie Farren found national success in the ’80s with his rock trio, Farrenheit, and in the Joe Perry Project, alongside the famed Aerosmith guitarist. Although Farren may not be a household name outside of the Boston area, he is a favorite son of New England who enjoys great regional success and a loyal fan base spanning 40 years, thanks to his ongoing musical projects, including a recent collaboration with Boston-area guitarist Jon Butcher. Farren’s latest solo effort, “Tuesday,” was inspired by his friend Brad Delp, the lead singer of the band Boston from its first album until Delp’s death on March 9, 2007.
Farren’s interest in music was sparked from exposure to different genres on the radio, his parents’ record collection and his sister.
“I’ve always lived around the Boston area and always had a love for music,” he says. “When I was in eighth grade, my older sister had a band with three of her friends, and they were great! I would listen to them practicing and thought, ‘I need to have my own band, but I need to learn how to play!’ The Beatles were a big early influence, but I also recall loving some of the great singers of the day that my parents listened to, such as (Frank) Sinatra, (Tony) Bennett and (Mel) Torme.
Farren’s eclectic musical taste was apparent in his early record collection. His first 45 was “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” by The Electric Prunes; his first albums were Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” “Paul Revere and The Raiders Greatest Hits” and Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Are You Experienced?”
Other early influences, including The Bee Gees, Free, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds, The Animals, The Who, Steely Dan and James Taylor, prompted Farren to form his first band before he hit high school.
“My first band in high school was called the White Knights, but we changed it to The Internationals because we thought it was much cooler!” he recalls.
After high school, Farren paid his dues in a number of cover bands before starting a group with some guys he had seen play in Harvard Square, called Live Lobster. With Charlie on vocals and guitar, Live Lobster steadily developed and gained regional success in the clubs throughout the Northeast.
“Live Lobster toured almost nonstop regionally, playing as much as 45 weeks a year — usually four to five nights a week and up to five sets per night,” Farren said. “That band is where I really learned to sing, and although we mostly played cover songs, we didn’t play the hits, rather focusing on artists like Savoy Brown, Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck, with a few hits sprinkled in to keep us employable.”
Farren and Lobster guitarist Ken Kilbashian then formed the band Balloon with the plan to begin writing and performing original material. Balloon worked hard to build a following and regularly filled the clubs around Boston, including The Rat, The Channel and The Club.
“After doing some sessions in area studios, we got hold of a 4-track machine and set up in my house to record ‘Listen To The Rock’ and ‘East Coast West Coast,’ both of which became regional hits for Balloon on several local stations, including WAAF, WBCN and WCOZ,” he recalls.
THE JOE PERRY PROJECT
Farren’s big break came in 1980, when invited to team up with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry for the guitar legend’s second Joe Perry Project album, “I’ve Got the Rock ’N’ Rolls Again.” In search of a new singer after the release of his critically-acclaimed solo debut, Perry hand-picked Farren following an audition at Boston’s famed Orpheum Theatre.
“We listened to over a hundred audition tapes and picked Charlie,” Perry stated in the 1997 Aerosmith autobiography "Walk This Way." “He was a good rhythm guitarist and singer, so we started rehearsing in my basement and came up with a few songs.” Farren co-wrote four tracks with Perry for the album and brought in the two Balloon songs, “East Coast, West Coast” and “Listen to The Rock,” which both got airplay again on Boston-area radio as Joe Perry Project songs.
“It’s been a long time since I worked with Joe, so I know my songwriting style has morphed quite a bit over time, as I’m sure Joe’s has, as well,” Farren said. “But at the time, I was surprised that Joe was so open to ideas. He had a process around capturing those riffs for which he’s famous. He’d play with tape rolling and then go back and sift out the cool parts, and we’d brainstorm around that to see if we could find a song. Joe was very open to my ideas and tireless.”
The Joe Perry Project opened for some of the biggest rock acts of the day, including Rush, Boston, ZZ Top, Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard, The Kinks and Heart.
“One night, on a three-band bill, we opened for Ozzy,” Farren recalls “But Def Leppard opened for us — imagine that! I also remember meeting Randy Rhoads — who was a pretty innovative guy at the time — and having this little sound check moment with him backstage. It was all really cool.”
THE RISE OF FARRENHEIT
In 1986, when it was apparent that Perry was headed for a reunion with Aerosmith, Farren formed Farrenheit with drummer John “Muzz” Muzzy and bassist and fellow Joe Perry Project alumnus David Hull (who changed his name to David Heit). The trio signed with Warner Bros. after industry legend Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records showed interest in Farren.
“Before I joined up with Joe, Atlantic Records were interested in some demos I had sent them, but when the chance to join Joe’s band came along, I took it,” Farren said. “Then, after leaving Joe’s band, Atlantic was still interested in my material, and Ahmet got involved by coming to see us play. He also visited another time to hang out with me in my Back Bay studio and convinced me to sign as a solo artist with Atlantic. I worked for a year on songs, and when nothing materialized, I felt I had waited too long. So, Ahmet let me walk, and very soon after, Dave Hull and I connected with Muzz and got a deal with Warner Brothers for the Farrenheit album.”
Farrenheit released its self-titled debut in 1987 and had instant success with the singles “Fool in Love” and “Lost in Loveland,” with the former receiving regular video rotation on MTV. Although Farrenheit indeed was creating strong rock songs at a time bands such as Smithereens, The Del Fuegos and Tears For Fears were on the charts, things changed after the 1980s hair band and metal scene settled in.
“Farrenheit really never fit with the big hair and tattoo crowd that emerged shortly after our debut CD came out. It’s probably why that CD still sounds fresh and the songs still work,” Farren says.
The band released two more albums: 1989’s “Raise the Roof” and “Farrenheit III Greasetown” (1994) before Farren settled into building his solo career and record label, F Man Music.
THE F MAN
When Farren was ready to release his solo debut, he also chose to launch his own record label, F Man Music (www.charliefarren.com). He released three solo albums of new material — “Deja Blue ... The Color of Love” (1999), “World Gone Wild” (2002) and “4-Letter Word” (2003) — all recorded in his home studio, the F Mansion.
He followed those up with three live CDs: an early 1980s FM broadcast of Balloon, “Charlie Farren Live at Club Passim” and “Farrenheit! Live At The Roxy” before starting his next solo LP, “Old & Young” (2006).
“I remember starting to write songs for the ‘Old & Young’ CD as I was mixing those live records and just couldn’t wait to get into the studio to begin sketching it all out,” Farren says.
Produced and recorded once again in his home studio, Farren’s “Old & Young” featured 10 Farren-penned original tracks, plus guest appearances by a couple of Boston music legends: the aforementioned Butcher and former Boston band guitarist Barry Goodreau.
“Barry and I have been friends for years, and I had always wanted to recruit him for one of my songs. We had recorded an album of demos together at his studio in the mid-1990s, and one of those songs, ‘Nobody’s Somebody,’ still remains a cornerstone of my live solo show,” Farren says.
In late 2009, Farren reconnected with Butcher, who had fueled the ’70s and ’80s bands The Jon Butcher Axis and Barefoot Servants before Butcher moved to Los Angeles to write film and TV scores. Farren and Butcher had been talking about collaborating for years, and the time was finally right for a new project: FBI.
“When we finally sat face-to-face in a room with acoustic guitars and just played and talked, it became clear that there was a natural chemistry in our playing, singing and writing,” Butcher said in an interview at the time.
Released via F Man Music in March 2011, “Farren Butcher, Inc.” (AKA FBI) featured nine co-written original tracks, plus remakes of the Farren’s solo songs “Deja Blue” and “East Coast West Coast,” plus Butcher’s “New Man” hit from his Butcher Axis days. Fans who bought the CD and came to see FBI live on its New England tour discovered a mix ofblues and groovin’ rockers, with a few lighter, more sophisticated textures sprinkled in.
Fast-forward to Farren’s latest release, “Tuesday,” named for the title track written several years ago by his friend, the late, great Brad Delp. The first time Farren heard “Tuesday,” he was with Delp at New Hampshire radio station WGIR-FM.
“After a radio show we both participated in, Brad said ‘Come over to my car; I want to play you something I’ve been working on.’ The moment I heard it, I loved it, as it reminded me of The Beatles’ song ‘Yesterday.’ Over the years, I’ve heard several demos Brad had recorded of the song, but he never released it.”
Ironically, hearing “Yesterday” on the radio is what helped Farren realize that Delp’s unreleased song could be the missing element for his new CD.
“I was in my car listening to some of my songs-in-progress on a CD, and after the last song finished, ‘Yesterday’ played on the radio, which reminded me of Brad’s song. So I wrote to his family and asked if they’d send me one of Brad’s demos,” Farren says. “After I learned the song and tweaked it a bit, I really felt it would be a special addition to the set of songs I was considering for this record.”
Farren wrote back to Delp’s family and got their blessing to record the song. After recording the guitars and vocals at his F Mansion studio, Charlie brought the tracks to friend and renowned producer Anthony J. Resta, who has worked with artists including Elton John, Collective Soul, Duran Duran and Perry Farrell.
“I’m very excited with the results of the new CD and am psyched to be performing solo again,” Farren concluded. “‘Tuesday’ is my 10th studio record, and that’s a lot of songs. Therefore, my solo shows allow me to reinterpret many of my songs and put interesting combinations together for the fans.” GM