Mike Felten
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Mike Felten

Chicago, Illinois, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2003 | INDIE | AFM

Chicago, Illinois, United States | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2003
Solo Rock Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"'Mike Felten is the Real Deal"

While all the Johnny-come-lately folk singers of the past decade or so are much appreciated, make no mistake, Mike Felten is the real deal. On Tossin' It Away, many of these songs are about Vietnam and LBJ, back during a time when he first started playing music himself, hence the sparkle of authenticity here that many other folk albums lack. Also, thanks to its stripped down sound, the unnecessary artifice that plagues other so-called folk albums is non-existent, making it all the more enjoyable. (www.mikefelten.com)
- Dean Ramos - Illinois Entertainer January 2008

"Gray Matters"

"With a James Dean jacket and a cigarette"

(opening line to Ghost in the House, by Mike Felten)

Mike Felten, a Chicago folk singer and record store
owner, was in Lou Whitney's South Street studio in
early July recording tracks for his second album, the
follow-up to 2003's Landfill. "Ghost in the House,"
with its invocation of the 50's foremost symbol for
rebellion, was the first song up. After a few takes,
Whitney called Felten into the control booth to listen
to a playback.

"You know, I had one of those," Whitney tells Felten.
It was a lucid moment. Between the sound engineer,
musician, and journalist, there were more accumulated
years than some Mormon family reunions. Or so it

It's not often that this 51-year-old music journalist
could be referred to as "the kid" in a work situation
especially when an interview involves an artist
working on their debut or sophomore effort. But it is
becoming less uncommon.

Felten is not the first AARP candidate to kick off a
recording career. Fat Possum blues artist Robert
Belfour worked construction for 35 years before
releasing albums. Bob Frank, who was hailed as a
"southern Bob Dylan" when his 1972 album on Vanguard
was released, took a 30-year sabbatical to work on
irrigation systems in California after friction
developed between he and the record label. Rich
Capalbo and Andy Willis of The Amoreys, were both over
50 when they released their first album, Tasty Frieze,
in 2000. None of the above are nostalgia acts. "I hate
nostalgia," says Willis.

As the sessions for Felten's record progressed,
Whitney would offer suggestions. "Try it this time
with a little more 'ham.'" "Can you drop the key one
notch?" Sometimes slight alterations in a song's
arrangement were made. Whitney commented to me about
the ease in which Felten could adapt, the sign of a
seasoned musician who had worked at his craft for many
years. About halfway through the first day of
recording, Whitney was marveling, "This is the best
batch of songs that have come through this studio in
at least five years."

Mike Felten has been writing and stockpiling his songs
for around 35 years. Bob Frank tells a similar tale.
"I never stopped writing songs while I was working a
union job and raising my family," Frank told me in a
2002 interview. "I've been refining them and writing
new ones all these years." Since Frank's release of
Keep on Burning that year, he has retired from his
job, released 2 more critically acclaimed albums, and
now performs at folk festivals around the country on a
regular basis.

What Felten and Frank share, as well as many other
gray-haired "rookies," is they are incredibly talented
artists who have led a workaday existence. They have
used that experience to craft songs that are rooted in
the way most of us live our lives. Both can be
political in their songs and there is a maturity to
their politics, not often found in younger performers.
They know what they are for, as well as what they are
against. And they are using their advanced years to
express themselves in a manner they have denied
themselves in the past.

"I played in a lot of cover bands for the cash," says
Felten, "trying to keep a family and a store afloat.
At one point I was playing seven days a week, four
hours a night and six hours on Sunday. I don't know if
I would've
done it for 'exposure' or one of those other words
that just mean 'free' in the musician's lexicon. I got
paid and folks heard 'Proud Mary' and 'Green Grass of
Home' instead of Landfill."

Felten downplays his natural ability. "Nothing about
music ever came easy. As good or as bad as I am right
now, I worked hard to get here." Working hard included
opening gigs for such folk luminaries as John Prine,
Bonnie Koloc and Steve Goodman in the early '70s and
later for Utah Phillips. In the '90s he wound up with
a regular blues gig in a band called Bellyfull of
Soul. "It seemed like every major blues artist sat in
with us at one time or another. Pinetop Perkins,
Lonnie Brooks, Dancing Perkins, Jimmie Lee Robinson,
Lindsey Alexander, all the Maxwell Street guys."

For his second album, Felten chose Springfield's Lou
Whitney to record the basic tracks. Felten explains
the decision this way, "I always loved the Morrells
and the Skeletons. It is always great to work with
somebody that was coming out of the boom box when I
was digging potatoes in Michigan. He's done records
with a lot of people who I like. Guys like the Bottle
Rockets and Dave Alvin. I had covers by both of those
guys on the list for my last band project. There is a
shared perspective on what a positive end result would

"I recorded Landfill with Devin Davis, who has an
excellent, critically acclaimed album out. He is a
younger guy. I think the problem we had was that
neither one of us knew our roles. I'm not an engineer
and at the outset, he thought that all he should be
WAS an engineer. By the time, he was comfortable
enough with me to voice an opinion, the project was
just about all in the can."

But Felten doesn't exclude the possibility of working
with younger engineers in the future. "Age difference
is a double edged sword. On one hand, a young guy
might not catch your short hand, but they aren't as
entrenched in a style or the 'way things have to be
done'. From my varied background, I didn't know if I
should make a blues album or a rock album or country
album or a folk album. In the end, I just wanted to
make a 'Mike' album. I think the edges were a little
more jagged on Landfill than the one we are working on

"Lou is still making music. He knows what it is to be
a lifer. A lot of the wizards that we grew up with are
selling time shares. Making a living is important, but
making music is paramount in our scheme of things.
Devin was great and I think he'll be where we are
thirty years from now. I don't think he'd know what a
James Dean jacket was, but Lou did."

Despite their talent and experience, demand for aging
artists by major record companies is almost nil. Radio
play is unheard of outside of non-profit community
stations. To expose their music, these artists are
adapting the DIY philosophy of the punks from the
mid-70's. Both Felten and Frank own their own record
labels. They both have websites and do their own
promotion. Frank has found a nitch market at folk
festivals while Felten's left-leaning political tunes
have found an audience in Belgium, Northern France,
and among striking Opel workers in Germany.

When it comes right down to it, though, mass
acceptance is not a motivating factor. Life can make
you a realist and Felten knows the odds of having a
hit record are slim, even to those signed to a major
label. He doesn't want to be a rock 'n' roll star. His
motivations are more humble than that.

"I'm not trying to impress the girls and make them
sorry they spurned me. I've spent enough nights in
motels. In the mid 1980's when we were relatively at
peace, a woman by the name of Jan Maara got up and
sang Steve Goodman's anti-war song 'Penny Evans' at a
festival in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Some of the
musicians that were there, said that they wished to be
entertained and not preached to. Twenty odd years
later we are in
the same quagmire. I wonder if we all sang 'Penny
Evans' as much as we sang 'God Bless The USA' for the
past twenty years, if we'd been in the same situation.
We should all stand in place and sing about who we are
and what things should be. Stardom or fame is just
another devil that has to be confronted."

"Pete Seeger entitled his autobiography, 'How Can I
Keep From Singing?' _Expression is not a choice but a
necessity. Music is the novel for the short attention
span. At the very least, my grandchildren will be able
to listen to my stuff and know who I was."

There is a sense of mortality in that final sentence
that comes with age. It's a sense that is instinctive
in most all of us that are nearer to the end of our
lives than the beginning of it. There is an urgency to
strip away the bullshit and find the things in our
lives that are the most important and to pass that
knowledge on to future generations.

Felten explains his opening line to "Ghost in the
House" this way: "The verse is about the bad decisions
we make in our youth and ignorance where we sometimes
reject the pure hand and heart."

The myth is that James Dean's jacket in "Rebel Without
A Cause" was red to signify anger. The truth of the
matter is that Dean bought the jacket after he learned
the movie was going to be in color so he would stand
out more.

What Felten is leaving his grandchildren is a lesson
on how to cut through the crap. And that's a valuable
lesson to learn at any age.

- Downtown Now -August 2006

"Mike Felten - Landfill 2003"

Mike Felten could be John Prine's sadder and funnier brother. A record store owner by trade, Felten will have you weeping one minute ("Save Her Old Man") and in stitches the next ("You Could Have Had This"). And his songs work best when they mix both tragedy and humor, such as on "Talkin' 66 Summer School Blues" which invokes both Columbine and Eddie Cochran ("Mama Papa told me, Son, you got to make some money if you want to use a gun or go shooting next Sunday. Well, I called my Congressman and he said, quote, 'Fuck off you little bastard, you're too young to vote.") Somewhere on the twilight side of 50, Felten has written a set of songs that speak more about survival than great expectations. And anyone who can make a living as an indie record shop owner for over 20 years is most certainly a survivor. So, kid, if you wanna get by in this mean, old world, you better get a sense of humor. - Alternative Culture Guide

"Mike Felten - Landfill"

"Felten specializes in crossing up expectations: Is this an angry John Prine? Lynyrd Skynyrd folk-rock? Roots rock with occasional cowbell? The songs are smart, funny and sound full even when all that's going on is a couple of guitars and a little percussion."
- Rock and Rap Confidential

"Mike Felten"

"I've reached 1..2..3.. and it's quittin' time. Besides Landfill just came on the changer and left me with the same question, as always: I didn't know Kris had learned to sing this well..."- - Dave Marsh


Landfill - 2003
Landfill EP - 2003
Record Emporium 25th Anniversary Compilation -2004
Tossin' It Away - 2007
"Red Shirt" has been added to Neil Young's Living With The War" web site.
Assembly Line Concert Compilation 2010
AKA Johnny Lunchbucket  -2013
No 2nd Rides Live CD 2014 

Diamonds and Televisions Cameras and Stereos CD (in production) 2016

+ Man + Guitar + Dog download only (in final production) 2016



Somewhere tonight, Mike Felten is stepping up on another stage.He has been doing this for decades. .

The Illinois Entertainer tells us he is the "real deal".

He tells us that the weathered Martin guitar in his hand is his shovel and that the old Harmony Sovereign waiting for the slide is his plow. He is a workingman; a Johnny Lunchbucket. What he does isn't folk, a kind of blues, a bit of rock. All the influences forged in the tempest  like a late night omelet at some ancient diner.  

The stories come like another cup of joe at a Ron-Ric or a Standees. Some names you recognize. Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. Nelson Algren and Gene Autry. Maybe even a Paddy Bauler or a Hillary Rodham..Open mics when a John Prine got up and did three. Pete Seger and Utah Phillips listened.

Some names you never heard before but some you'll never forget. Short Pencil Lewis. Benny Peeps or Trailways Barkle. shares his stage. 

There are the places too. The hardscrabble neighborhoods of Chicago. The years in the copper country of Michigan, hauling your own water and cutting your own wood. All the long highway nights getting to the next gig, the next town. All the fleabag motels and character building one nighters at the K of C or some Elks Lodge. A thousand dive bars and a bunch of sit down theaters. Parking lots and farmer's markets. Under the bridge and up in the ski lodge.

He sings to remember and sometimes to forget.

There are four albums. Landfill, Tossin' It Away, AKA Johnny Lunchbucket and No 2nd Rides. Coming soon will be Diamonds and Televisions and a bare bones + Man + Guitar + Dog. It never seems enough. It is never complete even though the arc has to winding down. Now is the time.

Folkways legend Bob Everhart tells us that "Woody Guthrie would've been proud".

Mike doesn't know about that stuff. It is just the shovel. It is just the plow.

"Great, visual songs about industrial Chicago and real life, wrapped up with lots of story." - Kaleidoscope Coffeehouse

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