Veteran Texas sideman Mike Flanigin made his first-ever solo album, The Drifter, with a little help from his friends. And after 25 years of playing, including a residency with Austin’s famed Antone’s house band, that list is impressive.
The Drifter, due out Aug. 21, features contributions from ZZ Top‘s Billy Gibbons, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan, Alejandro Escovedo, Kat Edmonson, the late Reverend Gean West and Blondie drummer Clem Burke. “That’s part of the reason why I did the album like I did,” Flanigin tells Billboard. “It was a great chance to work with all these people that I admire so much that maybe I don’t get a chance to play with otherwise. It’s my dream album with my dream artists.”
Connecting with Gibbons for The Drifter‘s title track — the album’s only cover, inspired by Gatemouth Brown’s rendition with Roy Clark — was particularly special for Flanigin, whose first concert was a Rolling Stones show in Dallas with ZZ Top and the The Fabulous Thunderbirds opening. “A lot was happening in my life, and that song, ‘The Drifter,’ expressed my feelings better than I could,” says Flanigin, who can be seen on ZZ Top’s Live at Montreux 2013 DVD and playing with Vaughan on the video from Eric Clapton‘s 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival. He’s also played on Gibbons’ upcoming solo album and will be touring with him this fall. “I thought, ‘Who would do ‘The Drifter’ better than Billy Gibbons?’ It was just a perfect match. With that song you have to be so authentic, and I just couldn’t imagine hardly anyone else being able to pull it off. Growing up I was the biggest ZZ Top fan, and I never could’ve imagined we’d be friends. I called him up and he had never heard of ‘The Drifter,’ so I sent it to him and he was really excited. We went in it and cut it, and as soon as he opened his mouth and started that spoken-word introduction, it gave me goosebumps.”
Listen to the “The Drifter,” which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.
“Mike Flanigin stands tall as our go-to guy whenever the sound of his Hammond B3 is called for,” Gibbons tells Billboard. “We brought him to the Montreux Jazz Festival to join in with ZZ Top’s tribute to the memory of Claude Nobs and the favor was returned when we got invited to sit in on Mike’s recording of that epic supernatural narrative tale ‘The Drifter,’ from the fertile imagination of the late, great Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. Mike Flanigin nails it.”
The rest of The Drifter is marked by diversity, from the jazzy opening track “The Devil Beats His Wife” to the punky fury of “Fit To Be Tied” with Escovedo, the lush, string-laded “From the Dust” and the smoky “Nina” with Edmonson. Primarily an organist, Flanigin plays acoustic guitar on several tracks, showcasing it on “One Little Heart” and on the short instrumental piece “This Life.”
“It all fits together, at least in my head,” Flanigin says. “It’s music, and I guess it may seem strange to a lot of people, but here in Texas it seems so natural to have all those influences and bring them all together side by side. So many other people have done that — Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm and really everybody I know down here, maybe not to the extreme where you have a really beautiful ballad with strings next to Alejandro, almost a punk rock track, but I love all those kinds of music and they all fit side by side on my record shelf. It makes perfect sense to me; I have my fingers crossed it will make sense to anybody else.”
Flanigin is planning one special show to promote The Drifter on Sept. 6 at Austin’s Paramount Theater, where he’ll be joined by most and possibly all of his guests on the album. And he’s certainly open to recording another album down the road. “I love recording,” Flanigin says. “If I could, I would just sit in a studio every day and record and call up people I like and see if they wanted to come play. So I’m sure there’ll be something from me in the future. I’m just not sure what that’ll be.”