Legendary Keyboardist & Session Player Mike Finnigan Dead At 76
LOS ANGELES, CA — Mike Finnigan, a keyboardist, vocalist, and session musician who performed with an impressive array of artists including Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Jimi Hendrix, has died. He was 76.
A source close to Finnigan’s family said he succumbed to kidney cancer on Wednesday morning at Ceder Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
We are rocked to the core to hear of the passing of our dear friend, bandmate and musical genius, Mike Finnigan. He fought his long illness with the same fearlessness and ferocity he brought to every part of his life.
Our deepest condolences go out to Candy, Kelly, Bridget and all his family.
Mike was one of the most powerful, virtuosic soul/gospel/blues singers and Hammond B3 players you’ll ever be blessed to hear.
Respected and emulated by musicians the world over, his legacy of staggering performances across his 60+ years career will stand the test of time. He stopped our show nearly every night. There was simply no one like him.
He was whipsmart, incredibly articulate and funny as hell. He was as devoted to his beloved family and friends as he was to helping so many struggling to get and stay sober. He and his wife Candy were instrumental in my own sobriety and I will be forever grateful.
Rest in peace, dear Mike. I know you’ll be shaking that Heavenly Choir to new heights as only you can do.
Here’s a clip from our 2013 Slipstream tour, where he tore up the place every night with Ray Charles’ iconic “I’ve Got News for You.”
~ Bonnie Raitt
A native of Ohio, Finnigan attended the University of Kansas on a basketball scholarship. He started to perform professionally when he was 19, relocating to Wichita to perform with The Serfs, which started as a house band at a local nightclub.
In 1969, he joined the Serfs in recording their only album, 1969’s “Early Bird Cafe” and toured with the group.
During a trip to New York City, Finnigan landed a gig as a session music with Jimi Hendrix as he was in the studio recording the legendary album “Electric Ladyland.”
In 1972, Finnigan partnered with Jerry Wood to form Finnigan and Wood, releasing just one album “Crazed Hipsters.”
Finnigan’s other collaborations in the 1970s included performances with Dave Mason, Big Brother & The Holding Company, and Peter Frampton, as well as Jim Kreuger and Les Dudek, with whom he formed the band Dudek, Finnigan, and Krueger.
Finnigan later partnered with Dudek and singer Cher to form the band Black Rose, which performed around Los Angeles as an independent act before signing with Casablanca Records.
They released only one album, the eponymously named Black Rose, which also featured Gary Ferguson, Warren Ham, Rocket Ritchotte and Trey Thompson. However, the album gained little traction with fans and the group parted ways the following year.
Through the 1980s, Finnigan was a much sought-after musician, recording on multiple albums with Crosby, Stills & Nash, including “American Dream,” and “After The Storm,” as well as with artists such as Joe Cocker (Hymn for my Soul).
He also provided keyboards for the legendary blues and soul singer Etta James for more than two decades.
More recently, he recorded with Tracy Chapman, Joe Cocker, Buddy Guy, Tower of Power, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen, Keb ‘Mo, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Burdon, Kara Grainger, and the Zen Blues Quartet, among others.
Finnigan’s performances with Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band earned him not one but two Blues Music Award (formerly W.C. Handy Award) and he was nominated twice more in the ‘Pinetop Perkins Piano Player’ category in 2013 and 2014.
In addition to his music, Finnigan was an outspoken political commentator and a regular contributor to the blog Crooks and Liars.
Finnigan is survived by his wife of more than 50 years Candy Finnigan and their two children.
R.I.P. Mike Finnigan
By John Amato
August 12, 2021
Mike Finnigan will go down as one of the greatest musicians of all time, but to me he’s one of the great human beings to have ever walked the earth.
Mike Finnigan Plays “Let Me See the Light” Live 1991
Where to begin?
I have a heavy heart today.
This news broke on Wednesday: “Mike Finnigan, a keyboardist, vocalist, and session musician who performed with an impressive array of artists including Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Jimi Hendrix, has died. He was 76. A source close to Finnigan’s family said he succumbed to kidney cancer on Wednesday morning at Ceder Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.”
I met Mike in 1992, when I first moved to Los Angeles. We became friends immediately.
I had no idea at the time how accomplished he was as a musician, only that we could relate, but what drew me to him was his honesty, warmth, compassion and humor.
My political awakening happened in 1999, during the Gore v. Bush election and then what followed afterwards in Florida and the Supreme Court.
That’s when I received an email blast from Mike about the state of affairs in America. Out on the road, he spent time researching articles and sent them to 50 friends or so.
These emails had a big impact on me, especially when he introduced me to the new concept of blogs.
During the summer of ’04, I wanted to start a website to voice an opinion and was looking for a name, when I remembered something in one of Mike’s emails. There was a phrase that stuck with me. He called the Bush administration “crooks and liars.” And that was that — Crooksandliars.com was born on September 1, 2004, and hasn’t stopped since.
After the site gained popularity, in honor of his influence and mentorship, I asked Mike if he wanted to transfer his email roundup onto our site. He agreed, and we called it Mike’s Blog Roundup. Mike linked to many wonderful sites and writers over the years — including our own Fran Langum! — and when he left to go on an extended tour we continued with MBRU as a tribute to him.
Candy, Mike’s wife, told me how proud he was of the work we had done and his participation in the process. He was so happy that his legacy of progressive views carried on and made a real impact on the country.
Finnigan will go down as one of the greatest musicians of all time, but to me he’s also one of the great human beings to have ever walked the earth.
He taught me how to be a better man and how to live life the right way.
Here’s to you, Mike and Candy.
Mike Finnigan on hammond, it’s a pleasure to watch him talk of recording Rainy Day, Dream Away with Jimi Hendrix on “Electric Ladyland”.
Mike Finnigan, University of Kansas basketball player turned famous musician, dies
A famous musician who once played basketball for the University of Kansas before launching his career in area clubs has died, and he’s being mourned not only by locals but by major music stars across the country.
Mike Finnigan, a keyboardist and session musician who toured with Bonnie Raitt and played with Jimi Hendrix, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles, friends are reporting. Finnigan, who was 76, had been hospitalized and was fighting kidney cancer in recent weeks.
“There are great players and then there are people who are just touched,” said Drake Macy, a Wichita musician whose father, Ed Macy Sr., was one of Finnigan’s early Wichita band mates. “Mike was definitely one of those. He just had an approach that no one else did. I’ve loved a lot of great singers in my day, but Mike Finnigan, in my opinion, is the best singer to this point who has ever walked the planet.”
Social media lit up with posts about Finnigan’s death on Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning, tributes were popping up from around the country.
The official Facebook account for Raitt, with whom Finnigan toured and recorded, posted on Thursday morning that she was “rocked to the core” by news of Finnigan’s dealth.
“Mike was one of the most powerful, virtuosic soul/gospel/blues singers and Hammond B3 players you’ll ever be blessed to hear,” the post read. “Respected and emulated by musicians the world over, his legacy of staggering performances across his 60+ years career will stand the test of time. He stopped our show nearly every night. There was simply no one like him.”
Finnigan, who was born in Ohio, was a 6-foot-3 basketball star who was recruited in 1963 to play at KU. But he gave up hoops and moved to Wichita, where he became a regular performer on the club scene. Soon, he was renowned for his skill on the Hammond B-3 Organ.
In 2004, he told The Star about his brief basketball career.
“I started getting interested in the music scene right away, which no one in the basketball program was too thrilled with,” he said. “Their philosophy was: You show another interest and you’re out.
“My dad, ever the realist, said, ‘They hired you to do something; you’re supposed to concentrate on that.’ I was 18 and thought that was terribly unfair. There was talk about redshirting me, and I thought, ‘Maybe this wasn’t what I was supposed to do.’ My heart wasn’t in it. So I dropped out. KU had always had a great program and there was no point in someone keeping a scholarship if I wasn’t 100% devoted to it.”
In the 1960s, he joined a Wichita band called The Serfs. They appeared at a number of Kansas City venues. “Back in those days, if you were good and you wanted to work, you could find live gigs,” he told The Star. “In Kansas City there were scads of places to play. Every other joint had a live band, at least a trio.”
Soon they began playing around the country and got a deal with Capitol Records. Jimi Hendrix heard them and invited them to join him in a long jam that became “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” on the “Electric Ladyland” album.
In the 1970s, Finnigan moved Los Angeles and became one of the most revered session players on the music scene. Throughout his career, he toured or recorded with acts like Dave Mason, Taj Mahal, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jerry Hahn, Maria Muldaur, Rod Stewart, Dan Fogelberg, Etta James, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Peter Frampton and Joe Cocker.
In the early 2000s, Finnigan joined the Grammy-winning Phantom Blues Band, which was formed as a studio band to back up Taj Mahal, as keyboardist and vocalist. The group went on to win many awards.
Finnigan frequently returned to Wichita, where his wife, Candy — a well-known alcohol and drug addiction specialist who appeared on TV’s “Intervention” — was raised.
In addition to his wife, Finnigan is survived by daughter Bridget and son Kelly, who is also a musician.
Kelly Finnigan is scheduled to perform with the Phantom Blues Band on Sept. 3 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City.
Mike Finnigan’s big life
by Louise Hoffman Broach
Aug 20, 2021
I am not sure that this column or even this newspaper are big enough to contain Mike Finnigan, a true giant of a man in the music industry — and in life itself.
Mike died in Los Angeles on my birthday a week ago, Aug. 11, from liver cancer. He was 76. His daughter Bridget said he fought it “like an Irishman.”
You might know Mike best as the keyboard player for Crosby, Stills and Nash, but he started out running tunes and jamming with Jimi Hendrix. He toured with Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker, Taj Mahal, Michael McDonald, Joe Walsh, Billy Bob Thorton (really) and even got together to record with Ringo Starr and Mick Jagger. His instrument was the Hammond organ. He had a booming, blues voice that filled every venue. He also had his own gig, too, with the Grammy-winning Phantom Blues Band.
And he was an icon in another way, as a role model to countless people battling addiction. Mike had more than 35 years of sobriety and although AA has no so-called leaders, if you lived in LA and were involved at all in any of the anonymous groups, you knew of him. David Crosby brags about Mike being his first sponsor when he got clean.
This man who was so much to so many was also my friend for more than three decades. I was fortunate that my interest in the world of music fostered a warm relationship with him, his wife Candy Finnigan and their daughter. By the way, you might know Candy from the TLC show “Intervention.” An addictions counselor, she herself has years of recovery. Bridget has a background in nursing and is now studying to be an EMT.
Her brother, Kelly, follows in Mike’s footsteps with his band, the Monophonics.
Mike and Candy were married for 52 years, probably close to a record in their circle. Although extremely successful, Mike was one of the most humble people I knew. And he took the gifts of kindness and concern seriously. He made music, but he also made a place of solace and security for his friends and others.
He read a lot and had a political blog, “Crooks and Liars,” in which he expressed his progressive views. It had a very large following. In his youth, he played college basketball for the Kansas Jayhawks.
He also taught confidence. Bridget, who has a slight speech impediment, was teased a lot as a child, that is, until her father bought her a pair of pink boxing gloves and taught her how to hit. She hauled back and broke a tormentor’s nose; she got suspended from school, but her father did not punish her. Sometimes, he said, you have to stand up for yourself. The teasing abated.
Although there were no boxing gloves involved, Mike helped one of my daughters decide where to go to college. They had a great discussion after a Bonnie Raitt show in Rochester; he told her to follow her heart and not be influenced by a big scholarship from a school that she was lukewarm about. She is a talented musician, too, but she told him she didn’t really want to study it. His response was simple: Don’t.
He and Candy early on helped me with an eating disorder that I overcame. When I had my babies, they sent me gifts. Every time Mike was in the area to do a show, I interviewed him and sold the story. We kept up with each other mostly through email, and Bridget and I got close. I talked with her for an hour the other night and I told her I had to write about her Dad again, about how sorry I was that he was gone and what a big hole he had left for so many.
She told me that throughout his illness, he did not want a lot of people to know, although I am sure they noticed his absence on the music scene. He last performed in Sherman Oaks in 2020.
She thinks, Bridget said, that he wanted people to remember him as he was, before he got sick. The stoic man for so many, but also a man who was quick to laugh and enjoyed smoking his cigars, going to the gym and performing songs like Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”
That is how I will think of him, the man who had the audacity to die on my birthday. I can hear him belting out Ray Charles’ “I Got News for You” and Little Milton’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries.”
I am glad I get to share this incredible man’s legacy. I will miss him.