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Legendary Keyboardist & Session Player Mike Finnigan Dead At 76

Legendary Keyboardist & Session Player Mike Finnigan Dead At 76

on August 11, 2021 1 comment
BY DENISE NEIL
AUGUST 13, 2021
Mike Finnigan performs at the Wichita River Festival in 2013. THE WICHITA EAGLE

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.

https://www.facebook.com/officialbonnieraitt/posts/381976243289784

“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, a famous musician and onetime Wichitan, has died. © FERNANDO SALAZAR

Source: © Copyright The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle
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