Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway
This week we find ourselves in the United States, the southern Illinois region, and, more specifically, small towns Sparta, Mt. Vernon, and Christopher in the year 1969.
Six musicians – Del Herbert (lead guitar), Gary Gordon (vocals, guitar, bottleneck guitar), Jim Elwyn (vocals, bass), Steve Evanchik (percussion, harmonica), Roger Greenwalt (keyboards), and Mike Young (drums) – had banded together and adopted the name FARM. This moniker was used at some point prior by Gary Gordon, Jim Elwyn, and Del Herbert, who had all periodically played together while still in high school. Here it seemed to just naturally fit, as each band member had grown up in the aforementioned Illinois farming communities.
The sextet played a blues-hued style of country-flavored southern rock, similar to contemporaries like The Allman Brothers, Canned Heat, or Crazy Horse. Ironically, two of these three had connections to FARM, after all is said and done, but this is where things first got started.
Though just out of high school, these guys were not novices. By all accounts, each was quite a talented musician in their own right. Together, these six players would spend hours and hours hanging out and just jamming, sometimes doing such in more impromptu ways. FARM developed a reputation for setting up and jamming just about anywhere, be it a park, parking lot, or field, it didn’t matter.
Word had spread about FARM, as people in Chicago and outside Illinois heard talk about the band destined to be “the next big thing.” Sometime during their localized gigging out, FARM befriended George Leemon, a former schoolmate of Gary Gordon and Jim Elwyn. Leemon became a sort of de facto manager, booking agent, promotions person, and equipment repairman all in one. He also became responsible for something else FARM became known for – their fantastic quality live sound.
Leemon’s work on the band’s amplifiers, guitars, and PA system would give FARM a sound that many bigger acts at the time would have killed for. People having seen Small Faces or Jethro Tull never failed to say praise to the effect of “you guys sound as good or better than them.” Another of Leemon’s roles was that of a financier. In June of 1971, he put up the $2,500 needed to record an album at Golden Voice Studios in South Pekin, Illinois.
Where he got that money has never been revealed to my knowledge, but at the time, Leemon was living in near isolation as “Ben Johnson” in Ilna, IL for reasons he described to It’s Psychedelic Baby magazine in 2012:
“It was 1971, I got my draft lottery number and it was 18. The Vietnam War was raging and I just lost it because that was the last thing I wanted to do, you know, go over there and get shot. I moved out to a little house outside of Ina, and changed my name to avoid the draft. I was going under the name of Ben Johnson and I couldn’t work so I didn’t have much money.“
The band’s self-titled debut was limited to a 500 copy pressing from Crusade Enterprises, a small record label based in Flora, Illinois. It consisted of five tracks in total, with a playing time around the 28-minute mark. One of them is an instrumental, lead-in number “Jungle Song,” while the album closes with a FARM take on The Allman Bros. “Statesboro Blues“. Between these bookends are three originals songs, “Let That Boy Boogie,” “Sunshine In My Window,” and “Cottonfield Woman.” As for the overall sound and style of FARM music, definitely heavy garage psych-blues with fuzz guitars, congas, mouth harp, organ, bottleneck and timbale drums.
Rollicking lead guitar with a lot of interplay between the guitarists, FARM had mastered a sweltering, sweat-soaked jam quality in their music. With no distribution to speak of, promotions for the album were primarily word of mouth; FARM sold them at gigs or anywhere thought possible. This plight usually ended up that the band handed out copies to folks free of charge. It was reported at one point that a guy recorded the album onto tape and capitalized on selling bootleg copies of the LP on cassette tape… and effectively ruined any hope of FARM recouping even basic expenses.
Talk of FARM – and their unbelievably impressive sound quality – continued to grow and the band soon opened shows for well-established acts. Knowing which side their bread was buttered on, FARM acknowledged Leemon’s invaluable assistance on the eponymous album’s liner notes, which read: “Many thanks to George Leemon, our friend and spiritual guide.” An interesting tidbit of trivia is the image adorning the debut album is one of (what else?) a farm that happened to belong to relatives of George Leemon and was located in Randolph County, Illinois.
One of the better-known bands FARM provided show support to was Canned Heat, and they so impressed Canned Heat’s manager at the time that he offered to represent them, but the band turned him down. Within a year after the self-titled ‘Farm‘ album’s release, FARM disbanded with no specified “cause of death,” so to speak. What would not die was the ever-growing legacy of FARM, as they became semi-obscure, yet well recognized or even idolized, southern rock and blues legends.
Members went on to pursue other music-related outlets, while their lone album remains nearly the only evidence of their recording existence. This was mostly due to a fire at some point along the way, which occurred where FARM stored their master tapes of some unreleased material. Despite all the verbal hype and fanfare for FARM, big industry record labels were not really beating down the door to sign the band. It has been reported that K-Tel International either picked up the album for distribution or outright purchased rights to the music at some point.
Italian label Akarma Records reissued a vinyl format of the ‘Farm‘ record in 2000, but according to Gary Gordon, the band has seen no income from it. He has been reported to add: “I’ve heard about it several times and talked to people who had copies. But I’ve never actually seen a copy.” Gordon’s own 3 Chord Records was behind a 2006 remastered reissue on CD. Another remastered CD from Normal Records subsidiary, Shadoks Music, was released in 2013.
2007 saw a standing-room-only FARM reunion at Mt. Vernon venue The Living Room, followed by a second reunion in 2009 at the Sesser Theater, in Sesser, IL. Both performances were recorded in multi-track audio and video. It has been rumored that Gordon is working on mixing the live recordings and plans to make them commercially available in the future. He also owns an independent music store, Alligator Music, in Sparta, IL, along with the recording facility Inside Out Recording Studio.
George Leemon went on to work in a variety of capacities with numerous bands, the most notable perhaps being Styx. First, as an electrician, he quickly became their head roadie and keyboard technician, a position that has provided him immeasurable interactions with people from across the spectrum. He has revealed in past interviews that it never fails, once someone “in the know” learns of his ties to the immensely revered FARM, they seek to interrogate him about his time with [on the] FARM!