Just west of New York City, and slightly north of Philadelphia, something is happening in the hills of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. In the era of the music industry’s perpetual search for the next pop icon, the greater Lehigh Valley area is host to a community of musicians that are dedicated to preserving a seemingly forgotten art that has grooved its way into the hearts of people the world over for decades: the jam.
Lehigh Valley favorite, jam band Mike Frank & Friends, have brought life back to the local jam band scene. With a dose of screaming organs, thunderous rhythm section and gooey guitars, plus an affinity for improvisation, Mike Frank & Friends create a unique and exciting musical experience for anyone to enjoy. Mike Frank’s lyrics spotlight a fresh perspective on seemingly small, yet significant moments in life while the band’s explosive and rhythm-driven presence takes you by the hand and leads you into a familiar dance. Taking inspiration from all the classic jam bands, Mike Frank & Friends take listeners on a new musical journey with each performance. MF&F embraces the digital music era, recognizing that jam bands rely on the sharing of recordings of their live performances, and offers mp3 downloads of many of their performances directly from the band’s website.
Mike Frank began playing guitar and performing at a young age. The son of a bluegrass musician, Mike taught himself to play the guitar with the help of all the musicians he grew up around. Soon enough, a young Mike Frank would often be called upon to fill in on various instruments. By his early teens, he was a seasoned performer and began exploring his own musical originality. Over the next few years, Mike would develop an affinity for improvisational music and the desire to put together a band of his own.
”For me, music is a pool,” Mike says of his writing process. “As you go through life, your pool fills. When it’s full, the music and lyrics seem to just create themselves. If the pool empties, you have to let life refill it with day-to-day experiences.”
Mike’s signature guitar playing is a unique blend of styles inspired by many of the greats. Having studied the improvisational styles of guitarists like Jerry Garcia, Trey Anastasio & Jimi Hendrix, Mike has adapted their styles to his bluegrass roots. The result was a hybrid sound of rhythm-driven dirty blues juxtaposed by melodic and captivating hooks. Mike’s use of chord structures ensures his music sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before, yet reminds you of something familiar.
To find the perfect band, Mike sifted through many of the areas Open Mics and eventually found his ensemble:
Steve "Doctor" Farrell, Drums - Formally of NJ-based fusion band, Ludlow Station, Doctor serves as drummer-extraordinaire. Comparable to drummers like Jon Fishman (Phish) and Steve Gadd (Paul Simon), his impressively funky, technical and dynamically fluid style is an unmistakable characteristic of the band’s sound.
Mike Panella, Organ – The mastermind behind former NJ-based fusion band, Ludlow Station, Mike Panella is known for his impressive Clavinet/Hammond B3 organ setup, but perhaps more so for his energetic improvisation and composition. Working closely with such legendary organists like John Medeski, Grace Potter, and Bernie Worrell, Mike adds an array of funky flavor.
Todd Lanka, Bass - A premier bassist and a true master of his instrument, Todd’s vintage sound is intensified by his musical repertoire and improvisational skills. Being one of NJ’s most respected and sought-after bassists, it’s only natural that Todd would bring something incredibly special to the mix. A graduate of William Paterson’s Jazz Program, his impressive resume includes working with noteworthy artists such as Nasty Ned, and Tom Marshall (Phish).
Mike “Mike-O” O’Brien, Percussion – Longtime friend and bandmate, Mike-O adds a dose rhythmical adrenaline to the group, playing a variety of percussion instruments, often simultaneously. Having studied percussion at West Chester University, Mike-O adds texture and color to the sound. His synergistic relationship with Farrell, and their ability to improvise as a unit, creates a rhythmic display that captures listeners the keeps their feet moving.
In 2009, Mike Frank released his first album Yellow Rays with Mike Frank & Friends, and is available on iTunes and Amazon.com. In 2014, Mike Frank & Friends completed their 2nd studio release “You Take The High Road”, which is available for free download on the band's website.
MF&F is currently back in the studio recording their 3rd release.