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Erick Hovey, Musician and Farmer - a Blue Collar Review
By Mick Polich - 07/26/2009 - 03:10 PM EDT

Somewhere, deep in the small towns, cornfields, wind turbines, and processing plants of northwest/north central Iowa, stinging notes cry from an electric guitar as a man sings as honestly as he can about loss, life, and the afterlife…….

Folks, let me introduce you to my friend Erick Hovey, and his unique way that he approaches his vocations, missions, and passions in life and music.

Erick is farmer who has a place outside of Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he tills the land, and probably works one of the last respectable vocations left on the planet. Farming is stewardship to the earth, and in our age of more enhanced, processed, and biologically engineered ‘super foods’, recently more and more people have been waving their middle finger at the big food engineering companies, and getting back to the garden, so to speak. 

Erick is also a master musician, and has been touring NW Iowa, playing fairs, outdoor shows, clubs, and recording music when he’s not on the tractor. He’s released two CD’s this year, ”Recycled Souls”, and “Blues Farm”. To Erick, the blues is the best genre to express him self in, but isn’t limiting to his fertile imagination in arranging and peppering his music with seasonings of jazz, funk, old power trio rock, and newer folk fusion styles. But to me, the biggest part of Erick’s approach to his art and life is the organic nature with which everything blends together – everything is explored, and added in a positive fashion.

I have listened to both “Recycled Souls” and “Blues Farm” with equal aplomb and openness – “Souls” is the more rock-oriented CD of the two, while “Blues” takes the concept of  decades of blues music arrangements, throws them into the blender, and makes a nice little salsa from old-time jazz, ‘70’s disco/funk, blues – rock, and folk blues. Yeah, Erick is a friend, but I say all this because on my way back this summer from our annual Andrews family reunion in Storm Lake, Iowa, I flipped “Blues farm” several times in my car, as it’s thoughtful, spiritual –and – sensual based lyrics  and music ran my brain. I’m not blowing smoke –this stuff is the real deal.

With that, let’s review Erick the musician first, before we delve into Erick the farmer, and see how everything ties into his life and world.

“Blues Farm” is an apt title to this collection of essentially blues based material, but with many, many dollops of stylistic flair from other music offerings (and you can download his stuff from iTunes, or go to his website to purchase his songs). Right out of the chute comes the song “Ball And Chain” (this is my son Andrew’s favorite – probably the groove - plus he likes hearing the chorus over and over). Musically, the minor key funk/disco groove of this piece reminds me of many 1970’s recordings from the Kings (Freddie, Albert, B.B.), Johnny Otis, and music from perennial blues label Tomato Records.  With a rhythm guitar worthy of backing James Brown, Erick’s bruised tenor voice sings,” I see you cut yourself, standing in the rain”. From the opening line, this song could be a metaphor for ‘the ball and chain’ of life – depression, a bad marriage, bad luck (which are classic blues themes). The redemption, or possible release, may be hinting at suicide, perhaps in this case – and then the reasoning not to go that path. Powerful song, powerful music.

“Soda Pop Girl” has grown as a favorite of mine – it’s Tin Pan Alley swing, and the encompassing lyric of having a partner who drives you around so you can merrily drink. Plus, the song is a humorous nod to the usual sexual double entendre – cars, ’riders’, and ‘driving home’.

“I Wanna Know Who You Are” – about really digging into the soul of a person – is another favorite. Set against a classic Howlin’ Wolf styled stomp shuffle, this number features a standout harmonica solo, and gritty, small - amplifier – overdriven – sonic – crushing guitar tones, urging the listener to get up, get down with it, and find out some facts about looking into some souls. The rest of “Blues Farm” just gets better and better….

Overall, what draws me to the music of “Blues Farm” is the ability of the songs to take the myriad of blues styles that span from the early Chess sides of Muddy Waters, the electric Chicago blues of Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, and the white-boy rock-influenced power blues that many of us baby boomers grew up on, THEN, fuse lyrical content that has not only good humored nods towards classic blues and rock cliches’, but spans the afterlife, and existentialism as well. Sometimes it’s spooky, sometimes it’s raw, spiritual, and sensual – everything for the purist and the novice as well.

Now, Erick the Farmer……

Farming is centuries old stewardship to the earth – said before, say it again, don’t underestimate the importance of farming, especially now. First, I find it amazing that people are completely ignorant where their food comes from on a day - to – day basis, but when we contract diseases from overly processed food, chemically enhanced food, or destroyed food  from mishandling and improper growing techniques, then we’re pissed off. People just expect food to be there, especially in the United States, where over consumption seems to be the American Way. Given the recent ‘back to the land’ reports of young people turning to farming as a way of fully knowing how their crops are nurtured and tended, it’s no small wonder that some folks are realizing conservation of the soil, the use of chemicals v.s. organic farming, and the questions of the uses of ‘super seeds’ – seed groups bioengineered to produce bigger, better crops. Face it, folks – the way of the farmer is the way of the world because it’s the way to your survival as a species.

Why do you need to know that Erick Hovey is a farmer as well as a gifted musician/songwriter? Because not only do the two vocations define Erick as a man, they are organically tied and interwoven, as essential to his being as breathing. Erick’s music needs the toil of the land, and the toil of the land needs Erick’s music.

In our e-mail correspondence, Erick sent me a multi – page ‘manifesto’ that details everything from soil conservation to better land management, to the balance of economics of farming, providing the population with a food supply, and trying to do it al thru sustainable agriculture and a balanced, healthy respect for nature. And you know what? Those are just PART of the topics in this intriguing, yet urgent, work.

I’m convinced that we as humans are always receiving messages and signs, and it’s up to us to have our antenna up if we want to decipher them. Of course, I’ve been reading Morgan Spurlock’s “Don’t Eat This Book!” which details his film documentary on eating a diet of McDonald’s for a month – then, Erick sends me his study. Sure, friends, I’m from the Midwest, and have grown up around farmers and farming, so there is a predilection towards said subject. But come on, peeps – who ever considers that our resources for food production are limited, and unless some changes keep taking place, our food supply will be compromised  in 30 -50 years? Laugh about ‘tree hugging’ all you want, but when the day comes when you have no more Chicken Mc Nuggets at the dinner table, we’ll see who has the stupid grin with the thought balloon of ‘damn naturalists, anyhow’ above their head……..

Erick and his wife Betsy have gone from organic gardening to farming, getting it down as a sensible science, relishing it as their life’s work. They are a complementary couple as most compatible couples go – Erick, with his impish, ah-shucks grin, the mover, deep thinker, and Betsy -  quiet, friendly radiating charm and grace. Erick, armed with a bachelors degree in agriculture, and Betsy with a masters in English (please forgive my syntax lapses, darlin’), set out to give back to the land, their shared history and heritage, and their community. Judging from what I’ve observed, they’ve done so in fine fashion. Echoing the virtues and policies of my favorite American president, Thomas Jefferson, they have worked with nature as nature has worked with them. And in continued harmony, Erick has grown an impressive side career of making and playing music around the north central/west regions of Iowa.

I wish I had more space to delve into Erick’s passion and love for the land and music – after all, what started as a simple CD review could have actually gone on for a couple of columns to get more fascinating details.

All I can end on is this – start picking up on Erick’s music, and you can start with “Blues Farm”. This has been a short primer, but hopefully, one that gives a little more insight on my friend, musician and farmer Erick Hovey.

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