Flanigin became the band’s second guitarist during its critical club tour through the U.S. In 1992, replacing Dave Lee Bartel.
But his connection to the band started before he was drafted one night in Dallas: Flanigin had already been associated with lead guitarist Paul Size, who he reunited with again in Texas after The Red Devils imploded.
Today, Flanigin is the go-to Hammond B3 player for Jimmie Vaughan (the two are off to New York Dec. 9 for a show with Steve Miller honoring T-Bone Walker) and Billy Gibbons (Flanigin toured and recorded with Rev. Gibbons’ solo BFG Band). He also has a sprawling musical travelogue called “The Drifter,” released last year, which is an all-star tour through American roots music.
But more than 20 years earlier, he was a key part of keeping the hottest blues band in America chugging up and down the highway.
In a nearly two-hour interview, Flanigin talked about his own musical journey, his relationship with The Red Devils members, road stories — including the infamous “destroyed hotel” story — and so much more. The Q&A is edited only for space and clarity; further comments will publish later with more photos, audio and video.
It was a laid-back, familiar conversation that was exciting to be a part of. We bounced from topic to topic; hope you can keep up.
[Apologies for the ridiculous delay on this … life and all. All photos by Tina Hanagan.]
Mike: I was fairly old when I started playing. I think my first gig was 24 or something like that.
Interviewer: Really? So and you’re from Denton?
Mike: My dad was in the Air Force, and so we were in California when I was young and then we moved to Louisiana — Shreveport. Then we moved to Michigan and then ended up in Denton. My dad retired and so my sisters were going to school in Denton. So that’s how we ended up there. I think when I was about 13 we moved there.
Interviewer: But had you been in music? Had you been playing instruments when you were a kid or how’d you …
Mike: I wasn’t really in a musical household. I always liked music but, I worked at a pawn shop in Denton and it was kind of a music store too, so I’d strum on the guitar or something. But, everybody else in the pawn shop, they were in bands and I thought well they’re good. They seemed like musicians.
I was never that guy. It wasn’t until — I didn’t really know people in bands, I was just kind of out of it — really it wasn’t until I met Johnny Moeller and Jay [Moeller] and Paul Size, they would come in the pawn shop and I had met Anson Funderburgh. Somehow I had stumbled onto a gig for Anson Funderburgh in Dallas. And I talked to Anson and then those guys came in. And so we started talking about Anson.
Of course then they sat down and started to play. I was like, “Well, who are these kids?” Because they were just kids. I don’t know how old they were but 16, Jay was maybe 13 or 14 or something. Paul and Johnny were little kids when I met them. They were in high school. I remember I use to go over to Johnny’s house and his mom would check — I would bring over some cassettes or something — she’d check. She thought I was selling them drugs, going through my cassettes.
Interviewer: Like, why is this older fellow coming by …
Mike: Right, yes. Who is this? Well you know at that age just a few years seems a lot older.
Interviewer: Right, right and why are you hanging out with him?
Mike: Especially their kids are that young. It’s weird because music bonds you but I probably wouldn’t have been hanging out with a kid in high school at that age, and it’s not that I was super old but those were guys were talented. Even then, you knew these guys were the best. What was great about Paul — Johnny — everybody knew Johnny was the guy. And Paul idolized Johnny. But Paul just had this natural thing, I think he sounded like Buddy Guy and I don’t even think he had heard Buddy Guy. He just does this stuff and then it all just comes pouring out and it’s this. You’ve seen it right?
Interviewer: Right, right. Yes.
Mike: No hesitation. He’s not preoccupied with trying to sound like a particular guy or whatever.
Interviewer: Just presence.
Mike: It’s just pouring out and Paul was always real natural like that.
Interviewer: Yes, yes. So, your first instrument, was it organ or was it guitar?
Mike: No, I was playing guitar back then. I didn’t play the organ until, I was 30 maybe was when I started?
How that started was, I was playing at Antone’s. Me and Johnny Moeller and I can’t remember if Paul — I guess Paul was maybe here still before he moved a little bit. But there had to B3 on stage.
Well, I was playing guitar, Johnny’s playing guitar and I was like, “Well Johnny, he’s got the guitar covered. I’ll go try and play the organ.” But I didn’t know how to play keyboard but I would try and play while we had our little gig. Someone said, “Well, find the key and then count up three, that would be a minor. Count up four, that would be a major.” So, that’s how I started. And then when the other bands were playing, Derek [O’Brien] and the house band, I would sneak up there and just try and play the organ. But Doyle Bramhall Sr. hired me after about three months, saw me.