A Celebration Fit For A Tyrant: Mike Barfield's 70th Birthday Bash

Mike Barfield "The Texas Tyrant of Funk" will celebrate his 70th birthday with a backyard bash at The Continental Club.
Mike Barfield "The Texas Tyrant of Funk" will celebrate his 70th birthday with a backyard bash at The Continental Club. Photo by Barbara FG
Mike Barfield has a lot to celebrate. The Texas Tyrant of Funk just turned 70 years young and will be marking the occasion with a homecoming back to The Continental Club for a backyard bash on Saturday, April 29.

“I’m almost proud of it, it’s a survivor thing,” says Barfield of his approach to a milestone birthday. “I'm not running from it at all. I’m kind of surprised that I'm still doing this in a way and I'm still able to do all these late nights and that and that somebody even has me to do it, that's been a great thing.”

Barfield, originally from Houston, relocated to Austin 23 years ago and has held weekly residencies around the city, primarily at Austin’s Continental Club where club owner Steve Wertheimer helped cement Barfield’s powerful nickname bestowed on him by a record store owner and club promoter in Wisconsin.

Looking back on his long career and friends who have come and gone, Barfield finds inspiration in those who are older and younger than him. He counts Texas Tornados drummer Ernie Durawa as a close friend and walking buddy who encourages him to keep on trucking.

“In some ways I think I appreciate it more now,” he says of performing live and looking back at his long career. “You just realize how fragile everything is when you get older.”

Barfield’s live performances are like none other and it’s easy to see how he has maintained his fanbase and ability to draw crowds mesmerizing audiences with his dynamic dance moves and funky songs.  Barfield and his band commonly produce a cognitive dissonance experience by the seeming mismatch between what the eyes see on stage and the ears take in.

Barfield describes the reaction of one audience member who told him and longtime guitarist Johnny Moeller that they shouldn't be able to play "stuff" like that and look like "a bunch of Arkansas clap doctors."

“It’s kind of undignified that I’m still doing it,” laughs Barfield of his slinky and sexy moves. “I’ve always kind of been that way and with this current thing I’m doing, it just brings that out in me. I have more aches and pains than I probably did once in a while but who doesn't.”

Aches and pains aside, Barfield just keeps grooving and in many ways feels he is in better shape now than he was in his younger days when he was less mindful about his health.

“I still move around a lot and enjoy it. Most of the guys in my band now are pretty much 17, sometimes 20 plus years younger than me so I feel good about that too because I'm pushing pretty hard.”

Prior to his move to Austin and being knighted as The Tyrant, Barfield lived in Houston where he was raised. It was here that he pushed hard in a different way with his bands The Rounders and The Hollisters, much more country and Americana inspired bands then his solo project.

Once Barfield went solo though, he was able to really delve deep into his Soul Train influenced youth at Ross Sterling High School and the funky sounds he held inside. “I had that influence all along,” says Barfield. “It was even in my country stuff but it was more of a swampy thing.”

Growing up Barfield was in an environment of proportionally balanced population of white and black kids allowing him to tap into all of the influences of the time along with a steady diet of seeking out live shows at the long demolished Sam Houston Coliseum.

“We used to just live, eat and breathe going to see shows,” says Barfield of his youth where he had the opportunity to see Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and other top acts of the day, an experience he is grateful for.

For as many years as Barfield has been on the scene though, he has focused more of his energy into his live shows then stepping into the studio to record with only two released albums under his belt and one that was never released.

“I haven't done that much,” says Barfield of recording. “I kind of got an attitude for a while, it’s like an expensive business card,” he says of full albums. “I don't mean to dismiss it but it is what it is.”

It’s no surprise that such an energetic force would find it challenging to bottle in all that charisma in an often sterile setting where every second can cost buckets of money but despite this, Barfield has been stepping back into the studio and plans to release a string of singles ahead of his upcoming album Throwing Shapes due out this year.
His 2005 debut album The Tyrant, featured songs that are still hits designed to make listeners laugh and groove with many of the tracks co-written by the fabulous Mike Flanigin. Both artists together focused not only on the beats that lubricate the joints, but songs with lyrics determined to make people smile.

“When I wrote that with Flanigin we just had a mindset of this is the kind of stuff you shouldn’t be serious with,” he says of tracks like “Funky Cupcake.” “It’s not cerebral, it’s ridiculous and humorous in its own way. Anybody that takes a song like “Poppin’ the Cooch” seriously has got to be out of their minds.”

Mike Barfield will perform Saturday, April 29 at The Continental Club backyard, 3700 Main. 7 p.m, $12.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes