Big switch for Special Consensus – Rick Faris out, Greg Blake in

While it’s always a tense time for musicians who make major career changes, switching touring acts or launching a new venture, it comes as something of a comfort after such a strange year to report on a story that feels so much like regular life in the bluegrass world.

Greg Cahill, who is taking a stab at Doyle Lawson for the longest running band in bluegrass music, is announcing a personnel change today in Special Consensus. Cahill has been at the helm this past 40 years, seeing as many future stars come and go in the group as Doyle has over that same time.

And for Special C, things had just been getting better and better until the COVID restrictions forced an end to live performing last year. Keeping a stable band in place always helps as you try to expand your audience, and since moving to Compass Records in recent years, the group has seen success after success come their way.

But Cahill tells us this morning that the switch they are making finds him with mixed emotions.

“Changes are in the wind for Special Consensus these days. Compass Records released our Chicago Barn Dance recording (2020 IBMA Song of the Year) in the midst of the pandemic, and we have only played one festival and a few live shows since February 29, 2020. We will slowly begin to return to playing live shows in April, and hope that we can play the remainder of our 2021 tour dates as COVID numbers continue to fall and vaccinations are more available.

However, we will have a new look now. My great friend, superb singer and guitar player, Rick Faris, is leaving us to pursue his personal career as a bluegrass songwriter and performer (and luthier). 2021 begins the 11th year Rick and I have been standing on stage together, throughout the USA and in many other countries, and he has appeared on all of our IBMA award-winning and Grammy-nominated band recordings. He will always be part of the Special C family and we will always support him, remain best friends and wish him well. Rick is preparing to record his second solo recording for Stephen Mougin’s Dark Shadow Recording label.

While Rick’s leaving is bittersweet, we feel extremely fortunate that our good friend, and fabulous singer and guitar player, Greg Blake, is joining us for the next chapter of the Special C journey. Greg is very well known in the world of bluegrass music, having played with several midwestern bands, his Greg Blake Band and, most recently, with Jeff Scroggins and Colorado. He has a new recording about to be released on the Turnberry Records label and Dan, Nate, and I are very much looking forward to touring and recording with Greg as we begin to emerge from the pandemic.”

The signs that Rick was moving towards a solo career were clear over the past two years, and given the interest shown in his Breaking In Lonesome record in 2019, this move should surprise no one. But the deep friendship that exists between Cahill and Faris is equally evident in Rick’s statement on leaving the band, even using the same word to describe it.

“It is with excited but bittersweet feelings that I announce I am leaving Special Consensus. 
After 11 years the amazing Greg Cahill has helped shape me into the musician and person I am today. I have learned so much from Greg, and cannot thank him enough for giving me the opportunity to be part of his legacy. In 11 years I’ve been on 2 different instruments in 19 countries on 3 different continents. In that time Greg and I have been on 6 different Special C records, shared 2 Grammy nominations and 6 IBMA award wins and loads of nominations.

I’ve always joked with Greg Cahill on and off the stage. Our shtick was I’d jab about his age, and he would fire me on-stage in front of everyone.

I really wish I could have been fired just one more time in my hometown and in Greg’s hometown, Chicago, which really has become my second home. COVID has robbed so many people of so many things. For me it’s closure and a going away bash celebrating a new chapter with a dear friend, my Coach Greg Cahill.

However, there’s always a silver lining. COVID has helped me find more strength in faith, family, and fitness. With the time off the road I have also found a new drive and rekindled passion for music. I have been writing non-stop getting ready for the next Rick Faris record with Stephen Mougin producing on his Dark Shadow Recording label. We now have a record’s worth of material, and the amazing musicians to bring it to life! We are currently lining up our schedules and are excited to get after it.

I’m not sure what God has planned for me just yet, but I have been willing to follow my bluegrass path on faith. I will continue to build guitars and whittle down my waiting list. I have already been asked to perform festivals as a solo artist, and look forward to building that as I move forward with my brand of music. Now I just need to find a younger version of myself to fire every night.

I have been so blessed as a member of Special Consensus, and I only pray that I am just as blessed with my musical endeavors beyond. Thank you to the friends and fans who have supported me and my Special C brethren for so long! You really are an amazing bunch of people and I love you dearly. I can’t wait for everyone to hear the new music and look forward to seeing everyone on the bluegrass trail.”

Mougin has always kept his stable of artists small, and works very hard for anyone signed to Dark Shadow Recording. He likewise shares the mixed feelings as this change takes place. But he is confident about Rick’s music going forward.

“I’ll miss seeing Rick performing with Special Consensus, but can’t wait to hear the new band. Greg Cahill always manages to find the best and brightest to share his stage. The sophomore Rick Faris album will begin tracking soon, with a collection of amazing new songs and a crop of stellar pickers. Lots of great music on the horizon from both camps!”

For Greg Blake, the past two years have been a whirlwind as well. Scroggins and his Colorado band had been an aggressive touring act, offering a rewarding outlet for his music. When they went their separate ways, Blake relaunched his Greg Blake Band, and started work on his first recording to focus primarily on songs he had written. Singles from that upcoming project have been warmly received, and joining another busy traveling band will only increase his exposure.

Blake tells us that he recognizes the responsibility he is undertaking, and is eager for the challenge.

“I’m humbled, yet honored to be invited to join forces with Greg Cahill and Special Consensus. I’ve watched this band do the same thing for almost FORTY years, but in constantly new and exhilarating ways – and that is uphold the traditions of our bluegrass patriarchs, while creatively pushing the envelope to the edge. I’m anxious to learn and contribute to both of those ongoing tasks.”

We see only great things ahead for all parties involved in these changes – Rick Faris, Greg Blake, and Greg Cahill and Special C. More great music for all of us!

You can follow Rick’s music via his official web site, or at Dark Shadow Recording. Special C you can follow at their site, or Compass Records.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.