Amy Farris dies at 40; fiddler-singer was part of L.A. roots music scene
By By Randy Lewis
Oct 02, 2009 | 12:00 AM
Fiddler, singer and songwriter Amy Farris, an in-demand session and touring musician who became a regular presence on the Los Angeles roots music scene after moving from Austin, Texas, to launch a solo career, has died. She was 40.
Her body was found in her home in Los Angeles on Tuesday. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office said her death is being investigated as a suicide, but the cause won't be known for four to six weeks, when results of toxicology testing will be completed. FOR THE RECORD: Farris obituary: The obituary of fiddler Amy Farris in Friday's Section A reported that she is survived by her father and brother. She is also survived by her mother, Mary Lou Ramirez. —
"A beautiful light went out -- it's a horrible thing," said Exene Cervenka, founding member of Los Angeles punk band X whose new solo album features Farris on several tracks. "There's a huge void in everybody's life right now. . . . It's devastating. She was really an important musician and an important singer. Everybody wanted to work with her."
Farris, who had played on stage or record with Texas musicians including Ray Price, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, met Cervenka in the 1980s when X was on tour.
"She was just a kid, and she was really sweet," Cervenka said. "Everybody said we were like sisters, because we looked a little bit alike. I always took that as a huge compliment, because I think she's a beautiful, beautiful woman. Over the years I watched her grow up and become this incredible woman, this talented, important woman. That was really a nice thing to see."
Cervenka said they had begun writing songs together and were planning to work more closely since Cervenka recently moved back to Los Angeles after four years living in Missouri.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Dave Alvin, who recruited Farris for a new band he formed earlier this year, the Guilty Women, was a member of X at that time and also recalls being impressed with Farris' passion for a broad range of music.
"She was probably the only person on the Ray Price tour who also had an X CD," Alvin recalled Thursday.
"One of the reasons I put the [Guilty Women] together was to showcase people like Amy who are incredibly talented but don't necessarily get the recognition they should," Alvin said.
He was on his way to the Bay Area, where he and the Guilty Women are scheduled for two shows this weekend. "We're going to keep this thing going, but now, she's not going to be part of it. It's just sad."
Amy Farris was born Oct. 20, 1968, in Austin. She studied violin and became proficient on several members of the violin family.
"She could do it all," Alvin said. "She was a great string arranger. She would multitrack the violin and viola and everything else and suddenly you've got the L.A. Philharmonic behind you. She was brilliant on that."
She sometimes felt homesick for Texas, and once spoke of going alone to a movie theater to watch "The Alamo."
She also taught violin, and students and parents of students sang her praises when word of her death surfaced this week.
"Don't think that you pulled the wool over our eyes as parents," Nancy Lynch wrote on the Austin360.com website. "We figured out: That you spent every dime you earned as a music teacher buying rewards for the kids. That your extraordinary talent was just a means to an end; that your real objective, along with teaching a love of music, was to teach our kids how to love and accept themselves."
Farris left Austin for Los Angeles in 2003 to record her only solo album, “Anyway,” with Alvin producing. She bragged to her peers that Alvin wrote three of the songs on the album with her.
"She played all these parts he had written out," Alvin said, "and then he asked her, 'Why don't you just jam over the end of it?' When she did, he said, 'That's great; do some more.' She was on Cloud 9 after that. She'd come to Los Angeles and played with Brian Wilson."
She is survived by her father, David Farris, and brother, Jeff. Plans for a memorial service are pending. FOR THE RECORD: This article omitted Farris' mother, Mary Lou Ramirez, from the list of survivors.
The family is asking for donations, in lieu of flowers, to Hungry For Music Inc., a Maryland-based nonprofit that provides musical instruments to underprivileged children.