DAVEY PATTISON: ROCKER BUILDS ON BLUES FOUNDATION|
PCC Chats with the Great GAMMA and Robin Trower Vocalist
For Davey Pattison, the epiphany came when he was growing up in Scotland. I was taken to this rock n roll show, when I was 12 or so. And I saw Little Richard and I was mesmerized. I thought to myself, Well, I dont know what hes doing... but I want to do that.
I realized later, not at the time, but looking back, that what he was doing was taking the audience to church. And then I heard Ray Charles. And it was all over, he says, laughing. I heard Whatd I Say. Oh, my God!
Pattison has a famously powerful, penetrating blues-rock voice of his own. When Pattison and his band tour now, they perform the dynamic songs he recorded with Gamma and Robin Trower.
He knew at an early age that he had a special vocal gift. When I was five or six years old, I was in the choir for church services and I was the little guy that they put out front for the solos. So I knew I could sing. And then I heard rock n roll and I thought, Oh, wow, yeah, okay. And I played in bands all through my teenage years.
People say to me, Youre from Scotland, why do you sound American, when you sing? Well, most British singers do. When you grow up, youre just copying what you hear. I was listening to the American blues and soul artists. Eventually, you do find your own style. Ive sung many kinds of music - rock, jazz, country, pop. But blues has always been at the foundation for me. Its the depth of that music. I listened to Bobby Bland, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf.
Pattison developed a reputation as a top talent in the U.K. In 1979, Bill Graham invited him to come to the U.S., to sing lead with Gamma, a new band being formed by Bay Area guitar great, Ronnie Montrose.
Pattison co-wrote such Gamma hits as Thunder and Lightning, No Tears, Razor King and Voyager.
Some of the songs that became Gamma songs, I had already written the lyrics before I got here. There was a whole big notebook full of lyrics. We just went through those. There was never any invitation to join the band, he says, chuckling. It was just taken for granted. We got together and it was like, bang! We were writing songs from day one, really.
Wed sit down with two acoustic guitars and Ronnie would come up with an idea and then Id go look at the lyrics and Id come up with a melody line that suited those lyrics. It was actually quite simple, really. There was no stress involved in doing it. It just seemed to come kind of natural to us.
Pattison says of Montrose, who died in 2012, at home in Millbrae, Ca., a suicide, following a long battle with cancer, He was a great musician. A wonderful guitar player. For me, he had that touch of the blues thing in his playing. He could have used more, in my opinion. But he had that soul thing going, too, which is what appealed to me.
The group had tremendous success, packing huge venues. Pattison says, I was like a fish out of water for a while. The biggest gigs, at that point, Id played, would be theatres, two or three thousand people. But all of a sudden, youre singing to 20,000 people. Its a whole different planet.
Following 1982s Gamma 3, the band Pattison had formed with Montrose began to come apart.
The band just kind of fizzled. I was never too thrilled with Gamma 3, to be honest with you, the third one. To me, it was deviating away from what Gamma was. It was more key-board-oriented. It reminded me of Flock of Seagulls, Pattison says, laughing. I just felt, Thats not what we are. Then Denny [drummer Denny Carmassi] got offered a job with Heart. So he was gone. It just wasnt the same anymore. Most bands kind of have their day and they kind of fizzle out. And then I was asked to join Robin.
Pattison began singing with guitar legend Robin Trower in 1986. Theyve recorded several albums together.
Ive always enjoyed working with Robin, because, again, its that blues influence, that passion, the soul that goes along with that kind of music. I just naturally gravitated towards that. And he knew that, too. I dont know what the plan is, at the moment, for any more tours with him. Hes had some family illnesses, so thats why we havent been touring. Im hoping that theres something happening in the summer of next year, maybe. Well see.
Robin is so deep. Such a talented man. If you look at his library of songs. I mean, its unbelievable. Even now, Im sure hell be settin at home in England, still writing songs. Thats what he does. A brilliant musician. Theres only one Robin Trower.
Pattison worked with another famed guitarist, hard rocker Michael Schenker, in the Schenker Pattison Summit.
Im friends with Michael Varney, who owned that Shrapnel Records. Ive done a lot of work with him over the years. And he called me and asked me if Id be interested in doing something with Michael and I said, Sure. It was a whole lot of fun, that. I got to play with my old friend Aynsley Dunbar. He played drums on it. And Tim Bogert on bass, from Jeff Beck. So good musicians. It was very simple to do. It was just a whole bunch of cover songs and we just kind of revamped them. It was two albums, actually. I havent heard from Michael in a while. I dont know what hes doing. Somebody told me hes back in Germany. I know he was living in Arizona. He was living in Phoenix, when I was working with him. Those two albums were great fun.
Of successful collaboration, Pattison says, For me, Ive always gravitated towards people, and I guess other musicians have gravitated towards me, because of the blues, because thats my approach. At the end of the day, it all really comes from the blues. And its really about one word. The word is compromise. Empathy, bringing out the best in people, pushing them, when you have to. And leaning back, when you dont. A lot of its experience, I think, especially in the studio. Yeah, I been doing this a long time now.
Like a fine wine or a great blues singer, Pattison improves with age. I dont listen to my old stuff. When I finish a recording project, I listen to it once and then I may never hear it again. But people are telling me Im singing better and better all the time. And that comes from people I trust musically. Theyre telling me that, so I guess Im doing something right, Pattison says, laughing.
Pattison, 68, divorced, has been living in Marin County since 1979. Hes currently based in Novato. Ive always thought, if youre going to the United States, live in the Bay Area. Ive seen more of America than 95 percent of Americans, I would think. There are places in America that are just wonderful, but the Bay Area, I just love it here. The weathers perfect. Look at today. Its the middle of November. Its 75 degrees out there. Unbelievable. Where I come from, its minus-four. Pattison laughs. To hell with that! No more of that shit!
He didnt feel instantly at home in America. The American culture took me a while to get used to, because its a whole different way of life from the way I was raised. I talk now about it with my own children [two grown daughters]. They were brought up with swimming pools and palm trees and hot tubs and the Marin County lifestyle, so to speak. I came from the slums. Ive tried to explain that to people from here. And they just dont comprehend that.
Pattisons gritty roots inform his music. I remember doing a radio interview years ago and the DJ asked me, Why do you think you have the right, as a Scottish guy, to be singing the blues? I go, Well, being brought up in post-war Scotland will give you the blues, he says, laughing. All you hear about in the history books is the Blitz in London. But what happened in Glasgow was even worse, because Glasgow was building all the ships. So they flattened that city. It got a lot of attention from the Germans, the Luftwaffe, bombing the shipyards.
The years after the war were pretty tough for most of the people. There was rationing, food rationing, living in slums. Thats the way we were all brought up. Theres a lot of Scottish singers from that era who have done quite a bit. To me, Glasgow was every bit as bleak as Harlem, if not more so. Or Mississippi.
We were all listening to the same stuff, blues music and Ray Charles and Little Richard and soul music, Aretha, Donny Hathaway, eventually, whos a huge influence on me. John Lee Hooker, who I got to know quite well, when I got here.
What did Pattison learn from Hooker? Humility. He was a very humble man. I miss him.
Like Hooker, Pattison has retained his lifelong fervor for music. I still love it. Theres a lot of people whove been doing this a long time who are kind of burnt out on it, but just do it because thats what they do. But Ive still got the fire for it. And if I lost that, I dont think I would do it, because if the passion goes, it goes, so why do it? If youre not loving every minute of it, why do it?
He loves every minute of performing, but that doesnt mean a career in music doesnt present challenges. The business has changed an awful lot over the years. There are no record deals anymore, unless youre 19 years old and youve got a troupe of dancers and blah, blah, blah. At least through the major labels.
Most people who play music, they can make records in their living room, with a computer now. So theres a whole lot of crap out there. Im sure you know this as well as I do. And theres no radio out there. Thats the other thing. It doesnt matter who you are. You cant go on the radio anymore with new material. And I know whos to blame for that. Im sure you do, too. Clear Channel. I mean, they own most of the radio stations in America. And a lot of the venues, too. And they dont promote new music at all. So to try to get new music out there is difficult. Somebody told a while back there that every single thing Ive recorded in my life, is on the internet for free. Every single thing. Every song... is out there for free. Theres something not right about that. So the business end of its changed a whole lot. Its definitely tougher... because theres a whole lot of crap out there. Even with a bit of a reputation, its difficult.
As for the satisfactions that balance out those difficulties, Pattison says, Just being able to keep doing it and loving it. Thats enough reward. I dont need to be a millionaire. Im quite happy plodding along and making a living at it. I know a lot of people that are very wealthy in this business. And Ive also met many really talented people who are not that wealthy. And they vastly outnumber the wealthy ones.
Pattison has released solo albums, including Mississippi Nights and Pictures, and has penned a number of new tunes. But he hasnt recorded them as yet.
As for unfulfilled musical ambitions, Pattison says, Well, I got kind of frustrated, when I heard Rod Stewart doing classics, the standards. I got kind of frustrated by that, because, one, hes not very good at it, and he shouldnt really do it, but this is part of the business and those albums go triple-platinum. Theres something not right with that, he says, laughing, because theyre awful. And Ive done a bit of that, in my time. My favorite all-time singers Nat King Cole. Even now, I listen to Sinatra, Al Martino, the classic singers of the 30s and the 40s. And to me, that was proper music. Those songs were properly written music. So yeah, I would like to do that at some point. But probably itll never happen, because you need an orchestra to do it properly, unless you do it with a trio, which wouldnt be the same. Yeah, I dont know. There isnt much that I still want to do, that I havent done. Ive done most of it.
In fact, Pattisons reality has exceeded his dreams. I mean, Id never have thought, when I was 20 years old, that Id be living in California, having toured the world and played arenas and stadiums. No, I would never have dreamt of that.
For more information on Pattison, as well as the latest tour dates, visit www.daveypattison.com.