AGELESS VOCALIST DAVEY PATTISON ROCKS AGAIN WITH GAMMA


Photo by Dan Folley

By Paul Freeman [August 2016 Interview]

Ageless. At 70, Glasgow-born, Marin-based vocalist Davey Pattinson continues to fuel the sizzling rock of Gamma. His new Gamma lineup attains the level of dynamism that crowds have come to expect. And audiences respond enthusiastically to the re-formed bandís performances.

Growing up in Scotland, Pattison was influenced by Howliní Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, who later became a friend. But it was attending a Little Richard show, at age 12, that inspired Pattison to become a performer. He began in the tough local bar scene.

He was working with Matthew Fisher (Procol Harum) and Fisher sent a tape of Pattisonís vocals to guitar sensation Ronnie Montrose. Bill Graham called, inviting Pattison to fly to California to join the new Montrose group - Gamma.

Pattison already had a notebook with lyrics to such future Gamma hits as ďThunder and Lightning,Ē ďRazor KingĒ and ďVoyager.Ē Montrose set them to chord changes and Pattison honed melody lines.

In the Gamma sets these days, Pattison also includes a couple of songs from his days with Robin Trower. He sang with Trowerís band, on and off, from 1986 to 2012.

In 2004, he joined guitarist Michael Schenker for two albums under the monicker The Schenker Pattison Summit. These "Endless Jam" recordings also featured legendary musicians Tim Bogert (bass) and Aynsley Dunbar (drums).

With Pattisonís voice still remarkably strong and effective, his new version of Gamma may soon be recording a live CD and DVD.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
The current sets, is that almost all Gamma songs? Or do you draw from other phases of your career?

DAVEY PATTISON:
I would say about 85 percent or more is Gamma. Because I sang with Robin Trower for so many years, Iíve got to pay attention to that. Because, if I donít, people complain. So I do a couple of Trower songs in there, too.

PCC:
Gammaís current lineup, does it have its own personality, or is it dedicated to recreating the dynamic sounds of the bandís past?

PATTISON:
Well, yes and no. It has a sort of personality, to a certain extent. But obviously, the people who come to see us know these song so well, if you deviate too much from it, you can see them go, ďWhy the hell are they playing it like that? That wasnít on the record.Ē So itís probably 90 percent true to the original recordings. But I do encourage them to spread their wings a little bit.

PCC:
Is that similar, in your approach, vocally? Do you feel you have to stick pretty spot-on to the originals?

PATTISON:
Oh, no, to be quite honest with you, I probably never sing them the same way twice [chuckles]. Thatís just not my approach, really.

PCC:
From your perspective, what are the elements of the bandís music that have give it such lasting power?

Gamma, left to right:
Brad Barth - Keyboards, Tommy Merry - Guitar, Davey Pattison - Vocals, Van Spragins - Bass, Don Buch - Drums Photo by Dan Folley

PATTISON:
Well, Iíd like to think just really good songs that made an impression then and are still making an impression now. Actually, what started this was Ronnieís memorial show. Myself and some of the original guys got back together and played about half a dozen songs at that thing and the reception we got, it blew my mind. So I thought, ďOkay, thereís obviously people out there who want to listen to this stuff.Ē So thatís why I started putting it together.

PCC:
With the intensity of your vocals, how have you kept your voice in such great shape over the years?

PATTISON:
Well [laughs], I donít smoke, for a start. I quit smoking some years ago. And that definitely helps a lot. And I just kinda do it. I donít even think about it. I just do it.

PCC:
Thereís such a dramatic aspect to the power of your voice, is that something you cultivated over the years?

PATTISON:
No, Iíve always kind of been the same way. I only know how to approach it one way. And thatís head-on. I very seldom deviate from the blues. Everything I sing, to me, is derived from the blues. Thatís always been my approach.

PCC:
So growing up, you listened to a lot of iconic american blues singers?

PATTISON:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Howliní Wolf, Muddy Waters. John Lee Hooker. Yeah.

PCC:
And what was it that grabbed you about the blues?

PATTISON:
I could understand the feeling that these people got. But I became quite good friends, actually, with John Lee Hooker at one point. We had a conversation one day and he said to me, ďYou know, Davey, white people really shouldnít sing the blues.Ē And I completely agree with that, because they donít really know what itís about. We can sing the notes, play the notes, but trying to convey that feeling is a whole different ballgame. I try [laughs]. Iíve tried.

PCC:
Did you play in bar bands in Glasgow?

PATTISON:
Oh, yeah. Iíve been playing music since I was 12. I was taken by a family member to my very first rock íní roll show. I was 12 years old. And Little Richard was on the bill. And I saw what he was doing and, of course, I didnít understand what he was doing at all, but I remember saying to myself, ďI donít know what heís doing, but I want to do that. Whatever that is, I want to do that.Ē And thatís what started me out. I still believe, to this day, that Little Richard is the true king of rock íní roll, myself. But thatís probably debatable.

PCC:
In that tough Glasgow bar band scene, how much did that shape your rock íní roll style and attitude?

PATTISON:
When I started, everybody was doing pretty much the same thing. Everybody was doing blues songs and R&B songs. A lot of really good singers came out of Glasgow in those years. But everybody was doing pretty much the same thing. We all latched onto that black music.

PCC:
Didnít you have to be kind of tough to survive in that scene?

PATTISON:
Glasgow, Iíve got a saying about it [laughs] - Glasgowís not for the squeamish. I donít know if youíve ever been there. I just came back. I was over there for nine weeks. Itís changed a little bit, but thereís still a definite toughness to it.

Now that Iíve been in America all these years, Glasgow reminds me a lot of Detroit, middle-class, real people, down-to-Earth, no bullshit, no crap. They tell you whatís on their mindsÖ and thatís to be admired.

PCC:
So coming over here in the late 70s to Northern California, was that a culture shock?

PATTISON:
Oh, that would be putting it mildly. I was completely like a fish out of water for actually some years after first coming over there. It took me maybe two or three years to figure out the culture and what was going on, why it was going on. Yeah, it took me quite a while.

In actual fact, Iím telling you I went back to Scotland and I kinda felt the same way over there. I kinda felt like I was a little bit like a fish out of water, going back to Scotland, because Iíve been here this long. As far as Iím concerned, Iím an American with a funny accent. Yeah, I do love the United States.

PCC:
When you came over, did you realize this opportunity with Gamma was going to be a life-changer?

PATTISON:
Oh, yeah, pretty much. The biggest gig Iíd played up to that point was probably the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, where I opened the show for Alex Harvey. And I knew what to expect, when I got here. It didnít make it any easier, because you go from playing bars and night clubs and stuff. As I say, the Glasgow Apollo was the biggest one. And you come over here and youíre playing to 20,000 people a night. Itís a whole different thing.

Plus the fact, up until I joined Gamma, I always played guitar, albeit rhythm guitar. I never considered myself a guitar player, but I always had a guitar around my neck. All of a sudden I donít. Itís like uh-oh [laughs]. Thatís a whole different thing, as well. So it took a bit of learning.

PCC:
Itís like having your security blanket taken away.

PATTISON:
Thatís exactly right. So it took me a while to figure that out. Plus those big stages, you canít just, as I figured out, you canít just stand still on a huge stage with 20,000 people out there, because if you do, nobody sees you. So youíve got to move around a little bit. And I found that a little difficult, too, because Iíd never done that. I think Iíve gotten okay at it.

PCC:
How much input did Bill Graham have into the bandís early career?

PATTISON:
Well, I think he just kinda took us under his wing. We opened shows for some of the biggest tours in the world at the time, because of Bill Grahamís clout in the business. We opened for AC/DC in the ďBack In BlackĒ tour. We did Foreigner, both in America and in Europe. We opened for Carlos [Santana] quite often, because he was managed by Bill, too. The music business has never been the same, since Bill Grahamís passing, I donít think.

PCC:
What were your impressions of him?

PATTISON:
My impressions of Bill? I thought he fabulous. He made me feel really well at home. I got on very well with him. I wouldnít call him my friend, because I didnít see him in that way, but he was very kind to me. In fact, when I first come out here, I was still married at the time, no longer, unfortunately. And my then wife had difficult settling into the lifestyle here. So Bill bought us tickets back to Scotland. So after a couple of weeks of that, she realized what she had in California [laughs] and I never heard any more about that. But yeah, Bill was great.

PCC:
What impressed you most about Ronnie Montrose?

PATTISON:
Ronnie was all business, when I first met him. I came over him and I had a lot of lyrics in a notebook. We just sat and went through those. The way I remember it, the first song we wrote together was ďThunder and Lightning.Ē And then I had written the lyrics to ďRazor King,Ē ďVoyager,Ē all before I came here. So there was no problem putting an album together. It just actually all kind of fell into place, when Ronnie and I were writing together. It wasnít much of a problem, really, coming up with material.

PCC:
Was there an equal amount of chemistry, personality-wise, as well as creatively?

PATTISON:
Ah, no. Personality-wiseÖ we eventually became friends. He wasnít always easy to work with. I think thatís well known. Sammy [Hagar] in particular would tell you that, as Iím sure you know. But, no, I had no problems with Ronnie in those days. We worked together very well. And I learned from him.

He taught me a lot about, as I say, a big stage. I actually think it was a mutual appreciation society, because he liked what I did and I liked what he did. When it came to the songwriting, I would come up with the lyrics most of the time, and the melody line. Ronnie would play the chords and Iíd build up melody around that. So yeah, it was good.

PCC:
So he would give you tips on the showmanship aspect?

PATTISON:
Well, he taught me a lot of that, because Iím not Rod Stewart or Sammy Hagar, when it comes to that [laughs]. Iím still not great at it. I consider myself a pretty serious musician. I was more interested in the music than any kind of image.

PCC:
What was it about his playing that was so special?

PATTISON:
Oh, well, he was a fabulous guitar player. I mean, the solos that he played on some of those Gamma songs are just fabulous. The solo on ďRazor KingĒ is unbelievable. ďVoyager,Ē as well. ďVoyager,Ē when we recorded that, that whole song was done in one take. That song was recorded live in the studio. There were no overdubs whatsoever put on that. And the solo he come up with, well, it was stunning.

So the guy Iíve got now, Tommy Merry, he pays close attention to it, because, if you donít, the audience knows the songs so well, if you deviate too much, they donít like that. [Chuckles] Itís taken me a while to learn that.

PCC:
And then, teaming up with Robin Trower, youíve had a strong relationship with him over many years.

PATTISON:
Yeah, on and off from í86 until 2012, something like that. On and off, all those years. I enjoyed that. That worked very well, I thought, because, as I say, my whole approach to whatever Iím singiní is from the blues. So when I was working with Robin, that approach gelled very well with what he was doing.

PCC:
And what is the magic of his playing?

PATTISON:
Thereís a lot of depth to what he does. A lot of depth. A lot of soul. A lot of emotion. I think heís one of the best guitar players in the world, myself.

PCC:
And working with Michael Schenker, what was that experience like?

PATTISON:
That was Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records, who Iím sure you know. Iíve been friends with Mike for many years. Iíd done a few things for him here and there. And he called me up and asked me if Iíd be interested in doing an album with Michael. I said, ďSure,Ē because Michaelís a great guitar player. And it was all cover songs. And when I found that out, I kinda went, ďOoh, I have to think about that one,Ē because, if Iím doing someone elseís music, Iím not going to do it the way they do it. Iím going do it the way I would approach itÖ as much as I can anyway. So it was an interesting experience. I enjoyed those records. They were a lot of fun to make.

PCC:
When a great guitarist and great vocalist team up, do you find that they spur one another on to loftier heights, when everythingís working right?

PATTISON:
Well, I think that was certainly Mike Varneyís way of looking at it - put the two of them together and see what happens. Plus we had Aynsley Dunbar on drums, whoís an old friend of mine. And on the second one, we had Tim Bogert on bass. So these guys know what theyíre doing. Sometimes it was difficult, because they were recording these songs in the keys that the original artist had sung them. And that didnít make it easy for me [laughs]. I had to duck and dive occasionally. And thatís kinda where my penchant for changing things up a little bit came in handy.

Yeah, I had a lot of fun making those two records. They were pretty quick, as far as vocals were concerned. I mean, I didnít even have a producer. I was in the studio by myself with an engineer. And I kind of produced them. I produced the vocals pretty much myself. Iíd do maybe two or three songs a day, which is not normal for me. I like to take my time a bit more than that. But there was a rush to get these albums out. So, yeah, I look back on those days and I enjoyed them. I think those two albums were really good.

PCC:
And generally, is there a sense of competition, between vocalist and guitarist?

PATTISON:
No. Iíve never experienced any of that. Again, we actually never recorded together. The only time I met Michael would be at photo shoots. I guess the basic tracks were done in Las Vegas. And then theyíd send the basic tracks up here and I would sing on them. Or Michael would go in play solos and then I would go in and sing Ďem. The only time we ever met was actually at photo shoots. And weíd sit for a few hours and just shoot the shit, basically. And I liked him. I know heís got a bit of a reputation, but I must admit, I never had any problems with him. Again, he liked what I did and I liked what he did. I think Mike Varney knew that, on a musical level, weíd probably get on just great. And we did.

PCC:
But generally, working with Ronnie or Robin, is there a sense of wanting to top one another?

PATTISON:
No, no. As I say, Robin Trower and I are both influenced by the blues. And at one point, we did get together and recorded an album called ďAnother Dayís Blues,Ē which was blues songs. And I thought, actually, for two white guys, it was a really, really, really good record. Itís probably pretty obscure, I would think. But it was really good. So yeah, Iíve never been far away from the blues.

PCC:
Where are you based now?

PATTISON:
Iím in Marin County. Iíve lived in Marin County ever since I arrived in the country. Again, I asked Bill Graham - ďWhere do I go?Ē ďMarin.Ē Iíve been here ever since.

PCC:
So what have been the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of the life in music?

PATTISON:
Well, the music business today has changed dramatically. Actually I donít like the business side of it. I never did like the business side of it. But itís gotten worse, if that was possible. I donít like tribute bands. I see them making more of a living than some of the people who actually recorded the stuff originally. Well, okay, whatís that all about? I donít understand that, why anybody would be interested in just being a cover band. I just donít get that. I didnít become a musician to play other peopleís music, although I did start out that way, same as everybody else.

But Iím still in the music business, because people - what they tell me, anyway [laughs] - still want to hear my songs. So thatís why Iím still doing it. Iíve still got a fire for it. Where the heat comes from in our shows? Thatís probably the answer, because I still have the fire for it. Most guys my age are long gone [laughs]. So I consider myself quite lucky that Iíve still got the fire and still want to do it.

PCC:
The satisfactions that you get from performing now, are they the same as they always were?

PATTISON:
Yeah, I donít careÖ I mean, Iíve played Days On The Green, Iíve played little barsÖ Iíll give you an example. When I first come over here, I was on the road with Gamma for months on end and we did arenas and theatres and big nightclubs, etc. And Iíd come back from that and Iíd go play a little place in San Rafael called The Mayflower Inn. And Iíd sit there by myself with a little p.a. and an acoustic guitar. And I loved that.

And people would come out and see me and theyíd go, ďWhy the hell are you in here?Ē And I said, ďBecause Iím enjoying it.Ē I certainly wasnít doing it for the money. I enjoyed it. And it would be a meeting place for all my musician friends. Theyíd come down and hang out and sit in. It was a lot of fun.

PCC:
Any new recordings on the horizon?

PATTISON:
No, though thereís actually talk of maybe doing a live album. And then a DVD along with that. I did the same kind of thing with Robin, some years ago. It was pretty successful, that. So yeah, thereís talk about that. But as far as new material, I really donít know about that, because itís been my experience that people, it takes them a while to get into new music. My experience, especially recently with this version of Gamma, they donít want to hear anything new. They want to hear the old songs. Thatís why they come. So I give it to them.

PCC:
And with all the power and energy still there.

PATTISON:
Well, thatís the hope [laughs]. Long may it continue.

For more of the continuing saga of Davey Pattison and Gamma, visit www.daveypattison.com.