By Jeb Wright
Pat Travers is still out on the road kicking ass and taking names. A true rock and roll son of a bitch, Travers plays with passion every time he straps on an axe and plugs in. From “Heat in the Street” to “Crash and Burn” to blues standards like “Red House,” Travers continues to give it his all while refusing to slow down.
Following up his Frontiers Record’s 2013 studio album Can Do, Travers is releasing a new in-concert disc titled Live at the Iridium. Best known for being an exceptional live guitarist, PT keeps his reputation intact as this concert if full of hot shit guitar licks played with finesse and class. It doesn’t hurt he’s being back up by a world class group of supporting musicians. Traver’s current band rivals the classic lineup of the 1970s in terms of attitude, sound and swagger. These guys are solid, and good… damn good.
Travers also has a new studio album in the works, and an interesting little side project titled Retro Rocket hitting the streets soon. In the interview that follows, we discuss both projects as well as some classic album titles and an iconic Day on the Green from 1979!
Jeb: I want to talk about the new live album, but you also have an album coming out on Cleopatra called Retro Rocket that is very interesting. What’s that about?
Pat: Retro Rocket is pretty straightforward and it jumps out of the speakers. It is what it is. I think there is some really good stuff on there. It is old school.
Jeb: Can Do, your last studio effort is old school, too. It’s all Pat Travers to me!
Pat: With Retro Rocket all I really did was just strip everything down. I had a ’57 Gold Top Les Paul and no effects and I just played it all one time through—I did a couple of overdubs, but nothing major. I just tried to get that raw kind of feel that bands were doing in the ’70s because they had to. There was no other way to record then.
Jeb: You are not a big nostalgia guy. You still want to make new music.
Pat: Absolutely, there is no doubt about that.
Jeb: With Retro Rocket did you embrace the concept that everything had to be done the old way?
Pat: For six of the songs—this is a very strange way to record—I can’t remember the guy’s names, as I have never met them. There was a drummer and a bass player and they recorded the backing tracks. I had these tracks of bass and drums and I had to write and sing lyrics and come up with guitar parts to match it. I couldn’t change anything because I had to stick with what I had. In a way it kind of freed me up a little bit. I didn’t have to come up with a killer chorus. I would just sing verses and just jam on the guitar. It was a little liberating not to have to worry about coming up with the big chorus and stuff like that. On the guitar, I just let myself kind of extend. I did about two passes through each song and that was about it.
Jeb: I think you’re playing better lead guitar now than you did back in the day.
Pat: Yeah, I think I know a little bit more about what I’m doing. I used to just wing everything—it’s true, especially in the beginning. At some point, I started to try to understand music, more or less so I could communicate with other musicians. I know a lot now about what I am doing and what everyone else is doing, but after forty years I think I should.
Jeb: The live album is great. Jon Paris even makes an appearance.
Pat: Isn’t he great? I loved having him up there as it made those songs really bluesy.
Jeb: I do want people to know that this is a rock album and not a blues album.
Pat: That’s right, but we do have a couple of blues songs on there. We got Jon Paris and he was such an incredible harp player and I, at the time, was listening to a lot of Howlin’ Wolf, so I was very happy to have him up there. I know Jon through Sandy, my drummer. I have met Jon many times and I am so glad that he played.
Jeb: Live at the Iridium is another great example of what you do best, and that is play live concerts. You were very at home in New York as you have said, more so than any other time you played in New York in your career. Explain that.
Pat: That is very true. I played in New York City many times and I never seemed to have a good show. Something was always screwy or not right and something went wrong. When we played at the Iridium the people were so nice and made us feel great. It is not a big place, but we had a full house, so it was a really comfortable situation. I sure didn’t feel like I was right in Midtown Manhattan. I felt like I was someplace else; someplace nice [chuckles].
Jeb: Did New York make you feel uncomfortable in the past?
Pat: Oh yeah, always. I never really liked New York City just like I don’t like Los Angeles. I just don’t feel comfortable. You know, I like New York City and it can be fun, but working there—doing a gig—can be hard. It seems like it can be a struggle. It is just getting into the city and getting into the hotel and on and on and on there is just more legwork to do for a New York City gig than there is with other gigs.
Jeb: When you get a crowd like you had at this gig, does it still jazz you up?
Pat: Absolutely, when you’re doing something that you know you’re good at, and you’re playing good and people are responding it is like a feedback loop. It’s very cool and it is good energy. That’s the hook. Comedians have to make people laugh and they don’t really worry about how they make them laugh as long as they are laughing, you know what I mean? We are just happy when everybody is enjoying what you’re doing.
Jeb: Is it fair to say there has been a concerted effort to really remind the world how damn good The Pat Travers Band is?
Pat: Well, yeah, that’s what we try to do. We’ve got to do that. I have been around a while and I think we need to remind the world [laughter]. We have to do it constantly.
Jeb: I think you are in the boat like Robin Trower. You are great guitar players, but in America we don’t seem to give the proper amount of respect for what guys like you have given us.
Pat: Robin’s problem is that he doesn’t like to fly on an airplane and that makes it very difficult to get him places to play. That is why he doesn’t play very much in some places. He could play all the time if he wanted to, but he doesn’t because he’s freaked out about traveling.
Jeb: Are you taking things as they come, or is there a plan for 2015?
Pat: There is a lot of recording and writing that I’d like to do, but then there are the practical issues of getting the people I want here and there. We have a lot of shows coming up as well. This year we will have the live album coming out, and then I have a new studio album coming out later, so I will concentrate on playing as many live shows as I can.
I do have a bunch of songs that I would like to get in and record for whatever reason. They would not have to even be for a specific album, as these days songs just pop into my head. It used to be I would start writing when I had to, and now stuff just comes to me out of nowhere. Those things should be recorded and it is a little frustrating not to get in and get those things done. When I can, I will hit the studio and get three, or four, things down, but the main focus will be to do as many live performances as we can this year.
Jeb: You have many elements of music that create the Pat Travers sound. Do you try to keep things to ‘your sound’, or do you let yourself just go other places?
Pat: More and more, I am using less and less of any kinds of effects on guitar. I am even using less guitar picks and I am playing my Fender Telecaster a lot more. I am into finding things on a simple guitar that sound great without having to sex them up to make them sound good. For example, a couple of weeks ago I got thinking about Paul Kossoff and Free. I went on YouTube and called up a bunch of their early live concerts and stuff. I think I have as much of a connection with him as I do with Jimi Hendrix, maybe even more so. I just feel that I play those fifths more and those bluesier licks.
Hendrix is just going to be in everybody’s playing, as it is just going to be there, but I like that old late ‘60s and early ‘70s fifty watt Marshall and Les Paul thing that was going on then. Even someone like Martin Barre is a big influence. Martin was not a super clever player, but he had a tone and a vibrato and he always came up with the right riff in the right place. I think I have a lot influence from guys like Martin Barre, Paul Kossoff and definitely Mick Ralphs from Bad Company, Ronnie Montrose, too, as he was pretty much the West Coast version of those guys. He played those simple fifths and there were not a whole lot of notes flying around, but there was a lot of funky stuff going on.
Jeb: The set list on the new live album is wonderful. I enjoy your phrasing in songs like “Crash and Burn” and “Heat in the Street,” which are back-to-back on this album.
Pat: “Heat in the Street” was pretty tricky. Being able to put the lyrics over that riff was tough. It was an exercise of having an idea of how one pattern goes and mixing another pattern on top of it, whether it’s the bass line, or the vocal line, and making it all syncopate together. When you get back, once again, to that early Free stuff, they were doing the same kind of thing. The bass parts dovetailed into the guitar parts. They were doing a much simpler version of what I was doing. I just threw in more notes and more chords.
Jeb: You do have a blues section like “Red House” and “Spoonful.” Pat, you are embracing your inner bluesman.
Pat: Especially at that time I was. I had been listening exclusively to old Chicago blues for months leading up to making that album. I am talking guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Water and all of those cats. I really, really, really just listened to it. I didn’t play along. I just listened and tried to understand what made that stuff sound the way it did. A lot of it has to do with the personality of the players. I think that is a cool thing that personality actually shows through. The way Hubert Sumlin fit those rhythms over the top of this other stuff made it very unique. It was loose, but tight at the same time. Everyone followed the vocalist, who determined where the song went. Everybody was kind of secondary under that and that was really unique.
Jeb: I think it is a curse and a blessing to you that during the 1970s you sounded too unique.
Pat: [laughter] Well, I don’t know about that. We’ll see. Maybe that means my time will come someday [more laughter].
Jeb: How in the hell do you sit down for a live album and make out a track list? Guys like me will always wish there was one more.
Pat: We’ve got a pretty big set list now. We probably know 25 to 30 songs, but going beyond that would require us, including myself, to do some rehearsing. I can’t just remember everything I’ve recorded and the other guys weren’t even there when I did record it. They would have to learn it and we’d have to rehearse it and play it a couple of times. It would be great to play everything that everyone wants to hear, but it is a practical thing. It is just hard to do.
Jeb: You have a classic album called Go for What You Know. It was recorded in a different music industry.
Pat: When we did that live album, that came out in 1979… we had been on tour for close to four months and we had been playing the same set pretty much every night. I wanted to take some time to record the next studio album. We had a clause in our contract where we could hand in a live album and that would last us for a while. In other words, we would get an advance and they would take that as a release.
It was a cheap album to do because we only had to record it live and that was that. For me, I was thinking, “Well, we will throw this out there.” I had no expectation that this would do anything other than afford me the time to work the next six months on a new studio album. I really didn’t pay too much attention to it, even in the mixing of it. When it came out, I was working on new material and I was happy doing that.
All of a sudden, we had a big radio hit with “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)” and the record company was going “You need to get out and tour some more.” It was nice, but it was like, “Are you kidding me?” I was done with that and I was working on new stuff. I had to go back out and tour and I wasn’t really complaining, but it seemed a little weird because I didn’t see that it was all that great. I can see it now, but at the time it was like, “It’s a live album. Get it done and get it out so I can go work on something else.” I didn’t want to concentrate on songs I had been playing for two years. I wanted to move on to newer stuff.
Jeb: You played a legendary show on that tour called The Day on the Green in Oakland, California. It was 1978 and you played the same day as AC/DC, Van Halen, Aerosmith and Foreigner. Did you hang out that day and watch other bands?
Pat: Are you kidding me? That was one of the best days of my life. I never actually saw AC/DC or Van Halen play because I got there a little after. AC/DC went on first so I missed them. I heard Van Halen play from the backstage area, but I didn’t see them play. It was kind of hard to tell and I didn’t know anything about them at the time. It was a wonderful day. The weather was perfect and we got treated like stars. We had a great set and we went on about three o’clock in the afternoon and it was just great. That was a perfect day for somebody in my position. It was really great.
Jeb: “Boom Boom” was nothing more than just a live version of a song on an album. You really didn’t think you had a huge hit.
Pat: It was just a song in the set. I had really no idea. It was a goofy song in the set and I was really surprised.
Jeb: For the new live album did you have to touch up any of the songs in the studio at all?
Pat: They had a ProTools with something like 16 inputs, so we were able to record sixteen-tracks. I know we had a bad cable on something on the drums, but there was still a single, so even though it was fucked up we were able to replace what was there. I think we took his second drum and just changed the pitch of it and used that crappy microphone as a trigger, but that was about it.
Jeb: You like to operate close to the bone.
Pat: With live there is always a bad cable, or somebody is not singing in their microphone, or the microphone is not in the right position, so you have to work around that. I don’t like to modify these live things very much, you know.
Jeb: Talk about your band.
Pat: Sandy Gennaro on drums, Kirk McKim on guitar and Rodney O’Quinn on bass. They really help me out ‘live’. They have great energy, and they are always on. I am very lucky.
Jeb: You’re a lead guitar player and a lead singer, but you don’t have a big ego on stage. This is not PAT TRAVERS… it’s The Pat Travers Band.
Pat: I could never work like that. I feel that we work together. I am not above anybody. These are great players and they deserve my respect.
Jeb: I love album covers. Tell me about making Putting It Straight.
Pat: That was a collaboration between myself, my manager David Hemmings and the art director at Polydor Records. We all threw in some ideas. It was done in a photographer’s studio. They recreated the whole office looking thing; it was really only one wall. We were just in his studio. I remember we shot really early in the morning, like eight, or nine o’clock, and I was up until about five in the morning the night before, so I wasn’t exactly banging on all cylinders when I showed up. That is the beauty of being twenty-two years old; you can still look good after being up all night. We did the front shot and then we trashed the office and did the second side. The whole thing took about two, or three, hours. It was cool. We liked being able to get creative on the album covers. We had a canvas there to work with. Nowadays, there is nothing, as there really are not even CDs anymore. Artwork has kind of gone completely by the wayside.
Jeb: You have some good ones and some silly ones, but you have some great ones as well.
Pat: The Heat in the Street album cover was pretty complicated. One of my favorite covers is Hot Shot.
Jeb: I love the back shot. On the front of the cover is you inside a mansion and on the back, the drunken reality in front of beat up old house. I love that cover.
Pat: That was off of Fairbanks in Orlando. There was a little cutoff road that is now blocked off, but you used to be able to drive up it. This place looked just like The Munster’s house. We had to be kind of careful because the guy who owned it didn’t think it did. He thought his house looked great. We had to pay him some compliments and not let him know we were going to be making fun of his house.
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