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  • Tommy Thompson

4th Interlude "Pat: In His Own Words"

Updated: Feb 27

I was born in Alameda, California - it was my first home - and lived there until I was about 14, then moved to Oakland in the Rockridge district. In Alameda I went to Edison for kindergarten and grammar school and Lincoln for 5-8th grade. Alameda was a bedroom community right out of Leave It To Beaver. There were a ton of kids in my neighborhood and Edison school was 3 blocks away.

We rode our bikes and collected snakes and lizards. At one point my best friend Mike Hanna had a 6 foot Boa. Thing would only eat about once a month. We kept putting people rats in its cage and they would be running around the cage and eventually they would get names and we would get attached to the poor things and suddenly we had a huge rat collection. The snakes and the rats had to go.

I was always interested in art and music. After my Dad died (I was 11) I was lucky to have the coolest teacher at Lincoln School take me under his wing and give me extended art classes after school and would give me rides home in his convertible Corvette. His name was John Hagop. He was the best teacher I ever had.

I was also in the church choir. I was on the swim team for a couple of years but didn’t really care about it all that much. Played Pop Warner for a season and didn’t like that.

There was a lot of music in the house. My Mom did one-woman musicals and we would help edit tape and help put her shows together. One Uncle played piano and the other Uncle played the uke. They would have parties at our house and sing into the wee hours of the night. My parents and my Grandfather were very involved in the local theater. My Grandfather was the president as well. We spent many nights at their rehearsals in the theater..

My Mom loved jazz. She took us to a lot of jazz concerts. She took me to see Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie at Jazz at the Philharmonic. She also took us to see Buddy Rich and got us backstage somehow to meet him and get his autograph. She took my brother and I to see Vince Giraldi in Sausalito. It was incredible. On our way home we were driving through San Francisco and drove by The Avalon Ballroom. Blue Cheer (known as the loudest band in the world) were playing. She took us in and it was fantastic. My brother was so tired he fell asleep while they were playing.

Although we listened to a lot of jazz and show tunes I quickly discovered rock n roll. Elvis first. The first single I ever bought was “Slow Twistin’ by Chubby Checker. When it came on the radio I would try to sync up my record to the radio. I have no idea why I did that.

I started smoking at round 12-13. My friend stole a pack of Tareyton’s and we coughed like crazy but we thought we were cool. They were 25 cents a pack. I remember saying I would quite if they ever went to one dollar a pack. I started and quit smoking 20 times in my life. I finally qave it up for good 21 years ago.

I started smoking weed at 14. My girlfriend Debbie Gibson turned me on to it.

The first time I got drunk was on the last day of 8th grade. It was after school and my buddy Jeff Jones and I were hanging with my 19 year old brother in-law, Dave, drinking beer in a 2 seater van. Jeff was riding on the engine in the center. He tells Dave to pull over because he feels sick. Then he dives for the window and missed and threw up all over me. I sobered up real quick and didn’t drink again for a while.

I don’t know how I avoided getting busted for drugs. My buddy Jerry Isakson and I would take acid and roam around Alameda all night. We were 14 at the time. Crazy.

I did Reds once and got too messed up on them, so I didn’t really do that again. Didn’t do coke till many years later when I was like 20…haven’t touched the stuff in decades.

I have a million stories from my childhood but the most key one would be my sister was performing in the talent show at Lincoln school. The last act on the bill was a student and his beautiful red sparkle Ludwig drum kit. He played along with the song, “Wipe Out”. The clouds parted for me. I was only 11. I walked home and was 3 feet off the ground. I knew that all I wanted to do was play music for the rest of my life.

I, like the majority of musicians of my generation on ­February 9th, 1964 was swept up into Beatle mania. I had just had the talent show “revelation” so it just heaped on how much I wanted to play music. I loved Mitch Ryder, Jimmy Smith, James Brown, The Zombies, Lou Rawls, Ray Charles, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and the list goes on.

I didn’t play a lot of gigs before Cookin’ Mama. In my very first band I was playing drums. These were the first guys I ever played with and we were called “The Young-uns” (I think that’s how it was spelled). Victor Maestas was the Ld singer and guitarist. Larry Perry was on bass. Bob Lefebvre-rhythm guitar. We were learning how to play our instruments together. I was the only one who could sing so they made me the singer. I never took myself serious as a singer. I would usually do it out of a sense of obligation to whatever band I was in.

Tempo Music was the only music store in town. The owners were like family to us. My Mom rented a drum kit from them at first to see if I was truly into playing them. When that’s all I did she agreed to buy me a drum kit. There was this beautiful purple swirl Sonor kit at the store that I had been dreaming about. She bought it for me. Dream come true.

We did our first rehearsals at Bob’s house. The living room was on the second floor. They set my drums up in the bay windows that faced out to the street. I remember after playing for a while I turned around and there were a bunch of girls out on the lawn listening to us and waving. I was like…I’m good with this!!

In the early days as a drummer, I loved Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Dino Danelli, Ringo, Mitch Mitchel, Grady Tate (“Walk On The Wildside”), Ginger Baker and of course John Bonham…and later on, Bill Bowen of the Sons Of Champlin.

The Young-un’s morphed into The Blues Cube. As the drummer with The Blues Cube we played the Officers Club on Treasure Island a lot, and some Cub Scouts & Boy Scout events a couple of times a month. We also played other local naval base gigs at the Enlisted Men’s clubs and watched drunk sailors making out with girls on the dance floor. I was only 12 or 13. I remember thinking “how did I get here?”

I put together a new band. It didn’t even have a name yet. My Mom always had the bands rehearse at our house after I left the band with Bob Lefebvre. We would rehearse at my house at least 3 times a week. My poor Mom was a saint. She would come home from work and there would be a house full of musicians and loud music blasting from the basement and she loved it. Incredible!!

The guys would leave their amps and instruments at my house so after hours I would play the guitar for fun. It came so easy to me that I didn’t take it seriously. Drums were hard so I had to work at them. One day on a break I was fiddling around on one of the guitars and our flautist (yes we had a flautist) comes in the room and listens to me for a minute and then says “you’re better than our guitar player, why do you keep playing drums?”

That kinda woke me up and realized that I should start playing guitar full-time. My Mom took the same path as the drums with my first guitar. First she rented a Vox Wildcat from Tempo. Once I proved that’s all I wanted to do all day, she bought me an SG Standard and a Fender Super Reverb. Wish I still had those bad boys. My Mom was incredible!!

I quit that band and locked myself in the basement and started wood shedding. I would practice day and night til I would fall asleep. I would listen to records and try to emulate the solos. I learned the minor pentatonic scale from Traffic’s Steve Winwood on “Mr Fantasy”.

(In 1976, I played with Steve Winwood and got to play “Mr Fantasy” with him and take the solos. It was one of the songs I had learned to play guitar to and there I was onstage with him doing it. I was hallucinating!!) I learned the major pentatonic scale from Traffic’s Dave Mason on “You Can All Join In”.

The first band I played guitar in was called “The Soul Agents”. I was the only white guy in the band. Our big song was called “Phase 5”. We were kind of like Sly and the Family Stone. As a guitarist I think I only played one gig with the Soul AgentsThe next band after that was “Cookin’ Mama”.

There were many guitarist whom I tried to emulate back then: of course Hendrix, Clapton, Page and Beck. Also Mick Abrahams on the first Jethro Tull album “This Was”. Then on one fateful night I went to the Fillmore with my sister. It was the first time I took acid. It was called Gold Acid. It was cut with a bit of strychnine to help you hallucinate. The Sons of Champlin were playing and they changed my life that night. They were all the artists I just mentioned all rolled into one band and they were all Bay Area hippies like me. Their first album became the benchmark for me. I still listen to that album in awe. I would say that Terry Haggerty from The Sons of Champlin was a big influence. Also a big Allman Brothers fan.

My Dream guitar was a Gibson Johnny Smith with 2 pickups. I wanted one because my hero Terry Haggerty played one. I eventually got an L5 and played that in Cookin’ Mama.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60’s was such an incredible time. Our local bands were all national acts. Sly Stone in the south bay. Santana, The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service and many more in San Francisco. Tower of Power in Oakland. Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company in Marin County.

These were the days when these bands loved doing free concerts in the park. I was surrounded with live music . The Fillmore, Winterland, and Avalon Ballrooms had major acts every week. Record companies were signing artists and bands that were unique.

There was a mini Renaissance in the music world happening back then in the late ‘60’s and I have always considered myself very fortunate to have been there in the midst of it all…in that place…at that time…around those musicians.

Pat Thrall recording "Improvising Rock Guitar"

@ Wally Heider's Studio, SF - 1972

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