- Tommy Thompson
6th Interlude: "Paul - In His Own Words"
Updated: Feb 27
Life is strange sometimes. Especially when you are young and adrift in your own sea of confusion. I had been told what I could do, what I should do, what was practical and what was impractical and had very few ideas on what I might want to do. I spent a lot of time double thinking. So afraid of making the wrong decision, you try not to think about it at all. Then, out of nowhere, came the knowledge of what I ABSOLUTELY MUST DO. I remember that moment like it was yesterday and can see it so clearly in my mind. Amazing, as I suffer greatly from CRS (Can’t Remember Shit).
It was the day of a high school assembly (a mandatory weekly get-together in the school’s auditorium) and one of the local want-to-be bands was going to play towards the end of the assembly. I was curious having been in the 3rd and 4th grade school bands, so I got there a little early to check things out. To my surprise one of the guys I knew from school was backstage sitting on an amplifier and was practicing the opening guitar lick to Pipeline (a big Surf Music hit on the Top 40 List in 1965). The amazing part was that it SOUNDED JUST LIKE THE RECORD.
This turned everything upside down and sideways. He was Dave Cook, after all. A classmate, that I didn’t even know was into playing music. He wasn’t 30 or 40 years old like the guys I saw on the new music TV shows. He wasn’t from out of town. He wasn’t even a superman or a God, but a regular guy I had personally spoken to. This was mind blowing! If he could do it; maybe I could too. I was, after all, a huge music fan, sleeping every night with a transistor radio tucked under my pillow.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Clearly, this is what I had to and wanted to do. No doubt about it, no confusion, crystal-clear clarity. Something I had never thought about doing, as it was impossibly out of reach. The next week I bought a tenor saxophone. That same week I signed up for the high school marching band. A month later I was in a surf music band called the RIPTIDES (or Fabulous Riptides, if you prefer). Even though I had only played two years in grade school. I was accepted into the Riptides as they couldn’t find a bass player. Bass players were few-and-far between in Alameda. All I had to do was play the tonic of each chord as long as I could (before having to breathe again). Sort of like the Sax line in Louie Louie over and over again. PS. Breathing is a foreign concept to rhythm sections.
Although it wasn’t like having bass lines, we all agreed it kinda worked and was far better than nothing. I didn’t realize that they were beginners too, so not that critical. Besides I was just happy to be in a cool band with a cool name. One reason I liked Surf Music was that they had saxophone players and sometimes they got to take solos or play lead on an instrumental song. My earliest influence was Stan Getz who had a hit record at the time - the Bossa Nova ballad “The Girl From Ipanema”. He was in the Top 40 for God’s sake!
Over the next years I migrated more and more to Rhythm and Blues music. My next influences were Surf Band sax player Mark Lindsay and Maceo Parker - Alto Sax player in James Brown’s band. Soon after came Junior Walker. Mind-blowing. He smoked on tenor and even sang while fronting his own band: the All Stars. I was so enamored with James Brown and his band I started my own Soul band and stole almost everything I could from them.
By now I am out of school and out of Boot Camp though still obligated to the United States Coast Guard Reserve. I learned many things in the Coast Guard, including where to purchase and how to wear a short-hair wig, which I stealthily wore to the monthly Coast Guard Reserves training meetings. So... my hair was a’growing without the bosses knowin’. (Thanks to my friends in Arkansas for that Gem). I spent boot camp playing with the Coast Guard marching band and in a big band, run by the Chief, while risking the brig by changing into civvies and playing my own sax at the enlisted men’s club on Saturday nights. We also had a drink, or three, which was equally illegal for someone still in boot camp and 18 years old. It was a gas and a serious secret until now.
So, I was back hanging out and trying to find a gig with a band somewhere, when my friend Tommy Thompson comes back into my life. I spent some time checking out his Power Trio: Cookin’ Mama and did some recording of them/for them on my reel -to-reel tape recorder machine. Then I lost track of them until Tommy called one day and told me that the band wanted to add a horn section. He said he had mentioned me as being the logical choice, and how he thought I would be a good fit. He asked if I could come up to their rehearsal place to check it all out and do some jamming. I said “yes,” but added that one saxophone does not equal a horn section. So, I suggested that I call up Steve Strick and both of us could come over. Tommy was very excited over my suggestion, and so I called up Steve.
We must have done OK as we were asked to join the band. Steve and I didn’t hesitate for an instant. We were jazzed at the prospect and thought the rhythm section was a cookin’ mama bunch (sorry, it’s a two-foot putt). Shortly after they introduced me to the Sons of Champlin. My new musical hero was their sax player Tim Cain.
I often get asked (or would like to be asked) who my musical influences have been along the road. I want to mention them and thank them for their influence on my playing. In order, they are Stan Getz, Maceo Parker, Junior Walker, Tim Cain (Sons), Grover Washington Junior, Stanley Turrentine, Hubert Laws (on Flute), Skip Mesquite (Tower of Power), Wilton Felder (Crusaders) David Sanborn and John Klemmer. What great players they all are/were. Pat Thrall is still my favorite Guitar player and Bill Champlin is my favorite singer/songwriter.
I had to move on from music some 35 years after I heard David Cook play the opening lick to Pipeline. This was when I concluded that I was not good enough to make a decent living playing music and was tired of sleeping in someone else’s basement. For most of us, our Love of Music is also the Vow of Poverty. So many great sax players out there and a horn player is something most bands want dearly but can’t afford to pay for. Oddly enough; I never was out of work when I wanted to play full time.
But for all the joy music has brought me; the Cookin’ Mama days were the most fantastic, exciting and full of love. I am not including the influence of the Christian cult we got caught up in, just the joy of making music together and sharing the experiences with each other during that period of our lives. Thanks Guys.
I will leave the rest of the story to Tommy; as it is really his story.