6th Movement: Pat, Tommy, Vince, Lou
Updated: Sep 7
“No matter how far I’m leanin’….I’m still hangin.’”
-- Pat Thrall
I first met Pat Thrall one late-afternoon in the summer of '69 right after Cookin’ Mama had just finished an early-afternoon gig at the St. Elizabeth’s High School Auditorium. Our trusty and very savvy roadie, Terry Fowler, knew that I’d been kickin’ around the idea of adding another guitarist to the band. And so he asked me to come over with him to this house in Alameda for the purpose of hearing “this guy he’d heard about” play. OK. Why not?
So, we drove over from Oakland, found the right house, parked our van, and walked down a driveway and into a basement area where a loud jam session was already in progress. But, upon entering the “rehearsal hall,” I was surprised to see that there were only 2 guys playing: a drummer and a guitar player – no bass player. WTF?
But, ya know what? The no-bass-player thing was a non-issue.
From the first moment I heard Pat playing guitar - just like when I first heard Vince playing drums - I once again immediately realized two things: I knew that I had found the newest member of Cookin’ Mama. And I knew that I had also found a guy from whom I could learn a lot about guitar playing.
What was particularly humbling for your already humble narrator here, dear reader, was that when they stopped playing and Terry introduced me to both Pat and his younger drummer brother, Preston, I discovered that Pat had just turned 16-years old merely one month earlier.
And that he’d been playing the guitar for only 7 or 8 months!
What? Fuckin' Asswipe. I hated him already.
I mean, I had been playing guitar for near 'bout 6 years already and was still struggling to try and graduate to any kind of level of lead guitar playing that didn't end up sounding like Surf Music disguised with heavy doses of F/X. So I figured there was no way that this guy could be this good, that quick
Of course, he didn't know very many different chords yet. And he did only know about 6 or 7 of the licks from the “1960’s-List-of-Required-Guitar-Chops-for-Rock-Guitarists." But...he played each of those licks so fluidly and with so much soul that I simply had to remind myself to close my mouth from time to time after it would flap open on its own accord whilst I was listening to this guy wail. Plus, he already had that “Big British Vibrato” (we later called it a “wiggle”), like the ones used on ‘60’s rock albums by guitarists like Clapton, Hendrix, Beck and Page.
Good gawd! What the hell was goin' on here?
But here he was. And there I was. And I knew that my ears weren’t lyin’ to me. And, besides, I also knew that for us guys in the band? This would be like getting a spankin’-brand-new, right-out-of-the-box n’ ready-to-roll, “Larry McSeaton 2.0” clone.
Hell, yeah. Let’s dance!
So, I managed to remember to put my damn tongue back in my mouth. Reminded myself to at least try and act blasé about it. And then asked Pat if he’d maybe like to come over to Vince’s house for our next rehearsal. He said “yes” - thankfully - and so a date was set for our first rehearsal in the “Palazzotto Basement Rehearsal Dungeon.”
I’m also perty darn sure I reminded Pat to bring his appetite for Sicilian Cuisine with him.
But our first rehearsal with Pat, as it turned out, was not to be at “Chez Palazzotto.” Nope. It was in Jerry Isakson’s downstairs basement. Jerry, who? Jerry Isakson was a kid ‘bout Preston’s age, ‘tween ‘bout 13 – 15 years old. And that’s all fine n’ dandy to know.
But the main thing about this new rehearsal hall connection was that li’l Jerry had a mother who was a bona fide, true blue, dyed-in-the-wool “Supporter of the Arts,” I s’pose you could call her. Yes, ya could. Mrs. Isakson was already known to have actually gone over to Government Island - which was what they called the local Coast Guard base - and secured gigs at the enlisted men’s club for Jerry’s band.
And, as such, the ol’ gal was jus’ fine with havin’ a bunch of long-haired teenagers runnin’ ‘round downstairs. Simply raisin’ all kinds o’ hell. Playin’ loud rock n’ roll music. And pert near a’liftin’ the damn roof off her house. As well as those of her immediate neighbors via decibel levels just this side of jet airplanes takin’ off. What a gal…hmm? You betcha ass she was, Beethoven.
"Let he who has never played a wrong note onstage, cast the first clam."
-- Danny Chauncey
Jerry, himself, was a bass player. I think. I mean, no real disrespect intended here, k? But….well, lemme justa put it to y’all this way: Jerry could play the bass guitar. That part is true. He could hit the strings and play “in-time” ‘bout as well as any of us future musical idiot savants.
But, when it came to his note selection? Hmm.
Jerry seemed to embrace that ol’ notion from the world of jazz that there’s “no such thing as a bad note per se…it’s all just in the listener’s way of perceiving it.”
FYI: For those of you who’ve never heard this li'l gem of musical wisdom, the whole and entire jazz mantra went sumtin’ like this:
"If you hit a bad note, it’s a mistake.
If ya repeat it, ya meant to do it.
If ya repeat it twice, it’s jazz.
And, If ya repeat it three times?"
"Then, "it’s yo’ thing, baby!"
Jerry lived by this code of freedom and, as such, developed a style - and I’m being kind here - of bass-playing that almost exclusively involved invoking the chromatic scale.
OK, quick 5-cent lesson in basic music theory. Bass guitars, like 6-string guitars, have metal frets placed at certain pre-determined intervals all up and down the neck of the guitar. Which, when struck by one of the guitars’ strings via the application of finger pressure (known as "fretting"), each produce different musical notes. In general, the lower you go on the neck, the lower the note. Ditto for goin’ up higher. K? Got it, Stradivarius? Cool.
But, if one were to just continually go up the neck (or fretboard) on the same one string, one fret and thus one note at a time. And then simply just reverse gears and go all the way back down, the same damn way ya first got up to the top?
Well then! What y’all’ve got there is the aforementioned chromatic scale. And, by default, a scale in which you’ve always got about a 50/50 chance of being on a correct note at any given time.
But, hey…if ya do hit a bad note? Well, Sheeeit!...so what?
.That’s what the damn “mantra” is for, Schoenberg.
Back to our first rehearsal with Pat at the Isakson’s…
“On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”
-- Hunter S. Thompson
Ya gotta remember that we went into this first rehearsal as a blisteringly loud 3-piece “Power Trio,” to use the jargon of the day. So, how the hell do we fit Pat into this whole mess? Well, here’s the good news. I had spent ‘bout damn near 85% of my early career playing in bands that always, and I do mean always, had another guitar player in it who was light-years ahead of me in regards to guitar chops.
Awww. Poor Twick.
No. Screw that! Hey, I always looked at that as a plus for me. Why? Well hell, them dudes ain’t a’gonna be learnin’ much t’all from me. But, I’m a’gonna be gettin’ free, up-close n’ personal guitar lessons from them on how to play that “Ol’ Six-String Beast.”
Ya feelin’ me, Segovia?
Hence, I already knew before we played the first note of the first song we were gonna show him, that Pat was gonna be gettin’ more n’ more of the lead solo work jettisoned his way. Oh yeah, I’d hold on to a few of my old solos - the ones that I felt I wasn’t completely butchering on a reg’lar basis. But Pat - at least in my overall strategic plan for this new 4-piece band of ours - was a’gonna be receivin’ most of the hand-offs n’ runnin’ the ball for the team, as a general rule of thumb.
Hey: just like as in life or sports, in music you go with your strengths. It’s as simple as that. Ani't that right, Coach Lombardi?
Well, so now that we had that part of the equation all figured out, Louie, Vince n’ yours truly then began the process of breakin’ Pat in on all of our material And we had more than a just a few tunes to go over with our newest Mama. Lemme just make that crystal clear to y’all right now.
So, guess it was a real royal pain-in-the-ass havin’ to go over all this 3-piece material with Pat...hmm? Stuff that the rest of us already knew, right?
HECK NO! We were havin’ a ball, folks! Adding Pat on that other guitar really put the ol’ lead in the pencil, musically speaking. Man, we were fired up! Started writin’ new songs. Began experimenting around with dual-lead guitar harmonies. Worked out rhythm guitar parts that would, more or less, complement each other. As well as workin' 'em in with whatever Lou n’ Vince were layin’ down.
And what those two bad asses were both now layin’ down in the rhythm section was some seriously major deep-groove action.
Added vocal parts - even though none of us really had that good of a voice at the time - using whatever notes our ears told us to use. Didn’t yet have all that much music theory floatin’ ‘round amongst our li’l pack o’ alley cats. But hey, it didn’t matter!
Truth be told, for us, vocals were sorta something we did within the songs just in order to pass the time and properly set the stage for the really important stuff. Which was the instrumental jamming sections n’ such during the solos. 4-piece improvisational madness, it was. And we were lovin’ it.
So, in retrospect, guess you could say we went from bein’ a blisteringly loud “Power Trio.
To to bein’ an even more blisteringly loud “Power Quartet.” Or sumtin’ like dat.
Hey, all I know is that the band suddenly sounded bigger n' better than ever. And right along with that, I do believe we all might’ve even begun to think that our cranks were actually gettin’ bigger too. Though I can’t speak to that fact with any certifiable degree of certainty.
Much less any first-hand knowledge. If ya catch my drift here, Caligula.
So - to borrow a quote from Richard Nixon who, when asked how he was feelin’ just before he decided to run for President the last time, replied: “I’m tanned, rested, and ready” - we now figured we’d already done more than enough rehearsin'. And so we were all hot-to-go and lookin’ to get out there and strut our new stuff in front of an audience.
But, like always, in order to do that, we…duh!…needed a gig.
But, while at the time I was thinkin’ more along the lines of an easy one. You know, maybe something like a high school dance, yacht club affair, teen club soiree. Hell, even a lame grammar school dance (Ugh!). What did ending up arriving in our musical “in-box” was of a slightly different nature:
Hank Saroyan called again.
“Every television show you go on is a choice.”
-- Joan Rivers
Apparently our first performance on “live” TV had gone better than even we thought it had. So, once again, “The Anniversary Game” wanted us back for an encore. Hank had called our friend, Kathy, to tell her this and then she called me.
Our conversation went something like this:
Kathy: “Hank says “The Anniversary Game” wants you guys back again.”
Me: “Wow, that’s really cool….when?”
Kathy: “October 11.”
Me: “You mean, next year?”
Kathy: “No….this year.”
Me: “This year? Well….we just did that show only 'bout a little over a month ago....and now this new appearance is comin' up in only (Catholic school math calculations in my head...cha-ching...cha-ching) 20 days from now!”
Kathy: “That’s right.”
Me: “But…but…we haven't played any "live" gigs with Pat yet.”
Kathy: “Doesn’t matter. Opportunity waits for no one. Do you want to do it or not? Hank needs to know immediately.”
Me: “Well….uhh….I guess….I mean…sure….of course, we want to do it.”
Kathy: “Great. I’ll call him back and tell him.”
Got on the horn to everyone in the band and told ‘em the good news. The panic that ensued was pert near close to that of junkies who’ve discovered that they’ve just mainlined their last hit of smack and every dealer they know in town has recently either just gotten busted, died,…or turned out to be an undercover narc. Arrggh! Guess we’s all were jus’ a’gonna hafta suck it up, pick our best tune, put ourselves back in the ring, and kinda see what happened…hmm? Yep. Sumtin’ like that, Mouseketeers.
But, the good news - or at least so we thought at the time - was that for this performance there wasn’t going to be any kind of “wig.” Or “false teeth.” Or “which-one-of-the-four-guys-is-really-a-girl,” type of joke format. Nope.
All we had to do this time was go out there on the studio sound-stage and play one, short, measly, li’l ol’ song. In front of the cameras. And the contestants. And the live studio audience. And all the fine folks watchin’ back home on their televisions.
Yeah, sure….easy. Piece o’ cake, Marie Antoinette. No pressure here, boys. Uhn-uh. All just fun n’ games in TV-Land. Where everyday is Sunday n’ all of us Mamas justa poopin’ out nuttin’ but roses. You betcha horns, Bullwinkle.
“Who is the happier man: he who has braved the storm of life and lived,
or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”
“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
-- Hunter S. Thompson
Man, we were so frickin’ far north of nervous there t’weren’t enough Valium or Reds in the entire Haight-Ashbury to bring us four spazoids back to any kind of semblance of Zen calm. No sirree, Siddhartha. I mean, if we woulda had a damn gimmick. Something like what we had with the previous Anniversary Game's “wig gig.” Then we coulda all just hidden behind that as the main focus. But now, we had to actually get out there and perform our music for serious ears.
Speakin’ for myself, I woulda much preferred even the distraction of one of us fools traipsing around the stage while wearing a flamin’-pink Tu-Tu with 8” stilettos and a padded bra (even if it was me puttin’ on all that stuff).
Rather than havin’ to get out there on “live” TV. On our first virgin-performance gig with Pat. And simply having to play our music. All in “one take,” Scorsese. No second or third strikes here, Ump.
Hey, I won't bore y'all with the details, but the bottom line? We got bailed out. Whew! Guess someone in the band had been prayin' non-stop. Or perhaps it was just a result of our collective good karma. Or some other form of hippie era hocus-pocus cuz lo' n' behold, a non-TV gig materialized right out of the blue and fell directly into our laps: an AHS High School dance in the gym.
And so now we'd be able to use this gym gig as a sorta warm-up for our upcoming TV show performance. Yay! Praise the Lord and pass the peas!
Pretty sure we opened up for a band called "Sanpaku," which at the time was the local Bay Area's "B-Team" version of "Santana". Hey, but B-Team or not, these guys kicked frickin' ass, don'tcha know. So the gym was completely packed.
If albeit packed into a building that smelled 24/7 like an olfactory combo-plate concoction of dirty gym sox and unwashed jock straps. With a slight after-hint of half-cleaned urinals. Still, like most high school gymnasium gigs at that time, it was a very cool show. And our band got over big-time.
Furthermore, and unbeknownst to us at the time, a buddy of ours named Clem Corpus who knew something about indoor photography came and took s bunch of "live" pix of us. These pix would end up comin' in very handy at a time not too very far away....
Back to the "Anniversary Game," Round Two.
Cant' exactly remember which original tune we played on the show this time (it might've been "Funky Bunky,"...lovely title, hmm?). But actually, as fate would have it, after the smoke had cleared. And our performance was finally over and “in the can” – our pre-gig-post-pubescent-paranoia notwithstanding. I must say that it all went rather swimmingly well for your “Four Friendly Freewheelin’ Franklins.”
‘Course we weren’t able to watch it ourselves on TV back at home. Cuz as I've already alluded to, just like our first appearance on the show, this was “live” television. Which for you nincompoops in the crowd who don’t already know this. Or haven't yet been able to figure it out on your own based on what I've previously written in the paragraphs above. "Live" TV meant:
That what you put out, is what you get back.
At the time you actually do it, Hitchcock..
And so the bad news for us was that back then in ol' '69 there t’weren’t yet no fancy-dancy VHS tape nor DVD recorders around for anyone to use back at home in order to tape the show for us to watch at a later date. Entiendes, Tonto? Damn.
However, the good news was that Hank made sure that we got to see our performance on their fancy-dancy TV gear in the studio after the show was done. And the crew had cleared the set. And the audience had wandered out for lunch at Fisherman's Wharf. And the battered contestants had limped off into the streets to lick their collective wounds after retrieving their "Fantastic Prizes:"
The never sought-after, yet often-earned and previously alluded to: vegetable juicers.
Which by now were apparently only available in-white, due to the previous shows "winners" putting a serious hurt on the station's supply of juicers in-avocado.
But for us, the further good news was that once again for the second time in less than 2 months, the local town rag known as the "Alameda Times Star" did yet another article on the band and our latest TV show appearance. And it was complete with large, individual "live" pix of all 4 of us. Using some of those same pix that ol' Clem Corpus had very fortuitously shot only a week earlier during our first 4-piece gig with Pat in the AHS gym.
Man, talk about things fallin' into place at the right time, in the right order...hmm?
And even though I thought at the time that this new article was - truth be told - of a rather overly-flattering nature in re our chances for immediate musical stardom, the newspaper folks, on the other hand apparently had a much different take on things. The entire spread they ended up giving us was even bigger than the one that came out after our first "Anniversary Game" 3-piece performance.
It took up an entire doggone page right near the front of the main section!
Oh my goodness, dear reader. At this point we were all on Cloud Nine. Livin' in the Land of Milk and Honey. And once again revered in Alameda as the “Princes of the Island.” Cookin' Mama was flying high, ready to move mountains, "Shout Glory," and maybe even raise the dead, for all we knew.
Hey, come on now, folks. Cut me a li'l break here...hmm? You know what I'm really sayin', don'tcha? For teenaged boys? I mean, cain't any y'all remember what that's like? Hell, all it takes is the sun comin' up in the mornin' to get your rod hard. Ain't it so, de Sade?
In any case, it seemed to us like life just couldn't get any better...
....but then a really extra-special treat came our way….
16 year-old Pat onstage w/ "CM" @ AHS Gym
(show w/ "Sanpaku")
- Oct. 1969
This pic by Clem Corpus was one of those used in "The Alameda Times Star" article
hyping our 2nd "Anniversary Game" TV appearance.