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  • Tommy Thompson

7th Movement: Pat, Tommy, Paul, Vince, Lou, Steve

Updated: Feb 23

"What kills a relationship between people is precisely the lack of challenge, the feeling that nothing is new anymore. We need to continue to be a surprise for each other.”

-– Paulo Coelho

So, Paul hadn’t killed me back there in '68 at the Li’l Theater “Battle of the Bands”. Nope, he sure ‘nuff hadn’t. Ya see, back then it was a time when “Peace, Love, Doves” was sorta a mantra amongst young folks. At least for a lot of us out here in the Bay Area. Forgivin’ n’ Forgettin’ was a big part of that whole “Summer of Love” thang.

And so at that point in the story, Paul n’ I had just sorta jumped in together and started to compare notes on different kinds of musical styles which each of us liked and the bands that best represented those styles. At least to the best of our combined young knowledge. And, though not always in agreeance on liking all of the same exact genres, we just moved on and grooved on all dat different kinda music n’ such, don’tcha know?

Case in point, it was Paul who was the one that first formally introduced me

in a very real and visceral way to the music of James Brown.

As well as to many of the other great Soul artists of that time.

But now, it was around early-November of 1969 and all 4 of us Mamas had already agreed on adding horns to the band. Hence, the fellas gave me the green light to call to Paul and ask him if he was interested in coming to a CM band rehearsal with his horn and seein’ how things went. And that’s just what I did.

Except when I called him up, Paul had a slightly different idea to propose to us. Paul did want to join the band. Yay! But he also wanted to bring along another horn player with him. A guy he had already played with before: Steve Strick.

As mentioned earlier in this tale, Paul and Steve had played together in both the AHS stage band and Soul Inc. Can’t remember if Vince or Lou had heard them play with Soul Inc.. But, Lou probably remembered playing with them in the AHS stage band back when Lou was on clarinet. And I was pretty much certain that Pat had not heard either one. However, I do remember that I had seen Soul Inc. On at least 4 occasions. Therefore, I told the fellas that I thought this would be a great idea.

I mean, two saxes? Come on, now. The Sons had two saxes. Sweet!

Paul only had one concern going into this thang. Ya gotta remember that he had heard and/or recorded a number of earlier 3-pc Cookin’ Mama gigs. He knew that we were LOUD. And even though he had never heard our 4-pc incarnation with Pat, he pretty much figured that we were even louder now.

Which was muy correcto, Pablo. Our 4-pc ensemble was Thermo-Nuclear Loud.

So I assured Paul that the 4 of us Mamas were firmly committed to playing this new style of music. Pat and I would start turning down the volume on our amps and we would be using cleaner and less-overdriven guitar tones, at least for most of our rhythm guitar parts. ‘Course I didn’t mention the fact that all of the guitar solos would, for the time being, remain living mostly in the land of Clapton, Hendrix, Beck and Page.

Hell, I figured we could jump off that bridge if and when we came to it.

Furthermore, I also mentioned to Paul that Pat was now broadening his guitar horizons and listening to albums featuring Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, and many other jazz and blues players. I, myself, had gotten bit by the Larry Coryell bug via listening to Gary Burton albums. And we both really dug Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop via the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. And, of course, “The King of the Blues” himself: B.B. King. Then, there was all of that Terry Haggerty-Bill Champlin influence now beginning to flow thru our combined guitar player veins.

And in addition to all that, I was learning a lot of new guitar stuff from Pat

during our all-night-long marathon songwriting sessions.

Paul asked about the rhythm section. No probelmo, amigo. I told him about Vince and his Buddy Rich roots. About Lou starting on clarinet (he could read and write music charts), as well as him being an aficionado and disciple of Big Band bass playing since way back when. And that all four of us were already immersing ourselves in the recordings of horn bands like “The Don Ellis Electric Orchestra.” “Chicago.” “Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd.” “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” “Maynard Ferguson.”

And, of course, "The Sons of Champlin".

Okey-dokey, then. All of that did the trick. Paul would call up Steve and make the offer. He told me that he was very confident that Steve would not want to pass up this opportunity to get in band that was going to be doing this type of music. Plus, the fact that Cookin’ Mama was already giggin’ regularly only helped to put the cherry on the cone. And so just as Paul had figured, Steve agreed to come along with him to check things out. We set a date and a time @ Rockwell and that was that.

Except…what tunes were Paul and Steve supposed to learn before this first li’l get together…hmm?

As far back as I can remember, Cookin’ Mama always began a rehearsal with a jam session. It was great for learning how to improvise on the spot and play off of one another. One of us would just start playing a lick on the guitar. Or start a simple chord progression. Or even just stay on one chord to begin. Or Lou would run a bass line at us. Or Vince would start a drum beat groove. All we had to do was yell out the key signature in which we were starting the jam…and off we’d go. It was sorta like puttin’ on our Big Ears and just letting the jam come to us, around us, within us, and through us.

So, I told Paul not to worry about learning any specific tunes for this first session. Just for him and Steve to bring as many horns as they wanted. We’d provide microphones and a small PA system so that they could hear themselves over our amplified instruments. And we’d just have some musical fun and see how everyone liked it by the end of the day.

The big day arrived. And we had things all set up for Paul and Steve according to our preconceived plan. We figured that we'd place them over against a wall that was away from the direction in which the amplifiers were faced. One mic apiece already on individual mic stands, plugged into the PA and ready to go. We’d previously done a basic sound check on the mics using our voices cuz we weren’t sure about how to mic up a horn. Lou’s experience on clarinet came in very handy in solving this li’l potential problem.

So, Paul and Steve drove up to Rockwell together, brought their horns inside, and introductions were made. Then it was lickety-split down the stairs and into the Cookin’ Mama rehearsal chamber.

I think that both of them were rather impressed with the set up.

Not really because of the pool table and such. But for guys who were used to rehearsing in garages and living rooms without any sound dampening on the walls or ceiling - just like we had been doing before Rockwell - this must’ve looked about as close as you could get to being the real deal. At least for guys our age and at our own early stages of trying to act like professional musicians.

“The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.”

- Billy Martin

I’d be lyin’ if I told you that I remember even one jam from that day. What I do remember is that by the end of about the first hour or so, we were havin’ a ball. Yeah, yeah…at first early-on in the day us non-horn players had to keep reminding ourselves to turn down the volume on our damn electric guitars whenever a sax solo came up. And Vinnie wasn’t able to do his usual full-on “Ginger Baker-meets-Mitch Mitchell” drum volume thing. But, it gradually got a bit better as we went on.

Ya gotta remember that we were used to playing loud. Really, really loud. So the lower-volume thing was new to us and, as such, this was all a’gonna hafta be a work in progress kinda deal. Yet, by the very end of the first session (which went on for hours), we all had smiles on our faces and a new song in our hearts.

Everyone wondered when we could go it again. I think we finally decided to give it a week or so before going on to Round Two. Why? Well, we four original members needed some time in-between to evaluate things and to talk musical turkey.

Pat, Vince, Louie and I determined that we’d have to make some changes in re Cookin’ Mama’s current repertoire of tunes. After looking over our list of near about 15 original “Power Quartet” songs, we decided that we’d have to lose about 60% of them. They were just too Hard Rock and not really appropriate for a horn section. The other 40% would need to be slightly re-vamped, as well, in order to accommodate our two new horn players.

No problemo, Gato. Cuz the possibilities available to us were simply exhilarating. We could have two tenor saxes. Like our heroes The Sons. Or one guy could play tenor and the other one alto sax. Or a sax with a flute. Or two flutes. Man, speaking for myself, this was just the kind of thing that had struck me the night that I first heard The Sons.

Endless variations on a theme.

Woo Hoo! We had horns! Ya hearin’ me, Doc Severinsen?

 “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

 —Peter F. Drucker

Having figured out that whole musical conundrum, I called Paul and asked him if he and Steve could come over to Rockwell for "Round Two." Yep, they could. Once again I was asked by Paul what tunes they should learn. I told him we’d show ‘em a couple of our original songs once they got to rehearsal. Hmm. Not exactly the usual manner in which two horn players prepared for a rehearsal.

I mean, normally they would be given a musical score to look over ahead of time. But with us? Uhn-uh. Not exactly the Cookin’ Mama way of doin’ things. Ain’t that so, Jerry Garcia?

This would be an exercise in building the beast as we went. From the ground level up. But I made sure to also tell Paul: “No musical idea is a bad idea with us guys…we’ll try ‘em all out and then see what sticks.”

Real “Cookin’ Mama 101” stuff.

Second rehearsal went off superb. Paul and Steve adapted beautifully to our learn-it-as-we-go approach to working their horns into our material. However, as mentioned before in this li’l missive of mine, my memory is oftentimes also stricken with the same aforementioned-by-Paul malady: “CRS” (Can’t Remember Shit). Sooooo, after having recently consulted a few old CM song lists (which I have apparently been hauling around with me since the late sixties), I would have to say that the two songs we showed them that day were a couple of easy ones. Not that we had any complicated ones - at least not yet.

Those two songs were: “Stay Free Inside” and “Feel Good.”

Both written by Lou and myself.

But in these early days of adding horn parts they were mostly horn stabs and such for rhythmic accents (think: “Tower of Power”). It would be later on that we began to stretch our collective musical wings and go in for a more – how should I say this? – symphonic approach. Da, right you are, Stravinsky.

However, in the interest of saving time n’ keepin’ this here story movin’ right along, I will not be providing y’all with a blow by blow description of this second rehearsal. Nor any of those many other rehearsals that followed. Too much information. Suffice it to say that we were growing together musically more n’ more each time we got together.

And so - just like in our 4-pc days - rehearsal came at pretty much a daily-dose level, with the exception of gig days. This no-days-off schedule was actually an easy one to accommodate cuz all of us were already havin’ the time of our lives experimenting around with the mysteries of jazz n’ such.

In our “New Band.”

FYI: I would only like to add, that at that second rehearsal we did pull one musical rabbit out of our hat….just to have some simple fun. It was a traditional 12-bar fast-tempo jazz/blues shuffle written with the usual I-IV-V format. Albeit with a rather lame-ass vocal from yours truly. In any case, this musical genre would allow everyone a chance to solo. And play off of each other. And over each other. And inside/outside each other.

“Menage a Six” Improvisational Madness it was. Sheesh! Guess we prob’ly went outside to puff some spliff ahead of time. Can’t rightly remember precisely what the title of this li’l blues nugget was.

But one thing for sure: I personally guaran-dog-tee ya, it was NOT “Rock Me Baby.”

So, we now had our Sons-like horn section fairly up n’ runnin’ smoothly and hitting’ on all cylinders. Amplified instruments were getting better at behaving nicely in regards to volume levels. Vinnie n’ Lou had made huge strides in adjusting their musical styles to fit within whatever genre we were playing. On any given song.

But, by this time we’d also already pretty much run the entire gamut on re-vamping all of our older material that would lend itself to horns without stretching the truth too much, so to speak. Hey, we didn’t want to try n’ squeeze any round pegs into square holes or any of that hooey. True dat, ‘Panky.

Hence, once again dear reader,

it was time for us Mamas to get back to the ol’ drawing board and write some new tunes.

Only now, it would be tunes which included horns from their inception.

From the ground level up. "Roger that," Carnegie?

Early 1970

Hangin' Out on "The Green Brick"

Tommy's 1951 Buick "Dynaflow"

L - R: Paul, Tommy, Pat - Steve & Vince (up top)...and Louie gettin' "heeled" by Vinnie

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