Each year the Grammy's evoke the usual wide range of responses from disgust to indifference to praise. Whatever. It's the music industry's big wet kiss to itself and I expect a stew of the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of who is nominated, who wins, and what gets televised. That's just how it is. So, in the wake of the Grammy hoopala, here's an appreciation of Pat McLaughlin, one of my very favorite performers, an extremely talented songwriter, singer, and rhythm guitarist. The kind of guy who in a better world would win a Grammy(s). The kind of guy who evokes a very narrow range of responses from "wow" to "unbelievable". When people deride the music coming out of Nashville, they are definitely not thinking of Iowa born Pat McLaughlin, long based in Nashville.
Four Corners is a single point in America where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. Pat McLaughlin’s music is similarly a convergence point, where R&B, country, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll conjoin.
- Michael Ross, No Depression Magazine, issue 48, Nov-Dec 2003
He forgot to include soul, not to nitpick, but that would have been five corners. But anyway...
About ten years ago, a friend, Bill FitzGerald, owner of FitzGerald's, the finest roots music venue in the Chicago area, strongly suggested to a few friends that we not miss the upcoming show by Pat McLaughlin, then unknown to any of us. It turned out to be a magical night, the kind that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief and smiling broadly. It was an incredible night in several ways, starting with Pat's songwriting and vocals, both as good as you could possibly hope to hear. After the show, we assumed that the "band" had been playing together for years. No, it was a pick up band playing live together for the first time, aside from one brief rehearsal. Pat has long been based in Nashville, this group was put together specifically for the show we saw. Pat sang and played rhythm guitar. On drums was Angie Varias, who long ago was the drummer in the Famous Potatoes, a local band that recorded with and served as John Prine's backing band back in the day. Pat Brennan played the B3 and other keyboards. Clem Hayes played bass. John Rice played guitar. Local Chicago area veteran ace musicians. Amazing what old pro's can do with exceptional material. It all starts with the songs, right?
Years later, having seen the same "band" three or four times (meaning their third or fourth ever performances as a unit), Bill said Pat was bringing his Nashville band to FitzGerald's. We were curious to hear the same songs done by the Nashville guys, unsure what to expect. They blew our domes too! Amazing what old pro's can do with exceptional material. We tried describing the difference between how the pick up band handled the songs and what the Nashville group did, and the best comment I heard was that hearing both bands was like the difference between "sauteed and seared". Made sense. Nashville band/seared, Chicago group/sauteed. Both compelling. Pat's Nashville band was Chad Cromwell on drums, Kenny Greenberg on guitar, and Michael Rhodes on bass. Chad is a long time touring drummer for Neil Young and Mark Knopfler. Kenny Greenburg is as good a guitar player as you'll ever find in Nashville or anywhere else, and Michael Rhodes has played with a who's who of musicians, for good reason. Google each of them.
Pat doesn't perform often. His website shows about one performance a month, most months, usually at Douglas Corner in Nashville. I am inferring by the lack of shows that he pays his rent by writing, along with session work for others. Among his co-writers is John Prine. Here's a sampling of people who have recorded Pat's songs: John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Subdudes, Tanya Tucker, Tricia Yearwood, Nancy Griffith, Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack, Al Kooper, Tim O'Brien. And Pat is a well regarded session guitarist, having recorded with Johnny Cash, Roseanne Cash, John Prine, John Doe, "Cowboy" Jack Clement, Al Kooper, and many others.
Advance to 00:45 where the band starts playing
Pat has also participated in several interesting side projects. During the 90's he formed Tiny Town with Subdudes Tommy Malone and Johnny Ray Allen, and John Hiatt's longtime drummer, Kenny Blevins. They put out one record, a self titled effort well worth seeking out.
More recently, Pat has been playing with the World Famous Headliners, which put out what was for me easily one of the most enjoyable and infectious discs I heard last year. Side note: it's also the only disc ever released that opens with one of the band members prodding his band mates by saying, "c'mon, don't be pussies". They've received a little attention here on ND and deserve more. In addition to Pat, they are Al Anderson (NRBQ), Shawn Camp, Michael Rhodes and Greg Morrow, the latter two being part of Pat's Nashville group.
So, what's a terrific pro's pro of a songwriter, a rhythm guitarist's rhythm guitarist, an amazing singer and performer, a guy who attracts and plays with world class musicians who can sell his songs to more famous names doing so far under the popular radar? Actually, the better question is what is he doing flying so low under our radar here on No Depression, where you'd expect him to be?
Check out a few of Pat's more recent records, such as the stellar "Next Five Miles", "Horsefly", and his live record, "Live in '09" and tell me if you can figure it out.
Please sample Pat's music and buy his records at his website: www.patmclaughlin.com