By Johnny Griffith
Month to month I talk to a lot of musicians here in East Texas. Either I’m interviewing them for EGuide, or playing with them on stage, or catching one of their shows in between gigs. One of the things I always enjoy asking when we talk is “Who excites you in the East Texas music scene?” People are always happy to share who they’ve seen lately that they enjoyed or who I need to go see, and the list is as diverse as the group of people I’m asking. However, there is one name who kept popping up on enough lists that I finally had to stop and give him a listen.
That name was Gary Patrick.
Originally born in Tyler, Gary took a circuitous route around the country over the next several years that saw his career as a working musician begin in Southern California and from there would take him all over the country and even as far away as Europe before bringing him back to where he started, right here in East Texas.
With a gift for telling a story and the musical chops to back it up, Patrick is part Pat Green, part Tom Petty, but yet completely Gary Patrick. His latest single, “Man’s Gotta Have Some Fun,” cracked the top 50 in 8 weeks, and he was recently nominated for “new male vocalist of the year” in the Texas Regional Radio & Music Awards. I was lucky enough to grab some time with Gary in between stops on his radio station tour to sit down and find out more about the man that has local musicians talking.
Johnny: What is your earliest memory in music?
Gary: My mother’s jewelry box had a wind-up music harp in it. The song was “Fur Elise” by Ludwig Van Beethoven. I was mesmerized by that melody and kept coming back to open the magic music box. I was around three years old.
Johnny: You grew up in a very musical family, but when did you have that moment when you wanted to start learning it for yourself?
Gary: My older brother Ronnie, who is 12 years older than me, played guitar and taught me a few things when I was tiny. I couldn’t wrap my hand around the neck of the guitar so I played the strings almost like a piano from the top of the fretboard. At 10 years old, my folks took me to Mundt Music here in Tyler, circa 1981, where I met my most impressionable music mentor, guitar teacher and friend, Tom Russell. Tom taught me from age 10 until I was almost 18. To make a long story short, the answer to your question is sometime around ten or eleven. I still remember how music took a firm hold on me. What I didn’t understand then but clearly understand now is that I really didn’t choose music, but rather it chose me. I was innocent and helpless but I loved how music made me feel, and that learning an instrument was a deeper connection with something that would always be with me.
Johnny: At what point did you start thinking this was something you wanted to be more than just a hobby and perhaps try to make a career out of it?
Gary: That moment came in 1990. I graduated high school in 1989 and moved to Southern California, where I was attending college courses for an Aeronautical Engineering program. I also love flying and thought of making a career as a pilot. I was two semesters in when I realized my heart just wasn’t in it. My folks have always supported my music and urged me to pursue my dreams, so my Dad walked me around the block one evening and said college courses will be here for you but these are the years to cultivate a career in music. So, go and find your way with our blessing and support.
Johnny: Do you remember who was in your first band and what your first show was?
Gary: I certainly do! Les Clanton and his stepbrother Tony McAfee were in my first band. We knew each other since elementary at Alba-Golden ISD. The very first show we played was a big talent show at school. We were called “Novice” but later we changed our name to the “Thundering Hearts,” perhaps to imply we weren’t quite novices any longer. Now that I think of it, I believe Les came up with both names.
Johnny: Your journey has taken you pretty far from your roots in Jacksonville, is there anything that sticks out in particular along the way?
Gary: Oh wow, how much time do we have here?
I take to heart each and every footstep along the way. My journey with music has had many chapters and many sacrifices. There’s nothing normal about the career of a singer/songwriter/musician/entertainer, but luckily I’ve had the fortune of making many incredible friends and colleagues since my early years of being a professional musician.
Some memories that stick out in my mind over my career are; playing music up and down the Southern California Coast; taking my band to Helsinki, Finland for a month in 1995 where my long hair froze off, and I’m totally not kidding; playing guitar and singing for Beach Boys great Brian Wilson’s daughters for a few TV shows and radio station tours; being a contracted band for the Bellagio and Mirage Casinos in Las Vegas for several years; recording three albums; currently promoting my second radio single, “Man’s Gotta Have Some Fun,” on Texas Radio; and playing multiple shows per week.
Johnny: When did you first start writing your own material?
Gary: That would happen when I was around 12 or so.
Johnny: What would you consider your favorite original? How about your favorite cover song?
Gary: Hmm. I think my favorite original song is “Blue Skies” from my latest album, “No Standing Waves,” and my favorite cover song? Yikes, that’s virtually impossible to answer. I must say, “Tunnel of Love” by Dire Straits speaks to me. The lyrics and music are so good it hurts. The story line puts you right there … boy meets girl at a carnival. It takes me back to that innocence every time.
Johnny: How would you describe your particular style to someone who has never heard you?
Gary: With my latest album, I’m proud to say that I sound like me, Gary Patrick. Equal parts of all elements in music that have inspired me vocally, lyrically, and musically since my journey began all those years ago. If I were to describe me in the third person, I might say, “Gary Patrick… he’s that guy that reminds me of Bryan Adams’s tenor voice and plays guitar kinda like Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. He writes deep lyrics like Gordon Lightfoot, delivers a story like Willie Nelson, and has the happy country energy of Keith Urban.”
In the end, I absolutely sound like me. All artists have their influences. I certainly have influences across several genres. If you could mix em up and pour a cup, the above mentioned might be a good description.
Johnny: You’ve done quite a bit of studio work. How has that experience evolved for you and what did you learn from the process that you’ve carried with you moving forward?
Gary: Studio recording is the ultimate litmus test for a musician. I have so much to say about this so I’ll try not to ramble. As an artist, you’ll always be moving onward and upward as long as you work at your craft. Recording is important because it teaches you where you need to refine. If you are an artist or musician that only plays live shows, you are in for a lesson when you step into a studio. The studio environment is completely sterile. You hear all the mistakes you might otherwise miss while playing live. I’d suggest every musician practice playing with a metronome. Guitarist, I’d suggest refine how hard you strike the guitar with your right hand or clutch the neck and pull things out of tune. Refine, refine, refine, refine and REFINE your lyrics before going into the studio. Learn the art of co-writing with folks. Learn to be objective with your lyrics and make certain the story holds true from the first to last word.
Vocally, get yourself some coaching! Especially if you tend to write songs that peak your vocal range. If you are struggling at all with singing your songs, either change the key or realize that you may need help. Incredible vocal coaches from Los Angeles and Las Vegas can teach you via Skype. In my 30 year career, I wouldn’t have survived vocally without having the knowledge I learned from years of coaching. Knowing vocal technique will only serve you better in the studio.
If you are an artist without a band and want to record a single or a few songs, reach out and find a producer who can put together a recording session and hire players for you. Sometimes you just don’t have all the answers, so it’s time to build relationships.
Be serious about your art but don’t take yourself too seriously! This is something that I can speak from experience with. Being intense is a good thing, but remember to relax and enjoy this. Everyone else will enjoy it more too.
Johnny: Do you primarily perform with a full band or more solo work these days?
Gary: I perform solo, acoustic trio, acoustic four piece and full electric band…whatever the venue or show calls for.
Johnny: What do you have coming up the rest of this year into 2020 that we can look forward to?
Gary: We are playing several shows per week, all over the East Texas area. You can always check our calendar on my website: garypatrick.love.
Johnny: The East Texas music scene has a great collaborative vibe to it, seemingly more so than other areas I’ve experienced over the years. To what would you attribute this sense of community the local musicians in this area seem to share?
Gary: I talk about this all the time, Johnny. I love how much music there is in East Texas. I love seeing so many artists and musicians happily supporting one another. East Texas is a great community that fosters some amazing relationships. On top of that you have so many venues now that support live entertainment. All of that encourages excellence. You know, I’ve personally never been a huge fan of the singing contest TV shows. It’s not how I built a lasting career as a musician or refined my skills and relationships. However, I’ve noticed since shows like “The Voice,” “American Idol,” etc., SO many talented singers/musicians have emerged and a new generation of folks are inspired. The Texas Country scene has completely blown up and offers opportunity for artists and musicians to cultivate a career. Like any career, there’s lots to learn and dues to pay along the way, and that’s where I am in this. I’m promoting singles to Texas Radio, driving to little radio stations all over the state, and meeting new folks that love music. Trying to move the machine out of my 100 mile orbit and grow new fans. It’s hard work. There are times when I want to swing a hammer instead of a guitar, but then I regroup and realize this is what I do.
Johnny: So the last question is hypothetical. You’re stuck on a remote island for the next year and can take one album, and one album only…what is it?
Gary: Oh that’s easy.. Journey, “Infinity, 1978.”