He saw Hendrix perform and it changed his life. He was scouted by none other than Ronnie Hawkins, and he himself has inspired an entire generation of hard rock and metal guitarists with his no-nonsense six string pyrotechnics and down-to-earth, good time blues based rock and roll songs for more than 40 years.
He’s Canadian-born rocker Pat Travers and, as his website tagline says, he and his band are coming to “kick your ass!!” The 62-year-old Travers is playing the Empire Theatre in Belleville on Thursday, Oct. 13, followed by a show at The Rockpile in Toronto the next night and wrapping up his Ontario dates in Ottawa on Oct. 15 at the Brass Monkey.
While he may not tour as often or as far afield as he did during his heyday in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Travers is still very much an in-demand act – especially in Europe.
“I do a lot of weekend stuff in North America these days, or short runs like we’re doing in Ontario. Typically, we’ll fly up, rent a car and hit the three or four dates and then fly back home. But this fall I am going to Europe for a month. I start over in Italy on Nov. 17 and swing through Austria, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and then go south over the Alps and finish up in Italy again in December – I think there’s about 23 shows in all, which is pretty busy,” said Travers.
“I guess it means I still have fans I Europe. The UK has gotten pretty tough to make the financial numbers work. I had to cancel a tour recently because the numbers were not there. If had to drop a show or two, which is always possible, I would have gone home with nothing. So that’s a little disappointing, but in the rest of Europe we’re able to do well.”
Over in Europe, the fan base is not only still loyal, but getting more diverse as the years go by, as Travers said he is noticing a growing crop of younger fans coming to his shows, which he finds both surprising and heartening.
“I remember specifically about five years ago we were doing a show in Holland and there was a group of younger people, maybe in their early 20s, both girls and guys. And at the end of the show I did the meet-and-greet and they came trundling up and I asked what they were doing at my show. They said they were starting a band and were just looking for inspiration. And I said, ‘fantastic, because that’s exactly what I did when I was younger.’ I would go and see anybody play: I wasn’t fussy, I just wanted to see musicians doing different things,” Travers said, adding that he believes there is a significant number of young music aficionados seeking more authentic experiences, who are not bound by the sorts of restrictive genres identities of earlier generations.
“Kids like one song at a time. They will listen to music and like it or they don’t, and they won’t really care who it is or if the artist is alive or dead, black or white or whatever. If they like a sound and there is a good visual component – like some sort of cool video – they will go for it. And I think they’re also looking for a real live experience. I always felt that the studio recordings were one thing and the live performances were a totally different thing. In studio you can obviously do lots of production and this and that. But when you’re, say, a three-piece band you just have to find the essence of that tune and deliver that and a lot of bands get freaked out about that over the years, and that’s why they got to having the backing tracks and all that shit.
“A band like Queen, especially in the early days, never did that. You listen to the massive production that they had on the albums. But live they just did the essence of the tune, and all those other bits that were on the record people still heard them in their heads. I do see that more and more young people are looking for that. I always loved going out and seeing people sweat it out and work for their performance. And when I see a band that is afraid to do that, I say they’re playing it safe. They’re just playing the song the same way every night. I believe, for musicians, if there’s no danger there’s no risk and it doesn’t looking like somebody is really stretching onstage. It’s one of the reasons why Jeff Beck is so good on guitar is that he is always going for something, and as a fellow guitar player, or even just someone in the audience, you seem him trying to do something new and amazing and you wonder if he’s going to make it, but he always pulls it off somehow. So there’s the excitement and suspense and risk involved and that’s why a live show can be such a great experience.”
Travers was born in Toronto and moved around the Province of Ontario for a few years before relocating to Ottawa at age 12. Already interested in music, the impressionable and precocious youngster had his musical mind blown at age 13 when he saw the legendary Jimi Hendrix perform in Ottawa.
“Of course I was only 13 when I was exposed to him so I didn’t really know a whole lot about anything. But I had already been playing guitar, or at least trying to. And of course seeing him, especially live, just opened everything up for me. I loved learning how to control the guitar in a different way with feedback and all these cool little tricks and techniques. He was getting sounds and textures out of his guitar that were hard to define. And I don’t know how you could, because he just seemed to do it spontaneously,” Travers said, his voice still tinged with wonderment all these years later.
“And the other thing was, if you listen to his first couple of albums the guitar is pretty clean sounding. Mostly people think of distortion and feedback when they think of Hendrix, and that’s there for sure. But if you really listen to those albums you can hear there’s more clean, ‘toney’ rhythm guitar playing that is just outstanding.
“And his lyrics were just incredible – he was very, very poetic. I remember sitting with my buddy Steven Peacock, who was my first drummer, and we were listening to Castles Made of Sand from Axis: Bold As Love and how we were so affected by the lyrics. Even now when I listen to it I think, ‘wow, there were very descriptive and very cool.’”
Inspired by Hendrix, and also by the onslaught of top British blues-based axe-slingers such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, Travers began to form his own bands, and by the early 1970s, was the go-to guitar guy in the nation’s capital, eventually attracting the attention of another music icon, Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins – the man who discovered The Band, Robbie Lane and the Disciples and David Clayton Thomas, among others.
“It was a big deal to be scouted and eventually work with him. I was the local hotshot guitar player am but I was just playing in cover bands around Ottawa. We weren’t really going that far afield, mostly through Quebec and maybe as far away as Thunder Bay once in a while. So we were playing at this venue in Quebec one night and Ronnie and his entourage showed up and I was invited over to meet him. He said, ‘you know kid, I think you’re real good. Give me a call’ and this and that. I was only 19 at the time but knew Ronnie was a legend at the time. He had John Lennon and Yoko Ono over at his house and had all these amazing stories, and was just this bigger than life character,” Travers said.
“So one day when it looked as though the band I was in was sort of breaking up I gave him a call and he said, ‘well, I don’t really have anything available now, but we will stay in touch.’ So I was a little disappointed and ended up joining another band. Two weeks later Ronnie called and said, ‘kid, get your ass up here.’ And that was that. I got myself back to Toronto and played with him for about a year and in 1975 I went back to Ottawa and then not long after I moved to England.”
Looking to follow in the footsteps of his idol Jimi Hendrix, who moved from the USA to a more welcoming and exciting music community in London in 1966, and also to perhaps soak up something of the atmosphere that produced the likes of the aforementioned Page, Beck and Clapton, a 22-year-old Travers made the sojourn across the pond to Old Blighty.
“The main reason I went to London was that I was afraid to go to New York or Los Angeles. London was something I thought I could deal with a lot better because my mom was English and my dad was Irish, and coming from Canada, we had lots of exposure to the U.K. So even though it was an entirely different place than Ottawa or Toronto, at least I had an affinity for the people and the culture and I knew I wasn’t going to be completely blindsided by what I would find over there,” he said, adding that he could have perhaps timed it better because his move came at almost the precise moment that the paradigm-shifting Punk explosion upset the proverbial musical apple cart.
“I am glad I did it at such a formative part in my life, although it was just my dumb luck to land right in the middle of the Punk movement. It was just stupid is what it was. It had nothing to do with music. The U.K. was, and still is, very trendy – they just love a new trend. So Punk was a trend and it was all of these extroverted people who couldn’t play their way out of a paper bag, but you didn’t have to. That wasn’t important. As a matter of fact, musical prowess was frowned upon in a lot of cases. And because it was newsworthy and print-worthy and sold papers, the three main music papers in the U.K. all jumped on it with a vengeance and excluded everything else. As a guy just getting started in the U.K., with really long hair and bluesy roots, it kind of made it difficult to get press attention and stuff.
“So I was happy when we started selling records in Texas and Chicago and San Francisco and Boston and places like that back in the U.S., as an import. Once that started to happen we shifted our focus to the U.S. by 1978, and I eventually moved to here that year. I ended up in Central Florida near Orlando in 1980 and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
Travers was signed to U.K. label Polydor in 1976 and released his first two albums in short succession, Pat Travers that same year and Makin’ Magic a year later. The U.S. breakthrough he spoke about came with the 1978 album Heat in the Street, which was followed by a powerfully entertaining live album in 1979. Relentless touring helped solidify the Pat Travers Band as an exciting – often incendiary – live act worth seeing. The 1979 single Boom, Boom (Out Go The Lights) and 1980s Snortin’ Whiskey became instant classics, Pat Travers calling cards, and classic live set-closers to this day.
Over the years, Travers has released nearly 40 albums, not including compilations, the most recent being Retro Rocket in 2015, as well as Live at The Iridium NYC later that same year.
“I have some new players with me, my drummer Tommy Craig and bass player David Pastorius, and I am having such a great musical conversation with these guys that we’ve already started working on some new material and we have been in the studio. Honestly, the only motivation for me to go into the studio these days is because I have something really great to record. A lot of times, especially back in the day, you would go into the studio because you have to go into the studio, and the creative juices aren’t always flowing. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to make a good album, but to make a truly great album, sometimes you need a little more time,” he said, with the qualification that he doesn’t necessarily think he will be releasing full albums in the future.
“Now I am not so much into recording a whole 12-song album. I don’t see the effort worth the end result these days – they are just not equivalent. So I would rather just do one great song at a time and a decent kind of video made for YouTube and just go that route. It means you don’t have to have so much invested time wise, money wise and emotional wise. It takes a long time to write, rehearse, record and mix 12 songs for not a lot of record sales these days. I mean, I probably would do it if somebody gave me enough money, but that’s the problem with this whole industry, right?
“That being said, I have a piece of music I am working on right now that everybody I have played it for tells me makes their ears perk right up. So I think the folks in Ontario might be hearing that one because I like to road test our songs. We have been playing another newer one in the set and the response has been amazing.”
What is also amazing, particularly for classic rock nerds, is the litany of top musicians who have come through the doors of the Pat Travers Band over the years. At one point, the band boasted Pat Thrall on guitar (Asia, Meat Loaf, Glenn Hughes) and Tommy Aldridge of Whitesnake and Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band on drums. Also playing drums at one time or another for Travers was future Iron Maiden skin basher Nicko McBrain, and Aynsley Dunbar, best known for his work with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Journey, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Whitesnake.
Travers has also been name-checked as an important influence by the likes of Rik Emmett (Triumph), Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme and the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera.
“It makes me feel great when those things happen. One of my favourite endorsements was Dimebag Darrell. I got to know him a little bit and I was a big fan of his too. It was certainly not my intention to go fishing for compliments, but it’s nice when they happen. I got to know Nuno a bit a long time ago and he had me do a little guest background vocal on the song Get the Funk Out [from their smash 1991 hit album Pornograffiti]. That was a cool experience.”
Any opportunity to see a living blues-rock guitar master in action is also definitely a ‘cool experience,’ as fans in Belleville, Toronto and Ottawa will no doubt testify to in the very near future. For more information on the tour dates visit:
For more information on Travers, his band and discography, visit http://www.pattravers.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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