By Steve Newton
On January 21, 1983, Canadian rock-guitar hero Pat Travers played Vancouver, opening for a Joe Perry-less Aerosmith at the Pacific Coliseum. Ear of Newt was there, of course. There was no way I was gonna miss two of my fave acts from the ’70s.
Besides, it was a Friday night.
I don’t remember that much about the show, but I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. I’d been a Travers fan since hearing him light up “Hot Rod Lincoln” on his self-titled 1976 debut. And of course I grooved to his best-known albums, like 1979’s Live! Go For What You Know and the following year’s Crash and Burn, both of which featured a guitarist I actually liked better than him named Pat Thrall.
I followed him off and on after the ’80s, when he–like Gary Moore around the same time–abandoned hard-rock for the blues, but in a good way. Heck, a few years back–after attending a junket-party for Jackass 3D at L.A.’s Roosevelt Hotel and slamming back way too many margaritas–I wobbled over to see Travers play at a bar at the corner of Hollywood & Vine. He still sounded awesome, I must say.
Especially on “Stevie”
But getting back to ’83: in advance of his Vancouver show a star-struck me did a phone interview with the then-28-year-old “axeman” (in the parlance of the times). I might as well just go ahead and bang it out for you now. Keep in mind that my interview skills were decades crappier than they are today.
When did you first get involved with the guitar?
When I was about 11 years old. A friend of mine in school had an electric guitar, and I just thought it was totally amazing. It was a little cheap Japanese one. And I saw Jimi Hendrix in Ottawa about two or three years after that, which was very exciting. I decided right there and then that’s what I was going to do.
I understand you used to tour with Ronnie Hawkins. What was that like?
Boring. Well, I mean it was fun, but it was definitely not what I wanted to end up doing. It was a great education–I was only 20 years old. But I reached a certain point with it, and then felt I wanted to do something different.
Right after the Ronnie Hawkins gig you left Canada and flew over to England. Is that where things started to come together for you?
I guess so. I started recording and I met my bass player and I started writing songs. I think I probably would have been three years away from where I am now if I hadn’t gone over there then.
I read in Guitar Player magazine that you auditioned 70 guitarists before finding Pat Thrall in 1978.
No, that’s not necessarily true. We did audition a lot of guitar players, but Pat Thrall was specifically recommended to us by Neal Schon from Journey. He just came to one show and we jammed in a tune-up room. That pretty much clinched the gig for him.
Why did he leave the band after the Crash and Burn album?
A lot of reasons. He wasn’t happy with his role in the band and he wasn’t happy with the management. But that was three years ago. Now he’s with Glenn Hughes in the Hughes/Thrall band.
With Pat Thrall gone, do you prefer being the only guitar player in the band?
Yeah, I don’t really want to play with another guitar player for a while. It’s too goofy.
It is more of a challenge playing by yourself?
No–it’s more of a challenge to play with another guitar player! I’m a good enough guitar player, we don’t need another one.
I understand your main guitar is a Gibson Melody Maker. You don’t see many players using them these days.
No you don’t. I’ve had mine for about seven years, and it’s just a fluke of a guitar. I have a couple of other Melody Makers and none of them are the same as this one. But I just had Gibson build me a new one. It’s not a Melody Maker, it’s a Les Paul, but it’s a double cutaway, just like the Melody Maker. It has two horns next to the neck, as opposed to just one on a regular Les Paul. And this is the first one they’ve ever built, so I’ll be fortunate enough to have serial number 0001.
“Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)” is sort of your signature song. Did you learn that with Hawkins?
No, I actually heard that when I was about 13 years old. Richard Newell (King Biscuit Boy) from Hamilton did it. I saw him play live and thought it was a neat song.
Would you say that it’s an advantage or a disadvantage to be a Canadian band these days?
Well I wouldn’t know because we’re not a Canadian band. I’m the only Canadian in the group, and I haven’t lived in Canada in seven and a half years. I’m a resident alien, unfortunately. My bass player’s English, my drummer’s from New York City, my keyboard player’s from San Francisco, and my rhythm guitarist/harp player is from Tallahassee, Florida.
But I think there are some really good Canadian bands, there always have been some really fine Canadian players. For the size of the population, there is a large pool of talent there. For the last four or five years this Canadian content thing has really forced the audiences to accept homegrown music. And although it screwed up the radio in Canada to a certain extent, it has definitely helped to encourage original music on the part of musicians in Canada, and I think that’s a good thing.
What do you think of the current state of rock and roll in general?
Well, it’s kind of weird. We’re being affected by the fact that people don’t have the money to throw away on it. It’s gotten a lot more expensive to buy albums and go see shows–to support music. But it’ll change. I think radio has just about hung itself with its format of playing Led Zeppelin mini-concerts and all that shit, instead of new music.
I take it you’re not a real big Zeppelin fan.
Well it’s not that I’m not a Led Zeppelin fan, it’s just that I was listening to Led Zeppelin in ’69 and ’72. And here it is ’83 and we’re still listening to Led Zeppelin. I would like to have the choice of being able to play it at home rather than being bombarded with it. I just don’t think it’s indicative of music in 1983.
While we’re on the subject of sixties bands, what do you think of the Who going off the road?
They’re not going off the road, and if you believe that I’ve got a bridge to sell you. I mean, they’re doing some of the best music they’ve ever done now, so why should they go off the road? It doesn’t make any sense.