"Education and parenting are way undervalued in our society...they influence our children and our children are our future."
Pete Sears: The Bodhisattva of Grace
In a career spanning more than four decades, Pete Sears has been a member of many bands and has moved through a variety of musical genres, from early R&B, psychedelic improvisational rock of the 1960s, folk, country music, arena rock in the 1970s, and blues, he has played keyboards or bass guitar with a large variety of artists.
For many years Pete has traveled back and forth between the US and England...touring, recording and doing session work on over one hundred albums.
He has played with many artists including John Lee Hooker, Steve Kimock, Jerry Garcia, Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna, Phil Lesh, Jorma Kaukonen, Rod Stewart, Rich Kirch, Harvey Mandel, Nick Gravenites, Taj Mahal, Mickey Hart, Mark Naftalin, Bob Weir, Smokey Smothers, Lester Mad Dog Davenport, Eric Burdon, Zero, Steamhammer, Long John Baldry, Stoneground, British beat poet Mike Hart with fellow poet and Cream lyricist Pete Brown , John Cipollina, Mike Bloomfield, Roy Harper, Robert Hunter, Ike and Tina Turner, Papa John Creach, Steve Cropper, Alex Harvey, Wavy Gravy, Kim Fowley, Freddy Roulette, Sly Stone, Big Brother, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. He has also sat in or jammed with such people as Graham Bond, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Allman Brothers, Hubert Sumlin, David Crosby, Johnny Johnson, Paul Butterfield, Pinetop Perkins, Grateful Dead, and many more.
Pete wrote the original score for a documentary film on Cesar Chavez of the Farm Workers Union. He wrote and recorded the music for a documentary on religious oppression in Tibet called, "Tibet's Stolen Child”. Pete serves on the Board of N.A.S.A.F.O.N.A., a joint Hopi Indian and University of Arizona based organization, working to restore ancient garden terracing on the Hopi reservation in Arizona. He is also on the board of "The Endangered Peoples Project," an organization headed by ethnobotonist, Dr. Wade Davis. Pete and his wife, author and lyricist, Jeannette Sears became active with numerous Central American relief organizations through the '80s, working on benefits and immediate relief to refugees. In the late 1980s they spearheaded a radio drive in the San Francisco Bay area to raise food and clothing for refugees fleeing the ravages of civil war in Guatemala and El Salvador. In 1988, the California Institute of Integral Studies gave them an award for humanitarian work in the Bay area. Jeannete's passion for social justice shows up in her first novel, A Light Rain Of Grace.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
Through my years as a professional musician I've had the good fortune to play many styles of music...either in bands, as a session musician, or just sitting in and jamming with different artists. I have found that there is almost always a quality in the music that some part of you can identify with, especially if you have some knowledge of the music's roots. I first became aware of the blues at a fairly young age as my older brother John listened to jazz, folk, R&B and various blues artists like Howling Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. My school friend Terry Brown and I had started a band called the "Strangers" so I stopped playing piano which I'd been learning since I was eight years old, and started learning basic blues and folk riffs on the guitar. My friend Terry's older brother in law ran a Folk music shop in Bromley high street that carried Folkways recordings...he exposed me to Big Bill Broonzy, Otis Span and Champion Jack Dupree. Champion Jack Dupree turned my young south London head upside down with his amazing and soulful New Orleans piano playing...so I went to my old upright piano and started trying to pick out riffs from his recordings. Being exposed to the blues in those early years was incredibly important in shaping how I approached the many styles of music I would inevitably end up playing over such a long career. I played bass in my first professional band, the "Sons of Fred"...we did a few TV shows in 1964-65 and recorded at E.M.I. studios (now known as Abbey Road). Sons of Fred played a lot of R &B. I played piano in my next band, “Fleur De Lys”…we played a lot of Motown and Impressions songs. Then, after seeing Pink Floyd at the Marquee Club in London I left to hook up again with my old Sons of Fred band-mate Mick Hutchinson in a band called “Sam Gopal Dream” in 1967. Sam played Indian Tables and was highly trained on the instrument. Mick would play ragas on his Gibson Stereo guitar, while I interacted on bass or Hammond B3 with Sam’s Tablas. Jimi Hendrix sat in with us once…that was cool. That period of free spirited musical improvisation gave me a foundation that has served me well over the years. We played all the psychedelic London clubs like, “Middle Earth”, “Happening 44”, UFO, and played giant venues and happenings like, “Alexandra Palace”, and “Christmas on Earth”. 1967 was an important year for musical freedom. I then formed my own band called “Giant” which played some blues. I worked a bit with the British blues band, “Steamhammer” who used to back up Freddy King when he worked in the UK. I played piano on their 1969 album "Reflections". Since then I've had the good fortune to work or jam with many wonderful blues artists, including Nick Gravenites, Little Smokey Smothers, Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport, Sam Lay, Hubert Sumlin, Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield...and the wonderful John Lee Hooker.
I met John Lee Hooker through my very humble close friend Rich Kirch, who has played guitar with all the great old blues men going way back to Chicago. I played with John Lee at the Rock Hall of Fame's tribute to John called "John Lee Hooker & Friends 50th" at Stanford university in California. Apart from Rich, some of my other friends played that night including Charlie Musselwhite, and the great Johnnie Johnson on piano (I actually played accordion that night). Another memorable gig for me was playing keyboards for John in Oroville, California in 2001, not long before he passed away...it's on YouTube somewhere. John Lee also played on my solo record, "The Long Haul"...we wrote a song together called "Elizabeth"...the last live in the studio song with no overdubs he played before he passed away. Even though the blues was born from struggle and hard times in the African American community...the essence of the music seems to resonate with something deep inside all of us. Of all the different styles of music I have played over the years....if I had to choose one it would be the blues. The blues brings you up when you are down...intensifies you emotionally, and can put you in a melancholy mood which helps ease your pain.
What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?
Being a good musician is subjective. You could place BB King and John Lee Hooker in the same room...both play completely different styles, but both are equally as moving in their own way. Some might say BB King is a better technical player than John...but John has his own unique style that appears deceptively simple, but is actually very difficult to play with true feeling, he played with subtleties that could allow him to play one note for ten minutes and bring an audience to tears. So how can you say one is a better musician...they are both good and just as vital in their own way. Miles Davis, Vladimir Horowitz, John Lee Hooker...all masters in their own right. You can be good at whatever genre of music you happen to play...and if you keep an open mind and work hard you can be good at other styles as well. There is a universal quality in music that can be picked up on by people from all over the world...if you claim to be a musical purist and only take one style of music seriously, you are cutting yourself off from a world of pleasure. Music has the power to intensify moods and move people emotionally...whether it is for good, or bad. It can cross cultural boundaries and bring people together...especially the spiritual inducing drone which shows up in instruments like the Indian Tambura and the Aboriginal Didgeridoo.
How do you describe PETE SEARS sound and progress, what is your music philosophy?
Other than my few years of piano lessons as a child, my experience and knowledge of music has all been empirical. For what it's worth, my style of playing today and anything else I have learned mostly comes from recording and playing live in front of an audience with a large variety of musicians of different styles. Also from absorbing music I love by listening and being around musicians proficient in those idioms. The best you can hope for is that your playing resonates with the listener, and you manage to carve out an identifiable sound of your own...but that also captures the spirit of the early greats. Everything is really an extension of something else...influenced by an array of different styles, but with its own unique twist that resonates with a younger generation perhaps not that familiar with the old music. You should never stop learning...that's one of the things that make music so interesting. You should never get to the point where you say...well that's it, I'm as good as I will ever get...might as well retire, stop playing my instrument and go graze in a field somewhere. I'll carry on as long as I can...and as long as somebody wants to hear it.
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
It's been a long gradual process. When I started out as a young man in England, trying to emulate the old greats like Champion Jack Dupree, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lee Hooker, Freddy King, Jimmy Reed, Robert Johnson...the most you could hope for was to capture some of their spirit in your playing. I realize now that you will never sound as good as them at what they did, so why try and copy them exactly. Try to capture the spirit of their playing, but carve out your own take on their licks. From playing with guys like John Lee Hooker, I get the feeling they respect someone who captures the spirit of the blues, but without necessarily trying to play their licks note from note exactly as they heard it on the record. Learning their licks note from note is a good place to start from of course. I hung out with Johnnie Johnson quite a bit...through his work with Chuck Berry he helped bridge the gap between blues piano and rock piano. Johnnie, Otis Span, Champion Jack all influenced me...but I could never hope to play like them. When I solo I just go where I go on the spur of the moment, without anything worked out ahead of time. You can really connect with an audience that way...they seem to pick up on your degree of uncertainty, and living on the edge. It's cyclical...the audience feeds the artist, and the artist feeds the audience.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The worst moments turned out to be my best because they taught me to brush off failure and carry on, and the best moments taught me that success doesn't last forever. Both taught me to appreciate the journey, with its highs and lows...the highs being wonderful and memorable, and the lows being philosophical and teaching you about life. My music has been deeply affected by the turn my life took when I met my wife Jeannette and brought up two wonderful children...being a part of such a close family has definitely helped me get through some difficult times. But in all honesty, since 1964 I have been blessed with having the good fortune to play music with wonderful musicians and wonderful people. There is only one person, a vocalist who shall remain nameless who you couldn’t pay me enough to work with again…which isn't bad for a career that long. No, it's not Rod Stewart or Grace Slick; I always got along well with them. Long John Baldry was one of my favorite blues artists and people...we had a great time touring the USA back in 1971. We lost our electricity at a gig in New York City one night...so John, who was a sort of Peter O Tool character, seamlessly launched into a standup comedy routine while we scrambled around for acoustic instruments. It was a fun show...I believe the whole of NYC was without power for a while that night.
What is the “feel” you miss nowadays from the 60s? Which memory from this era makes you smile?
With a few exceptions like the Grateful Dead there was a period during the 1980's when bands felt it important to emulate their recordings exactly onstage during a performance. Not only the arrangements, which isn't unreasonable really, but for solos as well. Guys would solo note from note just like they played them on the album...in my opinion solos should be improvisational and rarely exactly the same...sometimes you do repeat certain licks which are identifiable with your playing...but they should not be in the same spot every time. Of course, this may happen by chance once in a while...just play freely; that's the key.
There was one memorable moment when I played with Mick Hutchinson and Sam Gopal in "Sam Gopal Dream" in 1967. Sam played Tablas, I played bass and B3, and Mick played ragas on the guitar...no vocals. We were playing a show at the Middle Earth Club in Covent Garden, London...very stoned, as was the audience and we were playing this long improvisational piece in one key. We always played this piece in one key...suddenly Mick and I both switched up a half step together at exactly the same moment. It was very profound and it literally brought tears to our eyes. When a band is completely in sync it is almost like some sort of musical telepathy...you move together like a school of fish, with no prearranged signals. Good musicians pick up on each other’s unspoken signals all the time...like a rhythm section playing together in a turnaround...that just comes with experience. But I'm talking about something much deeper...like doing something completely original together as a band. When a band closes their eyes and moves as one...it is what keeps us playing music together really. I rarely feel the same degree of emotion that I experienced with Sam Gopal Dream that evening in 1967...the original instrumental three pieces, not the band of the same name Sam got together in the late sixties. I experienced it at times playing with Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady and Michael Falzarano in Hot Tuna. I have lately been experiencing some amazing moments while jamming with "Moonalice" or the "David Nelson Band"...and psychedelic blues guitarist Harvey Mandel and I have some cool moments together when I am playing either bass or keyboards in the "Snake Crew".
I've had some moments with John Cipollina, Nick Gravenites...and even on some of the early 1970's Rod Stewart albums. The original Jefferson Starship also had its moments during the seventies. They all come in different forms depending on the style of music being played.
The spirit of adventure is important in music.
Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your memories from recording time?
I remember one session in 1972 I played for Capitol Records in Los Angeles...I was playing bass and keyboards on a Kim Fowley album called "I'm Bad". We were in the studio when a musician’s union guy came round to check that everyone was in the union...they sometimes did that back then. We were in the middle of a take when the engineer got a call from the front desk that a union guy had just come through the front door. Except for touring with British bands when I would have an H1 work visa, I was still working under the table in those days...and everyone at the session knew it. The engineer warned us through the talk-back, so we launched into the loudest, most obnoxious slightly out of tune rock n roll we could summon (which wasn't difficult for us) and the engineer turned the volume in the control booth up to eleven. The union fellow, wearing a slick three piece suit, sat down and waited for us to finish...it must have been hellish for him; he looked like a jazz cat. We could see him just behind the studio window sitting on the sofa in front of the recording console looking very uncomfortable, and slightly pissed off. We just kept playing as loudly as possible until the poor guy couldn't take it anymore and left in disgust...no doubt wishing he could chuck everyone in the studio out of the union. That was a close call.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
It is very difficult to say which has been the most interesting period of my life musically. Every part of my professional career in music since 1964, in its own way, has played an important role in shaping the way I approach my instrument in relation to playing with other musicians...as well as playing solo. I'd have to say 1967 was a major turning point as it enabled me to free myself from playing strict musical formats. There is nothing wrong with doing that of course, but it was nice to be able to stretch out and push the boundaries a bit...sometimes a lot. It was a period when I played Indian music with Mick Hutchinson and Sam Gopal in the 'original "Sam Gopal Dream". I mentioned it a bit earlier. Jimi Hendrix sat in with us, and was seen filming us with his home movie camera...I'd like to see that footage. Someone must have the reels he shot in a collection somewhere. Mitch Mitchell later asked me to join him in a band he was getting together in 1969 and took me down to a gig he was playing with Jimi at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I remember fans yelling for Foxy Lady and other well known hits of his, and Jimi walked to the microphone between songs and said he just wanted to play the blues. He then launched into some of the most soulful blues playing I've ever heard. Jimi liked playing with Mitch who had a jazz background in his playing, but I found out later that he was thinking about other bass players at the time...hmmm, who knows, I sometimes wonder why Mitch really took me down there that night. I didn't stick around in London, but flew to the USA for the first time instead. I formed a band in Venice Beach with guitarist Leigh Stephens from "Blue Cheer" and drummer Micky Waller from the Jeff Beck band.
Playing piano and some bass on the early Rod Stewart albums like "Every Picture Tells a Story" where important milestones for me... Rod's music had a lot of soul back then. The Original 1970’s Jefferson Starship was also fun, especially with Papa John Creach on fiddle. And of course all the wonderful blues players like Nick Gravenites who I later toured Greece with; Rich Kirch, Long John Baldry, Michael Bloomfield, Steamhammer, Little Smokey Smothers, Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport, Charlie Musselwhite, Maria Muldaur, and John Lee Hooker are all wonderful memories. My wife Jeannette and I got to know Pinetop Perkins pretty well...we had him and his manager, Pat Morgan over to our house for dinner a few times...we once sat down at my piano and Pat videotaped us playing some four handed boogie, only to find out later that the sound wasn't working. Still we have the visuals as a memento I suppose. I also became good friends with Johnnie Johnson who played piano on all the Chuck Berry records. Johnny was a wonderful guy...very humble, although I hear he could be pretty crazy in his younger days. Francis Clay who had played drums with Muddy and practically everyone else and I became very good friends...he recited his career over a slow blues on my record "The Long Haul". His knees were too bad to be able to play drums much on that record, but he did manage one track. I sometimes play piano or bass with Harvey Mandel...mostly at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco. He released a CD of one of our shows that I played piano on...I also love playing bass with Harvey. I used to listen to Harvey's groundbreaking instrumental album 'Cristo Redentor" back in London around 1970...Ron Wood turned me on to it. I love Harvey's style of blues playing. That early improvisational work with Sam Gopal Dream in 1967 helps me go to that in the moment space when the band I play with now "Moonalice" gets into a heavy jam section.
During the 1980's, my wife Jeannette and I got involved with trying to help bring the human rights abuses of the Mayan Indians in Guatemala, Central America to the attention of the American people...we produced a non-profit music video using actual footage of abuses mixed in with studio shots of me, Dave Grisman on Mandolin, and Quique Cruz on the Peruvian flute. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead helped sponsor the video which was sent free of charge to hundreds of organizations around the world who were working to help the Maya.
But to be completely honest, the most important thing in my life has been bringing up two wonderful children with Jeannette. Parenting is probably the single most important job on the planet...and so often overlooked for more profitable ventures. Our children are our future and will be the ones who will end up shaping our planet. The values we instill in them may well determine the survival of our species as technology develops more efficient weapons of mass destruction which can fall into reckless and careless hands. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it comes with an awesome responsibility. We also don't help working parents get by enough in this society...they are pretty much left to fend for themselves.
How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
When I started playing professionally in the mid-nineteen sixties rock music was still relatively new. Record companies still had no idea what would really sell, so they would sign almost anything to see what would stick. Obviously bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones went through the roof so for a while they only wanted to sign bands that sounded like them...a mistake record companies would continue to make for many years. It is a business to them after all. Some cool new sound would occasionally slip through the cracks, blind side the record companies and sell like crazy...then they'd try to duplicate that sound.
Blues of course had been around the scene in the USA for many years...it originated there. But it was very difficult for black blues artists to make it in the early years of recording due to discrimination...but a few dedicated record companies released some blues recording and the sound resonated with young people. It was still hard for black Blues and Jazz bands to get around the country and play gigs...even if their songs were getting good airplay on the radio. Duke Ellington even had his own train to take his orchestra from show to show to avoid discrimination...of course most blues artists couldn't afford to do something like that.
There was a relatively small but intense following of young white people who travelled the country documenting these amazing blues artists using primitive, but effective recording equipment. Then the blues began to influence young white rock players like Carl Perkins, Eddy Cochran, Elvis Presley which turned the heads of major record companies...so they began signing people like Chuck Berry, Freddy King, BB King. When that music hit Europe it generated intense interest in young people who wanted to divine the roots of the blues, so we began to listen to Big Bill Broonzy, Son House, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, howling Wolf...they became our heroes. People like Champion Jack Dupree, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker would arrive on European shores and be treated like kings. So British Rock n Roll became heavily influenced by the blues and produced bands like John Mayall and the Blues-breakers, Fleetwood Mac, the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, Cream, Eric Clapton. Even Led Zeppelin, the father of heavy rock was very much of the blues.
As I mentioned before, music is very much a business and unfortunately, with the exception of a short period when FM rock radio took off in the USA when they could play any record they felt like, radio airplay became ratings driven only. Few radio stations wanted to take a chance and switch to music that didn't easily attract listeners...if their ratings dropped, paying advertisers dropped them. This had the effect of making it difficult for the average young listener across America to be exposed to enough of a variety of different styles of music to make up their own mind about what they like. There are exceptions of course, and some old style small town radio stations were able to keep going.
Today of course, the digital age has turned the music industry upside down. It freaked out the major record labels that saw their control over the market declining along with the inevitable drop in CD profits. They had become greedy by charging high prices for CD's, which gave you the feeling you were getting far less for your money than you did with LP's where the cover and packaging was almost as important as the music itself. So there was the inevitable back lash with young people who had no problem with copying an artist’s music amongst themselves. Sophisticated digital recording systems became available to the general public who set up small recording studios in their houses...no longer needing to spend large amounts of money to rent a recording studio. Of course, the quality of many recordings made in home digital studios suffered as a result...especially from the lack of trained engineers. Many musicians felt all you needed to do was stick a mike in front of an instrument or amp, press record and away you go. Miking correctly is an art. Fortunately there are many good books available on the subject if you want to take the time...it's well worth the effort. I've seen highly trained studio engineers walk around the room while the musician plays their instrument, listening for that perfect sound and where to place the microphone...often placing more than one mike around the room for one instrument. In the early years of recording they didn't have the luxury of overdubbing instruments, let alone tuning people's voices. Mikes were placed and production decisions made on the spot, sometimes with a roomful of musicians and vocalists waiting to start recording...the engineer had to get the instrument balance right first time. Nowadays, we can record many virtual tracks of one instrument or vocal, and decide later which is the best one...sometimes piecing many tracks together into one...then tuning anything that sounds flat or sharp. This is all good...but it helps to make as many production decisions on the spot about the artist’s performance while recording as it saves time later in post-production. Digital sound has improved immensely also...it's not as harsh sounding as it was at first. In the glory days of multi-track recording on tape and listening on vinyl, the listener would try to put together a good high fidelity sound system to play their LP's on. Now people listen on all sorts of different mediums, iPods, cell phones, car systems set up with different EQ settings...so it's hard to mix music that sounds good on everything.
Still it's all wonderful...I use pro-tools in my music room at home. I've recorded quite a few TV and film documentaries on the system. I have my grand piano permanently miked so all I have to do is sit down, press record and play...after firing everything up of course. There are of course dedicated pro-tools engineers way better than me...I'm really a musician who learns to operate my pro-tools system just well enough to record what needs to get done. But I do find that my early years of recording and arranging in studios and being around engineers has helped me a lot...even being an old guy in a digital world.
There are exciting new breakthroughs in recording technology all the time. Some major producers even combine the old with the new...like recording basics on multi-track 2" tape, copying the music over to the digital realm to overdub and master, then mixing down back to tape for the master.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
The music business is very different than it was when I began my career. Record companies ruled. If you were lucky enough to get signed by a label, you were pretty much assured radio airplay and sometimes TV appearances by the company’s promotion machine. This would help create audiences for the band. Nowadays bands use mediums like YouTube, Facebook, web-sites, blogs etc. to get their music in the public eye. But everything is still in a state of flux...and it can be hard for new young bands to solidify their audience into a solid fan base who want to purchase their music. Record companies still exist of course, but they are more selective about who they sign. A new band can try and find a smaller independent record label who hopefully believes in them, or who specialize in the style of music they play. Really it's all wide open at this point...in five years, the method of breaking in a new band in five years will probably bear little resemblance to how it is today. You never know what is around the corner now the record labels have lost complete control of how their music is promoted and distributed. Nothing stays the same.
However, one thing always stays the same...you have to really want to be a musician. To live, breath and surround yourself with your music...it's going to be hard. Even bands that immediately get signed and have a mega hit usually end up squabbling with each other...or wilting under the pressure to get another hit. Concentrate on the music and try not to let outside forces dictate what you do...unless you feel they are good suggestions of course. Sometimes counsel from experienced musicians or producers can be very valuable in getting an objective viewpoint about your music. Also try to co-operate with band members and not let egos (easier said than done) get in the way...otherwise the music will ultimately suffer and the band will break up. I've seen good bands begin fighting over trivial things and break up...not realizing how lucky they are to have carved out any degree of success as a band. Rarely is a bands success due to one person...it's usually a collective effort, especially in the eyes of the public who think it's all one big happy family. I've seen lead singers from major acts go off to try a solo career thinking the bands audience will come flocking to see them...they often get a rude awakening. The drummer, bass player, keyboardists all contribute to the sound that was successful, even though it's the lead singers voice and personality that is being pushed by the record label. The vocalists are of course the most difficult to replace...but every time you change the drummer or bass player...you subtly change the feel of the music. The band will carry on and still be good, but it won't be the same band it was. What would the Rolling Stones be without Charlie Watts?
Are there any memories from the road, which you’d like to share with us?
I think I've already mentioned a few...there are so many.
I remember a funny incident when I was recording a track on the last Rod Stewart album I played on called "Smiler" in 1973. It was the last of four British made solo albums Rod recorded that I played mostly piano on, although I did play bass on a few things as well. The track was "Sweet Little Rock n Roller" originally recorded by Chuck Berry. Our drummer, the great Micky Waller used to sometimes bring his boxer dog Zack to the studio and he'd sit quietly next to Micky's drum kit. This time as Ron Wood launched into the opening Chuck Berry style riffs of the song, Micky's dog decided to begin barking his head off in a sort of back n forth riffing match with Ron. It was very funny and the rest of the band had a hard time not rolling on the floor in hilarious laughter...but we kept it together and recorded one of the best tracks on the album. Rod kept Zacks live barking on the recording...the sound had bled into all the mikes...and it sounds great.
You have played with many musicians, which are mentioned to be a legend. It must be hard, but which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you?
Jamming with Jimi Hendrix at the Speakeasy Club in 1967 London had to be right up there.
Playing with the original three piece Sam Gopal Dream at places like the Middle Earth Club in London, UFO, Happening 44. Two shows really stick out. The 14 hr Technicolor Dream at Alexandra Palace in London when we started our set at 5:00 am...other bands included Pink Floyd, Soft Machine.
Christmas on Earth Revisited in 1967 at the gigantic Olympia hall in London was amazing. Besides our band Sam Gopal Dream, were Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Tomorrow, Traffic, Soft Machine and many others...they had two stages with all amps supplied by Jim Marshall, and an entire indoor fairground down one end of the hall.
Working with Grace Slick for thirteen years was an interesting experience... at least the first eight or nine years were. You asked me what the biggest shows were...so I'd have to say Jefferson Starship in Central Park playing to a 100,000 people with no other acts on the bill in 1976. We regularly played to audiences between ten and twenty thousand... sometimes sixty. This was the seventies line-up...the 1980's became something else entirely.
Nick Gravenites and I had close to 100.000 when we played Crissy Field in San Francisco on Earth Day 1990...although they hadn't come just to see us. We had a good gig though...Nicks a wonderful blues man and a good friend.
Nick and I also had a memorable show playing on the back of a flatbed truck with a generator driving slowly down Market Street in San Francisco in the late 1980's. It was a peace march and Market Street was packed with people holding lit candles as far as the eye could see behind and in front of us...as well as every side street. We were protesting the many wars and injustices raging around the world...and it was an anti-nuclear bomb protest as well.
Another show that sticks out for me was an afternoon in the band shell in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco in 1988. It was in solidarity with a group of Soviet citizens who had conducted a peace march across the USA which included several rock shows along the way. It was called the Soviet American Peace walk. I organized and put together all the rock music for the event which included Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Mickey Hart, Merl Saunders, John Cipollina, Steve Kimock, Mimi Farina, Marc Benno, Norton Buffalo, Martin Fierro, and the man who ended up drawing 20,000 people to the event, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. We had to get him a police escort to a Dead show across town that night.
My ten years playing with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady in Hot Tuna were amazing...especially when we toured with the Allman Brothers or Bob Weir's Rat-dog. We'd usually include a jam session in there somewhere.
I also enjoyed sitting in with Los Lobos...they would set up a piano off to stage right and let me play whenever I felt like it...Carlos Santana joined us for one cool show.
I've played so many memorable shows it's hard to pick out what I'd call the best ones.
David Nelson Band has played some amazing shows with lots of freeform jamming.
Moonalice is the band I play with now...we have some fun shows also with lots of freeform jamming.
I'd have to say of all the many blues shows I've played and albums I've recorded over the years...the ones that stick out to me are recording with Nick Gravenites and his Blue Gravy Band live in the studio for the Mill Valley Bunch Casting Pearls album in 1972. I played piano on Nicks three songs...Mick Bloomfield produced the album and played on many cuts.
Every time I get a break I do a show on piano or bass with Harvey Mandel...he's a wonderfully creative guitarist.
I'd have to say that the one show that really sticks out for me was playing keyboards with John Lee Hooker in 2001...there's a YouTube of that show somewhere. He was an amazing and original musician who lived life on his terms...I also liked him as a person. I'd go over to his house with his close friend and band leader, Rich Kirch and John would have the thermostat set to 90 degrees Fahrenheit day and night...and John would be dressed sharply in his best three piece suit and hat, never seeming to break a sweat. He was too cool for that.
I also played the Rock Hall Of Fame show called John Lee Hooker & Friends 50th anniversary at Stanford University in California. To this day I'm not sure what the anniversary was for exactly. Charlie Musselwhite was there, Johnnie Johnson.
John Lee and I also wrote a slow blues together called, "Elizabeth", which we recorded live at Bayview Studios in Richmond, California. It was close to being his "Coast to Coast Blues Band" with Rich Kirch on guitar, Bryant Mills on drums, and Ron Perry on bass. It was released on my solo album "The Long Haul". John plays some cool guitar on the track, which was the last live in the studio with no overdubs he recorded did before he passed away.
The first Long John Baldry Blues Band tour of the USA was pretty amazing. We had some fun shows with my band, "Pete Sears & the Dawn Patrol".
There are other, memorable shows...but it would take too long to list them all here.
Why did you think that Pete Sears continues to generate such a devoted following?
I don't know that I have a devoted following...I have made a lot of friends along the way though. I'll keep playing music as long as I can...and as long as someone wants to hear it.
What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?
I don't remember any bluesmen actually giving me advice, but I did pick up one important thing from just playing with them....don't rush, just lay back into the groove and let the rhythm speak. I also liked the sense of humor piano players like Champion Jack Dupree instilled in his music.
What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, ROCK, and PSYCHEDELIC BLUES ROCK feeling?
There are so many different styles of blues playing...folk blues, electric Chicago style blues, BB King, Freddy King, Albert King, Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker, New Orleans style blues like Champion Jack Dupree, and the blues rock bands and musicians that grew from those influences like John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards. You wouldn't call a band like "Cream" from the 1960's a blues band...but there is no doubt they were heavily blues influenced. The blues was very strong in the music of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. They are all valid in my opinion...as long as the music is heartfelt and pays homage to its blues roots. I used to sometimes play with the British blues band "Steamhammer" who would back Freddy King when he came to England.
What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
I pretty much answered that question already. However the time I jammed with Michael Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites, and Paul Butterfield in San Francisco sometime around 1971 stands out. Playing many shows with Papa John Creach...there are so many. I always enjoyed jamming with Muddy Waters drummer Francis Clay...he was a wonderful character. I think I already mentioned playing with Jimi Hendrix.
Recording the Leadbelly tune "Dancing with Tears in Your Eyes" on accordion with Alvin Youngblood Hart was fun. He's an amazing blues player whether it is acoustic folk blues, or electric. I also played piano with Alvin on a Rolling Stones tribute album the House of Blues Label put out...our track was "Sway".
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Being that the blues is the root of so many styles of music today I doubt it will ever disappear from our consciousness...even though many people don't realize the important role blues has played in the music they listen to. When you play some of the great old classic blues music to someone who has never heard it in its pure form before, they almost always respond in an astonished "Wow! I had no idea it was this good!!!" It's hard not to feel the urge to tap your foot...the hypnotic trance like Rhythm cuts through to your very soul. No wonder generation after generation produces rabid blues fans...the music speaks. The old blues greats have almost all left this earthly plane now...but there are still the blues players who used to hang on their every note when they were young. They now carry the blues mantle with their own individual twist...as it should be. Great players like my old friends Nick Gravenites, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Naftalin, Ron Thompson, Rich Kirch. There are many more. The blues will never die; it will just evolve as the generations drift by. The essence is too strong for it to die out; it will always capture the hearts and imagination of young people.
If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?
There are definitely things I would do differently if I had the chance to do them over again...but to be honest I like where I am today, and I almost certainly wouldn't be in the position I am if I had done things differently. There aren't many things I wished I hadn't done. I have hopefully learned from my mistakes...that is the most you can hope for...you can't turn back the clock. Tenacity is an important ingredient in being a lasting musician. Let's just say there are a few periods where I felt stuck playing music I didn't care for...but I was a working musician so I carried on a bit longer than I should a couple of times. It's called being a professional I suppose.
What was the relation between music and activism? What would be your first decisions as minister of education…and culture?
Although I feel there is definitely a place and a need in entertainment for escapism...successful artists in all mediums often have the power to influence people's thinking. So with this power comes an awesome responsibility. I have put many benefits together for various causes over the years, and I have been fortunate to be in a position to ask some pretty well known artists to help...and they have all agreed without fail. Jerry Garcia was wonderful in this regard. People like Jackson Brown are always helping raise awareness for some cause...as does Neil Young for his Bridge School benefits.
Education and parenting are way undervalued in our society...they influence our children and our children are our future. Also large corporations should be willing to cut their profit margins, and governments redistribute their spending enough to help create a safety net for those who for no fault of their own slip between the cracks in our society. Health care in the USA is archaic.
Creating a strong cultural environment for our children to grow up in of course comes under the general heading of education. We need a culture that recognizes the commonality in all peoples of the world and is willing to celebrate diversity instead of installing fear and fundamentalist fanaticism.
Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” DREAM? Happiness is……
I used to fly old open cockpit bi-planes for fun when I was a young man...I'd do basic aerobatic routines. I still have my pilots License but sold my old plane many years ago and haven't flown for years. I started sailing on the San Francisco Bay because I could take my family along, and my kids loved sailing as they grew up. I'd also race my old wooden sailboat...guess I like old things the best...on the bay as part of a one design YRA class of boat. I did this for eighteen years until I sold my boat to a friend for a silver dollar on the hand shake deal that he would rebuild it...which he did. He had an old sailboat like mine as well as the time, money and knowledge to fix it up. I was playing with Hot Tuna at the time, my kids were off at college and I didn't have time to spend working on the boat like I used to. We were a fanatical group of sailors who would rather give a boat away to the right person to rebuild, than see it gradually deteriorate with wood rot. He kept up his end of the bargain and the boat is looking nice again.
Happiness is building a strong and happy family around you...I am about to become a granddad twice in one year. It will make sense of all my grey hair. I am looking forward to my son and daughter in laws child, who should be born any day now, and my daughters which is due in January.
Comments are closed for this blog post