Interview with Texas-based guitarist Pat Boyack - one of most talented blues musicians of his generation

"I miss the older Blues artists who were teachers and mentors to me and many others. We need them badly."

Pat Boyack: Always About The Groove

Pat Boyack was born in a small coal mining community in central-eastern Utah on June 26, 1967. He picked up his first guitar at age 15. While in college a friend lent him a Stevie Ray Vaughan record. From Stevie, Boyack went on to other bluesmen, most notably Vaughan’s older brother Jimmie from the Fabulous Thunderbirds. In 1991 Pat moved to Dallas, Texas, where he started going to the many blues jams that are almost a nightly event, playing with – among others – Sam Myers. Three years later Boyack was in Memphis, Tennessee, recording his first of three CDs for the Bullseye Blues/Rounder, Breaking In, On the Prowl, and Super Blue and Funky. 

In 1998 Pat took a break from touring and recording. His stay at home didn’t last long, however. Austin’s Marcia Ball called him to join her band in January of 2000. As her guitar player for 6 ½ years, Pat contributed to three CDs, Presumed Innocent, So Many Rivers, and Live! Down the Road. All received Grammy nominations; Presumed Innocent received “Album of the Year” at the 2002 W.C. Handy Blues Awards. Alongside Ms. Ball, Pat also appeared in the music documentaries Falsifyin’ and New Orleans: Music In Exile. In 2004, while continuing to tour with the Marcia Ball Band, Boyack released his fourth CD, Voices From the Street.

After leaving the Marcia Ball Band in 2006, Pat went on to tour with another Grammy nominated blues artist, Ruthie Foster, for two years. Some of the highlights of Pat’s career include his contributions to recordings by Austin’s W.C. Clark and Doyle Bramhall Sr. His songs have also been featured in movies and TV shows including Sex and the City. Since 2009 Pat has stayed close to DFW, working with local artists like Aaron Burton (he produced Burton’s Raising Sun), and Andrea Dawson as well as his current band – Pat Boyack and Those Pesky Javelinas.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I learn that I need to learn more of it. There is so much Blues. Just the other day I was listening to some Lightnin’ Hopkins and found that “new discovery” feeling again. But to me the Blues comes from the “common man”, the fields of the Mississippi Delta. It came from hardship and racism. Although I have never felt racism I connect with its simplicity and the rawness of the art form. I come from an environment of hard work. My father and uncles were all coal miners and railroad men. I find that my emotions and past all work with the Blues and its simple power.

How do you describe Pat Boyack sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I don’t know. I’ve always tried to get the feeling of the song across. To me that’s what being an artist is all about. Exposing yourself to the world through music is a challenge because it’s all there for everybody to see and I’m generally a very private person. If you listen to the great songs of our time they tell a story and many times it’s a very personal one.
My music philosophy is that it’s ALWAYS about the groove. Whether you are playing Chicago Blues, swing, Wilson Pickett, James Brown or Hank Marr it’s all about getting people to move their asses in their seats. If you are playing and you see that, you are winning the battle because the natural rhythm is hard to fight.

Which is the most interesting period in your life?

The most interesting period is right now! For most of my career I have been just a guitar player backing up a singer which I take great pride in. In the last 2-3 years I have been singing and fronting my band. I talk and engage with the people who are there to listen and if feels great! I love it. For the first time I actually like it and enjoy it.

Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

The best time of my career was the first time I sang “The Love I Want” by Carlos Guitarlos. It was at a local club here in Dallas and it was my first time really singing in front of people as a lead vocalist. It was just me and my guitar in front of a packed house. Out of the blue I just did it. It was a “well, you might as well try it now…..what the hell” moment. My band had no idea I was going to do it. Folks I really respect were there and they gave me a lot of positive responses and I was off after that.
The worst was the day I got the call from Marcia Ball that I was no longer needed in her band. I spent 6 ½ years playing in that band, giving my all and I think she benefited greatly from it. I didn’t even get a reason why, she just wouldn’t say. The musician in me was OK with it, I know my abilities but I felt like I deserved better from her and the guys in the band who I thought were my close friends. They all blamed each other which was comical.

"My music philosophy is that it’s ALWAYS about the groove. Whether you are playing Chicago Blues, swing, Wilson Pickett, James Brown or Hank Marr it’s all about getting people to move their asses in their seats. If you are playing and you see that, you are winning the battle because the natural rhythm is hard to fight."

What are some of the most memorable jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

There really isn’t a stand out that I can think of. Well there was the time I jammed with Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls) from Spinal Tap. There are many great memories playing with other people. Mainly with my friends who are on the same wavelength as me when it comes to playing in a band context. A group of guys who never play together, if they have the experience and LISTEN can sound like a real tight band. I did get to jam with Jimmy Vaughan once. I don’t think he dug it though.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Meeting BB King was cool. I almost started crying. But I didn’t get to talk to him. Hanging with Little Milton was great but I was really intimidated by him. He was very opinionated and he chewed out a well know harmonica player in front of me…so I just kept my mouth shut. Meeting and talking to Al McKay from Dyke and the Blazers, Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and Earth, Wind and Fire was my favorite. I am heavily influenced by his playing. He is a master Funk player. When he found out I live in Dallas he got excited and talked about Freddie King being his biggest guitar hero. That made my day because Freddie is one of mine too.

The best advice I ever heard was from Delbert McClinton – “Never leave your wallet in the dressing room when you go on stage.” So far so good.

Are there any memories from gigs, festivals and recording time which you’d like to share with us?                                       Photo by Bill Ellison

There are so many!! One memory which I will always remember was from the 2006 New Orleans Jazzfest. The band I was in was backing up Tracy Nelson, Maria Muldaur, Angela Strehli, Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas for a Sister Rosetta Tharpe tribute. All of them were amazing but Irma made the show. She sang the most powerful version of “Up Above My Head, I hear Music in the Air”. She stood 5 feet away from me and it was truly the greatest and most beautiful thing I have ever heard. The local paper said it was the highlight of that year’s Fest and I agree. 

Why did you think that the Texas Blues continues to generate such a devoted following?

It’s probably the “guitar slinger” thing. There are guitarists all over the world who pretend to be from Texas! Coming here like I did from Utah there is a bar that is set that I had to reach to be taken seriously. There are so many great players here. T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Albert Collin….they all ended up in California but they learned the Blues in Texas!!

From the musical point of view what are the differences between Texas and the other local scenes?

Well the club scene here in Dallas is horrible. 20 years ago there were 4-5 clubs who had Blues 5-7 days a week and a 4-5 more who had it on the weekends A weekday gig paid $300 and a weekend gig payed $400 and up. Now there is nobody doing a week long schedule of Blues and 2-3 who do it on the weekends. And even then the bands really are not Blues. Saying that, I hear that other scenes are worse which is sad. As a community we are just like a family. Some of us get along, some of us don’t. We have the crazy cousins and the weird Uncle or two. HA!

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the number of people who used to come out and listen to the music. That number has gone down a lot. I miss the older Blues artists who were teachers and mentors to me and many others. We need them badly. I also miss the great vocalists. We have them now, like Ruthie Foster but not like the past. One thing that all the Blues guitar giants had were great voices. From BB King, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Johnny “Guitar”Watson, Albert King, T-Bone, my main man Freddie King and so many others they all were just as great singers as they were guitarists.

You are also an electric and acoustic guitarist? What are the secrets of resophonic…and Gibson’s Les Paul?

Well, I really don’t play much acoustic but I love the sound of a resonator guitar. It’s just nasty and it cuts through! The Les Paul is just something that I fell in love with 14 years ago when I got my first Gold Top with P90’s. Those Chicago cats in the 50’s used them. Right now I’m using a Custom Shop R9 Les Paul because I don’t have to deal with the noise that a single coil pickup produces. Club owners generally don’t care about the quality of electrical power in their clubs.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

To have local and small scale musicians stand up for themselves. Musicians spend a lot of time undercutting each other money wise for gigs. There are even guys doing free gigs a mile from my house on the weekend and they are worth more than that.

It would also be nice for buyers at festivals, magazine editors, and label owners to really look for great talent. Not the next big thing in a mini skirt or a tube screamer that looks good on a CD cover or ad. I always try to stay on top of what is happening and there a ton of new artists who just don’t have the art of a good vocal or tasteful playing. There is no emotional power in their art. They are also very uneducated about Blues history and those who came before us. They know hardly anything about music theory and generally don’ listen to the advice older and more experienced artists can give. Coming up I would ask guys like Charlie Baty, Kid Ramos and local mentor Brian “Hash Brown” Calway questions and I respected the advice.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I’d go back to 1957! A great year for music, cars and ……everything!

Pat Boyack - official website

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