Q&A with veteran Rock musician Randy Pratt, eclectic personality and overlapping tastes have spawned an exciting career

"At this point in history, just getting even your friends to listen to your music, even if you put it right in front of them on their computer screen for free, is a major challenge. I make music for me and my collaborators. I’m making a concentrated effort recently to assemble my music and get it to anyone interested, free. I was always my worst critic, so I try to impress myself, first."

Randy Pratt: Hyperspace Rock and Beyond

Randy Pratt is a veteran of the scene, whose career has spanned over many genres, including Rock, Funk, and a touch of Soul. His eclectic personality and overlapping tastes have spawned an exciting career in music. Having been mostly responsible for the initial reunion of legendary Hard Rock band Cactus, it’s only fitting that he would eventually join the band as their harmonica player as well. Bassist and harmonica player Randy Pratt played with the bands Binky Phillips and The Fuzztones before forming The Funky Knights in the late 1980s. Pratt has since been involved in various classic hard rock and blues outfits, including The Lizards, The NYC Blues Devils and Star People. He is also credited for reforming the early ‘70s supergroup Cactus, with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice.                                             (Photo: Randy Pratt)

When bassist, harmonica player, songwriter and conceptualist band leader Randy Pratt started a world-class recording studio in a sleepy village in unsuspecting Long Island in 1996, he’d had a 20-year baptism of fire in NYC, starting in the late 70s when the BIG APPLE was the center of the Rock ‘n’ Roll universe. Since that ’96 opening, he’s recorded between 30 and 40 full albums of original material, mostly his own bands, but he also reunited Vanilla Fudge and Cactus, with who he’s played harp all over the U.S, Europe, and Japan. Randy Pratt's “Hyperspace Records” logo was first printed on the first Star People record in 1999 and has graced an amazingly broad variety of genres and styles of music. Though the brainchild of Randy, he is quoted as saying one of his best skills is “knowing my strengths and weaknesses and recognizing other people’s special talents.” That, coupled with a natural, egoless love of collaborating —“It’s my social life.”— has led to a nonstop parade of surprising releases.

Interview by Michael Limnios            All Photos Courtesy of Randy Pratt Archive

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I’ll start by saying that it was nice to discover on my many treks through exotic lands, across the pond, from Finland winter to sunny Greece (I opted out of South America when the promoter told us “NEVER wander from the backstage area without a military guard"…my wife was with me) that the world may hate the “Ugly American”, but the American Rock Musician felt very welcome everywhere…well, we were spit on in Ankara, Turkey…but they asked us BACK! Counterculture? I JUST missed getting drafted for Viet Nam. I looked “counter”, but I knew that I didn’t understand world events enough to riot and burn. Rock & blues have helped culture me. I have THOUSANDS (no shit) of books about music history and bios. I’m always reading 2 or 3 and Bass Player, Classic Rock, Rock Candy. I just finished Alan Wilson, Steve Marriott, Walter Lure, Bread and Gordon Lightfoot. I’ve been picking at Ian Anderson’s complete lyrics. I think that I’m approaching, if not “expert”, then “Know - it - all”. I SLAY at Rock ’n Roll trivial pursuit. It’s sadly obvious that no matter how well played, original and star-studded new music is, it’s a challenge to get even people who shower you with compliments to actually listen. I’m putting a major effort into a business Facebook page for HYPERSPACE RECORDS, getting everyone that I know to join, then, 200 a day, invite their friends. There’s a link to the HYPERSPACERECORDS website there. There’s 27 of my albums there…for free, videos, blogs, photos, press. A museum of ME and my wonderful collaborators. That’s replacing actual bands, rehearsing and touring for me (except for Cactus), BUT I completed 7 new albums of original new music during lock down and will release them one every 3 months.

"We and the generation before me knew a LITTLE of that feeling. After some “wise, heroic college kid” discovered how to steal music by inventing the technology that was Napster, that was the beginning of the end. There’s no money in music anymore, and it’s centered around the very young. I would HATE to be any younger than the 68 years old I will be in Dec. 2021." (Photo: Randy Pratt)

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

My music philosophy has been to stay open to what presents itself to me. I’ve been very diverse since my first two “ODD” to at times “Bizarre” bands were very successful in snobby, trendy NYC. My insecurities were cured in stages. First, I was forced to join other bands, so they’d help pay the $800 a month for a 20’x20’ rehearsal room across from Port Authority bus station, a sleazy little corner of the city where pimps waited like vultures for young runaways arriving on buses every day from all over America. I had that filthy little room for almost 20 years. I’d wake up at 7:30, walk to work at famous comic book / sci-fi shop “FORBIDDEN PLANET”, which I loved, actually. We were such an arty group of very different oddball characters, I will say that it had an uplifting effect on me and my sense of humor, which we all worked on all day, often at the expense of the customers. I would leave work at 5:00, run home and do a grueling work out at my apartment (I believe that I was the only active "Rock Star” with a body builder’s physique and a chiseled 8 pack the whole time I lived in NYC… another confidence builder that I needed when I looked in the mirror before going onstage and saying to myself “NO, YOU’RE NOT TAKING OFF THE LIME GREEN, KNEE HIGH, SOOO out of fashion platform boots and the pink Lurex pants. GET OUT THERE!” I’d rehearse with 2 or 3 bands a night, 6 nights a week, getting to bed by 2:30. My chops were strong. I had some wonderful girlfriends and quit drinking when hit song writer/ performer Buzzy Linhart grabbed my arm coming offstage one night and said; "You’re a great bass player.” I knew that he’d written a number 1 hit and played with Jimi Hendrix. I never had another sip after that night. I’d been every night silly drunk since high school.

Paradoxically, being a busy performer, band leader led me from a, let’s just say it, a slut to monogamy. I had no time for chasing girls and needed sober focus to conduct the leadership role that was thrust on me. Great players often want to be led, loosely.

Strangely, only very recently have I gotten even close to the sound that I always heard in my head. “The sweet spot where James Brown and Black Sabbath meet” is a quote that I’ve used in many interviews and people can hear me trying to achieve it in most of my bands. The problem is, I’ve played bass and harmonica to James Brown records for thousands of hours, but it’s not as ingrained in many players that I’ve met. We get together as people and something good happens and I just go with it. The Lizards or The Funky Knights had funky moments, but, though I call myself a leader, it doesn’t imply that I force my vision on people. I try to surround myself with players who are better than me and work to rise to their level. I let my bands find their own sound. I don’t often say “Play like this.”, I just push things forward.

Now, I’ve retired from the silly fantasy that someone my age is gonna “make it” touring original, odd music, even with name players. I have a group of super talented people and we’ve come up with a new way of creating songs that doesn’t involve endless rehearsing or even being in the same room. I’ve found the singer I’ve been looking for my whole life and a co-producer / engineer in NYC who is very tech smart and has an Emmy ( he’s a college professor in NYC who teaches engineering ) He’s as patient as a saint, we share the same sense of humor and, even though he’s never worked with funk or ultra-heavy music ( I don’t think it’s metal…but some of it I think is HEAVIER than metal) After RICKITY broke up in late 2015, I happily said. “That’s my last band.” I then did something I’d dreamed of my whole career, but was too busy and poor to do. I assembled 3, big, pro effects pedal boards with the wildest EFX pedals that I could find. I didn’t practice with them. I just asked my assistant to set them on the most extreme settings possible. I practice at least 3 hours a day, usually in front of the T.V. or concert DVDs, no amp. I just work my fingers in patterns, often not paying attention. I always warm up 3 hours before a session. Now, instead of a band, I get with a drummer, we play to a click, and I go wild, stomping on pedals and when I find a sound that appeals to me, I leave it. I am a natural leader in jamming…I don’t know why…I think even if I feel the drummers are above me, skill wise, I have uncanny faith in my imagination and split-second choices, none worked out ahead of time. I’ve come to realize that after studying music my whole life... as in listening deeply, that I can trust that what I’m looking for is up there. I just have to stay open and not get in it’s way.

I have 4 drummers who can read my mind and vice versa. Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, The Lizards) T.C. Tolliver (The Plasmatics) Paul Gifford (The Funky Knights and a few other bands. I became a pro during the almost 1,500 sets and ENDLESS rehearsals we did together and after reuniting Vanilla Fudge and Cactus and touring the world with “The GODFATHER” of modern rock drumming ( “I never said I was the BEST, but I was the FIRST” -  C. Appice) Carmine Appice, “RUFFYUNZ III” featuring Carmine Appice on every track is finished and in the pipeline for “release” on hyperspacerecords  I can die happy now...but I think that I’ll be around for a while. During this process of recording bass first with a drummer, Josh, my co-producer, works miracles taking my raw ideas and arranging them into tight song structures. So, my “winging it” in the ZONE, real ME playing becomes songs.

The bass / drum arrangements are then given to Ed Terry to either sing my vocal / lyrics or, more and more lately, write his own. He can do James Brown, tender ballads, HEAVY ROCK or the odd, proggy things I sometimes throw at him. We then add name players, many of whom I’ve met touring with as an opening act. (Occasionally blowing them off the stage ) or sometimes through my super star drummers I’ve had the privilege to work with. I have two albums, “FUNKY RUFFYUNZ IV" & “FUNKY RUFFYUNZ V” nearing completion. Many of the songs have a drummer from BLACK SABBATH (Bobby Rondinelli) with Fred Wesley and his new JBs horns. Fred was band leader and trombonist for James Brown’s and Parliament Funkadelic’s best albums, in my opinion. They’re playing my songs., To ME, that’s a music life well lived!

"I’ll start by saying that it was nice to discover on my many treks through exotic lands, across the pond, from Finland winter to sunny Greece (I opted out of South America when the promoter told us “NEVER wander from the backstage area without a military guard"…my wife was with me) that the world may hate the “Ugly American”, but the American Rock Musician felt very welcome everywhere…well, we were spit on in Ankara, Turkey…but they asked us BACK! Counterculture? I JUST missed getting drafted for Viet Nam." (Photo: Randy Pratt with The Blues Devils and late great blueman Bo Diddley, NYC)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

There are, I’ve come to realize, key figures in my development into “RANDY…you KNOW that NOBODY rehearses like this, right?” (Bobby Rondinelli, Carmine & Vinnie Appice, Neils Estrup, our European mgr. from Owit Music and many others have said this to me about my insistence on “over rehearsing")

First, my dad, a pro trumpet player during World War II (he was too young to get drafted) until he married my mom. He’d sit me down and play records by Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, and really get into it, clenching his fist, making “that face” and go “HERE!” at the big dynamics. I still love that stuff and I do that to other people myself now. He gave me an appreciation and understanding of depth, dynamics and soul. He showed me how to “let go and allow the music to take you away.”

Next, I met two cool guys in 9th grade who were very wise beyond their years. My future had already been set by The Beatles four years earlier. I was never gonna fit into straight society after just seeing their picture on the cover of LIFE magazine…I’d been shown and alternative to the narrow path I was expected to walk…but I’d stalled there. I hadn’t really looked past the original British Invasion and didn’t have any friends who played. These guys had a band, dressed in clothes that they’d gotten on Carnaby Street and saw Yes and King Crimson before America had. We saw both bands first U.S. tours…a life changing experience. Led Zeppelin, Mountain, Cactus, Humble Pie with Peter Frampton.

I used to watch Jack play the Baldwin bass my mom had bought me, and I only realized very recently, after many interviewers asked me who my influences were that my first and deepest was this guy Jack Kelly, who played my bass as I lazily opted to be a singer. I would sit in my basement, right in front of him, for hours.  First, he was mainly making up his own riffs, teaching me that that was nothing to fear…just jump in and DO IT! I now realize that I not only copied his 3-finger plucking technique on the right hand, realizing over the decades how VERY rare that was (Percy Jones gave me a few lessons in the 80s and was, in his reserved manner, very shocked to see that I was already using something that he was gonna TRY to get me to do. (I never saw another bassist use 3 fingers until the last 8-10 years. I also adopted a lot of Jack’s slippery, sexy, snakey groove…stole it, actually.

My many bands in my life are so overlapping that it’s hard to get a clear family tree. I was, because of necessity, in some great bands that were other people’s vision. I remember one hard working unit, “PLASTIC POLLY”, that had the most complex music I’d played yet. Lots of rehearsing. Around that time, I got a four-track cassette recorder and just found a 27-minute miracle time machine recording of that band. The most interesting discovery I often make when uncovering a gem like that is, my memory of the experience was “I fucked that up… I made so many mistakes!” When we tweak the sound, I face the happy shock “Wow… I was GOOD!” The little voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good kept getting its ass kicked.

I think the combination of getting a very late start (27 years old) and having to live up to the BIG image I was becoming an artist at…i.e. hair and fashion and physique, was an intimidating challenge.

Around 1993 I made the kind of mistake a drunken high school student makes…I fell head over heels in love with an obviously seriously troubled 19-year-old girl with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen and the best voice I’d ever heard…and she was adorable and dressed like me. Our band, Sharks, was an instant sensation, then fell apart…twice. By the time we’d formed our next band, Sting’s management were courting us, and she’d had an affair with the drummer, because I refused to allow her to do hard drugs, which she couldn’t handle. We blew the Sting connection, broke the band up and moved to Long Island to build a world class recording studio with my recent inheritance. In the year it took to build the studio, our love affair / marriage was over. She left the day the studio opened.

She’s still at the top of my “soul” list and I recorded a reunited “SHARKS” album and an album of her heart-breaking masterpieces before she fell again. I’m not sure how to describe what lessons I learned from her…I guess “DO MY OWN MUSIC”.

My years of world touring began right after she left. My Sc - Fi prog band “STAR PEOPLE”, with Bob Dean, my other mentor form 9th grade and “THE LIZARDS”. I also play harmonica to this day with “CACTUS", who I reunited in 2005.

I learned from Carmine Appice and Bobby Rondinelli that I was good enough to be in a band with the GODS of my youth.

"Paradoxically, being a busy performer, band leader led me from a, let’s just say it, a slut to monogamy. I had no time for chasing girls and needed sober focus to conduct the leadership role that was thrust on me. Great players often want to be led, loosely." (Randy Pratt with Cactus, 2017 / Photo by Paul Latimer)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

After a LONG tour of the U.S. opening for Dixie Dregs & Dream Theater with a 25-minute set without a wasted second, my sci-fi prog band STAT PEOPLE became used to being abused by both bands and their handlers. Usually denied sound checks while watching the headliners stand onstage playing out the clock just to screw us. Their sound man would do his best to mess up our sound, but our guy was able to ensure we got a good sound and according to many strangers across the U.S. we blew the headliners away. Some of them seemed to hate us by the end of the tour. We hit New Orleans at 5:30 in the morning. Mardi Gras had been that night and you could hear it echo as we checked into our hotel. We played ”The House of Blues” the next night. As Dream Theater did their ritual ”DITHER AWAY OUR SOUND CHECK” act, ”Get off the stage and let the other band have their sound check!” bellowed through the P.A. “Ha-Ha!” Finally, we got some respect! There’s a YouTube video of that show. To make the amazing response complete, Dream Theater’s record company were there and, in front of the, went on and on about “I want you on our LABEL!”

I was still too green to feel the full impact of that payback moment, but looking back, I do now.

Having Glenn Hughes come to New York and spend a week writing and recording 5 songs with THE LIZARDS after doing a six-week tour with him and feeling so well-rehearsed and powerful as a band was a career highlight. The Lizards seemed to really impress him, and he was very complimentary, easy to collaborate with and fast in the studio. When he left, he cried as I paid him, and I did too.

“You were everything anybody would’ve wanted you to be.” said the ever-quotable Bobby Rondinelli.

Reforming the band CACTUS was like getting my nipple pierced...it’s a good thing that I didn’t realize before I did it how brutal the task would be, but it was SO worth it. I had already reunited Vanilla Fudge shortly after opening my recording studio. Tim Bogert was my all-time favorite bassist, so I had no designs on filling that chair, I just wanted one of rock’s greatest bands to exist. The story will be revealed in detail in a forth coming documentary of the band with an accompanying book.  Original singer Rusty Day died in 1983, but when I hired Carmine Appice, Tim and guitarist Jim McCarty as studio players for my friend jimmy Kunes’ solo record, any old grudges immediately disappeared, and they danced like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and chose Jimmy as their singer. the first gig was booked at NYC nightclub “BB King Bar & Grill”. The club, having never heard of “The American Led Zeppelin” was actually dubious about booking us. Carmine’s girlfriend was riding high at that moment as Howard Stern’s replacement on NY radio. A sexy poster of her laying on her side stretched the entire length of every bus in town. We were to play some songs live in her studio and do an on-air interview and take phone calls.

The first 2 calls were for ME! Rusty Day had been a good harp player and it worked out that I just happened to have picked up harmonica seriously 3-4 years earlier. I was thrilled to play on the album and gob smacked to be asked to join the band. To make the evening even more special, my main band of the previous 6 years, THE LIZARDS, were opening the show and doing a 45-minute set of difficult material that we’d never done live so we could add it to our upcoming two-hour live DVD filmed all over the world. I’d hired pro audio and video crews - since that night in 2006, I always assumed every Cactus gig might be the last. As it turned out, the first CACTUS gig was the last gig for THE LIZARDS. I broke 2 fingers in a car accident the next week…right before our first headline tour of Europe.

As we walked the 4 blocks from the radio studio to the club, we wondered out loud if anyone would show up…if anyone would give a shit. As we approached BB King’s, we saw the proverbial “line around the block” and heard a police officer telling the club manager; “Either open the doors early or cancel the show. We can’t have all these people out here!”… on busy Time’s Square. I started buzzing then.

Bobby Rondinelli asked “You gonna ditch us and hang out with CACTUS?”

Of course not. I hung with my guys. We’d toured with Vanilla Fudge all over the world. As a kid, Bobby had taken lessons from Carmine. Carmine and Bobby would do a solo battle onstage, but not tonight. Bobby, like me, is a compulsive practice, warming up for hours before we played. I remember that night Carmine barking at Bobby “How much you gonna fucking PRACTICE?!”

It quickly became obvious to us and the venue that the first CACTUS gig since 1972 was a MAJOR event. Over sold by hundreds of “Standing room only”, visibly excited fans. I saw placards on poles like; “I CAN DIE NOW”…”JIM McCARTY IS GOD!” (I saved those two) We were approached by people with tears rolling down their cheeks from all over the U.S.…and EUROPE!

Having rehearsed both bands, I knew that THE LIZARDS could open for anyone at that point. Our complex arrangements were so battle hardened and over rehearsed; we were incapable of fucking up. We immediately won over an audience that was DEFINITELY there for the headliner. I love the “wow”, "stand up and notice” facial expressions on their faces as we glided into an impressively challenging passage.

The CACTUS gig is a beautiful blur in my memory. I was just barely a full-fledged member at that point. I remember running around the crowd on songs that I didn’t play on. I’ve never before or since experienced the wave of love washing over the stage that night. 2 1/2-hour sets were de rigueur from the first gig, Three albums, 6 DVDs and 16 years later, CACTUS still rules. Europe, Japan and all over the U.S.

"My music philosophy has been to stay open to what presents itself to me. I’ve been very diverse since my first two “ODD” to at times “Bizarre” bands were very successful in snobby, trendy NYC." (Photo: The late great bluesman James Cotten and bassist, harmonica player, songwriter Randy Pratt, New York)

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

Compared to the period that I grew up in, there IS no music industry… barely, anyway. One of the reasons that music doesn’t “matter” much anymore is, starting with Elvis, confirmed by The Beatles and cemented firmly by the avalanche of great rock, soul, funk and folk music of the late 60s into the early 70s…the period when rock journalism began to give rock the status of “SERIOUS ART'' young people fought for every inch of respectability, took major shit for BIG fashion statements, starting with long hair and men embracing extreme androgyny. I would never inject this into a “trans rights” or racial profiling debate, because, as a member of the privileged white race, I’d be laughed out of the room… but it was an act of real bravery to go into a strange town wearing wild colors, shag cut hair to my tits, high heel boots and a “woman’s” shirt. It seemed dangerous many times, but it was a commitment to declaring “This is OUR thing!” We (in my class of ’71 high school on Long Island, I may have been the ONLY guy to wear velvet bells, a white sheepskin coat and form fitting, silky shirts my mom bought me in the UK… even the hippies gave me shit… but I KNEW it was cool) I stuck to that my whole life.

I was a college graduate in ‘75, but I had to take jobs that would allow me to keep the look I needed to be a rock musician who was “The real thing”. I remember getting my ear pierced and feeling it was important. Music kept moving forward, trends replaced by something NEW. The 80s were the last decade that had its own, complete culture, fashion, attitude. I’ve read historians and top fashion people say that and that is my impression as well. Back to my original point… why music has slipped from EVERYTHING to some small sideline thing is a combination of I-Phones, social media and… most important of all …The past… I’ve lost count of generations… after the 80s, youth have had their culture… the DOMINANT culture, economically, media wise and worldwide handed to them on a silver platter along with a feeling of complete entitlement and are bowed to as the lords of world culture. There’ a great quote from some anonymous Russian kid, after being pummeled with a nightstick by a Russian army guard for standing up with a raised fist at the “Monsters of Rock Tour” in the 80s, after the Berlin wall was torn down and, for a brief moment, all the fears we grew up with about atomic war seemed over. “You in the west will never know how much better ROCK sounds when it’s ILLEGAL!”.

We and the generation before me knew a LITTLE of that feeling. After some “wise, heroic college kid” discovered how to steal music by inventing the technology that was Napster, that was the beginning of the end. There’s no money in music anymore, and it’s centered around the very young. I would HATE to be any younger than the 68 years old I will be in Dec. 2021. I actually wish I was a year older…I would’ve seen the DOORS at the Fillmore. I grew up in the coolest place, at the coolest time that has ever been in the history of the world…and I’m sad to say, I believe the coolest that ever WILL be. I give humble thanks to the …lord of the universe? The A.I. in another dimension playing the video game that I’m living in?…for being so generous to me…including the full head of hair. HALLELUJAH!!

"Compared to the period that I grew up in, there IS no music industry… barely, anyway. One of the reasons that music doesn’t “matter” much anymore is, starting with Elvis, confirmed by The Beatles and cemented firmly by the avalanche of great rock, soul, funk and folk music of the late 60s into the early 70s… the period when rock journalism began to give rock the status of “SERIOUS ART'' young people fought for every inch of respectability, took major shit for BIG fashion statements, starting with long hair and men embracing extreme androgyny." (Photo: Randy and Joy Pratt / Joyous is a NYC band with Joy as the lead singer, but also the main songwriter, often humming bass lines into her husband's Randy ear.)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

“Talent is the desire to practice.”

Billy Sheehan was asked in an interview about his “Natural Talent”. He responded, sounding a little insulted, “I don’t have any natural talent… I just PRACTICE more than anyone else!”

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

At this point in history, just getting even your friends to listen to your music, even if you put it right in front of them on their computer screen for free, is a major challenge. I make music for me and my collaborators. I’m making a concentrated effort recently to assemble my music and get it to anyone interested, free. I was always my worst critic, so I try to impress myself, first.

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

I’d like to have seen one of the best DOORS concerts… maybe The Fillmore East show. I’d take a shot at talking to Jim and regaling him with the wisdom of hindsight and try to help him attain a perspective on how to enjoy his image and not torture himself with taking “JIM MORRISON” quite so seriously. Maybe even prove to him that I was “from the future” and warn him off booze.

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(Photo: Randy Pratt)

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