WHEN WE GOT THE NEWS THAT JOHN Patitucci had left Chick Corea’s Elektric Band to launch his career as a leader, it was easy to choose him for a cover story. Getting the story was not as easy.
After I’d called John to book an interview, Paul Haggard and I loaded photo gear into a van and headed south to L.A. I was going to do the interview, and then Paul would take the shots we needed for the story. Simple, right? But as we cruised down Interstate 5, the weather got worse and worse. The rain started to come down in sheets, and we heard reports on the radio that the road was closed at the Grapevine (the mountain pass you cross on I-5 before heading down into the San Fernando Valley), so we had to detour through the Tehachapi Pass. Somehow, after 14 hours, we made it through. As we splashed our way across the city, we could see flooding on the surface streets below the elevated highway, and some of the exits were closed. But we got to John’s apartment in Long Beach just before midnight.
We were greeted at the door by John, who had a big smile on his face, and John’s Rottweiler, who did not. John put the dog in a bedroom, and he spent the next hour growling through the door at the sound of my voice. I pulled out my questions and turned on my tape recorder—which didn’t work. Something was loose. I managed to do an on-the-spot repair and get it going. The interview went great: John is a smart and articulate guy, and I knew his insights would be appreciated by BP’s readers. After we finished, I helped Paul set up for the photo shoot. The only space big enough for all the lights and reflectors was the garage in the basement, so that striking cover shot of John with his Yamaha 6-string was taken against a paper backdrop amidst oil spots and old tires.
When in doubt, improvise . . . .
Not many people would even attempt to play both electric and acoustic as much as you do.
I always say it’s just stupidity on my part [laughs]. I’ve always felt, “Well, I’d like to do this,” and I’ve been fortunate to have the kind of people around who have encouraged me. No one ever told me it was impossible. Sometimes, in the thick of it, I think, “Wow, what am I doing? I’m nuts.” Playing both instruments has caused me physical problems, and I just got over some bad blisters on my right hand. I’d been on the road with the Elektric Band for two months, and then I came back to town and did bunch of acoustic playing. That tore up my fingers pretty bad. It can be tough, but I see musical reasons for playing both instruments. For one thing, I get to play with a more diverse cross-section of people: some call me for electric and others call me for acoustic, and I wouldn’t want to cut out either one.
One thing I’ve always been concerned about is playing both instruments with enough conviction so I don’t sound watered down. That’s the risk you take when you play both: being mediocre on two instruments rather than strong on one. My goal has always been to be strong on both.
James Jamerson also played both acoustic and electric—although he’s certainly better known for his electric playing.
It’s come full circle, in a way. Jamerson got me into playing; he was really inspiring— his feeling and groove, obviously, but also the way he constructed his bass lines. It was very compositional. And he was originally an upright bass player—a good one and a real jazzer. I went the other way, starting on electric and then adding the upright. When they called me for the Jamerson book [Standing in the Shadows of Motown by Dr. Licks, Hal Leonard], they asked me to do “Mickey’s Monkey,” which Jamerson had played originally on upright. It was a real honor to play that.