John DePatie: Gigging with the greats
LA based guitarist and session musician John DePatie is no stranger to performing in front of large crowds. With an exciting career spouting 20+ years he has shared stages with some of the greats… Nancy Sinatra, Jarvis Cocker, Leif Garrett, and Little Steven. His acoustic range and live talent have led to several EP releases and collaborations. He hopes to continue his successful strike this year, with a new album due for release on Plus+Tone Records. I chatted to John about the history of guitar music, performing with his musical idols and connecting with new audiences.
Hey John! Please, can you introduce the UK audiences to your sound and what it’s all about?
Sure! I do instrumental music where the guitar is the primary focus much of the time. I started playing guitar in the 80s, which was a very fertile period for the guitar. I was influenced by a lot of the music that was coming out at that time: Jeff Beck, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Allan Holdsworth etc. I loved the classic rock masters like Hendrix, Zepplin and Eric Clapton too.
I listened to jazz a bit when I was a kid, so I got into Charlie Christian, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt. At some point I became aware of the classic surf stuff and things like ‘Sleepwalk.’ I’m sort of a mishmash of all of that stuff. I like improvisation, but I also like very simple pop melodies. Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, The Beatles, James Brown and Bob Marley were all huge influences and there are bits of them in my tunes too.
You’ve been making music since the mid-90s, how has the scene has changed since then?
When I first came to Los Angeles ADAT machines were really popular for home studios. They were affordable and allowed much better quality than the 4 track cassette machine that I used to record with in high school and college. I think young people had a little more disposable income then. I did a lot of recordings for people at that time and most of the time we’d track at least part of the band live. It was usually paid for by the artist who wanted to have a recording of their material.
The huge difference is that now it’s very rare to track all the musicians at once. In some ways that’s a huge improvement, but the one thing that I really miss is that people used to have to help each other or fight each other with parts or discuss the best parts and best arrangement before we tracked. That lead to a collaborative type sound, even if we were working for someone. Now when I record, very often it’s just me tracking guitar at home to a file that someone has sent me.
You’ve played alongside some legendary musicians (Nancy Sinatra, Jarvis Cocker, and Richard Hawley to name but a few!) who did you most enjoy sharing a stage with?
Well, all of them! But I owe Nancy the most. It was through her that I got to share the stage with Jarvis and Richard, not to mention Don Randi, Danny B Harvey, Clem Burke and so many others. She’s a great musician and her music really requires a lot of versatility, which I found really enjoyable. We’d go from a country thing, to 60s blues, to ‘You Only Live Twice’, ‘Boots’, ‘Bang Bang.’ I’d play acoustic and electric and sometimes she’d want me to play really hard rock sounding stuff and other times more delicate things. ‘Bang Bang’ was so much fun to play. On the UK tour we started the set with that one and the spotlight would come down on me playing the intro while she walked out. That was fun!!
Recently, you collaborated with Don Randi on Good Jazzy Vibrations — a tribute to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. How does performing as part of a duo compare to going on stage solo?
On Good Jazzy Vibrations we actually had bass and percussion tracking with us, and the legendary Hal Blaine on drums. The release before that, Acoustimania, was just the two of us on acoustic piano and nylon string guitar. I love the interaction of playing with other musicians and especially Don. He’s got so much in his bag of tricks, I’m still surprised every time I play with him and we’ve been playing together for 14 years now!
The solo thing is a whole different mindset. I’m not a proper guitar soloist like Joe Pass or Tommy Emmanuel, even though I really enjoy that and wish I could do it. I used to use a looper pedal, but now I’ve switched to an iPad with a foot controller. I like taking the essentials to a familiar song and then improvising around it. Sometimes for example, I’ll just do a straight chord backing and play the melody and solo over it. But if I’m really feeling it, I’ll maybe come up with a little background part that isn’t part of the song, and then harmonize it 2 or 3 times. Then I might take the chord track out and use some substitute chords. I can also bend the tempo and end up in a completely different place from where I started.
Your music has taken you all over the US and as far as Norway! What’s different about your fanbase there? And what advice would you give to another aspiring session musician?
In Norway people have surprised me with their enthusiasm and their deep love of music. When I was growing up on the east coast of the US, my friends and I would get excited to go out and hear live music. It was the event for the week! There are still places like that in the states now, but in Los Angeles it’s different. In Norway people have invited their friends to my shows and they really know all types of music.
And that’s related to the best advice I ever got about becoming a session musician: Listen to as much music as you can. Some music you’ll probably like right away, other music might have to grow on you. But if you have an open mind and open ears you’ll learn that different styles emphasize different elements: harmony, rhythm, certain tones, whatever.
What can we expect from your upcoming Album release this year?
I think about when I was in high school and not wanting to get up for school or go to work. Or maybe I didn’t know how to talk to a girl or deal with some other emotional situation. Music was there for me. There were songs that I could put on to help with my mood or my feelings. Or things that my friends and I would crank up in the car when we were going out on Friday night. I want to use the tools that I learned from the influences that I talked about above, to create music that will have a place in people’s lives. I want to give them something that will fire them up, calm them down, inspire them and just plain feel something. It will be mainly a quartet with keyboards, bass and drums, but there will be some other instruments too.
by Cavelle Simpson / Gigride Blogger, MA Music Business Management