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Patti's Place

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How did you get started singing/playing? How did it develop from there?

Patti: I always sang. As a little girl, instead of talking, I'd sing a running, stream of consciousness commentary on life. (Tuck: She still does.) Patti: My mother would say, "Patricia, you're singing again!" It was second nature to me. Many people in my family sang, although none of them professionally. I started singing in church when I was six or seven, directing choirs by the age of 10 and adult choirs before I was 16. At the same time I studied classical violin for 11 years in school. But I was a terrible violinist, so my high school music teacher, Owen Fleming, encouraged me to sing and actually gave me voice lessons instead.

I knew when I was six that I would always be a singer. My twin sister, cousin and I were on family vacation with my grandmother that summer, and I was lying in a field listening to all the sounds of nature and watching the clouds roll by. All of a sudden it became completely silent and a voice said to me, "You'll sing and everything is going to be all right." I just said, "OK." Then all the sound started up again. I didn't tell anyone about this for years, because it seemed so normal to me. I just assumed everyone had the same kind of experience.

There was always music in our home. My mother had a big record collection that ranged from big band to all the great singers to blues bands and all the great gospel groups of the day. One singer that made a tremendous early impression on me was Mahalia Jackson. She came to our church to sing. But from the beginning we were exposed to all kinds of music, including a wide variety of concerts that our mother would take us to. We went to hear people as diverse as Josephine Baker, Patsy Kline and Tennessee Ernie Ford. One of my first major influences was Sammy Davis, Jr.; I learned about phrasing and scatting from hearing him sing. I was also hearing the vocal groups on the radio and standing in front of the mirror with a brush as my microphone and a broom as my microphone stand imagining I was one of them. Aretha, all the Motown groups, Dionne Warwick, Buddy Holly, the list goes on and on and on.

So from the beginning I have listened to all styles of music: Gospel, classical, jazz, soul, folk, blues, rock, country, music of other cultures; everything. My first love as a jazz singer was and always will be Ella Fitzgerald, but Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McCrae, Nina Simone and countless others have affected me deeply, as well as Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and singers of all different styles. John Coltrane's A Love Surpreme changed my life. Stevie Wonder set me on my songwriting path. Miles Davis, Roland Kirk, Ima Sumac--the more influences I list, the more I can think of that I'm leaving out. I always say that once I hear it, it's mine the next day. Al Jarreau's "Live In Europe" album was a moment of truth for me; the moment I heard it I felt that he had raised the bar for all jazz singers, and knew I had to go back to the drawing board. He inspired me to start exploring mouth percussion. Of course Bobby McFerrin blew everyone's mind. We were fortunate to hear and work with him a lot back when we were all playing the same small clubs in the Bay Area.

Growing up in the Bay Area during the historic 60's was an awe-inspiring experience. I saw Big Mama Thornton, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Carlos Santana, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, the Who, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes, Sly Stone, Billy Preston, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Reed, B. B. King, Dr. John, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Wes Montgomery, Thelonius Monk, Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McCrae and so many others. The Fillmore, Carousel Ballroom and Winterland were like home to me. I was at Woodstock and Altamont. Bill Graham always watched out for me. Jimi Hendrix called me "Foxy Lady" on my birthday one year. I was at every show he ever performed in the Bay Area. I jammed with hundreds of musicians. It was a very exciting time.

Most of my professional career before meeting Tuck was with lots of Bay Area original bands, but, coming out of the San Francisco music scene, I would often play with bands that would play one continuous song for a whole set, just evolving from one thing to another. In the bands I played with, you had to be an all around musician, able to improvise in any style. We would make up songs on the spot and never look back. I was not very often in more tightly formatted bands that would play just one style, like jazz, soul, top 40 or rock. A couple of notable exceptions were when my band "33" became T-Bone Walker's backup band in the last years of his life, and when I was one of the founding members of "Kingfish," a Grateful Dead offshoot band featuring Bobby Weir, Matthew Kelley and Dave Torbert.

Hearing John Mayall's Turning Point was a turning point for me. It showed me that you didn't need a lot of instruments to make music, and I began experimenting with just guitar and percussion or guitar and sax. Even before that, there were times when I just played acoustic guitar and sang, which doesn't sound too unusual until you realize that I only knew one chord, that I moved up and down the neck. (Tuck: But she had a great feel! She taught me "Glory Glory" using that one chord.)

Patti: At the time Tuck and I met I was leading my own jazz band and singing with two other bands. Yet I felt that none of them were giving me any satisfaction, and I actually remember praying on the way to what turned out to be my meeting with Tuck for a change in direction in both my music and my life.

Tuck: My parents played records a lot, mostly swing and big band. Both my father and my older sister Sharon played piano. He had led a jazz band in college, but later became a lawyer and oil company executive, so he rarely played any more, but whenever he did, it would be Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. I'm sure I grew up with the concept that adult men nonchalantly sat down and played passionate and difficult music. My sister studied classical piano, and some of my earliest memories are of me rolling around at her feet as she played. Little did I know that I was getting tremendous ear training that would serve me for a lifetime.

My sister started showing me things on the piano when I was seven, then I took formal classical lessons until I was 14. I was thought to be talented but not prodigious. I did not enjoy the reading part as much as the playing part, so I memorized quickly and developed a good ear. A family highlight each year was our piano recital, where she and I would play a duet. If I were to have a regret about that period it would be that my teacher, Martha Blunk, understandably felt the need to keep me interested by giving me simple, catchy pieces with titles like "Man on the Moon" and sonatinas that I could master quickly rather than more challenging pieces from the standard repertoire. Fortunately my sister was playing Bach, Beethoven sonatas, Chopin and Debussy, and my ear was filling up with how this music worked. Later on my own I hacked my way through the Rhapsody In Blue, some Chopin polonaises, Bach inventions and Beethoven sonatas.

Meanwhile, my sister was listening to all the pop music of the day, and I was getting these sounds in my ear, but not playing them. It wasn't until the Beatles and Rolling Stones came out that I knew I had to play rock and roll. So we started a little neighborhood band, with me playing piano, my next door neighbor playing electric guitar, and the kid down the street beating on a couple of practice pads and anything else he could find. Our songlist was Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, etc. It was during this period that I decided I must play guitar. I must admit that it was ego and competitiveness that drove me initially, in that I wanted to show up the guitarist in our band. So I took up guitar. This act allowed us to move from the living room, where the piano was, to the garage, and I was in my first garage band. This was pre-Jimi Hendrix, so my first playing was reminiscent of Chuck Berry with Beatles/melodic influences. The first electric guitar I owned was a Ventures Mosrite, with a Vox Pacemaker amp.

My first act on the guitar, after learning the basic open chords and barre chords, was to work my way through all 400 of the Orchestral Chords in the appendix of the Mel Bay chord book I had. These were complex jazz chords with impressive names like 13 #11 b9, and I had no idea how to use them and would not for years, but that did not matter to me at all; I practiced and memorized them because they were there. It was an early indication of a kind of systematic ruthlessness in practicing that I have always exhibited.

I had only a few months of guitar lessons with Tommy Crook, a brilliant Chet Atkins-inspired guitarist. He opened up the guitar quite a bit for me in a short time just by teaching me how to play songs. (Tommy would later become one of the most amazing solo guitarists in the world, but neither he nor I knew it at this time.) But most of my learning was on my own, from playing with other musicians, learning songs from records and a great deal of practice and experimentation. From an early point the guitar and I were inseparable. I would conduct my life with a guitar strapped on and my fingers active.

By the time high school started I was becoming one of the hot guitarists in school, and I fortunately got into bands where I was the weakest player. So I was always challenged. Wes Montgomery was in my ear from almost the beginning, because he had hit records. Soon I was learning to play in octaves and getting a little notion of jazz, discovering how to phrase and suggest the harmonies melodically. But one day when I was 16 a friend (Stuart Neimi) took me to his house and played records of Miles Davis, George Benson, Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane and numerous other jazz greats. This was an epiphany for me. Reinforced by my playing in my high school big band all three years and a parallel development in interest in jazz among the other players in the rock bands I played with, I immersed myself in jazz and figured out all I could.

The same week I heard Jimi Hendrix's first album for the first time. I remember being so dazzled by the sonic textures and so blown away by the power of his playing, that it actually had a reverse effect on me: I looked at his sound as unapproachable, and dived deeper into jazz. It was fully two years later when I started listening to him again and figuring out his songs and guitar style.

My other major influence at that time was blues. In addition to the classic blues greats of B. B. King, Albert King and Freddie King, and rockers they inspired, such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Michael Bloomfield, there was a characteristic, lazy Tulsa blues style, perfected in the playing of guitarists like Steve Hickerson, Jim Byfield and Tommy Tripplehorn. It had elements of all the electric blues styles, with particular emphasis on the nuances of intricate bends and slides, perhaps derived somewhat from pedal steel sounds. There was no emphasis on playing fast, but considerable technique was necessary to accomplish some of the subtle moves these players used. Perhaps more than anything else this led me into exploring the infinite nuances of the single note.

During my high school years I was not particularly socially active since I spent all my time playing the guitar, but the friends I had were divided between a handful of straight, smart kids (I was one of these) on the one hand, and the musicians and the hippies that hung out with us on the other. It was the late 60's, and everybody on the musician side of the fence in Tulsa was looking towards San Francisco and the scene there. Perhaps because I witnessed them all experimenting with drugs and acting so stupid I developed an early aversion to drugs so strong that I never tried them at all during all the years I was surrounded by them. It became a standing joke how straight I was. So although I was a part of a whole cultural and political movement and a local social scene, my whole interest in it was the music. I had a reel to reel tape deck, and I recorded my albums onto a handful of three hour tapes I would listen to over and over. One night I would fall asleep listening to the complete Jefferson Airplane collection, and the next to Thelonius Monk.

I enrolled in Stanford in 1970. My musical life there was rock bands, and I was still teaching myself jazz and Jimi Hendrix in every available moment. After the first quarter I dropped out and went to Los Angeles to rejoin some of the members of the band I had played with in high school. I was lucky enough to get session work the first day I was there, and within only a couple of months circumstances conspired to show me that I could become a studio musician for albums and tv if I wanted to. Thanks to Dean Parks I was given the opportunity to take over the guitar position for the Sonny and Cher tv show, which was very popular at the time. It was at this time that I made one of my first real career decisions, which was to abandon the L. A. scene before I even became a part of it. I was idealistic (and well-funded, courtesy of my parents) enough to believe that I would not go as high artistically if I were in totally commercial situations, even surrounded by some of the top musicians in the world. I have never regretted that decision and have always been grateful that I was in a position to make it.

So I ended up alternating for the next four years between Stanford, where I ended up halfheartedly majoring in music but playing in rock and jazz bands as well as the Stanford big band and mainly sitting in my room practicing, and Tulsa, where I would play with the Gap Band whenever I was in town, which was a tremendously formative experience. For years I got to feel like the worst guy in the band. I learned more about feel and groove in this situation than in any other one in my life. During this period I was studying Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Jimi Hendrix and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was listening to every jazz album I could find, especially early Miles Davis. By the time I studied classical musical theory, I had already learned it all from a jazz standpoint by lisetening to these albums and trying to explain to myself why various chord substitutions worked and how solos related to chords.

At Stanford I had the only experience that was a precedent to what Patti and I now do. Mike Stillman, who had been faculty resident in my freshman dorm for the first quarter, played sax in some of the rock bands I was in. We started playing as a duo, both exploring jazz, although he had a big head start. We did this off and on whenever I was in California. We ended up playing mainly in the Stanford Coffee House, where we were fearless, biting off difficult tunes that neither of us could count on getting through.

While in Stanford I took two years of weekly classical guitar lessons, first from Stanley Buetens, then from Charles Ferguson. I already had a lot of classical experience from my childhood and piano, a lot of left hand technique from playing electric and enough right hand technique to play the pieces I was learning. Therefore most of their focus was on expression, and learning to hear and experience one guitar as several different instruments at once. I learned how to vary the volume and tone of each part independently of the others, not knowing that this would become an essential ingredient of the fingerstyle guitar I would take up when Patti and I got together.

From the time I left Stanford in 1974 until Patti and I met in 1978, I was in and out of countless primarily soul bands in the Bay Area, with a few top 40 and rock bands thrown in. I was notably shy and unambitious at this time. In contrast to Patti, who was leading bands, playing with the hottest musicians in the Bay Area, jamming with everybody and recording all the time, I put the emphasis on playing with friends or anyone else who would ask me in bands in local bars for very little money, rather than trying to seek out the best musicians or most challenging or promising situations. Mainly I sat alone, practicing and listening to music, 8 to sometimes 14 or more hours a day. It was during this period that I learned entire Wes Montgomery and George Benson albums note for note, as well as studying Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Pat Martino, Larry Carlton, Eric Gale, Cornell Dupree, David T. Walker, Wah Wah Watson, Amos Garrett, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Herbie Hancock, Errol Garner, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy and many others.

One notable exception to the general trend of my not playing with the best musicians was the years spent in a few top 40/soul bands with Terry Saunders, noted Bay Area funk guitarist, whose awesome technique, comprehensive musical knowledge, fastidious attention to detail, unique style and general modesty and willingness to share made him a most welcome band-mate and friend. From watching him I learned several important principles, such as: The difficult will eventually become easy; the impossible will eventually become difficult. The guitar can do more than you think it can, but only if you work very hard. Much of your preparation is so you can have multiple levels of musical overdrive available that you can shift into when the situation calls for it. Left hand stacatto is important. Dense voicings will work if you use the right tone and execution. Details matter. We reinforced each others' explorations of playing multiple parts at once (guitar, keyboard, horns).

For chords I worked out a system for generating every possible voicing of each possible chord in all its possible layouts across the strings. Any voicing I liked I inverted up and down all possible string sets, and harmonized various scales with it. I looked at each chord superimposed over every possible bass note. I listed every three, four, five and six-note chord that contained a given bass and melody note (very powerful later when I was starting to play chord-melody, although it was just a theoretical exercise to me at the time). I did similar work with scales (there are the same number of scales as chords, you just play the notes one at a time in order of pitch), finding systems for categorizing and ordering them, studying their harmony and relationship to chords and practicing and integrating all the different systems for laying them out on the guitar, from most horizontal to most vertical. Likewise arpeggios: I devised algorithms for deriving all possible fingerings and predicting the most satisfying ones, as well as superimposing them over all possible bass notes. I applied similar thinking to rhythms, picking technique, picking patterns, melodic patterns, left hand finger patterns, etc., with the goal of developing a comprehensive knowledge of and familiarity with the resources available to me. Although I generated more than I could play in a lifetime, I tried to get as much of it as possible under my fingers.

During all this time I convinced myself that it was my goal to become a great straight-ahead jazz and soul player, using a pick on an electric guitar, even though I would have nagging doubts: "I love the way George Benson and Eric Gale already did this so much; there's nothing I would change if I were them, so why am I doing it?" I did not even suspect that it was all merely preparation for a very different path that I was about to discover.

Years later Stanley Jordan showed me how he had done all the same work, except he had the good sense to program a computer to do all the permutations and combinations more quickly. But doing it manually probably helped me realize the goal of keeping my ear involved, realizing that all this was just a step towards expanding what my ear heard and preparing my hands to grab whatever my ear directed.

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How did you meet?

Tuck: We met in 1978 in a band in San Francisco. I was already in the band, and one day Patti came to audition. She walked in, said hi, passed out her charts (Horace Silver's "Out Of The Night Came You") and we started playing the song. Within a few seconds of hearing her sing, I knew that I had found my musical soulmate.

Patti: It was that immediate for me, too. I immediately knew two things, that the band wasn't happening, but that I was going to steal the guy playing guitar in the corner. Our mutual friend, Mike Stillman (who later wrote the lyrics to "Joy Spring," which became titled "When We're Alone"), had been trying to get us together for a while before that, but it just hadn't worked out.

Patti: We have often talked about it later, that moment of realization about someone. We realized that musicians have a kind of radar on all the time. They are unconsciously scanning for someone that they can communicate and collaborate with. By the time we met, we had each played in hundreds of different bands and aggregations, so by now the radar was finely-tuned. Yet this was the first time for each of us that we got such a strong blip on the radar.

Tuck: We usually call it the ill-fated club band, but that is not sufficiently evocative of the situation. It was formed by the drummer, who had come from the U.K. to the United States to organize a band based on what he explained was a common approach for commercial (top 40) bands there. The goal was to be a totally commercial group that could make a lot of money playing in Las Vegas by sounding just like all the hits. Rather than have everybody take the records and figure out their parts, he brought big cases of charts of all the popular songs with every single note and vocal phrase transcribed in detail. The band was expected to sightread the charts, sound just like the record, look and act the part and go make the money. This may have been a valid premise, but in San Francisco, at least for this collection of musicians, it did not fly.

Patti: All the musicians were good. There was a soft-spoken keyboard player who dressed in kimonos and robes, an Oakland funk bass player, Tuck, too shy to look up and the only one able to decipher the charts, the drummer/bandleader, mystified and depressed by all the others, and now me, singing as if I meant it, and terrifying him. He would pass out long, detailed charts of medleys of Carly Simon and Bee Gees tunes, then stop the band continuously, saying things like, "At measure 46, beat 2, you sang a demi-quaver, not a semi-demi-quaver. Now let's try it again."

Tuck: As powerful as his will was, it could not shape the band into the commercial unit he dreamed of. We played exactly one gig, at the Presidio in San Francisco for a handful of people, and never named the band.

Patti: We stayed with the band for two or three months, and being the only members who didn't live in San Francisco, we drove to rehearsals together. During that time we quickly became best friends. We plotted our course: We would find other musicians and start our own band, based on more musical goals. We began setting up some jam sessions and auditions. But meanwhile we hadn't worked for several months and needed to make some money. So we compared notes and discovered that we knew hundreds of songs in common. We figured that we could get work immediately as a duo, then that would buy us time to put together the band. So we worked out a handful of songs, went out and auditioned and were immediately working as a duo, scrambling to get a whole night's music together. We were bold, even at the beginning. We would dress up and go to a place that had live music and tell them we wanted to play there. When they found out that we were a duo, they would offer us Monday happy hours, but we would say, no, we mean Friday or Saturday night when you hire bands, and we want the same money you pay the band. We would offer the deal they couldn't refuse: We'd come in and play a couple of hours one night for free, just so they could see how their audience responded. Pretty soon we were working all the time.

Tuck: I remember sitting on Patti's couch playing every song from Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and Joe Pass/Ella Fitzgerald albums, and realizing that I had never had so much fun or been so challenged. Patti was having the same experience. We went out to play at venues, typically after dinner in the lounge next to the restaurant, and found ourselves forgetting to take breaks. We might do a two hour set, take a fifteen minute break, then play another couple of hours. Club owners had to tell us to stop at the end of the night. I remember people passing by the lounge on their way out of the restaurant after dinner probably saying, "Who are those two maniacs who are so totally lost in what they are doing in an almost empty room? Let's check this out." They would tell their friends and within a few nights the room would be full of people listening intently when we played. The notion of the band just fell away, and we never looked back.

Patti: Early on as we were playing all these hundreds of different songs, we started talking about what we wanted to say through the music, and found that we agreed completely. We made this a fundamental organizing principle from the beginning: Every song had to speak to and be played from our hearts. We realized that for both of us such a discussion or band consensus was a first. We are convinced that this principle is one of our secret weapons.

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What are the Tuck & Patti "secret weapons?"

(1) Dedication of every aspect of our music and business to God: By so doing, we believe we align our minds and efforts with divine intent without needing to understand the details of divine intent or the workings of cause and effect. We free ourselves from the results of our actions and can focus more on our role, which is to do our best with what we're given.

(2) Unanimous agreement that the music should have a positive message that speaks from our hearts, and that all business decisions should keep this in mind. This is not a guaranteed formula for maximizing financial returns, but it is definitely the formula for maximizing overall returns. It tends to minimize ego problems. It causes the positive power of the music to increase over time. It tends to attract like-minded listeners, giving us the best possible audience, and challenging us to go deeper. It reinforces our desire to be sane and be the same people both on and off stage, which makes for a much more coherent life in the long run. It simplifies business and personal decisions.

(3) In-ear monitors: By using these consistently since 1983 we have been able to live on a level of musical detail and subtlety that would have been impossible otherwise. By mixing monitors and front of house ourselves, we have been freed to focus soundchecks entirely on tuning the system in the room, resulting in dramatically clearer and more consistent sound to the audience. When they can hear better, they can fall more deeply into the music, which makes it easier for us to do the same thing. By using the same monitoring system live and in the studio, we eliminate a lot of the difficulty making the transition between the two. See Tuck's Corner for technical details.

(4) Study and control of dynamic range: This has enabled us to make our music sound "out front" rather than sound small or fall into the background, both live and in recordings. It is particularly important for a small group trying to overcome the psychological obstacle of being perceived as a small group. See Tuck's Corner for technical details.

(5) Insistence on recording live, documentary style: This has kept the real-time musical pressure very intense, making us grow more as a result.

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