Sometime around his midteens, Pat McGee remembers looking closely at his album collection and noticing “that bass player with the long beard” who played with James Taylor and Jackson Browne, among others.
“Then I kept seeing him everywhere,” adds the 42-year-old McGee, referring to Leland Sklar of the renowned backing band The Section.
McGee got to see Sklar and his signature beard up close and personal last year. That’s when Sklar, along with fellow Section members Russ Kunkel, Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar, backed McGee on his new self-titled album, due May 12.
The project’s birth came from a relatively ordinary experience. While hanging out at a friend’s house, McGee took careful notice of the music being played.
“I thought [what I heard was] an entire CD by one artist — you don’t see that much at social gatherings anymore,” McGee says. “That was so cool, and when I realized it was vinyl, that made me really freak out and think I needed to buy a record player and get a few [classic vinyl] albums.”
He did, and through his rediscovery of vinyl, McGee was reminded how talented musicians were in the 1970s.
“It’s all about the parts they played,” the singer-songwriter-guitarist adds.
Soon thereafter, McGee decided he wanted to make a very specific type of album.
“I wasn’t writing a single; I was going to write songs that could have found their way into the early 1970s singer-songwriter movement,” he recalls. “And it’s not as though I felt like I was doing an Amy Winehouse/Bruno Mars [thing]: ‘I’m going to make a retro record.’ It wasn’t that. This was [influenced by] the stuff that got me to pick up a guitar and sing and play: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Grateful Dead. I’ve never really gone, ‘Well, if you love it so much, then just write that.’
Until he made the 13-song Pat McGee, that is. After writing all of the material alone (something he hadn’t done since his 1994 debut), McGee says he wanted to get a drummer who sounded like Kunkel in order to “make these songs feel proper.”
“In saying that,” McGee admits, “I didn’t actually think I’d [contact] Russ Kunkel.” But he did, at first reaching out via Kunkel’s official site but to no avail. From there, McGee got in touch with roughly 20 music-industry people about tracking down Kunkel, and one of them passed along McGee’s information to the drummer.
McGee then set his sights on trying to hire guitarist Kortchmar for the project. After watching some recent concert clips of Kortchmar on YouTube, the Rhode Island-based McGee deduced that the shows had taken place in Connecticut. Those performances also featured guitarist Jeff Pevar, another name McGee recognized from his music collection. (Pevar is the “P” in the David Crosby side project CPR.)
With nothing to lose, McGee asked Alan Friedman, his Connecticut-based accountant (who is also a musician), whether he knew Pevar. About 20 minutes later, McGee got a call from Pevar, who would introduce him to Sklar. McGee asked Pevar to fill one guitar spot, then contacted Waddell to fill another.
Around the same time, McGee learned that Kunkel e-mailed him twice, but both attempts had been routed to junk mail.
“So I immediately got the balls to call Russ,” McGee says. “The next thing I know, Russ and I are having this heart-to-heart talk about music and what it means to him and how his role in playing on the song is completely dictated by the song and the lyric.”
His detective and recruiting work behind him, McGee tapped longtime Pat McGee Band keyboardist John “Red” Redling for live-to-tape sessions in June 2014 with Kunkel, Sklar, Wachtel and Pevar at Boulevard Recording in Los Angeles. (Afterward, with help from Pevar, McGee finally connected with Kortchmar, who months later overdubbed his parts at home in Connecticut.)
“There were no rehearsals with these guys, and they requested not to hear the music beforehand,” McGee says. “I think I said something to Waddy like, ‘Well, maybe I can come out to L.A. a few days early, and we can rehearse.’ And he kind of chuckled on the phone and said, ‘Rehearsal? I don’t know what you mean by that.’ And he kind of blew it off.
“I got these guys to commit [to recording with me],” McGee adds, “so I didn’t want to piss them off on any level, and this was before I met them. So I said to myself, ‘Whatever they want to do, I’m sure it works because their discography speaks for itself.’ ”
Having committed around half of his budget to hiring them, McGee wanted to get the most out of the Section players while in Los Angeles, so he asked what kind of schedule they’d like to keep. They opted to load in at noon and said their goal was to finish four songs per day.
“I thought, ‘That should probably take us to midnight,’ ” McGee says. “But every day, we were done around 4:30 p.m. — and we took a lunch break.”
Support for his new album, which also includes guest spots by Train’s Pat Monahan, Blues Traveler’s John Popper and Little Feat’s Paul Barrere, will be “a slow-burn kind of thing,” says McGee.
“I’ll hit every major city within the next year, for sure,” he adds, “and in some markets, I’m definitely going to hit the Section guys up to come play with me.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Pat McGee on tour (schedule subject to change):
* May 8: Music Box Supper Club — Cleveland
* May 28: Ramada Plaza Nags Head Oceanfront — Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
Photo by David Bergman