NMG Musicians Spotlight - Pat Flynn
©2010 By Bronson Herrmuth
Pat Flynn has played guitar on more than 400 CD projects, including 32 Gold and Platinum records, as well as CMA and Grammy award winning projects with a wide array of top artists, including Garth Brooks, Michael Martin Murphey, George Jones, the Dixie Chicks, Nanci Griffith, Conway Twitty, Charlie McCoy, The Bellamy Brothers, Tracy Byrd, Mark Chestnutt, David Frizzell, Roseanne Cash, Loretta Lynn, Jim Lauderdale, The Greencards, Kathy Mattea, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Leon Russell, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Johwn Cowan, Maura O'Connell, Trick Pony, George Strait, Randy Travis, Don Williams, Lee Ann Womack, and so many more. A member of the legendary group, New Grass Revival, Frets magazine's National Readers Poll voted Pat as "Best Acoustic Guitarist" for five consecutive years. For winning five years in a row, Flynn was inducted into the Frets "Gallery of Greats" alongside Chet Atkins, Doc Watson and Tony Rice. He's also a producer, songwriter and an artist in his own right. The following is taken from a 30 minute interview with Pat in March, 2010 at the Musicians Union in Nashville. Meet Pat Flynn.
You can listen to this entire interview: Part 1 of 5 (12.2 MB) Part 2 of 5 (8.5 MB) Part 3 of 5 (14.3 MB) Part 4 of 5 (12.7 MB) Part 5 of 5 (15.5 MB)
Bronson: Thank you for doing this Pat.
Pat Flynn: Bronson, I'm honored you'd ask me. Thanks for having me.
Bronson: I've always been curious man, when did you come to Nashville and how did you come to be here?
Pat Flynn: I came here to join a band. I came here in 1981 to join a revamped New Grass Revival. New Grass Revival was a band that was pretty much very strong in their own genre, Bluegrass, and they had become Leon Russell's, not only his opening act, but his band and involved with him in his recording career. After a couple of years of that they split up and two of the guys went back home to Kentucky, so Sam Bush and John Cowan decided to revamp the band and to bring Bela Fleck in from New York and me in from L.A., and meet up in Nashville and try to do something.
Bronson: So where were you actually born?
Pat Flynn: When was I born?
Bronson: No, where?
Pat Flynn: I was born in Hollywood, CA.
Bronson: So you are from California.
Pat Flynn: Yeah and I grew up in Redondo Beach, CA. Our local band Bronson was the Beach Boys. I moved to 1000 Oaks, CA to finish high school. Our local Friday night dance that you go with your friends, Casey Kasem was the host (laughing). I drove out and saw Buck Owens and Don Rich, I saw the Beatles at Dodger Stadium, I saw Poco when they were Pogo at the Troubadour. I saw Jackson Browne when he was an opening act that nobody payed any attention to as an opening act to Linda Rondstadt. I saw Glenn Frey when he was trying to put a band together. I didn't realize how lucky I was to be in a special place until later on when I look back on it. At that time, Bronson after school instead of riding our bikes around the neighborhood, we went down the street to see "Where The Action Is" being filmed with Dick Clark. I mean it was an amazing place to be and to grow up. As I say, you look back on it you realize after the fact how special it was.
Bronson: So how old were you when you started playing guitar?
Pat Flynn: I was eight years old. My parents wouldn't buy me drums, they refused. I was campaigning for drums for Christmas. You know how you get the Sears catalog out?
Bronson: (laughing) Yeah oh yeah.
Pat Flynn: When that Sears catalog comes baby, it's serious Christmas time, right? It's a big deal and you turn it till the pages wear out. Well I had a drum set all picked out and to give my parents the idea of how good I was gonna be, I got a small trash can top Bronson, and for sticks I used a miniature billiard, you know those miniature billiard tables? (laughing) Those two cues and I was banging on the thing letting them know how great I was and they absolutely refused. So as a make up gift they got my brother and I two Harmony acoustic guitars from the Sears catalog and I thought okay, I'll try that.
Bronson: So now, you had lessons?
Pat Flynn: No, never, taught myself. Of course later I did when I aspired to be a studio musician in L.A. as a high school kid and you know, got in by serendipitous, but anyway, no I didn't have lessons until much later in my life, when I went into the studios in L.A. as a kid and encountered arrangers and their charts, I realized I needed to back up. But at the time it was just getting records with your buddies and trying to figure out what the chords were. One thing that was maybe different for me than it was for my buddies who played Bronson, was that I knew who the studio players were. Now I'm not sure how I knew that because their names weren't listed on the LP's as you know. That's a recent innovation to put session guys for credit. Back in the day when you and I were listening to records they didn't have names on there, but for whatever reason, maybe it was because I was in that area, I knew Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn.. I knew who Glen Campbell and Leon Russell and Larry Nectal, I knew who those guys were. Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, so I always was aware of the guys that played on the records. James Burton was a big hero, I always knew as I was listening to the records you know, but as far as trying to play them, remember when the Beatles stereos first came out?
Bronson: Oh yeah.
Pat Flynn: And they were such a, whatever the moron engineer was at Capitol, the idea of a stereo was, you put the track one one side and the vocals on the other, so you could take a Beatles LP, put it on your record player, and turn off the left side and just hear the vocals, and then turn on the right side and just hear the track (laughing). It was awful. If I were the Beatles I would have been furious, well they were. But it got us the track isolated so we could hear what was going on. I just figured it out from records and from what other guys knew.
Bronson: So you started playing on records and doing sessions in the studio pretty early then, pretty young?
Pat Flynn: When I was in high school Bronson and I was in bands and stuff, I just happened to be lucky enough to meet a couple of record producers. My first session was at Gold Star which was the site of most of Phil Spector's big triumphs. My first job in Hollywood was working for Phil Spector's old partner Marshall Leib, from the Teddy Bears, that was my first job.. My uncle was Frankie Laines manager, Frankie Laine being a very big star in the '40s and 50's, probably the biggest singer in the world, and Marshall was his son in law, and you know it just so happened that I just got a couple of cracks in the door and I got a job down there. So I started letting everybody know I could play guitar and one day when Jerry Cole wasn't available to do the weekly demo session, I got the chair. From there I started working for people like Dallas Smith, Sunny Night, Snuff Garrett, and all the sudden as a senior in high school, I had to leave day classes and finish my classes at night because I was doing sessions in Hollywood, but I realized at some point that okay, I could maybe do this you know, I was headed that way. But I was a guy that wrote songs Bronson, I wanted to be in a band. My heros were singer/songwriters in bands, I was a fan. So at some point I had to make a decision and I decided to leave L.A. and move to Aspen, CO just because I knew some people there and there was a very healthy music scene there, just like in Austin.
Bronson: And what year was that?
Pat Flynn: Oh I don't know, late 70's, and when I was in Aspen, you had Jimmy Buffett there, John Denver, you had Glenn Frey and Don Henley, you had Fogelberg, and they'd come out and sit in with the local groups and it was a very cool scene. Well I was there and I was playing around the festivals in the area, like Telluride, and I met New Grass Revival and I realized when I saw them, of course I had been playing clubs and developing my own thing. Writing songs and putting together band arrangements, and when I saw New Grass I knew that this was what I was doing. I didn't know what it was called but I knew that those were the guys that I needed to be with. Of course they didn't know that, (laughing) but it so happened as I mentioned, in the following year their band broke up and so as I made their acquaintance, and they knew Bela from working on his solo album, his first one, that maybe they should put this thing together with us, so that's when I moved to Nashville.
Bronson: So you're known all over the world and renowned as an acoustic guitar player. Do you also play electric or have you just always chosen acoustic?
Pat Flynn: Always played electric in L.A. Bronson, but nobody knows it here.
Pat Flynn: Nobody knows it here because I specialized as soon as I came you know and that's fine, but now that I'm producing acts, you know when I'm producing an act I get to play what I want. So in the recent past, producing people like Anna Kay Dunn and Tyler Flowers and some Pop acts, I've got my electric rig out and I play everything from electric bass, electric lead, I've got my Tele and my Strat, (laughing) and so I'm have a ball reconnecting with an instrument that I played almost exclusively when I was in Los Angeles.
Bronson: You obviously are very accomplished in the studio but you've also as you said you've played live. Most recently you've been touring with Michael Martin Murphey?
Pat Flynn: Yes, not touring so much as just doing special events with him. Michael and I go way back. First of all I'm a big fan but I try to refrain from telling him I used to dig him when I was in high school, (laughing) you know, but he's Michael Martin Murphey. I've done his records for fifteen years here in Nashville so we know each other from that. But in getting to know Murphey, I kind of put a bug in his ear once in a while. You know the story Bronson, that he's the king of the cowboy singers. As far as being the number one western singer in the world, it's Michael Martin Murphey. But you and I both know he's had several careers. He came out of Texas as one of the top singer/songwriters in the same graduating class as Steve Fromholz, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, you know that whole generation of great songwriters out of Texas. Michael was one of those guys. He was a guy that came out of Texas, he went to Hollywood, he wrote hits for Don Kirchners company, he became a Hollywood writer writing hits for the Monkeys and all sorts of other people. Then of course he wrote "Wild Fire" and became huge, then he moved to Nashville, had another career as a country singer, during the 80's he had many hits. "What's Forever For", "Still Taking Chances", all that. And then he went to the western thing and became the king of that mountain. So in doing records with Michael, I was always kind of putting a bug in his ear saying hey Murphey, you know, why don't you instead of doing pieces of what you do, why don't you do a record you know kind of with everything in it. Let's do a modern, Americana, Progressive, Bluegrass, Country, whatever. He kept putting me off saying I don't know. But anyway we did it and it got a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass recording of 2009. Of course we knew we were going to lose to Steve Martin, but it was an honor. So now we're doing the sequel, and so he's got a whole new thing going now, (laughing) and so he said to me, listen, you got me into this (laughing), so you need to come out and do some shows with me.. So when we're doing some special shows like the Opry you know, I'm gonna go out and do a train thing with him in the mountains this summer. I'm going to do a Christmas thing with him later on so I have been going out for some special vents and I've been loving it.
Bronson: Do you have a preference for playing live or in the studio?
Pat Flynn: No, but my preference is that a player needs to do both. I have listed to one side or the other over time. With New Grass I was on the road two hundred days a year for ten years. Then of course for the following ten, fifteen years, I've been in the studio doing records. The truth is you're a better player if you an sit in the studio chair and be creative in that very difficult atmosphere but also be entertaining enough to go on stage and relate to a crowd. I think it's really important that you do both.
Bronson: Your guitar, what's the number one guitar that you pick up when you're gonna play?
Pat Flynn: Well that was an easy answer about five years ago. My best guitar, if I had to grab one in a house fire, (laughing) would be my Martin 1949 D28, and of course that's the guitar that I played with New Grass and it's probably my signature sound. But a few years ago, I met the Collings' people out of Austin, TX, at the NAMM show and got talking with Steve McCreary and he was showing me all of his guitars and I was just telling him, I'm not a new guitar guy. I've had so many guitars sent to me Bronson over time, but rather then like most of the guys, you take everything you get for free, I don't keep it unless I can use it. I've sent lots of guitars back and I told Steve, he said we can build you one you're going to like. I said okay but I mean I can't guarantee I'm going to play it, I just kept putting him off. Well the Collings arrived about a year later at my house. I started playing it in the kitchen, I figured I'll play it in the house for a year and then we'll see. I had it in the studio the next day and I have rarely had it out of my hands since then. Now it doesn't supersede the Martin Bronson, but hey I don't have to take the Martin out of the house now. It used to be a terrible dilemma. If I take the Martin out of the house Bronson to go somewhere to do something, it might get lost of stolen or broken and I'm out, you can't replace it. So I hate to take it out, but if I'm on stage with out it, I'm unhappy. Dilemma. I can go out with my Collings now and be a hundred percent happy. I can't tell you how thrilled I am, and surprised (laughing). I had to eat my words, I had to eat a lot of crow. That Collings guitar is everything beyond what I thought it would be, I love it.
Bronson: What kind of strings do you like?
Pat Flynn: I have been a happy endorser of John Pearse strings for twenty five years. Twenty five years of John Pearse Phospher Bronze, Light gauge. But now I tweak it a little bit. I use a light gauge Bronson, but on the top of the guitar, on the skinny strings, the E and the B. I use instead of a 12 and a 15, I use a 13 and a 17, and that's the only thing I do to tweak it because I get thicker notes up there. I need thicker notes up there so I just up the thickness a little bit so that's my gauges and then the rest are light. But John Pearse strings always last me a long time. Their a quality product and I'm really happy, I appreciate that.
Pat Flynn interview Part 2 of 2
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