Squeaking in the last day of the month, I’m playing a loopy version of Claude Pate’s first “hit” single, a pop reggae inflected tune that appeared on our 1983 cassette only release, Poignance Through Volume. This time around I use just about every piece of gear I own, including my cherished early 70’s Les Paul Custom.
About the song
When I started Claude Pate I was running away from ART ROCK. Let me explain.
In high school my aspirations were to play Rush and Yes and Kansas, and to try and write songs like those guys. When I got to ISU, I promptly joined a band my freshman year. The band was named Vector, and it was everything you might expect of a band composed of engineers and named Vector. We played Rush, and Yes, and other jazz fusion and prog rock stuff. Of course, although I loved that music, I couldn’t play any of it worth a rip. Instead, I was their lead singer. Yep, I was supposed to prance and preen like David Lee Roth out in front of this band of long haired, crazy skilled nerds. I sucked, but I had a voice that was high enough to sing Geddy Lee and only sound mildly ridiculous, which was, I suspect the only reason I got this gig. Alas, my band mates quickly determined that I sucked (although not before I had the charming experience of playing a strip club as an underage rocker, sharing vodka with the stripper back stage). When I returned from summer break 1981 working for the Iowa DOT inspecting pavement patching along the stretch of I-80 near Bettendorf, Vector had given me the boot, and I was without a band. What to do?
A couple years of college, exposure to a much broader palette of sounds and bands, the end of my high school romance, a dawning realization that most lead guitar players were better than me, report cards attesting to the fact that most engineers were a helluvalot more focused than me, and a general descent into binge drinking alcoholism all conspired to create fertile ground in my self-loathing brain. I was ripe for revolution. From the haze of this period I remember clearly hearing Big Dan, eventually of the Sun Dogs, put it this way, “Fuck Art! Let’s dance!”.
I still remember the galvanizing moment of epiphany. I was at this bar way out on the edge of Ames called the Filmore. Putting aside it’s pretentious name, the place was in fact a decent small concert venue that featured live music most nights of the week (my brother in law Greg watched U2 play there on their first US tour!). I can’t remember why we were at the place this particular night. I think we were there simply because it was the last place to go when making a circuit of Ames bars and trying to find a place where there might be a magic combination of cheap beer, women, and music. On this occasion, I believe a Minneapolis band called the Phones was the headliner, but the opening act was a local one called the Tunes. Thinking on it some more, we (we being most of my dorm floor, including future Claude Pate drummer Ron Hahm) were likely their because some guys moved onto the dorm that year who were from Marshalltown (Mike and Doug). The Tunes featured a guitarist who hailed from Marshalltown (Jim Hemphill) and that might have been what brought us there. But never mind, I am digressing, on digressions. The epiphany: The Tunes played new wave. The Tunes were fun. The Tunes had girls dancing that were not being paid to take their clothes off!!! Right then and there Ron Hahm and I reached the conclusion that our new band, which we were trying to form by playing obscenely loudly between the elevators of our seventh-floor dormitory every weekend, needed to be a band like the Tunes! Our mission was clear, find a bass player, learn fun songs, make girls dance. We did that, and that story is amusing, but I better get to the part where I wrote this song.
Part of what lead to the demise of my highschool romance was an obvious crush I had on the soprano who sat next to me in the college choir. As you might guess, this young lady happened to not be the soprano I had been happily, blissfully calling my girlfriend for over two years, who was also in the choir. What does this have to do with writing the song? Let’s just say that this chance circumstance (I only sang in that choir for one academic year) lead my highschool sweetheart, who was infinitely more mature than me, to tell me with grace and dignity that we should go our separate ways, since it was obvious that I had feelings for another soprano. Which we did, because I did. Typical real-world romantic highjinks ensued. I clumsily pursued my crush, who was also far more mature than me, and who made it gently, but firmly clear that she was interested in a strictly platonic relationship. Yes, rom-com movie fans, I fell from grace, destroying a perfectly great relationship with a wonderful young lady only to fall miserably into the dreaded FRIEND zone, endlessly pining over another woman who would forever want nothing more than my friendship. Bad for my liver. Bad for my self-esteem. Bad for a movie plot. Absolutely aces for song writing. I refer to this period as the She period, because all the songs I wrote in this initial formative stage of Claude Pate were preoccupied with that pronoun, and that girl. Consider She’s so Special, Write me a Letter, Pictures of You, and the crowning achievement of male, puppy dog, unrequited love, She Don’t Seem to Care as my version of the Joe Lies song that the character Corey Flood sings in Say Anything. On the plus side, such experiences are very common. And She Don’t Seem to Care was a huge success, if only because so many nerdy guys on a campus full of engineers knew exactly what I was going through. I heard that on Ayers house in Friley Hall (world’s biggest dorm of some sort at some time), where so much of our early fan base developed, you could hear guys singing the chorus over and over in the showers.
About the guitar
This is my prize possession, an early 70’s Gibson Les Paul Custom purchased nearly new in the mid-70’s with the help of Mark Radant, my first guitar teacher. This custom is truly custom, because it has the rare creamy off white finish. Beautiful. The person selling the guitar at the time needed money, and was willing to sell it for only $400. A steal even at that time, Mark seemed to insinuate that the guitar might be a little hot, and I don’t mean cool. I used $200 I made detassling corn, and my parents, in an amazing act of generosity, kicked in the other half. For many, many years, this was my only serious guitar. In some ways, it still is. And I have owned it since 1976. You hear me first play rhythm through my Fender amp using a looper to create the clean pop reggae accompaniment. I'm not a sophisticated looper, so I only create the one backing track. For the solo, I use a switchblade pedal to connect the guitar to my old Legend amplifier. I have always loved the sound of a Les Paul on the Rhythm pickup played mondo distorto through a Mesa Boogie style amp like the Legend. It gives you great sustain for creamy melodic single note lines. The outro is more solo noodling, this time back through the Fender. I didn't pull it off here, but I can play a sort of Mark Knopfler picked chord lead that sounds nice through the clean amp. Perhaps another time my timing will be better, and I will coordinate shoving the pick in my mouth and transitioning to finger picking so that I get started on the right down beat. This time we simply decided to hit fade and call it a day.