Pete Sears is a musicians musician. He has been in the business probably for more years than hed want to admit too. Nonetheless, during his, three decade plus career he has played keyboards and bass with an incredible array of players, from Hendrix to John Lee Hooker and from Zero to Jefferson Starship. Not to mention Long John Baldry, Copperhead, Stoneground, Silver Meter, Sam Gopals Dream, Rod Stewart, Leftover Salmon and, of course, Hot Tuna.
Pete has recorded three solo albums, Watchfire in the late 80s. The Japanese-only instrumental effort Millennium in 1997 which was an album of mostly avant garde/improvised piano music, and more recently The Long Haul. The later is a sophisticated offering that has a blues-rock base but also explores jazz and folk areas. As electric Hot Tuna is on something of a hiatus Pete decided to put together a band to promote the album. The band is called Dawn Patrol as Pete explains in the following interview. Of course, he also talks about some of his past musical activities.
*M.S. Why dont you start by talking a little about your new band, Dawn Patrol? *
P.S. After finishing my album The Long Haul, I needed to get some kind of band together and try and get out there and promote the CD. I had always toyed around with the idea of getting a group of musicians together that I, not only thought were great musicians, but that I liked as people. So, I had these various people in mind and the time was right to try to get something together. The first band that I had, had Bobby Vega on bass. I had played with Bobby with Steve Kimock and known him over the years. He did the first tour and helped out. Now on bass I have David Hayes.
*MS David is a great player. Hes done a lot of things, Terry and the Pirates, Van Morrison and more. *
PS Yes. He is another really old friend of mine. He is an amazing bass player and a great guy.
*MS If my recollection is right, he writes some pretty good songs and sings rather good as well? *
PS He sure does. He is also a really good upright bass player. He and I have started a new band thats doing piano and bass instrumentals. Its a side thing. But the rest of Dawn Patrol is Rich Kirch on guitar another very close friend of mine who I have known for years. He introduced me to John Lee Hooker about ten years ago. I ended up doing several gigs with John Lee Hooker and I ended up playing with him on the record. Rich was very close with John Lee Hooker. John would call Rich every day. And of course, when John died Rich was devastated. Fortunately we had this band to put together. Rich had been with John Lee for 13 years and he has played with many other great blues players. So, he is on guitar. On vocals we have Davey Pattison, from Glasgow, Scotland. He sang with Robin Trower on a lot of the songs Robin did when Robin was doing really well. He has this great kind of bluesy, British rock sounding voice, kind of soul/blues. Its very cool. Ernest Carter is on drums. I did sessions with him years ago. He played with Bruce Springsteen on one of his early albums. Hes played with Steve Sanchez and a lot around the Bay Area. I started out with the idea of maybe opening for a major act and getting a national tour going, but that hasnt happened yet. But we are playing locally. We have done a few gigs around the Bay Area and I am trying to build a following locally if I can. We did the Sweetwater recently in Mill Valley. You couldnt move in there. It was a really good night. People seemed to like it. Warren Haynes came and sat in with us, so that was nice. Maria Muldaur, Frances Clay, Mel Sharpe and his Dixie Land Horns came in.
*MS No wonder you couldnt move in there! *
PS Yes, (laughs) I know there was a lot of guest musicians. It was a fun night. Ive got a few other gigs coming up. Most are in the Bay Area. We play material of off the Long Haul and also some of my favorite songs. We cover songs that I have always liked, like The Night They Drive Ol Dixie Down, It Makes No Difference, A Whiter Shade of Pale, which Davey sings really well. You Dont Love Me, Baby Please Dont Go KnockinOn Heavens Door and we have some fun with them. We do one of Daveys songs, we do one of David Hayes songs. Rich sings a song sometimes, Shake Your Money Maker.
*MS Are you doing any other projects? *
PS Yes, Ive got a couple of other things. Im working on some documentary soundtracks. I do the soundtracks/original scores. Im working on one now about troubled girls in prison. The last one I did was on Discovery International on the largest telescope in the world, which is in Northern Chile. Its been shown all over the world, but not in the States yet. It just won an award at the New York film festival.
Ive done about six documentaries so far. I really enjoy it. So far all the documentaries have been about subjects that I feel strongly about from a political, moral or environmental level.
*MS I heard you were doing some stuff with Bill Kreutzmanns new band the TriChromes. Is that right? *
PS Yes. Its a bit of a grey area really at this point. Im not really sure what is going on. What had happened was they had had a jam session and then Robert Hunter wrote lyrics to various sections of the jam. There was really no order to the music, really it was just a vibe or a verse maybe in sequence. Robert had written verse chorus and everything, inspired by the vibe, so Billy asked me to come in an help arrange it and bring the songs together in some form with the lyrics so that the songs make sense with the lyrics. So, I came in and wrote the music for one of the songs and the other one I wrote a refrain and chorus and came up with a melody to sing for the singer. They seemed really happy with it. Ultimately, I think the idea was to have more of a three-piece type band because the guitar player Ralph Woodson is really a great player. He has that Hendrix-like vibe about his playing; not that he tries to copy him or anything. He just has that unique way of playing, My part at this point is that they said they want me to come out and overdub some keyboards, but as for any kind of live shows I have no idea if Ill be invited out. It was just nice working with Billy and seeing again. He is drumming really good. He has good people around him and he ready to really do it, I think. Its nice to have him back in the Bay Area.
*MS Going back to Dawn Patrol, aside from trying to get more gigs what do you have planned? *
PS Id like to make a CD of the best live shows available, perhaps over the Internet. There are no plans at this time to do any serious recording. Im not sure, but the next recording that I do on my own will be a piano album. Ive written a bunch of piano instrumentals. Theres some really out-there stuff.
*MS As out there as the Japanese album? *
PS Maybe not quite as out there as that they are more structured. I tend to make records that arent commercial. I dont intend to, they just come out that way, but they get good reviews thank god. I think I would rather it be that way around. My band doesnt play enough to make the album accessible. We are not a young band so I dont know how well be receivedwe have been around the block a few times. It seems that most of the bands our age that do well are bands that had a following in the old days. A following that they built up in the 60s and 70s and they are still attracting that crowd or younger people that are interested in going to see things like that. That was kind of what Hot Tuna was really.
*MS Yes, but you are still linked into that Hot Tuna thing? *
PS Yes, exactly. It was like when I played with Steve Kimock, people of all ages were there.
*MS What is the status with Hot Tuna, are you still in the fold? *
PS I think probably in a year or two there will be a full band gig. The band still has a strong presence on their website. They (Jorma and Jack) are out there doing the duo thing and doing well. Jorma and I still communicate by e-mail. We are on very good terms. He is just busy doing what he is doing and Im busy doing what I am doing. The last thing I did with Jorma was a show at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley last summer. It was Jorma on acoustic guitar, G.E. Smith on dobro. I played acoustic accordion. That was a really fun gig. I have a feeling that Ill be doing something with Jorma and Michael again as the Jorma Kaukonen Trio at some point.
MS The Too Many Years album the trio did I think was the best album that Jorma has done in years.
PS We had a lot of fun doing that and Id like to do more of that. But Jorma is doing a different project now with Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas. Thats really going to be something. It should be really good. But I think there will be more electric Hot Tuna eventually but Jorma is concentrating on his own efforts and he spends a lot of time on the Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp.
*MS Of all the bands and artists that you have played with is there anyone that really stands out? *
PS The best years with Jefferson Starship were in the 70s. People often think the 80s were a good period because of the radio hits like We Built this City on Rock and Roll and all that crap. The time was Dragonfly and Spitfire. Spitfire was our biggest selling album. That was a good time.
*MS The sad part about the Starship was that they never really recorded a live album during their peak? *
PS I wish we had. I dont know why we didnt. We did some recording later, but it wasnt as good. In the 70s there was no pretense. It was kind of a hippie rock band but it got more contrived and commercial in the end. My fondest memories are back in the Sons of Fred a band I had in 1965 when I was a young guy touring all over Britain and Europe playing six or seven nights a week sleeping in the back of a van. We really learned the trade the hard way. We did some radio shows and Ready Steady Go (A British TV rock show). We recorded in the same studio that the Beatles did but we didnt sell anywhere near as many records!
*MS Didnt you jam with Hendrix in one of the bands? *
PS Yes. After the Sons of Fred and I was in Fleur De Lys. Then we connected again with a guitar player Mick Hutchinson who gave up the music business in 69 or 70. It was the beginning of the psychedelic thing in London. It had just started up. It hadnt hit the press yet. There was this club called the UFO club on Tottenham Court Road in London. Then Mick and I hooked up with a tabla player from India called Sam Gopal and we had a three-piece band. Mick played ragas on the guitar and Sam played the tablas. We never recorded as the original band, but after we broke up Sam got another band. We did a few gigs. Hendrix was seen filming us a couple of times from the audience with his little home camera. Then one day we were playing the Speakeasy and he gets up on stage and starts playing with us which was really great. I looked up from my B3 and there he is playing. Its really annoying because there was a reel-to-reel running in the bar and nobody knows what happened to it. Ive spent time trying to track it down to no avail.
When I was in Fleur De Lys playing piano we were in the studio and Mike Jeffries and Chas Chandler, who managed Hendrix, they were recording our band. Hendrix played rhythm guitar on a song, but this was before the Experience. Again, that didnt come out but there was a test pressing a 45 and I dont know what happened to that either.
I did enjoy my tour with Long John Baldry, the first tour of the States. We had some great times and he is a really good blues singer and entertainer. He had a really good band. Mickey Waller on drums, Sammy Mitchell on guitar.but anyway that was a good band and Sam Gopals Dream is the one that sticks out the most. I enjoyed Copperhead . I really enjoyed playing with John Cipollina, although I think sometimes the material wasnt as good as it could have been. But when Copperhead hit a high-note they were high. John was really cranking it up on guitar. I used to do a bass solo and carried on doing it in the Starship for years until the 80s when they decided it was taking up too much time.
I didnt tour with Rod Stewart but I really enjoyed the recording sessions I did. I did all four of his first English albums. I also enjoyed playing with Nick Gravenites. Towards the end of Starship I played with Nick for sanity. He kept me sane. Of course, one of the great highlights for me was playing with John Lee Hooker. Not only having him record on my record—-I couldnt believe it was happeningbecause I used to listen to him when I was 15 years old and there he is. The third to the last gig that he ever did on an Indian reservation up in Northern California, I got to play with him because Liz, his regular keyboard player couldnt make it. I was really fortunate to have a chance to play a full set with John. He had a lot of music left in him. He was in his 80s. He lived his life his own way.
MS Is there anyone that you would really like to play with?
PS The Rolling Stones
*MS Shoot high. *
P.S. Ive always had a thing about the Stones. Ive played with Ron Wood. I have always admired their music. I always thought they were one of the great rock bands. I need to get out there and listen to more of whats going on and listen to some more of the jam bands. I had a great time playing with Leftover Salmon.
You can get more information about Pete Sears and the Dawn Patrol at his website, And if you havent already picked up the Long Haul album, it is well worth investing in and should be readily available at all your favorite local outlets on 33rd Street Records.