Patrick's Louisville music memories
This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
From a musical standpoint, Louisville is a do-it-yourself place. You want, you make. It has always been so liberating to live in a place virtually free from a cultural pull. We aren’t Northerners, aren’t Southerners. We’re west of East, east of West. We are Louisville, and we define what that means.
Many of my first memories are steeped in music, and I owe a great deal of that to my grandmother, Joni Brohm. During the first years of my life, she was a singer in a lounge quartet, and I would hang out in her basement as she and her band ran through the week’s set list. The feeling I got from watching them perform was so profound, so invigorating. I knew I was one of them. That basement would later become the best hangout in the world for my brothers and me (sorry, Kacey, 10 years apart means a lot in kid years). She had stacks of 45s, a record player, my first drum kit, a guitar, stage lights - the whole nine yards. By dropping the needle, we were instantly transformed into Queen, Dolly Parton’s band, the Temptations or whoever else we wanted to be that day. It would go on for hours and hours. I’ll never forget hearing the words “I buried Paul” on the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” in that basement, in the dark, and running up the stairs in total horror.
Bruce Morrow, the drummer of my grandmother’s lounge quartet, is still a huge inspiration to me. What a musician! After the quartet broke up, he would sit in with a ragtime band that would play at Redbirds games. I’ll never forget watching him drag metal trashcans up to his kit to incorporate them into his sound. I haven’t seen him play in years, but Bruce Morrow has more fun playing than anyone you’ll ever meet. His kindness gave me the confidence to start playing. But more than anything, he was the guy who handed me my first pair of drumsticks. I’m not sure he knew what he was doing at the time, but my life hasn’t been the same since.
I had always wanted to play drums as a kid, but my dad wanted me to play guitar. For my fifth birthday, wrapped in bright paper, was an acoustic guitar in a case. That might have been the coolest gift ever, just the feeling of seeing it for the first time. I was spellbound. He quickly enrolled me in lessons at Myers Middle School, but it was a class of 25 people, so I lost interest pretty quickly. But the fundamentals stuck with me, and to this day, the guitar is my guiding voice. When I play drums, I don’t see rhythm structures. I play to guitar melodies in my head.
The guitar and drum portions of my childhood are intertwined. I taught myself how to play drums between the ages of three and seven. Sitting on the side of my bed, using those first drumsticks, I would coordinate my right arm (hi-hat) and my left arm (snare drum) to whatever I was listening to at the time (the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Wild Cherry, Chicago, Billy Joel, Sam & Dave or whatever else my parents had around). Eventually I worked in my right leg (bass drum) and left leg (hi-hat) until I was fully playing along. By the time I actually sat down to a real drum kit, I could already play.
In the summer between third and fourth grade, I met Jim at center court of the gymnasium at St. Martha Catholic School. He had just moved back from Atlanta, and our parents had enrolled both of us in this summer “vacation” church-school session. I think he hated it as much as I did, and we found a mutual joy in changing hymnal lyrics to something more befitting of the moment. (I won’t go into what we said, but we were crying with laughter.) A day later, I saw Jim and his sisters walking around the block by my house, found out that we lived right down the street from each other, found out we had the same birthday. The rest was pretty easy.
The first time I met Tom was after he had joined My Morning Jacket, sometime between 1998 and 1999. I was living with Jim and the first drummer, J. Glenn. (Side note: Jim and J. Glenn were consummate thieves of the Robin Hood nature. At the time they had no money, so they would “borrow” things from superstores and better their lives and the lives of those around them. If you listen to “X-mas Curtain,” it tells the tale.) So anyway, I heard knocking on the front door, opened it, and in walked Tom and one of the kindest smiles I’ve ever known. Without knowing him, I immediately liked him. We connected on all things musical and pieced together a wonderful friendship.
I just crossed over the decade mark with the band, so I’ve been thinking about my first shows quite a bit. My first live experience with My Morning Jacket was three shows in 24 hours. We played Lynagh’s in Lexington (opening for NRBQ) on Friday night, drove back to Louisville for some sleep, headed out the next morning for the Nashville River Stages Festival, and back to Louisville to play Headliners that night with VHS or Beta. I had so much fun I couldn’t see straight. The feeling of adventure was so intense.
Fast-forward ten years to a headlining set at Forecastle, and the levels of excitement and adventure are still immense. The venue sizes have changed, and we are forever thankful for that, but the feelings that drove us at the beginning of our career are the same feelings that drive us today.
Photo: courtesy of Mickie Winters