People Listen to Pat Webb
by Bill Weaver
photo by Terry Ethington
If Pat Webb’s life could be summed up in a song it would be the Hank Snow classic I’ve Been Everywhere.
“I’ve lived in about 25 different towns,” he says as we sit in a private corner of the Brown County Public Library. “About 75 different abodes, I can’t remember them all. Of course back in the sixties I was in a folk music scene and we had to travel a lot. As a matter of fact, that’s where I met John Sebastian. I was in Greenwich Village, a place called the Gaslight. He was a teenager wearing this belt of harmonicas and wanted to play a tune. So I got him up there. Everybody loved him and a year or two later he had his own gig. This was probably ’62, maybe. A long time ago.”
Pat grew up on a farm in Missouri near “a little flat spot called Kickapoo Prairie. I came from a family that had classical and folk music right in the house. My grandmother was a cultural mover and shaker. We lived in the country but we had people come in from different places, people that recorded for the Library of Congress.
“When I was about 14 I used to hang out in the black district of Springfield, Missouri. A black friend of mine had a shoe shop and he played guitar in a gospel quartet. This guy came in, I don’t know who he was but he was really good, and I heard my first blues guitar. It woke me up to that style.”
While Pat was in Marine Corps he developed an interest in Bluegrass music. “I’ve done a lot of things—steeplejack, construction work, driver—but I always managed to keep playing.”
Pat was the first practitioner of the experimental style known as high energy guitar. “I’m the one that started that form back in the very late Forties. John Fahey is probably the best known example. I pre-dated a whole lot of that stuff by 10 or 15 years at least. I don’t say they all learned it from me, it’s just something whose time had come and I did it first.”
Webb has known and worked with many artists over the years including recording a well regarded album with Yank Rachell and Allen Stratyner. “Lightning Hopkins, the old blues singer and me were friends, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, I’ve actually been on stage with them. I sat in with Bill Monroe. Mississippi John Hurt. I knew a bunch of them—Judy Collins, Odetta, all those people. Merle Travis was very nice to me. Phil Ochs. Jackie Washington, a Puerto Rican American, a real good folk singer. John Winn, he was tenor and a classic guitarist. I didn’t know Joan Baez but my wife knew her. Joan used to sit in when she worked up in Boston.”
Pat’s late wife, Charlotte Daniels, was also a folk singer and in 1960 they recorded Charlotte Daniels and Pat Webb on Prestige International records, an album still sought after by collectors. Charlotte and Pat’s son Christopher was born in 1970 while his parents were living in Nashville, Tennessee. “We were there, probably a little more than a year. We played in motels. I got a call to go play for a 4-H gathering in Delaware. It was a pretty decent money so I said to the bar’s manager, ‘Would you take my wife for those couple of days. She’s a better bar room singer than I am.’” As an afterthought Pat added, “‘She’s a little pregnant.’ They said, ‘We don’t care, we’ll take her.’ So Chris was on stage three weeks before he was born. We might have known that he’d wind up in the business.”
Today Christopher has his own band, Christopher Webb and the Beaten Poets. “We’ve been doing some things together. We toured a little bit last year, a short tour but still a lot of fun. He helped produce the last CD and he’s on a three or four of the cuts on the new CD. He understands the music, my music and his. So that’s real nice.”
After Christopher was born Pat and Charlotte settled permanently in Indianapolis. “I still went out but it was limited. I’d go to the East Coast about three times a year, mostly up around Albany, Schenectady—play those colleges.”
Pat continues singing and playing guitar, but at a somewhat slower pace. “I’ve got half of a little recording operation in Indianapolis, New Frontier Studios, with Al Stone. We do a little voice work, narration, film backgrounds for documentaries.” They also produce albums for artists like gospel singer Cindy Scattergood, Irish tenor Patrick Grant, and Brown County musician Artie Cornett.
“I like to work a couple of days on the weekend and be up in the studio one day a week. The rest of the time I’ll be writing, out in the yard, stuff like that. I still practice most every day.”
Recently his studio produced a CD of Von Williamson’s writing. Williamson, a well known Brown County storyteller, recently passed away. “It’s some of his very best material. He got to hear it about a month and a half before he died. I was gratified to do that. That CD will be around for a long time.”
Webb’s new CD, Kickapoo Long Grass, will present the variety of music he has played throughout the years. Old friend John Sebastian will be featured on three songs as well as the blues harp of Allen Stratyner and the guitar of Christopher Webb.
“A lot of people call it blues but that’s just one of the things I do. The main thing is that we get to play the stuff we want, the way we want.”
Pat has lived in Brown County for about 2½ years. “I really like it. It’s a lot like back in the Ozarks—the same kind of hills and trees. There is a lot of interest here in a variety of music, and a lot of very good musicians. It’s gratifying to work at the Harvest Moon, or the Story Inn, or the Fig Tree in Helmsburg. You meet people, people listen, and it’s just a good time. You feel good after you’re through.”
There will be a CD release party for Kickapoo Long Grass on the 20th of July at the Fig Tree Gallery & Coffee Shop in Helmsburg from 7–10. Pat will also join Christopher there on the 25th. The two will play together at the Harvest Moon Pizzeria in Nashville on July 6th and July 12th.
August appearances include: Harvest Moon again on the 10th and 24th; Meridian Music in Indianapolis on the 17th (with Chris and Allen Stratyner); the Story Inn on the 3rd and 25th; and the West End in Columbus on the 31st.