Guitar wizz Pat’s a musical chameleon, discovers Nick Dalton
It’s not all that usual, to be honest, to find a country sideman (certainly a successful one) who’d claim that XTC were his favourite band. But then Pat Buchanan is far from your usual country guitar player.
A tousle-haired, cheeky rock’n’roller, Pat Buchanan grew up with '70s power pop and only later drifted into the Nashville world that keeps him so busy. Even now, his own band, the Idle Jets, have a distinctly boisterous, harmony-laden delight of an album out, Atomic Fireball, even as Buchanan, for the day job, pops into the studio with Billy Ray Cyrus to bring some credibility to his coming album.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people who give him a call to help out. ‘It’s like a laundry list’, he says with an enthusiastic but modest laugh. There’s so much great music going on in Nashville, and I’m happy to make my living playing on country records, but then I play on Marshall Crenshaw’s new record, and I play with a group called Swandive, all elegant and posh and Burt Bacharach, and I do all these different things. It’s a place you can do everything you’re capable of doing and not have the whistle blown on you.
‘I love being able to play the guitar for a living, so I’m proud to do sessions’, he says. ‘But there are two me’s. There’s the Idle Jets me which represents everything I’ve listened to and absorbed until now, from the British invasion on through. Then there’s the session guy me. I’m really proud how I’ve gotten known in Nashville, it has a very communal quality, you have a great laugh and yet get a lot of work done. I’ll always love going to work.'
Buchanan grew up in north Florida, son of a singing mother and jazz bass player father, with a drummer for a brother. He joined a band which moved to Atlanta, the nearest big lights. Jingle work – and studio experience – followed to pay the bills. That led to a stint playing with disco types Cameo (touring Britain in 1984-85). And that led to an album and tour with Hall and Oates, and then Cyndi Lauper. ‘I went to Japan with Cyndi many, many times’, he says. ‘The procedure always was do the album, then tour it. But I had a friend in Nashville who kept telling me I ought to get down there. Then one day, about 1993, the jingles are drying up and I’m faced with an audition for Jellyfish or someone, Michael Bolton probably, you took what you could get.’
That was how he found himself sleeping on a Nashville couch, watching bouffant-haired sessioneer John Jorgensen (everyone from the Desert Rose Band to our own good queen Elton) recording Pam Tillis’s second album.
‘Everyone knew who I was’, he says. ‘They’re all music fans, they pay attention. And then I just started climbing the ladder, playing a lot of demos. So, fast forward to now… I’ve got the Dixie Chicks under my belt, they’re great.’ And seemingly very band minded, so he’s likely to be working with them again. Me and John are great friends now, like two peas in a pod, we’ve both just been singing and playing on a Gene Clark tribute album.
‘I did Kim Richey’s first album, Rodney Crowell, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, one song with Mary Chapin Carpenter. Which was fun, we spent the whole time talking about XTC, the Pretenders. Nashville has got to the point where a lot of the guys have a real rock influence.’
Other names crop up. ‘There’s Jim Lauderdale, Cheli Wright, this girl Alison Page on Capitol who’s only 15 but is set to be the new LeAnne Rimes. Only the other day, I played with Earl Scruggs and Billy Bob Thornton, I think it was an album Billy Bob is doing.’
In between all that, Buchanan is a stalwart of the growing live Nashville scene. ‘I play with the Idle Jets, with a great friend Bill Lloyd, who used to be in Foster And Lloyd, then Swandive, then a bunch of session guys who just get together for a laugh, and we play Free, Al Green, J Geils and just have a blast. I try to diversify, I’m such a chameleon I need to do more than one thing.
The Idle Jets record is currently bringing him new acclaim among his Music City peers, who seem more than content to let him be his own man on their own stuff.
‘When it comes to the album, my influences are right on my sleeve… Beatles and Cheap Trick and Crowded House and XTC and Squeeze, often in the same song. I’m honoured to be a guy who’s trying to breathe some new life into country, bring a new slant, get it back to a point where it’s a little bit more musically valid.'
Not surprisingly for someone whose idea of country is a little, how shall we say, left of centre, he slips over into the Austin scene too. He’s been recording with hip Texan Charlie Robison and plans songwriting with his equally-hip brother Bruce.
‘I also play in a band called Grooveyard with Reese Wynans, the keyboard player from Double Trouble – the signer’s John Cowan who used to be in Newgrass Revival – and just play covers.’
Just to avoid any dull moments, along with working on a new Idle Jets record, he’s also recording a solo album. ‘Very orchestral, very Scott Walker, XTC, early Rod Stewart. Wild Horses by the Stones meets Pink Floyd/Beatles. I steal from the best!’
Buchanan is shaping up to be the session guitar overlord of a new generation of Nashville recordings, yet he’s not ashamed to still be impressed by the simple things.
have Dan Penn turn up at a gig’, he says with a big smile.
‘Or you’re sitting at the lights and John Prine comes pulling up in a
Mercury. And we played Stevie Winwood’s 50th
That’s what music is all about.
Atomic Fireball by the Idle Jets is out on When! Records.
Pat Buchanan’s Satisfied Customers:
Kim Richey, Rodney Crowell, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jim Lauderdale, Alison Page, Earl Scruggs, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Ray Cyrus, Cyndi Lauper, Burt Bacharach.