Brian Smith, onetime member of Gentlemen Afterdark and Beat Angels (and onetime New Times staff writer) reminisces about his late great bandmate, Kevin Pate.
My old band Gentlemen Afterdark once had a demo deal with A&M Records. We were very, very young, and living in L.A, and recording at A&M Studios with this guy Rob Jacobs producing. He'd recently engineered and mixed some huge multi-platinum albums, including U2's Rattle and Hum.
Now, we knew Kevin Pate was incredible, that his was a skill that couldn't be taught. We just figured Kev slid from the womb that way, cigarette dangling.
His musical intuition stunned us; he had that sense of when to pull back, when to sustain, when to push, when to flood.
We're in working on a song called "Holiday" and Kevin just strolls in and plays this elaborate but deceptively simple bassline, a classic Pate melody that had all this rock 'n' roll sexual stuff in it, that added musicality to the song without losing any punch. Wasn't just a bass part for a pop tune -- it was more than that.
He nailed it in one pass, which really wasn't surprising. He always did that. In fact, it was never his fault if a take had to be redone. Jacobs was this sort of hyper guy who at that point had already manned the console for some of the best rhythm sections around. He just shakes his head and turns to Robin Johnson and me and says, "This guy is the best player I have ever heard."
Cut to several years later, late 1995. Pate and I are in the Beat Angels, recording our debut album, laying down foundation tracks at this large studio in Phoenix. Guitarist Gilby Clarke's producing, and he'd just survived Guns 'n Roses' massive multi-year Use Your Illusion world tour, and Virgin had just released his Waddy Wachtel-produced debut solo album.
Guy knows his shit. Again Pate ambles in, trailed by smoke from the cigarette dangling in his mouth, this sort of slight, loose-limbed guy with a Keith Richards-y mien, and nails his bass parts in one pass. At one point, Clarke turns around and looks at us. Says, "Kevin is the best player I've ever heard."
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After completing his parts, Kevin steps into the control room and looks at us with genuine credulity, and says, "Aw, hey man, sound okay?"
We're like, "Dude, you're fucking McCartney on Abbey Road . . ."
Kevin nods once quickly, grins and, in his voice that's strangely both scratchy and calming, but with a peculiar twist on consonants due to a combination of his mother's thick Irish brogue and his mouthful of fucked-up teeth, says, "Aw, okay, man. I guess I'm headin' home."
So he turns and goes home. That was it.
Dude was simply doing his thing, effortlessly bestowing upon that collection of songs so much tension and feel and passion and fucking credibility.
Kevin had his demons, to be sure, and he famously did know how to have a great time. But one of the worst nights of my entire life was the night we threw him out of Beat Angels. Dope had him by the throat and there was nothing any of us could do. It was absolutely horrible.
One of the best nights of my entire life was when, a couple of years later, we invited a sober Kevin back into the band, in time to do lots of shows and start work on our third album -- which, sadly, was never released. It's too bad, because some of Kevin's best playing can be heard on a few of those songs.
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Kevin got sober and became a strolling wall of wisdom and sensitivity. Dude evolved, one of those guys who managed to come out on the other side a spiritual giant. I got sober, and Lord knows I learned a lot from watching him. He taught me a lot about trusting who you are because there are no other options when the chips are down.
Kevin had achieved this level of contentedness and peace that had nothing to do with his own rock 'n' roll cool, his innate ability to see through bullshit. No, this was much deeper, hard-won, rose from his bone marrow. I mean he was telling stories of near-death experiences and gut-wrenching despair, including nearly dying while kicking a gnarly heroin addiction in a Joe Arpaio jail -- a place not known for its empathy and human compassion -- malnourished, sick, and hallucinating. He'd tell of coming out of that and later really enjoying his prison stint.
There wasn't anything I could tell Kevin that he wouldn't understand, that he wouldn't get with empathy, that he wouldn't pick up the phone at 3 a.m. for. He was a big brother that way. Pate also taught me early on that bass really is one of the most difficult instruments to play. Showed me that great bass players never get their due, and that it's all about feel.
Kevin felt. That was his gift. He had gentlest soul of anyone I've known. I consider it a personal favor and privilege to be his friend.