As it turns out, Pat Liston has got fans all over . . . including Los Angeles. Liston is a singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who is perhaps best known as a founding member of the band Mama’s Pride. (If you don’t know Mama’s Pride then you need to catch up with your rockin’ reviewer’s writing!) Liston was the main songwriter, lead singer and keyboardist/slide guitarist for the band.
Liston and Mama’s Pride put out a pair of platters in the 1970s: the eponymously-titled Mama’s Pride in 1975 and Uptown & Lowdown which featured guest artist Timothy B. Schmidt (of The Eagles) in 1976. The records were produced by Grammy winner Arif Mardin and Jim Mason (Firefall, Poco). The band would soon hit an impasse due in part to their being mislabeled as a “Southern Rock” band.
Liston said: “We played a lot with the Charlie Daniels Band Charlie, upon hearing some of our material, said to me, ‘Pat, you know you’re not really a southern rock band?’ I agreed . . . but, literally everyone was pushing us there . . . so get out the hats and boots.” The death of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zandt would affect the future of the band as well and they would eventually disband in 1982.
Liston continues: “Ronnie VanZandt did indeed want to produce us. He (was), oddly, appalled at the term ‘southern rock’ . . . no one in Lynyrd Skynyrd was allowed to wear cowboy hats or boots. He spoke at length with me after a date we did with them. He said he saw us in a completely different light and wanted to go in that direction. Obviously, that was not to be.”
Almost a decade later they would have a change of heart and reunite. Mama’s Pride would finally release their third album, Guard Your Heart, in 1992. It was produced by Grammy winner, Jim Gaines (The Steve Miller Band, Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan). Mama’s Pride’s music maintained its popularity into the new millennium.
2003 witnessed the release of Liston’s debut solo CD Blue Mist. The album includes eleven songs in a genre that some have labeled Irish-American folk rock. Liston has a new backing band including: Mama’s Pride’s Dickie Steltenpohl (bass and vocals) Acousticity’s Scott Nienhaus (guitar and vocals) and Don “In the Pocket” Drewett (drums).
All the material here is written and produced by Liston. The lead-in is “Almost Like Being in Love”. This is a good song that features Dan Maloney on slide guitar and is vaguely reminiscent of material by George Harrison and The Traveling Wilburys. This one earns “Critic’s Choice”.
The second selection is “Guess We’ll Never Know”. This is the first example of the Irish influence. The accordion work by Bill Murphy and Tim Britton’s Uillean Pipes make this is a standout.
Liston takes us from the “a bridge in Dublin” in the prior piece to Memphis in “Blue Bandana”. It includes Bob Breidenbach on dobro. The addition of Keith Hempen’s congas and other percussion makes this lonely song sound almost a bit Jimmy Buffett-like. Then again, Liston obviously does his best to not be pigeon-holed so perhaps this should not be so surprising.
“Cowboy Clothes” is the next number. Considering the whole “southern rock” issue faced by Liston early in his career, this one is a bit unexpected. On the other hand, perhaps it’s extremely appropriate that Liston write a song about lost love that includes putting the cowboy hat and boots away.
“It’s Alright” and “Spellbound” are both further examples of Liston’s talents. The latter includes noteworthy violin work by Michelle Defabio and Steve Raddick on the congas. The title track, “Blue Mist”, follows. This is perhaps one of the best tracks on the album. It’s an ambitious production with not only the return of violinist Defabio but the addition of even more strings in the form of Julie Leonhardt on violin, JoEllen Lyons on cello and Don Black on the viola.
“Look Away” is another obvious example of the Irish influence on the album. This material just seems like such a departure from some of his earlier work with Mama’s Pride. It even features a significant message in the lyrics.
“Strange Addiction” follows closely behind with a message about a “strange addiction” that people didn’t have to deal with years ago. It’s humorous and yet contains a lot of truth. (Excuse your rockin’ writer while he steps away from writing this article on Word to check Facebook, MySpace, chat with women he’ll probably never really meet in the real world, checks for flirts, tweets and plays Café World.) Yeah, it really is “a stra-a-ange addiction” indeed.
“Peter Pan Window” is a pretty little lullaby-like tune. It’s the kind of song everyone would write for their children if they had any talent. The closing cut is “(Now that I have) Passed The Torch Along”. Here Liston recruits Michael “Piper” Cooney to play the Uilleann Pipes on yet another Irish-influenced track that would once serve well as a potential message to pubescent progeny: “Oh did you listen to the words I said?/Did you hear me when I spoke of right and wrong?”
2006 witnessed another brief reunion of Mama’s Pride for the release of their live, 19-track, double-disc titled A ‘Live’ and Well. Liston (and Mama’s Pride) has toured with such other artists as Ringo Starr, the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker, Bob Seger, Heart, Kansas, Alice Cooper, The Outlaws, Todd Rundgren, Joe Walsh, Reo Speedwagon, Stephen Stills and Loggins & Messina. (The band continues to perform an annual sold out concert at the Pageant Concert Night Club in St. Louis.)
In 2007 Liston was named “Best Male Vocalist 2007” by the Riverfront Times and before the close of the following year (2008) Liston released his sophomore solo CD titled Dreamer. Liston uses the same backing band including: Steltenpohl (bass and vocals) Nienhaus (guitar and vocals) and Drewett (drums).
The disc includes a dozen of Liston’s original songs. The opening cut is “Bad Risk”. This one is just Liston handling all vocals, guitar and Garritan Personal Orchestra –leaving the drums to Drewett. Lyrically, Liston effortlessly uses words like “recanting” and “repartee”. If you haven’t figured out he isn’t a southern rocker before now you will know by the time this track is finished.
“Make Believe You’re My Girl Tonight” might just cause a lawsuit. Your crusty chronicler has been using this line on girls with problem boyfriends for years! But seriously, folks, this is one of the better tracks on the album and is highlighted by Karen Crawford’s backing vocals, Hempen’s various instruments of percussion Briedenbach’s dobro solo and Murphy’s accordion.
“Open My Eyes” is yet another noteworthy tune. Perhaps autobiographical the tune tells the tale of a man who realizes his limitations as a person and that life is not forever. “I’m not a bad man/but I know, also, that I’m not that good. /I live my life in poetry and melancholy rhyme/but I’m running out of time.” Raddick lends his talents on this album too by playing the congas and shaker here. What really makes this a stand-out song, however, is Jim Stevens alto sax work.
“Dreamer” is the title track. This features more of that Irish-American folk rock Liston is quickly making his signature sound. It features Tommy Martin on Uillean Pipes. It references the desire to become a recording star as well as the realities and limitations of the experience. You just can’t convincingly compose and perform a song such as this without having been through the industry grinder once or twice.
John Logan lends a hand on acoustic guitar on “Long Way From Neverland”. Perhaps writing tunes that somehow reference Peter Pan is going to become a trend on Liston’s projects in the same way that at one point Paul McCartney was writing songs his kids could understand.
“Easy to Love” is the next number. This is a heartfelt song that sounds as if it was inspired by someone special. “Simpler Time” is another example of a song that draws on his memories—in this case those of an old high school flame.
“Love Of Convenience” is a sad albeit realistic song. Liston plays guitar and organ on this song and John Mondin is brought in on guitar as well to fortify the piece. “Swan Hotel” follows here and is highlighted by Britton on Uilleann Pipes and Liston on Kurzwiel strings. Liston may have truly found his genre with Irish folk rock.
“My Daddy Knew the Cisco Kid” is reminiscent of a coffeehouse style song. It’s basic in its presentation with just Liston and his guitar singing of a childhood memory. Still, it works surprisingly well. “Double Edged Sword” is another poetic example of what Liston can do in this genre and includes martin on Uillean Pipes and Carolyn Bartley as the Hard Shoe Dancers. “Willow” concludes the disc. Again, Liston ends an album with a lullaby-like ballad. It’s a beautiful close to his latest work.
Liston is currently performing regularly both locally and abroad. He has two remaining dates this month on October 29th in St. Charles, MO and on October 30th in Edwardsville, IL. In November he has several live gigs including a charitable event on the 19th for food pantries at the PBC Photography & Creative Café at 7:00 pm at 128 West Central in Bethalto, IL.
Liston will also be making several live appearances in December including the Mama’s Pride “reunion” performance at The Pageant on December 3rd. Although truth to tell, if Liston keeps producing material like his more recent solo efforts Mama’s Pride might just become a footnote on his resume.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.