Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Fort Worth keyboardist makes a name on late-night TV, playing with Ben Harper and Ringo Starr
And just like we'd hoped, Ringo shared a great anecdote about John Lennon.
FORT WORTH Fort Worth native Justin Pate has luck on his side. Recently, the 31-year-old keyboardist got to perform with Ringo Starr and with Ben Harper – and on national television, no less.
Pate got by with a little help from his friends: a tight knit group of Fort Worth musicians hell-bent on sharing the musical wealth.
It all started when Pate started playing keys for folk-rock darlings The Orbans about a year-and-a-half ago. The Orbans performed at SXSW in 2009 and met up with mutual friend Jordan Richardson, native Fort Worthian and drummer for Ben Harper and Relentless 7. Richardson was in search of a keyboardist to play with icons like Eddie Vedder, Sheryl Crow, and Starr for a benefit concert. Next thing you know, Richardson remembered Pate’s key-jingling skills, and flew him to LA two days later for rehearsal. The rest is proverbial history.
But to get a closer look into how this all happened, the story goes back further, when Pate tried his hand at piano about 12 years ago, performing rag-tag improv musical comedy acts with his theater roommates. Because of his improv shows, Pate scored gigs with local bands that included Darth Vato, Pablo and the Hemphill 7, and Horses (Richardson’s pet project with best friend Cliff Wright). When Richardson moved to LA, Pate and Wright joined The Orbans.
But soon after, Richardson found an opportunity to ask Pate – friend and former bandmate – to join him in the big leagues. “We always talked about it, you know, if one of us makes it then we’ll take the others with us,” Pate says. “And it feels really good that it’s that way. He’s a really good friend and a loyal guy.”
It’s hard not to recognize the sheer proof of networking strategy among these local artists. It isn't just one musician helping another; it's a safety net and a camaraderie that’s hard to find in other industries. And perhaps Pate's success has much to do with his surroundings. Wright, Pate’s bandmate in The Orbans and close friend of Richardson, says it may lie in their hometown, Fort Worth. “The Fort Worth scene is more close knit and tied into each other,” Wright says. “We actually care about one another. Dallas seems very disconnected…”
Chris Maunder, owner of live venue staple The Moon Bar, touts the city as more than buildings and stockyards. It's an artistic community, he says. “In Fort Worth, bands share,” Maunder says. “They constantly share ... Fort Worth is a big city, but it’s got that small town family neighborhood feel. It’s not a competition; it’s just about growing in your art.”
So thanks to those connections, Pate has great memories of Ringo Starr. And what's the guy like? “Awesome,” Pate says. “He was really, really easy to get along with. You can tell that he’s a Beatle, and he always kind of gets his way … but he doesn’t take advantage of it.”
Pate first met Starr at Village Recording Studio in LA. That's the studio Fleetwood Mac built to record Rumours in.
“I was wearing this shirt with a big drawing of a lion with glasses on,” Pate remembered. “[Ringo] he turns around, looks at me, and says, ‘Wow! Look at that shirt. It looks like John [Lennon] as a lion.’ And he came over and put his hand just over the eyes … He was about this tall to me,” Pate says as Starr gestured his hand to about shoulder level.
In the past 11 months, Pate's performances include those with Starr and also with Ben Harper and Relentless 7. His resume includes appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Ellen, and The Jay Leno Show.
For now, Pate’s stint as keyboardist for the stars has slowed. And while he says he’s anxious for another call to play with Starr, he has a renewed faith in his abilities. “I’ve got a lot more confidence that I can do it now. It’s a lot better now that I have something to show for it, rather than a year ago at this point,” he says.
Pate’s also toiling away at home on local projects. He's excited about The Orbans’ new record, which is due for release in May.