Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pat & Barbara revisited

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

Well, I need to backtrack.
In making sure I left out things I shouldn't say,
I left out a number of things I should.

So, about this duo, Pat & Barbara...
Nobody had ever seen anything like it, certainly not in Kentucky, where they got their start, playing supper clubs and hotel lounges with Preston Weber.

Their natural magnetism, quick wit, and excellent, rich, distinctive voices were accompanied by the hardest-working guitarist and performer I ever saw.
And they did a show.  Just listening, oddly enough, to records of Bud & Travis,
The Limeliters, and (reverb) The Kingston Trio, they had learned a lot.
 (Oddly familiar group of names.)  And they stole only the best.

Actual talent hits hardest in the intimate venue, and their following was growing and intense.  Folks who could afford to be out and about frequently become "regulars" and a social scene starts to develop.  Remember, this is back in the olden times of much more direct contact with everyone, audiences in particular, and to fans it was personal.

Some sorta-jet-setters from At-lay-uhn-uh latched onto them, took them partying in Florida, and, suddenly, everybody was in show bidnez!

In those days, it was common for a really professional, polished act to have a deal as the house group for a certain venue.  To have one designed and built for them, and named after them is not as common.  Truth is, they deserved it.

Pat Horine's father had been in Vaudeville.  Pat only wanted two things: to make his father proud, and to be in the Kingston Trio.  He accomplished both before his outrageously early demise in 2004.

He played with heavy gauge steel strings and a heavy pick.  He could play pretty clean, but he played hard even when he played melodically or slow chords.  He just backed up.  When you looked down the neck of his axe, you could see actual little kinks in the strings right in line with the strum wear around the sound hole!  By the end of a show, you could watch the sweat drip from his reddened face and splash off the top of the guitar, sometimes right in tempo!

He had a smoky, probably actually damaged, voice he controlled very well that was romantic in a solo and easy to blend in a duo, and made him a natural choice for The New Kingston Trio later.  But it was all very strenuous, largely because, in his mind's-eye view of Dad's level of performance, it couldn't ever be big enough, dramatic enough.

He could play anything, learn his part fast, and deliver it well timed, and he was clearly having a ball doing it.  They both were.

Barbara King grew up expecting to be a comedic and musical star.
She had a quick, often blunt, flat-out approach to comedy that took over a small room.  She'd drop one on 'em, bat huge false eyelashes, and then, that laugh.
Called it "the Red Skelton school of comedy."
"Hey," she said, "it works for Phyllis Diller!"
(Again, oddly, Travis always claimed to have started out writing comedy for Ms. Diller.)
She had natural timing and was a born actress

Her voice was mostly deep and throaty, but she could (and did)
sit in front of a piano played well and do justice to Sarah Vaughan or Fanny Brice all night, with at least part of any song you might request sung right back to you.  She wanted to be, and should have been, backed by a band doing her own show.

But, she loved the music and the success and was always willing to go with what works, so she was "Barbara" of "Pat & Barbara," and, in my opinion, like Travis, two-thirds of a duo.

There were hilarious times, moving times, glorious times of genuine creativity and performing artistry. We met Skitch Henderson, Ray Bolger and Marilyn Maye all at one gig in Savannah. We all ate and breathed and slept The Show.
We laughed, we cried. 

Ask anyone from "back in (any given) day" and we all know:
Opportunity of a certain kind knocks once.
Another tale of investors not understanding the product in which they invested,
and killing the goose that laid those never-to-be-seen-again treasures.

By the time the act collapsed, they had been booked for the Dick Cavett show and booked their first actual tour, both cancelled by the act.  Officially dead.

Just before the end, though, there was a wonderful experience when I got to go with the act for a gig at a big club in New York City, booked by their big-time GAC agent in Atlanta, Monk Arnold.  It was at "Shepherd's" in the Drake Hotel in Manhattan!

We didn't know the club had been closed two weeks after having been a sort of luxury disco for years.  A little ad was running somewhere, that was it.  No radio interview, no TV exposure--nada.

The first two nights were, put kindly, lonesome.  Pat & Barbara had never played for two or three couples who just wanted to eat.  (I have.)

Morning of the third day of the two-week run, a couple of bulky gents with accents out of a movie came to the dressing rooms in the afternoon and said they were going to get us a record player and some records so we could start doing some music the people would like, you know, like the Beatles and such.

I thanked them for their concern, but said this is a folk and comedy act, not a lounge band.  If someone thinks this act is not right for this room, they need to talk to our agent at GAC.

We laughed, once they had gone, but, quietly, because they seemed very serious and pretty disappointed.

Ahhh, show business.
Like golf, if you don't take it seriously, you're no good at it,
and if you do, it breaks your heart.

Next week:  Movin' on
Now, a "video"--a still of the album cover, accompanied by the only recording of The New KT (with Pat) that I could find.  You'll agree, I think, this configuration sounded most like the original.


  1. I'm so disappointed that there isn't any Pat&Barbara floating around youtube. I would love to hear some of their act!

    With the resurgence of vaudville, sideshow and burlesque, I'm DESPERATE for dinner theatre to come back. I think it would have to start in a place like Eugene...

  2. There are still some dinner theatres around, some featuring road shows and some summer stock. Tom Smothers once commented that what was succeeding for them was not folk music, but vaudeville.
    Pat & Barbara made one album, when they were first starting out and Barbara had an infected throat. No one was very happy with the results; so I guess no one ever uploaded it. (You can hear a smidgen of Pat on the song linked above.)

  3. Well, actually I think I was the only one who wasn't very happy with the way that first album turned out.( "There is a Time") Pat and I had only been together 4 months when we started recording. I didn't have a sore throat the WHOLE time, but you can hear it on Summertime when I had to pitch the song way lower than my usual range and so I don't like it. But many people are crazy about this album, mostly because it reminds them of "being there". So I recently found a friend kind enough to transfer the vinyl onto CD so I have that now. My favorite is "Comin' of the Roads" which was a Pat solo. We were just so raw at that time and just two years later were so MUCH better that we just felt like the album didn't represent us very well. I have some live recordings of our 1984 reunion shows and a short demo-type album we made in 1985...on cassette tape...gotta figure out how to make a CD from it.