Pat McGee’s Rise from Campus Buzz to Nationwide Acclaim
“When the lightbulb went off that I could write my own music, I booked a studio around my college during winter break. I hadn’t written any of the songs.”
The year was 1995, and Pat McGee was stumbling into the music business. At first, he was in over his head, but his addiction to touring and performing would eventually lead him into a lifetime career. He liked AC/DC and Led Zeppelin but sounded more like Jackson Brown.
“I can remember sending a couple of song ideas to a producer. I didn’t even know who a producer was. I thought he was the guy who pushed the record button in the studio.”
Pat had 1000 copies of that first record pressed. “I’m looking at the boxes and thinking, ‘How am I gonna get rid of these CDs? This college town has 3000 people in it. Is everyone in school gonna buy my CD? This is ridiculous.’ So, what I did was instead of going to class, I walked around and put signup sheets at every elevator button in the entire campus saying, ‘If you’d like to buy the CD, put your name here and your room number.’ I filled this giant backpack up with CDs, and all thousand CDs were gone by the weekend.”
Four years later, Pat had a Richmond-based band that played mostly acoustic instruments. They were popular enough to sell out a 700-seat venue without any airplay or record label support. “We ended up selling 100,000 CDs before we signed with Warner Brothers in ’99. One thousand CDs would be a dream come true now. We sold about 30,000 right before we went to Warner Brothers.
“We signed with Warner Brothers and put out the Shine album (their most popular release). We went out to San Francisco and did a record with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and sold 270,000 copies. That was considered a flop. Now, that would be considered the greatest thing ever. So, they were thinking this band is gonna sell millions of records. They’re gonna follow in the steps of Dave Matthews as far as radio airplay goes. If anything, there was definitely some promotion that came from Warner Brothers.
“We were with them for four years. We had two albums, but it’s the standard story of you get signed by one president.
You can fill in the blanks. Twenty years, two wives, four kids, a dozen albums and tens of thousands of college dates later, Pat McGee and the latest iteration of his band are playing The Linda on a brief tour of the northeast.
“To be honest, I’m grateful I get to do this for a living. As a singer/songwriter, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do is play music. If I can sell some records, great, but I just want to tour and share what we bring to the table.
“I think it’s unique to think it’s the fan base that comes out to the shows. It’s kind of rare to have bands from the ’90s still are out there doing it. (Our fans) are not out there to hear one song or that one record. They’re connected. They seem to have taken on the whole catalog, or at least half of it. Our 12th album is about to come out. The last one I was able to enlist Session, which is basically the guys that recorded all of the catalog of Jackson Browne and Carol King.”
Pat McGee’s biggest thrill after 23-plus years in? Playing for President Clinton: “We played a gig in the parking lot outside of the Kennedy Center in the ’90s. It was one of the worst gigs we ever did. It was next to a dumpster, hot as hell. No one was listening. But we love playing music together, and we put our best foot forward.
“Fast forward four years later, I get a call from the Chief of Staff, John Tedeska, who hunts us down during Clinton’s last months in office. He says, ‘We’re throwing a party for the White House staff at the 930 Club in DC.’ That’s a venue we used to play. ‘We’re gonna rent it out. We got 100 people coming to this little party.’
“He didn’t say the President was coming. He just said, ‘You’re gonna play for the staff.’ Ok. Fine! We’ll do it. ‘There’s an outside chance he’ll show up, but probably not.’
“I said okay.
“So, we’re playing our gig at the 930 Club and entertaining these young staffers. Then, the Secret Service walks in with their trench coats. Tedeska signals me to come over to the edge of the stage and says, ‘You gotta announce the President of the United States.’
“I said, ‘What do I say?’ ‘Tell them he’s the President of the United States. Just say that.’ So, I get to the mic, I say that, and up walks Hillary and Bill. They just walk up as if we’re old friends.
“I’ve never met a single human being that makes you feel like you’ve known each other for your entire life in about 30 seconds. I don’t remember specifically what he said, but the way that man carried himself, he came up on stage and just started chatting with me off to the side. It was just this incredible interaction I had with the President of the United States.
“He’s holding my CD, and they’re talking about giving him props or whatever. Eventually, I got a handwritten letter from the White House that my mailman in Rhode Island gave me: ‘This is from 69 Pennsylvania Ave., man. You’re getting letters from the White House? What is this?’
“It was a thank you note from Clinton’s Chief of Staff. It said, ‘Remember that gig at the Kennedy Cetner parking lot? I was standing there. You guys were great. I wrote it down on the notepad. You guys are the hottest band. One of these days….’ It took a long time, but he kept that promise to himself and said, ‘I’m calling that band.’”
The Pat McGee Band plays the Linda WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio at 339 Central Avenue in Albany on Sunday night at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and $35.