There are a number of musicians who might not be household names, but have been instrumental (pun intended) to the music that we have known and loved over the years. A great example is Chris Pinnick, who from 1980-85 played guitar with Chicago, an era that included monster hits like "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," "You're the Inspiration," "Hard Habit to Break" and "Stay the Night."
And lest we think that Chicago went completely soft during that time period, check out this YouTube clip from 1984 with Pinnick on guitar.
Pinnick describes himself as semi-retired, but he still plays at times with the band Pockets, which is made up of other amazing musicians whose resumes include stints with America, Oingo Boingo, The Black Crowes, Rick Nelson and others.
Pockets and several other bands will be performing at the Santa Barbara County Frack Free Music Festival at the Paradise Store on Sunday, July 20, an event sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians/Yes on Measure P. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets, with an option that includes transportation. Whether or not fracking is your issue, this promises to be a fun and full day of music.
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Jeff Moehlis: Pockets really has quite a collection of talents. I'm wondering how do you guys all know each other?
Chris Pinnick: Well, I've known Eddie Tuduri, the drummer — who I'm sure you know — I've known him for probably over 30 years. We've played together for quite a long time. I've known Carl Graves for about as long. We're all coming from the San Fernando Valley and that music scene that was going on in the late '70s, '80s, thereabouts. Steve Nelson, the bass player, I have not known for that long, but maybe he came in when we started doing the benefits for TRAP. But basically we're all just old friends. We get together three or four times a year and do benefits [laughs]. So, it's kinda cool.
JM: Can you tell us a bit about the sort of music that Pockets plays?
CP: Well, I would say mostly older rhythm and blues, you know, because that's kind of our background. We all know those songs, songs from the '60s, but with a little different twist. We've got a lot of great players in the band, so we take the songs wherever we want to, but it's basically rhythm and blues. We don't do much rock; everything is kind of groove oriented.
JM: So, I do want to ask you a little bit about your time in Chicago, but first I want to ask about when you played with Herb Alpert. I know you were on his hit song "Rise." Can you tell me a bit about what it was like recording with him?
CP: Well, he was a really, really, really nice guy. Pretty much let everyone do what they wanted, and if he had an idea he would bring it up. But they were really laid-back sessions compared to some that I was doing back then that were very intense. He's just a really wonderful man.
The producers that were producing that record, and I believe Beyond, which is the next one, were friends of mine also from that same era. I would play with Andy Armer, who was one of the producers. We played in Venice, you know, and all those little clubs down there for 25 bucks [laughs]. But Herb Alpert is just a great guy. He was so easy. He spent a lot of time sleeping on the couch.
But he's very knowledgeable, and he's a really good trumpet player. I thought he just played those melody lines but he did some solos on Rise and Beyond that were pretty cool, so I gained more respect of his solo ability. Most people associate him with the Tijuana Brass.
JM: How did you get the gig playing with Chicago?
CP: I had started to do lots of sessions for different people and things like that, and I actually started working for Danny Seraphine, the drummer, for his projects, not necessarily Chicago. He was a producer also, and he had a band called Dakota that he worked with a while back. They're still together.
And Chicago didn't really have a guitar player for the 14th album. Most people call it the Thumbprint album. So they just hired me pretty much as a session guy, as a sideman, to play guitar and fill that spot, and that's basically how I got the gig. They just said, "Hey, you wanna come on the road with us?" and I said, "Why not?" So I spent the next five years touring with them. And that's not an experience everyone gets to do, so I was pretty lucky on that aspect [laughs].
JM: Yeah, definitely. So, I know you were with them for the Chicago 17 album, and that was huge. Everybody had a copy of that. What are your reflections on that particular album?
CP: Well, you know, it's a great album. If I were to be a stickler about it I would say it's not necessarily a "Chicago album." You know, David Foster came in, and he produced 16 and 17, and it became kind of of a ballady era with "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," "You're the Inspiration." You know, the Chicago that we all grew up with was a pretty slammin' band. But, still I can't ... I mean, it wasn't my cup of tea necessarily, some of those songs, because I loved playing the older stuff, but Foster is a definitely brilliant producer. 16 started them back on the road to recovery. The tours of 16 and 17, we were playing forums and Madison Square Garden. It was pretty amazing [laughs].
But those two albums, with the hits that came from them, were really instrumental in bringing them back. Because when I joined the band, or not joined the band but started playing on their record, everybody was OK, but they weren't what they were. You know, they didn't have any hits, they hadn't had any hits in a while. So those two albums really started them up again, which is a nice thing to see.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.