Patrice Pike had planned to spend these last two years woodshedding with her guitarist and co-writer Wayne Sutton developing new material. She had a successful go of being a touring artist traversing the United States in support of her 2013 release “The Calling”, it’s how she made her mark and paid her bills. Little did she know that life would toss her a curveball that had more to do with the real world outside of music that was undeniably life-changing.
Many of us have concrete plans that get altered. Life happens. Sometimes, Death happens. You are presented with an obstacle, or an unplanned responsibility that you rise up to, and it isn’t something you take lightly. You are given choices. Patrice Pike had choices. And she chose to answer her Calling. It was serious business. It was life and death up close and personal.
Patrice has an ongoing residency at The Saxon Pub that is well-attended by her rabid fan base and each Thursday night at 8:00, she plugs into a format that at times can have her playing solo, or with a myriad of loyal players featuring her longtime Sister 7 lead guitarist Sutton, the crack rhythm section of Glenn McGregor and Seth Orell, percussion master John Bush, the best backup singer in Austin in the form of Laran Snyder, and occasionally the ever-reliable guitarist Chris Gebhard. She mixes it up to the point that the shows are never predictable, only in the fact that she continues to deliver one of the best residencies in Austin that the music connoisseur can access for a mere $10.- The songs are crisp, delivered tight and professional and most importantly, at ease. I’ve caught her at least 20 times the past year alone, it’s my hands down favorite residency for a number of reasons, first and foremost because Patrice Pike sings the daylights out of the great original material she writes. She owns that stage, and you can feel her heat. The songs stay in my head weeks after I catch her. Few artists do that to me, but she does it regularly. I see dozens of my fellow songwriters in Austin, but her tunes are top-notch Grade A material that stick firmly in the noggin. She has a few choices covers she pulls off by writers like Sarah Hickman and Sutton, who penned one of her best-known songs, “The Only Thing That’s Real”, from their Arista Records heyday. But you know that already. She was one of the first Austin talents to take center stage in the tv show “Rock Star”, which was the warm-up for the popular “The Voice” tv show, which greatly increased her following to a nationwide status. Here is what you don’t know.
~~~~~Patrice Pike’s Real Calling; The Story of Cameren Cates ~~~~~
He world began to change when her beloved 16 year-old niece, Cameren Cates, began having symptoms that were hard to define. Red spots started appearing on her legs, and before too long, her quality of life evaporated. The diagnosis led to the discovery that she had Aplastic Anemia, one of the most difficult diseases for a human being to beat. It didn’t take long for Pike to hear the voice inside her come alive that led her become a defender, a mother, breadwinner, and a care-giver for her niece. She started doing benefits, blood drives, and living in Childrens Hospitals in both Austin and Houston. This was a woman who lived on the road playing music. She never complained about this new fork in the road that God had spinned her, and during her live shows, she would give continuous updates about Cameren that began to pull the music community in. Those Saxon Pub people showed up en masse’ for blood drives for Cam. Other venues like One-2-One Bar also made sure she had gigs so she could manage to stay here, to be where she was needed most. I was pulled in. My wife who donated blood was pulled in. Long lines of people showed up to give the gift of life for this little girl, who was scared and in the fight for her life. But that was just the beginning. A matching donor for a bone marrow transplant would have to be found, somewhere in the world. Those odds alone were slim. Very, very slim, indeed.
We met up in a small cafe with longtime Austin music fan and our mutual friend Rick Fine to discuss this transition, how she handled it. Rick Fine is a music lover who supports a number of acts in Austin, including myself. I have always felt a deep debt of gratitude to him. Rick is a man who cares about others, especially, his best friends. I will tell you both Patrice and I are blessed to know he’s got our backs.
Patrice is a tough,yet emotional woman. It didn’t take long before her story about Cameren unfolded, and tears began to fall. It was an emotional story to hear. She had avoided doing press for a good few years and this was the first interview she chose to give. I had started out with this idea of doing a cover story on her, her music and how consistent a performer she has been. Instead, I realized that the core of this story would be about her struggle, and that of a 16-year-old girl named Cameren Cates who wanted to live. And the odds were slim that she would survive this horrible disease.
SPM: Tell us about these changes in your life, and one Cameren Cates.
Patrice Pike: This story is relevant as to how it changed my life as a musician, an artist, entrepreneur, producer, philanthropist- these things I do in life- and how it created a huge shift in my life two summers ago. I was getting ready to do a bunch of writing for a new album with Wayne Sutton. We had been doing different projects and had gotten a lot of our ya-ya’s out and had come to the conclusion that we have something really special as songwriters and that we are a great team. One of the things that we believed was our own perception, mutually and individually, is we have that. And the common ground we have how others see us, and not only the feedback we get from our fans who are biased, but also industry people we’ve heard from over the years who don’t necessarily work for anymore, also agree on that. And that’s a strength,right? So we agreed, based on the mutual feeling that we love each other and love to work together, we agreed to do some writing. This was in June and we were going to spend a lot of time in August and September for some writing sessions together, and also with my band. Then I got a phone call that my niece had been rushed to the hospital. I had already seen her in June, my sister and I had taken her to some doctors, she had a strange thing going on with these red spots on her legs. She’d been living with her dad, and we weren’t seeing her all the time, so this was alarming to us that she had this symptom. So they found that her platelets were just low, so they gave her a treatment, and the treatment caused an allergic reaction that caused her to be rushed to Seton hospital and they transferred her in the middle of the night to Dell’s Childrens Hospital. Over the course of the rest of the summer, after she was released from the hospital, she asked her parents if she could come and stay at my house, where both her fraternal and maternal family could be. She knew that my sister could come and be there a lot, and that my mom and my sister would be there, and she was really scared. Her dad was away for work, and so it just made sense to her. Over the course of a month we found out she had a rare blood disease called Aplastic Anemia. A few months later, we found out that she would not survive without a bone marrow transplant. She had no familial donor and we would have to find one in the worldwide registry for bone marrow donors.
I have been touring artist my whole life since I was 19. So I kind of went under the radar with this family emergency. I lived in a Childrens hospital, going back and forth between my house and two hospitals; Dell’s Childrens in Austin, and Texas Childrens Hospital in Houston, mostly with my sister, so that I could help her survive. It was the weirdest thing, I went from the neuropathways built on a 2 decade career, being in a different city nearly every single day to being in a small space, not going anywhere geographically, to experiencing all these feelings emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Watching a teenager trying to survive a rare and deadly disease, in the midst of an environment in a floor of a Childrens hospital that most people don’t know even exists, and if they do, they have no idea what it’s like to watch these little kids and their parents or caregivers buckle down. And what you hope is going to be a victory is an ongoing nightmare, of what’s really like a war zone. So I had this incredible adventure and luckily our story is a victory because Cameren did it.
[ At this point, Patrice struggled to compose herself, and began to apologize to us. There was no need to, we were all right there with her…she continued…]
Patrice Pike: I never planned to have kids, partly because I never wanted to experience anything like that. So it was this bizarre experience of making intentional choices as I spent every few years of my professional career making very intentional choices and making inventory time for myself …and I decided to make a change for myself and become a parent. In the past I had always come to the conclusion that wasn’t the right path for me. So it’s really emotional for me because that was a really important time to re-evaluate all that, even though I’m not Cameren’s parent, she has a mother and a father, but it really takes a village when this happens. What I can say is that it has come to pass that we all decided that Cameren will remain with me, primarily. This allows Joy Davis, my sister, to take care of her son and to have her career and rebuild her life, as she gave up her job and did a lot of things to make this all happen. She had to make a lot of choices that required her to make many changes.
SPM; This reminds me on the name of your last record,”The Calling”. Only this is a true calling.
Patrice Pike: Yes, it is. And I had no idea that was coming. It’s tricky. You know, I have had so much experience dealing with the press. I’ve been a lot more open about divulging my private life than many artists do. But you don’t want to come across as exploiting someone else’s ultimate struggle, strife, and choices, like the ones that landed on Cameren. I have the privilege of having gotten to see first and foremost all that struggle, and the sharing of that with my family, of a young person process something, coming from a place that most people will never experience in our lives, hopefully… Or at least when we do, it’s not till the end of a long life. It’s amazing.
So going back to those neuropathways, to have gone thru that change, to not travel all over the place, all the time sharing music and because of the rest of Cameren’s extended and immediate family, I still got to go out and play some, partly to take care of myself. I’d also like to say I’d like to give credit to the Saxon Pub, One-2-One Bar, to The Pearl Bar and to all of my fans that hired me for house concerts and all of the places I got to play that kept me from having to go out on the road to survive. I also started working more full-time for the Step Onward Foundation, which used to be the Grace Foundation.
SPM: Where did you recenter yourself musically, just Texas, then?
Patrice Pike: I decided to stick with Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and California. Those are the places where my most devoted fans are at. Places where I have relationships with venues that I trust. Places that I knew if I contacted them, if we had an emergency and had to cancel, it would be ok, that they would understand. And that worked, I was able to keep going, so that I wouldn’t disappear from this passion of being a musician.
There has been many changes over the past ten years for musicians, we had Napster and all things that have changed the income streams. For the smaller independent artists, it hit us first because we didn’t have massive amounts of money, that you had to be a performing artist to be making a living from performance revenue. Now what we’ve seen over the course of time is that even the bigger artists have got to have performance revenue. Consistently, more and more artists have got to give their music away, whereas making an album for anywhere from $10,000- $500,000 and investing that money was often returned if you performed enough, and were out there enough you could actually recoup and maybe even profit from that investment. But recording releases have become what videos once were, a promotional tool. So navigating that, in a situation where I decreased my performance revenue a significant amount was a tricky situation. So that’s why its a big Hats Off to the venues that stuck with me and gave me residencies in order to survive. And for my band to survive as an entity, too.
SPM: So Cameren is on the road to recovery?
Patrice Pike: Yes. Her counts are normal. The marrow was flown overseas on her 16th birthday. And the anonymous donor is a man somewhere in the UK. He travelled from his village to a hospital to give his marrow and it just happened to be her 16th birthday, and he was one of two perfect matches, the other donor pulled out at the last-minute. And we were 8 months into this diagnosis. They said it would be around 8 months to a year, and we had to hope there was not a terminal infection in that time. Her parents and myself were watching the stem cells from this precious red bag…they had to check it first for Mad Cow Disease. The hospital said yes, he was the perfect match, but that they’d have to check for that first. And we all prayed. I have never prayed so hard in my life.
SPM: You come off as a very deep, spiritual person.How would you describe your spiritual approach?
Patrice Pike: A lot of it goes back to when I started reading when I was 4. I was the oldest of 33 future grandchildren on my mom’s side of the family and I had a lot of attention from my mom’s siblings and her parents. My mom had a lot of books, and I was really curious, so I started dabbling, reading, about these human beings that people would tell me about, whether it was it was church or whatever. My mom was sort of a seeker. She didn’t stay in one church, she would go to different ones and so I got go to see what those felt like. Some felt really crazy and scary, others felt really caring and loving, so that set an imprint in my mind. I started getting into who these people were that everyone had told me about. I started getting into, say, who was Caesar, or Joan of Arc, or who was Jesus or Mohammed. When I was really young I started getting into history. As I got older, I started getting into non-fiction and myths. I liked a lot of C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles, the idea of phenomenon. Those things inspired me, in my mind and feelings, and caused me to investigate who those people were. That led me to have a pretty broad base of knowledge. It caused me to be inspired, to try and be like those people. That, in turn, led me to have my own experiences growing up. Those were things you choose to do , what that feels like good or bad. I certainly wasn’t perfect at it, I made a lot of mistakes.
SPM: You like to travel when you can, you have been to the Mediterranean a few times, to Vietnam…I love traveling abroad, it expands a person’s horizons. Tell me about Vietnam.
Patrice Pike: I have an affinity for scientists and science nerds. One of my best friends is a trauma surgeon, she knew she wanted to be a surgeon since she was a little girl and she’s in it for all the right reasons. She worked with two brothers who were from Vietnam, and they travel there on yearly basis to do professional development for surgeons in hospitals there. So they invited Laura, my friend, and some other colleagues to go. Based on my close relationship with Laura, I was invited to go, you know, the token artist on the trip. I had by then also started a foundation that gives health, wellness, and education funding to young adult survivors of homelessness. Since they were doing service work over there, I told them that I would love to go but that I didn’t feel good about it unless I was doing some service work that was meaningful. I asked the two brothers if they could connect me with some orphanages in Danang, which was where they were doing their professional work. They connected me with two orphanages. One was for smaller, younger kids, toddlers up to 6 or 7 years of age. I did this with the help of a university student. He volunteered to go with me and serve as an interpreter. Then I went to a school that was for older kids, grammar school kids, that was from the ages of 5 to graduating from high school. That was an incredibly moving experience. We got to have several hours of conversation, it really blew my mind. Going back to when I was a real little kid, Vietnam was my first impression of war. “This is war, they are communists, they are the bad guys”, that sort of thing. So getting to go there now in my life, and getting to experience these people, and getting to hear their stories, what their impressions were, what they were doing was enlightening. It turns out the school I went to, there is a mother and a father figure, a man and a woman, who watches over these kids. And the man got really open with me and explained he was older then and was a college student at the music conservatory when the war broke out, so he really connected with me as a musician. But he was drafted, like many of our young kids were here in the United States, he didn’t have a choice. He had to become a soldier, and he had to go thru all that. He actually still writes music, and he gifted me with some of his compositions and played some of them for me, and offered for me to have the music and change the lyrics to English to say whatever I wanted to say. I haven’t done that yet but really want to.
Patrice Pike rules
~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Giving Back. The Birth of The Grace Foundation~~~~~~
SPM: Tell us about the charitable foundation you started.
Patrice Pike: It came from an experience of being out on the road and meeting a young woman who was on the staff at a small music venue. It was one of those things that many musicians refer to as a filler gig. It might be a gig for gas money between two larger gigs, or enough to cover a hotel. It turned out to be one of the most significant turning points in my life. A girl wearing a cowboy hat was listening to us do a soundcheck, in the middle of Ft Smith, Arkansas. “Ya’ll are pretty good”, she said,” you’ll do good here.” I was traveling with my friend Billy Cassis, who’s in Soul Hat and many other bands. And later that night after the gig we decided to hang out with her, her name was Eliza. So we went to a bar across the street where her boyfriend worked, as the bars are open till 05:00 in the morning there. One of the locals tried to attack me and Eliza defended me, and prevented me from having to defend myself. That bonded us and we became pen pals. She came to see me play in Fayetteville, and the next day she confided to me that she had a cardiomyopathy, a condition she had when she was homeless when she left home at age 13, from an unsafe home life. She told me she was going to need surgery to live. She didn’t tell a lot of people about it, as she didn’t want people to feel sorry for her. She wanted me to know, in case something happened to her. What then happened was this crazy experience. She wound up visiting my band on the road. Two of my guys in the band, my good friends, were sober and they befriended her. My drummer at the time, Eldridge Goins, introduced her to his mom on this tour. So Eliza came out to California as a Last Hurrah for a week before she was to fly home and get a left ventricle assisted device implanted. The surgery had been canceled a few times due to budgeting in Arkansas as well as them deciding that she wasn’t healthy enough to survive it. Eldridge introduced her to his mom who has a doctor who has helped her survive MS who also happened to be trained as a conventional cardiologist. Oddly, the doctor called that day to check up on her, and she put him in touch with Eliza and he agreed to see her in Dallas. So she came home with us to Austin and we set up an appointment with him and he was able to put her on a protocol of organic foods, supplements to cleanse her body out. I told a friend of mine about this story, and he said, “Look, we’ve got to have a concert to help her pay for all of this so she won’t feel indebted.” So we set up a show in One World Theater and we raised $40,000.-…thus was born this foundation. Her Hebrew name translated into “Grace”, so we named it The Grace Foundation. That was 10 years ago and since then we have raised $250,000.- privately as a grass-roots organization. We applied for a 501-C3 and were approved in 4 days. Our niche’ is that we work with bigger organizations that have programs for young adult survivors of homelessness. We partner with them to find the gaps as they appear, so that no one falls thru the cracks and gaps due to the lack of resources. Eventually, we changed the name to the Step Beyond Foundation, as there were a number of Grace Foundations already in existance.
~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Only Thing Thats Real~~~~~~~~~~~~
SPM: You still get airplay and requests for your Sister 7 hit song” The Only Thing That’s Real”…
Patrice Pike: Wayne wrote that in the back of a pickup truck while we were wrestling over tiny matters for Arista Records, because they said we had to write one more song for the new album. We were all kind of irritated, we were like,”Man, we’ve got great songs that they just didn’t GET yet.” Later, they apologized and said ,”Wow. that song is amazing!” But literally, he sat in the back of a pickup truck and wrote that song in 10 minutes from his heart, about his love, his wife. Wayne was writing it, but he knew I’d be singing it. So he wrote it for me to sing. It was that perfect combination of an authentic song from his heart with a little bit of grit. Like “here is a song, Patrice, in your range, and it’ll be great for the record, let’s try to demo it ” and so we demo’d it in and we wound up putting it on the album. So that’s the story on that song.
SPM: Your harmonies with Laran Snyder. I’ve never heard anyone harmonize like she does. She fully grasps what it is a backup singer is supposed to do, both in her vocal lines and her stage presence. She is one of the best backing singers I have ever heard on this planet. How did you meet Laran? Her soul- mate Katie a do-it-all musician if there ever was one, sits in with you in a pinch, too, I have noticed, another stellar talent I am swept away by.
Patrice Pike: Laran reached out to me via the community of Kerrville Folk Festival people, she had seen me perform there before. I liked her approach in writing to me and I asked her to send me some stuff. She sent me live recordings of herself practicing with an artist that she had just got together with. The fact that she sent me raw recordings and I got to hear what’s really happening and that it was really good completely lit me up, so I offered to get together with her, we did that and she did a great job on her parts, she really nailed it and that’s how we began.
SPM: She’s perfect. You gave her a spot on the stage and she knows her space and place, she’s just an amazing talent. A lot of people do NOT understand the fine art of backup singing. She does. She’s the template for aspiring singers who want to play that backup singer role.
Patrice Pike: Tim, harmony vocalists do not get enough credit. Take Paula Cole, on all those Peter Gabriel albums. I love what she does, as well as the harmony vocalist for Sarah McClachlan. Sister 7 played a Lilith Fair and we got to see that firsthand. I wish we had a bigger stage, Peter Gabriel and Sarah McClachlan put them up higher on stage, so they are featured and you can see them from this other place. Sort of like how they are supposed to sound, like from the heavens.
SPM: You were on the tv show “Rock Star”…tell us about that…
Patrice Pike: It ran for a few seasons, it was the precursor to “The Voice”, they actually created “The Voice” after doing this experiment. They did a great job, actually, a better job with “The Voice” as they learned a lot of lessons from “Rock Star”. I had never seen a reality tv show except for a couple episodes of “Survivor”. I got a phone call, they had scouted me…some big thanks to Nancy Coplin as she referred me to them to me. So these shows will do open auditions for everyone and they also know a lot of people in the community, and scout them, they call people in the community and ask them who is their best, so they called me and I was on tour and I didn’t have time to be in Austin during their audition, and it really wasn’t on my radar at all. So they called a couple more times and they said they looked at my tour schedule and said they really wanted me to come out and sing for them. They saw I was in San Francisco and I was playing a show on this one date, and they asked me I could please come to a certain club and they’d make a specific time so I wouldn’t have to wait in line and they just made it too tempting, so I thought I’d check it out even though I was skeptical about it. To a fault sometimes, I am fiercely independent. I don’t like people telling me what to do and I don’t like being controlled by others. So they basically courted me for a couple months, the person who was in control of casting. It was a good experience in the audition and one of the guys that was going to be in the band happened to be there that day and was sitting in the back of the room. I think he passed on a lot of positive things about me. So I actually wasn’t going to do it, it was just this really invasive limit. So Todd and I, a guy who helped start the Grace Foundation, decided that it would be a good idea because there was a chance I could help the foundation. Unfortunately, there was very little coverage about the authenticity of every single person on that show. That’s my opinion. But it also did a service by offering worldwide station for us, I got to sing for 38 million people. It was the number one show of the summer in prime time tv in Canada, and a bunch of other countries. It got a lot of views in the US, and had contestants from Iceland, South Africa, UK, Australia, so it was really fun to meet all those people. It was weird to live with all of them , as we were in competition with each other. I tried to be a peacemaker…[laughs]… I stayed for a couple months. I did get to showcase a few of my original songs on the show with 38 million people watching, and I wound up having fans that I never would have had. I came out of it re-evaluating myself, about what was important to me. I was sequestered, we all were, so we didn’t get to talk about it to anyone for a few months, and I missed my friends and family.
SPM: Seth and Glenn. What a perfect rhythm section. I was fortunate to work little with each of them. I’m always impressed with their skill levels, and how easy they were to work with. Same with Wayne, one of my favorite guitar players. I like him for the fact that he never overplays. How did you meet?
Patrice Pike: Wayne and I met briefly when I was 17. I think he’s a year older than me. So we met as teenagers, one of Wayne’s best friends introduced us as he knew about local bar work as teenage musicians and thought that we would just totally hit it off. He was right, and it was a couple of years later that we actually saw each other out more in pubs and then when I was 20 we started dabbling in songwriting together. We loved writing together and started alittle duo, an acoustic thing, I wasn’t even playing guitar yet, didn’t even own one, and we played a few shows in Dallas and decided we wanted to make a band together. We loved bands, we loved rock music, we loved cool sounds and the percussive aspect of it. Suddenly we were one of these barely- old- enough -to-get-into-bars bands that ended up being on the jam band scene. I was the only female singer traveling with my best friend guys who were all really different. Sean, Daryl, Wayne and I were called Little Sister and we started opening up for bands like Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, bands that were largely improvisational. Thats because we had Booker T. Washington School of Performing Arts in Dallas, and also University of North Texas nearby. So that influenced a lot of players. We had top-notch jazz, fusion, progs, whatever, we had these different forms of music in this music community. Daryl and I went to Booker T, Washington. Wayne wanted to go there but went to school in Plano… and Sean went to North Texas and took lessons from Matt Chamberlain. So we all came from this phenomenal area full of great players. So we were into jamming, into being outside of the box, not just doing pop songs. Over time, because of Wayne and my backgrounds growing up listening to great songwriters, we merged into a songwriting team with some improv. Thats where you get those great Wayne solos, he knows when the song needs to be served and he’s going to show up and stick it in your head. We opened up for Edie Brickell, that’s how I met John Bush, my percussionist.
Rick Fine: Did Seth and Glenn play together previously?
Patrice Pike: A lot. I hired them when my sister [ Joy Davis] was playing with them in her country band. So I borrowed them from my sister and they started playing with me a lot, I didn’t mean to steal them and I hope she forgives me for that, all jokes aside. Joy is a great musician in her own right, even though being a mom sort of took precedence over that. Even though I knew of Seth and Glenn from playing in heavier rock bands, they were barely old enough to drink also. They were playing at The Back Room and the Black Cat, so I’d see them around Austin a lot.
SPM: Do you have a new cd, a live one, perhaps, from the Saxon Pub?
Patrice Pike: I’d love to do a live cd from the Saxon Pub as a precursor to a new cd. I think we need to develop more of the new songs first, so the live one would have some of the old songs on it, and new ones,too. We’ve already done some great recordings there. Their sound man Richard Vannoy is great, and Chet Himes often comes in and helps him when they run sound on two boards separately. Wayne and I have a couple of really good new songs, and we have some more on the back burner, plus Cameren is a lot better and things are finally settling down.
One last thing Patrice Pike wanted to make note of in this interview was that she wished more people would give their attention to “mature songwriters” than what we see in the usual media scrum of things. I couldn’t agree more. Patrice looks timelessly beautiful, but she has noticed others in the music world are passed by because of their age or looks. She sees many of these great talents in her travels across the world and in America, as well as her adopted hometown of Austin. There is so much great music out there, waiting for fresh ears to discover it. Many artists reading this have felt the sting of being ignored because they aren’t Twenty-something, who can be poured into a mold that makes them a superficial creation of a record label. Patrice Pike has a heart the size of Texas that cares deeply for others in her chosen field. You can often times see Malford Milligan climb on stage with her at The Saxon. She also has a heart and soul that also cares for so many others who have nothing, who know only a life of pain, humiliation, and defeat. She’s their champion. That’s one reason why Patrice has such a universal following that crosses over societal borders.
Want more? Go and hear Patrice Pike and her band play live at their residency every Thursday night at 8:00. You will be catching one of Austin’s iconic best if you do. You’ll feel her appreciation, it’s a warm glow of love. And you ,too, will have those songs of hers stuck in your head for weeks on end. That’s a sign of a great songwriter.