7 Questions with Pat Bergeson
Equally revered for his jazz (and blues) harmonica chops as he is for his guitar work, Nashvillian Pat Bergeson has a unique perspective on the feature sets of amplifiers, and a story about a fateful gig in Germany that might make you fall out of your chair.
What challenges does a harmonica player deal with in live or studio settings when amplified, that a guitarist maybe doesn’t?
The main challenge is feedback. That’s the challenge for harmonica players playing through an amp. If you have a microphone, and you cup your hands around it, it’ll feed back. So you have to be careful; you have to stand far away from the amp sometimes to prevent that from happening. And check your volume level, stuff like that. That’s probably one of the biggest harmonica-specific challenges.
As both a guitarist and harmonica player, how do your needs vary from an amp between the two?
If you’re going to be a blues player, a lot of times you may want the amp to distort a little bit when you’re playing. But I’m more of a jazz player. However, I also play blues – but I play jazz quite a bit on harmonica. So for me, a nice clean sound is preferable like you get with the Henriksen. And the amplifier also has reverb, which is a nice thing to have. That clean, full range spectrum is preferable for playing jazz.
How and when did your relationship with Henriksen Amplifiers begin?
It began when I started teaching at the Rocky Mountain Guitar Camp about seven years ago, and the amplifiers we were using at the camp were Peter Henriksen’s amps. That’s when I first heard them and played through one, and I fell in love with it instantly. I was using the electric guitar and acoustic guitar.
Are you working on any upcoming releases currently?
Yes, I am working on an upcoming release. I have four songs finished for a new record, and I am slowly chipping away at it. Realistically I would like to get it done by January.
Outside of music, what’s your favorite hobby or pastime?
Fishing, hiking, being outdoors. If you want to hear something really funny and nerdy, one of my hobbies is collecting cone-top beer cans from the 1930s and ’40s. That’s what they used first when they started putting beer in cans back in the ’30s. The canning companies had to sell the idea to the bottling companies, putting their beer into cans, but the bottling companies didn’t want to completely retool their bottling line. So they made these cans that have a cone on the top, kind of like the same type of can that you see STP oil treatment in. So that’s what beer came in back then! They also came in the flat top cans that you had to open with a can opener.
Do you have a particularly hilarious, catastrophic, or just highly unusual gigging story you can share?
Yes – one of the one times that we completely bombed on stage, actually. I was doing a gig at a guitar festival in Germany with the Hot Club of Nashville. And we were the headline act that night. The band usually plays with a drummer, but we were unable to bring our drummer that year. So I asked the director of the festival if he knew a guy, and he said, “yes, I know a fantastic drummer who could play with you.”
This guy got up to play with us, and he and he spoke no English at all; not a word of English. He got up to play and we counted off the first song, and we realized instantly we were sunk. And there were probably 800 people at the show. At the halfway point through the first song, we realized we were just completely sunk deep; he sounded like tennis shoes going around in a dryer.
And the sad thing about it was that I tried to fire him by the end of the fifth song by announcing to the audience that we would like to thank our drummer guest for sitting in with us tonight. And then I looked over at him and made a gesture that, you know, maybe he should get off the stage… and he just looked at me… and I announced his name and he stood up, and everybody clapped – and then he sat right back down at the drum kit, looked over at me, and he was ready to play the next song! And I’d realized he didn’t understand a single word I’d said. The guy had brushes and he just sounded like somebody threw a live catfish on the snare drum.
We just completely bombed. I mean, it was horrible. It was the most horrible feeling and everyone in the band was just drenched with sweat by the end of the fifth song, because it was just that bad. That was one of the worst experiences that I can remember ever happening. The audience just stood there and watched us in disbelief the whole time. That was the worst part – they knew! They knew the situation; they’d figured it out. And they just sat there politely, because really what they wanted to do was leave, right? Get up and walk out. I’m laughing thinking about this story!
If you could share a dinner table with 3 artists of your choosing, from any arts background and era, who would they be?
Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. If I could say any era, it might be those three guys. I think Sonny would be great because he was one of the master Bop players, and I think he would just have some amazing stories and would be a guy that you could ask questions to about the whole history of jazz. And then same thing with Louis; just his personality alone. And same thing with Frank! You know, Frank is Frank – he’s one of the greatest singers ever. These are certainly not jazz guitar players and there are a lot of guitar players I’d love to meet that I think would be amazing, too. But those guys are probably at the top of my list.