Wendell Johnson Interview with Pat Senatore (2003)

A few years ago, the late Wendell Johnson, a good friend of us at A&M Corner, published an interview with Tijuana Brass bassist Pat Senatore on his “Fan Club” website. As Wendell’s site has gone defunct, we are pleased to present Wendell’s interview here in its entirety.

Pat Senatore is still active as a musician in Los Angeles, as well as being the musical director for Herb Alpert’s Vibrato, a jazz club and grille located in the greater L.A. area. We also thank Mr. Senatore for providing Wendell with this interview!

I received an e-mail not too long ago from Alan Rockman. Alan is a Reference Librarian at the La Crescenta Library in La Crescenta, California. He told me he was in charge of Family Programming and had hired Pat Senatore and
his trio in a brief concert at the Library. He had high praise for Pat and his group. I wrote him back asking if he had a way of getting in touch with Pat because I would like to interview him for this website.

Alan got in touch with Pat and Pat said it was all right for Alan to tell me how to get in touch with him. So I would first like to give a big THANK YOU to Alan Rockman for making this interview possible!!!

Pat SenatoreThis interview was very enjoyable and Pat had a lot of interesting things to tell. And like most interviews some of the best was after I had turned off the recorder that was taping the interview! Like when he along with the Tijuana Brass first went to London, England and the Beatles manager Brian Epstein invited them to his house to meet the Beatles. When the Brass arrived Brian had the Beatles in another part of the house so the Beatles wouldn’t appear to be waiting on the Tijuana Brass to show up. Brian called them in after the Brass arrived. Paul McCartney happen to not be there, but George, John and Ringo was. Pat enjoyed meeting George Harrison and had a conversation about why a lot of George’s songs wasn’t on a lot of the Beatles albums. George told him that his songs wasn’t considered commercial enough. I guess that was before George wrote “Something.”

Here is the Pat Senatore interview. I hope you enjoy it….

Wendell Johnson

Wendell: How did you get started in music and what made you pick the bass as your instrument?

Pat: Well, I got started in music when I was about five years old. My father was a light operatic singer on the Italian stage around New York. He was one of the leading singers in that type of music. He always had an ambition to be a musician himself, but coming from Europe and being a poor immigrant he never studied.

As soon as I was old enough to show an interest in music he started me out taking violin lessons. I studied for five years then didn’t play any music until I started high school. There I played baritone horn, trombone and then
finally the bass in my senior year. Then I went to Julliard Music School on a scholarship for a couple of years. Then I decided to go on the road and get my feet wet in the music business and start my career.

Wendell: I heard that Carol Kaye gave you bass lessons. Was that for bass guitar?

Pat: Yeah, when I started with the Tijuana Brass I had never played the electric bass. I was an upright player, then I found myself in a situation where I was playing with one of the top groups in the world on an instrument that was comparatively new to me. So while I was with the Brass I continued to study electric bass on my own and with teachers.

There was a time when all the studio work in town on electric bass was being played with a pick because Carol Kaye was the top player and she was formerly a guitar player, so she played with a pick. Just about every bass player in LA that never had used a pick studied with her. And that’s when I studied with her and she really had a good method and a lot of books she had written. And I learned a lot from her like the bass lines she wrote that was a whole lot more complicated than ones of the past. I also studied reading syncopations with her.

Wendell: Yeah, I’m a bass player and I’ve gone through a couple of her books. Her books are very good. What was the first big band you played with?

Pat: The first major big band I played with was Stan Kenton. I moved to California in 1960, previous to that I lived in New Jersey and I played with some lesser bands there that played stock arrangements. The first band I played with in LA was Eddie Grady & The Commanders and then in late 1960 I went on the road with Stan Kenton.

Wendell: Were you and Nick Ceroli good friends since both of you had played with Stan Kenton?

Pat: Well, actually we didn’t play with Kenton at the same time. But we were pretty good friends and we were hired together at the same time by Herb Alpert. We worked in a club together with Ann Richards, a singer who was formerly married to Stan Kenton, and Herb came in one night and heard us play and mentioned that he was putting a band together. He had two to three successful albums where he used studio players and he decided to put a band together and that’s how he hired Nick and I.

Wendell: Was that for the Crescendo Club gig in June of 1963?

Pat: No, that was after that. I was the house bass player with a pianist in a duo at the Crescendo Club that played in between the big acts like Ella Fitzgerald and so forth. Whenever an act needed a rhythm section we would supplement the duo and come up with whatever they needed.

I wasn’t aware of the Tijuana Brass at that time. I was more into pure jazz type music. I was told this band of Herb Alpert’s was going to appear at the Crescendo Club and was asked to play with them. I was told to wear just
jeans and a T-shirt and I was furnished with Mexican clothing. So Herb Alpert put this band together just for this appearance and the people went crazy.

Wendell: Nick Ceroli played also on that gig?

Pat: Yeah, I believe he was the drummer on that gig. It was something like a one week engagement.

Sometime after that gig is when Herb asked me to join the band he was putting together definitely as the Tijuana Brass. He called me up into his office and played some records and asked if I could play the music. I said sure,
it was simple to play.

I started out on upright bass, but Herb didn’t think that was the right instrument for the band. So I tried an Ampeg Baby Bass. He liked that better, but I really wanted a Fender bass. I told Herb I really had no experience
on it, but I would get one and work on it.

Wendell: It looked like you got a Fender Precision bass guitar. That’s what it looked like to me because I have one also.

Pat: Yeah, I’ve had numerous real early Precisions. I had a 1958 that was really beautiful which was unfortunately stolen. But I got another one which I still play which is about as old.

Wendell: What was the first recording you played on with the Tijuana Brass?

Pat: Oh, I think “Going Places.” That was the first album I did with the brass.

Wendell: Do you remember the first song you recorded from that album?

Pat: No. I couldn’t tell you the first song I did on that album.

Wendell: What was it like working with Herb Alpert in the studio?

Pat: It was very relaxed. We would go in and put the rhythm section down first. Most the time we’d use the first take we did because it had the best feeling. But Herb would always do about three or four takes for insurance. But he would about 85% of the time use the first take.

Then he would put the trumpets on. Then fool around with it for weeks or months to get it like he wanted it. And he would maybe overdub other percussion instruments also.

Wendell: Herb supposedly played all the trumpet parts on the recordings. Did he ever let Tonni Kalash play on any of them?

Pat: Maybe, but very little. But mostly it was always him. What he would do to get that sound was that he would play the first trumpet then he would pull out the tuning slide of his trumpet a little and then play the second trumpet and that’s how he got that mariachi sound.

Wendell: What was it like touring with the Tijuana Brass?

Pat: In the beginning it was great. The first year or so it was like one big happy family. Then things started to get old and dissension started to set in. And it began to be just a gig instead of
a big party like it was in the beginning.

Wendell: Do you have any story or stories that would be of interest to tell about the your time with the Tijuana Brass?

Pat: There were so many, it is hard to pick one. When we first played somewhere not a lot of people knew about the group, and then our first major event we played at was the Arizona State Fair. And there was 20,000 people there. After the concert we nonchalantly walked out of the auditorium to the limo that was waiting for us and all of a sudden there was like 200 people following us. And we started running and we didn’t know how act because this had never happen to us before. We all jumped into the limo and there was six of us sitting on each others laps in the back of this limo. And the driver couldn’t get in because of all the people around the limo. And we started to get claustrophobic and finally the driver got through the crowd to get in the limo. There were people hanging all over the limo and it was frightening to see all this.

Wendell: I guess you thought you had become a Beatle in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night?”

Pat: After that we had security that planned our way in and out of places. Like when we played in the Forest Hills of New York, everyone was looking for us in limos, but we were in the back of
a laundry truck instead. As things went on security became tighter and tighter. We never had those problems again.

Wendell: Who were some of the musicians like Julius Wechter, Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine and Pete Jolly that played on the Tijuana Brass’ recordings that weren’t in the original TJB band?

Pat: Julius was on all the recordings. Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine played on the recordings before the group was formed that I was a part of. After Herb formed the group we played on all the
recordings. He may have supplemented the group on some recordings from time to time, but we were the musicians that he used first. He used other musicians for special overdubbing mostly.

Wendell: What was your favorite recording you did with the Tijuana Brass? Maybe “Five Minutes More” because you had a bass solo on that?

Pat: Yeah, maybe that or “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” There was so many good songs we did and I can’t remember them all and to pick your favorite one would be hard to do. There was one album where Herb was trying to get a little more jazzier like with “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” Herb was trying to get a more 4/4 feel.

Wendell: Oh ok, Herb was trying to get more of a big band sound like with the song “And The Angels Sing?”

Pat: Yeah, he was trying to get more of a dixieland sound or swing era sound.

Wendell: Did you enjoy the TV specials you did with the Tijuana Brass?

Pat: Yes it was a fun experience, you know we met a lot of famous people who was guests on the shows like Louie Armstrong and Wes Montgomery. You know people of that caliber that were really nice people to be around. And were also idols of mine.

Wendell: I like the TV special that showed you and John Pisano had Beatle wigs on and was playing in a rock band.

Pat: (laughing) Yeah that was down at the Whiskey A Go Go.

Wendell: (laughing) And at the end you two started playing “Zorba The Greek.”

Pat: Well, that was improvised. Herb just told us to play some rock and roll music, so John and I made up some music. We actually got writers credit on that because we just wrote it on the spot.