Monday, January 31, 2011

Pat Hare

Auburn "Pat" Hare (December 20, 1930 - September 26, 1980) was an American Memphis blues and rockabilly guitarist and singer. He was born in Cherry Valley, Arkansas. He recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, serving as a sideman for Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton, Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland and other artists. He was one of the first guitarists to purposely use the effects of distortion in his playing. Born Auburn Hare (and it's hard to believe that such a name wouldn't have raised eyebrows even in rural Arkansas!) in the Cross County town of Cherry Valley, Pat immediately took to the guitar in a big way. Memphis was just a short distance away across the Mississippi river, and even as a teenager Hare realised that he wanted to be a part of the city's flourishing blues scene. The earliest records of his participation indicate that he was a member of Howlin' Wolf's first electric group in the late forties, together with such luminaries as Junior Parker, James Cotton, Matt Murphy and Willie Johnson. In addition to working the Memphis circuit, this group played regular sessions on the local Arkansas radio station KWEM.
"Yes, I'm gonna murder my baby (yeah, I'm tellin' the truth now) 'Cause she don't do nothin' but cheat and lie" might be forgiven for thinking. And you'd be quite right... were it not for the fact that guitarist Pat Hare, who wrote and recorded "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" in May 1954, then took the song's message a step further and killed his girlfriend in mysterious circumstances eight years later. But it would be a real pity to concentrate on the sordid aspects of his private life, especially given Hare's immense performance on a host of notable blues records during what was a relatively short career. Indeed, it would be fair to say that Hare's contribution to the Sun blues catalogue was almost as important as that of guitarists like Roland Janes to the legendary label's rock & roll and rockabilly releases
In the meantime, Sam Phillips had set up his Memphis Recording Service with the motto "We Record Anything, Anywhere, Anytime", and from early 1950 began recording local blues artists, initially for the Phillips label, then for RPM/Modern, and from 1952, for Sun Records. Besides the great Howlin' Wolf, the artists included Joe Hill Louis, Willie Nix, Rufus Thomas, Walter Horton, and a young B.B. King. Always on the lookout for talented sidemen, Phillips soon picked up on "the new guitarist with the angry, spine-tingling tone", and recruited Hare to play on James Cotton's debut session for the Sun label. Blues anthologists generally rate "My Baby"/"Straighten Out Baby" (Sun 199) and "Cotton Crop Blues"/"Hold Me In Your Arms"(Sun 206) as being as good as anything that Cotton ever recorded, and Hare's jagged lead guitar solos (which must have sounded even more menacing back in 1954!) definitely deserve some of the credit.
Hare's sound on those early James Cotton records is as overdriven as overdriven can be. And needless to say, fuzz pedals and stomp boxes were still a long way down the line; Hare did it all by turning up the volume knob on his tiny Sears & Roebuck amp as high as it would go, driving the speaker practically to destruction!Towards the end of the decade, Hare then decided to hit Chicago, and in no time became a key member of Muddy Waters' band. The results can be appreciated on Muddy's sensational "Live At Newport" album (1960), where a band featuring Waters, Hare, James Cotton and Otis Spann plays the living daylights out of "I've Got My Mojo Workin'", "Baby Please Don't Go", and the like. Hare remained with Waters until 1962, after which he moved to Minneapolis with harp-player (and fellow Waters bandmate) George "Mojo" Buford.
Reported to have been an unassuming man in private (once married to Dorothy Mae Good, with whom he had three children - a son and two daughters); however, he had serious, and ultimately fatal, drinking problems. On a tragic night in 1962, a policeman rushed to a Minneapolis address following reports of a domestic dispute between Hare and his girlfriend. On entering the house, he discovered that Hare had shot the girl dead. Presumably in a state of panic, Hare rounded on the policeman and shot him dead too. He received a life sentence in 1964 for this double murder and spent the last sixteen years of his life in a Minneapolis jail, dying of cancer in 1980.


Anonymous said...

Reverend Williams: Nice article about Pat Hare, one of the greatest electric blues guitarists ever! He's mostly forgotten today, probably because of his spectacularly violent crime (murdered his girlfriend AFTER singing about it) and grizzly end (died of jaw cancer in jail), but back in the day, he was one hell of a guitarist, and Wolf and Muddy both wanted his services.

One mistake in your article, and I'm not surprised you made it because it's not well known (yet): You wrote, "Memphis was just a short distance away across the Mississippi river, and even as a teenager Hare realized that he wanted to be a part of the city's flourishing blues scene."

Actually, the flourishing blues scene was on Pat Hare's side of the river, the Arkansas side, in West Memphis, in the late 1940s until the early 1960s. There were dozens of gambling joints and clubs in West Memphis during those years and absolutely nothing comparable on the other side of the river in the Memphis, Tennessee, where Mayor ("Boss") Crump had instituted an 11:00 p.m. curfew that seemed to apply only to black people. That's why in West Memphis, on any given night, you could hear Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson #2, B.B. King, Junior Parker, and the rest of the electric blues pantheon of the day (including in the late 1950s even Skip James), while across the river in Memphis, Tennessee, you'd only see or hear those bluesmen occasionally, and only in the few Memphis clubs that could afford to pay off the cops so they could stay open later than 11:00 p.m.

West Memphis clubs (and nearby clubs such as the Top Hat at Black Fish Lake) were really the home of the blues during the 1950s. Memphis, Tennessee was, by comparison, deadsville musically. The good people of West Memphis have never had a bunch of savvy marketers who wanted to publicize this fact, apparently because they're embarrassed by their cultural history as the little mid-South burg where Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, et al developed electric blues! Sad but true.

-Mark Hoffman
Co-author of "Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf"

Rev KM Williams said...

Thanks for the correction Mr. Hoffman! nice comment!