Kevin Pate, Phoenix Music Veteran, Dead at 54

Categories: R.I.P.

Pate by Michael Molumby.jpg
Photo by Michael Molumby
Kevin Pate
On Monday night, Kevin Pate -- a valued member of the Phoenix music community -- was fighting for his life in a hospital in Yuma, where he was serving a four-year jail sentence for DUI and violating parole. Misinformation was spreading across online social networks that he'd passed on, but ever the fighter, his heart kept beating for days, and this week his sister, Karen Pate, flew in from Oregon to be by his side, updating his status throughout the week. Today, she reported that Pate, 54, had passed on due to cirrhosis of the liver, while they listened to "Bach's most beautiful cantata, 'Wachet Auf (Sleepers Awake).'"

Her dispatches throughout the week said as much about Pate as anything could: "Kevin remains with us," she said early in the week. "I'm not sure why -- I've been reading The Grapes of Wrath aloud to him, and I hope he's not waiting to find out how it ends -- but he has always been one to do things on his own schedule." she wrote on Wednesday morning. "Kevin continues to hover between the worlds this morning. When we tire of reading, I play music for him -- lots of Bach and Townes Van Zandt. I found some Beat Angels last night, at which he reared up and made to get out of bed. Maybe he thought he was late for rehearsal."

When you saw Kevin in any of the many bands he played in -- Gentlemen Afterdark to The Beat Angels, Busted Hearts, The Dynoglides, Phono-Royale, Greyhound Soul, Lonna Kelley and The Broken Hearted Lovers, and countless others -- you had to take note of him, even though he came from the old school of thought: If you noticed the bass player, chances are he was fucking up. Kevin knew his place was not as the lead guy yet commanded stage right in a manner that let you know he was the most important chess piece on the board, the one holding it all together. It irritated him -- and rightly so -- when bands forfeiting bottom end came into vogue. "I don't remember when that trend of not having bass players began," he wrote me in his last letter from prison. "Maybe it was that band Timbuck [sic] 3 or 2, anyway, it wasn't the best idea."

"Kevin was just such a great musician," says Michael Brooks, who always shared the right side of the stage with him in power pop/rock combo The Beat Angels. "I once watched him walk up to a piano in a studio somewhere and just start to play this really great honky-tonk stuff. I was really impressed with that. I used to like watching him track in the studio, too. Just plug in and play, standing up with his eyes closed and his head tipped back. He had such a great feel for everything and you could tell that in the way he walked, talked, and carried himself. So unique. Very much how I imagine Keith Richards to be."

Seeing him as I first did, at one of the many shows The Beat Angels played at the Mason Jar, I noticed that band's formidable rhythm section immediately. (I like to imagine that in an alternate universe, the Angels are still playing regular gigs.) Besides having a world-class drummer like Jon Norwood, also sadly gone much too soon, you had Kevin holding down the cool. Back when you could still smoke in clubs. Pate's ever-present cigarette magically dangled from his lips and never, ever fell out, like he was a mobster in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I'd noticed that stance, legs spread wide apart and a sleeveless shirt, so you could see every vein in his muscles, just like Dee Dee Ramone. Like Dee Dee, Kevin had his demons, too, and he'd be the first one to tell you about them. He got hooked on the same junk Dee Dee did and went to jail for it, but he got clean and stayed clean for a long time, and then fell into the old habit again. The parallels between Dee Dee and Pate are striking.

When Pate was sentenced to jail for a DUI conviction and avoiding parole, it wasn't a light sentence: six years. But having kicked junk once again in the only foolproof way he knew how -- in our penal system -- he was counting the days where he could redeem himself once again. The two letters I received from prison found him in good spirits, considering his situation. In the first one, he said he was playing in a jailhouse band that was kinda good, and in another, he was already making arrangements to have a place to parole to when he got out. He noted that things had changed since his last stint. You couldn't receive cassette tapes from the outside, and that wasn't all. "Prison has changed a lot since the last time I was in," he wrote. "You can't even send in for a hooker anymore."

I'd rather not picture him there in my mind's eye. When he played in Serene Dominic and The Torchbearers, I lost the ability to watch him for the duration of a show but felt his confidence. You were going into battle and he had your back. I quickly learned that look of pained concentration that crossed his face when you showed him a song with too many chord changes. You know he could figure it out and not make it seem so mannered.



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6 comments
xotichardwoods
xotichardwoods

SURF ....  I did 7 flat (years) in prison for drug charges and Kevin was my celly for almost 2 years at Perryville prison, specifically San Pedro yard.  I remember it like it was yesterday!  I play guitar and was playing swing jazz in the band room on the yard (prison yard) with one of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show drummers, Alva "Sticks" Greenwell.  Yes, Sticks was a rotational drummer for the tonight show and was pulling five years for shooting up his twenty year old Phillipino lover!  Kevin walked into the bandroom, strapped on a tore-up, out of intonation yard bass and we swung Fly Me to the Moon like we all were on the Tonight Show set!!!  His skill level in jazz was far more advanced than any of his punk rock CD's I'd ever heard!  I cried this morning when I heard that he passed.  Because Kevin and I were cellies, we practice not only in the band room on the yard, but while we were locked down in our cell as well.  I wrote several songs with Kevin and we actually recorded some of them at Perryville and made a tape, that Kevin took with him when he was released.  I'll miss you Kevin and pray that you didn't suffer.  YOUR CELLY, SURF (Terance Prigge).  

xotichardwoods
xotichardwoods

SURF ....  I did 7 flat (years) in prison for drug charges and Kevin was my celly for almost 2 years at Perryville prison, specifically San Pedro yard.  I remember it like it was yesterday!  I play guitar and was playing swing jazz in the band room on the yard (prison yard) with one of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show drummers, Alva "Sticks" Greenwell.  Yes, Sticks was a rotational drummer for the tonight show and was pulling five years for shooting up his twenty year old Phillipino lover!  Kevin walked into the bandroom, strapped on a tore-up, out of intonation yard bass and we swung Fly Me to the Moon like we all were on the Tonight Show set!!!  His skill level in jazz was far more advanced than any of his punk rock CD's I'd ever heard!  I cried this morning when I heard that he passed.  Because Kevin and I were cellies, we practice not only in the band room on the yard, but while we were locked down in our cell as well.  I wrote several songs with Kevin and we actually recorded some of them at Perryville and made a tape, that Kevin took with him when he was released.  I'll miss you Kevin and pray that you didn't suffer.  YOUR CELLY, SURF (Terance Prigge).  

Michele Hunter-Austen
Michele Hunter-Austen

I was fortunate to have heard him play @ Carly's Bistro several times. He was a fascinating musician and man.......so into his renditions and completely, utterly compassionate about the music......and yeah, the cigarette never fell !

Cait Brennan
Cait Brennan

Beautifully written. Kevin was the best.

billy.sed
billy.sed

Kevin was in/out of Phoenix * Tucson thing ,I also liked his voice ,manner,When i was told he was goin' back inside i called & wanted to write a letter to sentencing judge but he clearly wanted to go back in,clean up,& had no need for wasted effort or frill's .

         I felt bad cuz there is nothing alive in a-d.o.c..and what was is snuffed out .But i got that after affliction ,choices;He was tired &wanted that change .I am sorry for the post-script ,his Sister,his Mother.

        Alot of people will miss you ,your deep string's and yer way of telling stories & appreciating other cat's and music,stories.I am better for knowin' you.Thank's K.P.

                                                                      L&R-bill sedlmayr

k_sedivy
k_sedivy

I' known Kevin sense the 7th. grade Steve Calabrese and myself  started a band Yellow Dog  and we needed a base player Kevin always hung out with us so we got him a bass taught him a few things and off we went he was a natural , gonna miss you my friend R.I..P. Kelly Sedivy.

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