He Is Uncle Big

His high volume vocalizations serve as a personalized Grand Entrance Fanfare, majestic but terrifying like an octet of Coronation Trumpets, or rutting Elk.

Clarion call delivered, The Drummer enters.

“Larger than life” is such a tired cliche yet I am forced to use it in describing him.  The sheer voltage that leaps in bolts from his body as he enters a room is well beyond our garden variety idea of magnetic. Camera-ready sitcom stars are ‘magnetic’.  Pat is the force at the centre of the Milky Way.

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My sons with “Uncle Big” c. 1999

 

Patrick J Steward is unlike anyone else you’ve met.  Gigantic in character by anyone’s measure, gigantic in warmth, gigantic as a musician and performer, and perhaps most gigantic of all as a friend.

All those many years ago, as I sat huddled around a minuscule television in a god-forsaken wasteland to watch him drumming on Live Aid, I realized that Patsy was the man to watch.  It was only months after that broadcast that I had moved to Vancouver, where I met him quite by accident.  Back from a road trip, he accompanied Dougie Elliott to my house for a rehearsal.  I glanced out the kitchen window, saw him, and yelped, “It’s Pat Steward.  Fuck me! I have to change my shirt!”  I did not want to be caught in an Oilers’ jersey by the top guy in town, so a stunt costume change occurred.  He still cackles with mirth recounting this tale, 30 years later.

Pat eschews cheap competition, nasty mud slinging, manipulative innuendo.  You’d be very hard pressed to get him to say a bad thing about anyone, save arseholes who are cruel to animals. He was the first professional musician of excellence I ever knew whose primary purpose seemed to be Community Building.  It was never about the Big Gig, or about jealously protecting it, or using its status like a medal.  He put as much sauce into a $15 opening set at the Railway Club as he did to headlining at Wembley with Adams.  It was more than a breath of fresh air.  It was utterly revolutionary.

I wasn’t a competitor, usurper, vulture.  No, no.  I was his colleague.  To my surprise and ever-lasting delight he asked me to sub for him when he was off in a far flung land, playing to thousands.  So, sub I did, with glee (plus groceries in the fridge).

His wife, Catherine Irons, a character as powerful and hilarious as Pat but literally half his size was the ideal match for our eccentric savant.  She was a major thread in what developed into a rich and characterful tapestry; the nursery of at least a dozen well-loved bands and artists of the era.

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Pat on snare, my son Perry (age 4), and Catherine on Misery Stick (no satisfactory explanation was ever offered for the Pretzel Legs).  Vancouver Island, circa 1997

 

There were several months where I had no money, no gigs, barely even enough food for dinner.  But Catherine fed me and many other troubadorial waifs.  Good lord, she even had cablevision!  And a few years later she set me up with a cute lass that would become my wife.

And then, decades on, when I was at my sickest, Catherine offered her kidney…

When I had recording sessions, some of my first really serious ones, I had a drum kit so exhausted from years of road work that I was embarrassed to be seen in public with it.  Pat happily offered a kit.  Or specialty cymbals, or snare drums.  Even once his truck, to move all that junk.

But only a few of us know this person.  Most just know him from his work onstage.

Pat’s drumming makes me cry.  Primary colours, thickly applied with flair, boldness & gusto using a massive, dripping brush.  He drives events from the kit like a pack of wolves on the hunt drive a herd of caribou, and his rhythmic direction is bigger & clearer than signage at a Scandinavian Airport.

img_3018His emotional commitment to the performance: Total.

His hilarity: Unsurpassed. (He sat-in with Spirit once, causing $660 worth of equipment damage, and  we deemed it well worth the pant-peeing laughter).

Subtlety: Optional.  (see above).

Spiritual effects resulting from his efforts:  Ecstasy, Joy, Great Thirst, Spontaneous Sympathetic Furniture Throwing, Nudity, Rapacious Ingestion of Snacks.  

He has set the tone for an entire generation.  Pat’s inner world gives a brilliant spring-in-the-step to an otherwise muddy slog that leave most prone to cynicism. We west coast musicians often brag, rightfully, about our fine community of talent.  But when we do so, I always remember that a huge reason that we appreciate each other so much is because of Pat and the example he has set.

VRD

 

All text & photographs © copyright – Random Note Generator – Vince R Ditrich – 2017
Live concert photographs by the brilliant Adam PW Smith – www.adampwsmith.com
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