Sunday, June 04, 2023

Pilgrims and Martinis

More than 27 years ago, some say 30, Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini saw the soon to be legendary surf rock band Satan’s Pilgrims at a Portland music club. In his words, “I fell hard.” He instantly imagined a mashup of piano and surf rock interpreting George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, his favorite Gershwin tune. Mine, too, for that matter. The record was one of the first in the Immel household. Maybe 1945. Gershwin composed the song in 1924. 

In 1997 Lauderdale and Dave Busacker, one of the Pilgrim’s three guitarists, initiated a collaboration dubbed Thomas Lauderdale Meets the Pilgrims. The project was sidetracked by Pink Martini’s meteoric success and hectic touring schedule. It was rekindled In 2011 when most of the songs were recorded yet the album was tabled for the second time. Then 10 years later in 2021 the endeavor was resuscitated, and the illusive album was completed. It was finally released on May 19, 2023.

The album release party at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on May 18 for Thomas Lauderdale Meets the Pilgrims was a soaring success according to these biased ears.

The album cover above was taken in 2011 as far as I can tell. The players look at least a dozen years younger than their mid-50s selves. It's signed by Thomas Lauderdale and all the current Pilgrims. The late Dave Busacker is the tall one far right. Garrett's signature is bottom right. Thomas Lauderdale is downright cherubic don’t you think?

If Rhapsody in Blue was the song that inspired the collaboration and the record, it’s also thread in the winding journey that got the musicians to the finish line. When Dave Busacker passed away in 2021, our son Garrett was asked to take his place in the band. It was a challenging, if not impossible task to replace Dave, no one could do that after 30 years as a team. It involved learning music beyond the surf genre and Rhapsody in Blue became the test piece for the band and for Garrett. The tune had become the yardstick of the record and of Garrett’s role in the band. He told me they struggled with the piece in the last rehearsal before the show despite playing it flawlessly many times. There was palpable tension when the band began the song. Then they knocked it out of the park.

The drummer Ted Miller told me that, “No one else could have stepped into Dave’s shoes like Garrett did.”  The night of May 18 Garrett became Garrett Pilgrim.

You can Google Thomas Lauderdale Meets the Pilgrims and hear all of the songs on the record. It hit the shelves at your neighborhood Barnes and Noble on May 19. 


Anonymous said...

Testing the blog site. Some folks didn’t get it this AM.

Blacks Crossing said...

What a great story about Thomas Lauderdale, Pink Martini, and Satan's Pilgrmins, and Garrett's emergence into the recording of Thomas Lauderdale and the Pilgrims! It is testimony to Garrett's talent and tenacity to make Rhapsody in Blue work. Gershwin's song is one of the finest pieces of music to come from an American composer, and in whatever iteration, it speaks to the listens heart and soul. Thanks for telling the story and the inspiration it will provide to many musicians, Amigo!