28   Rock Around The World October 1977


by Marc Shapiro

Dues-paying is a many splendor thing. Any ten sets a night boogie band worth their salt has tales of having to shelve a cherished original because a drunken regular in the front row will use your face for an ash tray if he

doesn’t hear “Louie Louie.” Ditto the San Francisco acid casualty whose crys of “play Iron Man!” disrupt the best intentions of a budding reggae band.

Both examples, however, pale at the prospect of being warm up fodder for Perry Como to an audience of Vegas straights who, after untold hours of cold dice and even colder women, are ready to extract a pound of flesh if not shown a good time. Such was the situation with Jimmy Pakala and Larry Meredith and so it is with little wonder that their initial dip into the well of popular music holds no terrors for them.

Their initial recorded effort, “PakalaMeredith,” does a complete 180 from the glittery lounge mold that the two singer/songwriters were often forced into. Their Rightous Brothers vocal shadings do wonders to a mixture of

blues/gospel/pop songs with much evidence shown that the pair can indeed make happy music. But this tale of possible music fame is anything but a Schwabs number. There was a lot going on before, during and after the

Vegas trip. And it goes something like this.

True to his Bakersfield upbringing, the first word out of Larry Meredith’s mouth (after mommy and daddy of course) was music.. As a child Larry went the classical music route but later returned to the earth, eventually doing time in both Buck Owen’s and Merle Haggard’s backing bands.

Jimmy Pakala, a Memphis by-product, also started out a musical longhair, showing much dexterity as a classical pianist. It was this mastery of the eight-eights that brought Jimmy his first exposure via The Ted Mack Amateur Hour and a sterling rendition of “Blue Skies.” While at Memphis University he furthered his musical education in various southern troupes. But the Horace Greeley in Jimmy soon surfaced as an invite to join a

Vegas musical review had him going west in a hurry. For five years Jimmy did it all in a myraid of shows before joining a group called The Establishment and the recently arrived Larry Meredith.

The pair immediately clicked and, while learning the finer points of big show songwriting and arranging, drew considerable performing experience from the Vegas school of hard knocks. Jimmy reminisced.

“It was always a real test for us. We’d come .on stage as a warm up for somebody like Liberate and there would be this audience of indifferent and frowning faces. I mean you knew most of them had just dropped a bundle at the crap table. You could see it in their eyes; ‘I’m here to have a good time and you’d better show me a good time or else.’ You’re thinking to yourself that you’ll never get them off and, after a while, you find that you can and the feeling’s just great.”

Larry echoed Jimmy’s remarks. “We learned everything there was to learn about performing. We learned that even as a warm-up act we had certain responsibilities to ourselves as well as a kind of pressure in trying to entertain what was often an indifferent audience. But all the pressures and responsibilities educated us to the point that now that we’re on our own we have no fears at all.”

This growing confidence in their own capabilities lead to Larry leaving The Establishment in 1972 and coming to Los Angeles. Previous contacts lead him to record and television piecework as well as an uneventful singles career with Bell Records. The highlight of this “pay the rent” period was Larry’s vocal outing of “For All We Know” for the film Lovers And Other Strangers. Flushed with this modicum of success as Larry called Jimmy in Vegas and, in effect, told him “get your ass out here and let’s become stars.”

Jimmy hit L.A. in 1975 and while holding down a job at Screen Gems music publishing, the duo continued to hone their songwriting and arranging skills. Persistence was its own reward as Larry and Jimmy signed with Elektra/Asylum in 1977.

Now, as most people know, first albums by new acts are usually not the most star-studded affairs. Highly capable but faceless session musicians and an equally knowledgeable but non status producer is usually the order of the day for maiden record voyages. But observers had a few surprises in store as they staked out L.A.’s

Clover Studios for the “PakalaMeredith” sessions. For openers producer Steve Smith’s credits (which include Robert Palmer and Bob Marley and The Wailers) certainly qualify him as a heavyweight. And let’s face it, the likes of Bill Payne, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Snuffy Walden sure don’t need the work. In many cases putting a pair of relative newcomers with a group of seasoned veterans is like throwing the Christians to the lions. But, according to Jimmy, the results were cosmic. “We were lucky we had the musicians we did on this album. It was like they picked up on the fact that it was our album and that we were really excited about it. Nobody stepped on it and so what we wanted on the album is what came across. To get the kind of respect from musicians of that caliber is one hell of a compliment.”

What has come across with “PakalaMeredith” is a series of songs that lay to rest the old saw of commercial being derivitive. Sure it sounds familiar but it also sounds good. And when you get right down to it isn’t sounding good what music’s all about?

“It sure is,” remarked Larry. “Our songs contain a lot of hooks and it’s always a challenge for us to come up with a tastey sounding hook. We’re so conditioned from our Vegas days to putting out something that the people want to hear that when it came time to write the songs for this album, something clicked in our heads and guided our songwriting in that direction.

“And wow! Thos#4sessions were the greatest. I mean there was Steve Cropper laying down those licks and smiling and Booker T just sitting back with that saintly smile of his. They didn’t tell us it was going to he like this in Music I.”