Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Search for Pratt

Here's a little number I prepared earlier - 2003 to be exact. I still believe that Resolution was a truly great album and it should have taken off - but it didn't. Maybe that's the part I identify with. 

In 1974, the then journalist Jon Landau wrote an article in The Real Paper reflecting on why he was a rock critic. Landau recalled seeing Sam and Dave at Madison Square Garden in 1967: "every gesture, every movement, the order of the songs. I would give anything to hear them sing "When Something's Wrong with My Baby" just the way they did it that night."
Landau goes on to confess that when he listened to music now, it was different – the dream is over he's a professional. 
"But," he continues, "… I never give up the search for sounds that can answer every impulse, consume all emotion, cleanse and purify - all things that we have no right to expect from even the greatest works of art but which we can occasionally derive from them." 
Then Landau writes what becomes one of the most recognised quotes of rock and roll journalism: 
"Tonight there is someone I can write of the way I used to write, without reservations of any kind... I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen… he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time."
Landau produces 'Born to Run', Springsteen's breakthrough album and the rest is history. 
So what has this got to do with me spending 24 months deep inside cyberspace trying to find out what happened to a guy named Andy Pratt? 
The story starts in 1976. After the breakthrough Born to Run album, Springsteen has careered into a legal hell. His former manager is not so happy with Landau and is suing. Springsteen can't record. This leaves the gates of fame open long enough for Andy Pratt's third album, the Arif Mardin produced Resolution, to collect a glowing lead review in Rolling Stone. 
Stephen Holden writes: "By reviving the dream of rock as an art and then reinventing it Pratt has forever changed the face of rock." 
As a career lift off this Rolling Stone review is definitely credibility enhancing and marketing gold. 
Pratt is ready to step up to the big league. 
Backed by a top notch band mix of long time supporters and hot session musicians, including jazz guitar great John Scofield, Pratt has all the musical tools he needs to replicate the soulful Mardin influenced sound on stage. 
Everything should be working. The band is hot, touring in support of the big money acts of the time like Foreigner and The Band. The record get more great reviews, but… for some reason it's not translating into sales.
Now Andy and Bruce's paths start moving in different directions. Bruce overcomes his legal battles, releases 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town' and cements his legend status. Resolution and the subsequent Mardin produced Shiver in the Night sink. 
But not without trace. Because Resolution is an album that leaves the few who seem to have heard it touched by, in Jon Landau's words: sounds that purify. 
Years go by, Andy Pratt etches into my psyche as just another rock star who faded away into obscurity; except, his songs stay in my head and every now and then over the next twenty-five years, I occasionally wonder what ever happened to the guy who was going to change the face of rock?
Maybe it's because to a tone deaf three chord wonder Andy Pratt was the everyman rock star; the guy who 'could have been a contender'. Brando with a guitar - Andy Pratt gave it his best shot and still didn't make it. 

The internet is a great tool for agoraphobic writers – spark an interest, hunt it down – email sources – find more sources – write article - resolve issue without leaving the house. So it is that on one of my many cerebral jaunts to avoid actually writing the great Australian novel, I google the name Andy Pratt. 
I'm not expecting a lot. I just want to pass a few minutes discovering what happened to the next big thing; see how he lived his life after fame failed to shine on his parade. I'm anticipating some obscure references to a guy who can still play a decent concert in his home town – or maybe a dentist who lists his five minutes in the rock and roll sun on his AOL personal website. 
What I'm not expecting is Andy Pratt seems to have completely disappeared. 
Insofar as cyber space is concerned, Andy Pratt is Eddie and the Cruisers. He does not exist. Andy Pratt, rock star, effectively ends with Resolution. There's a follow up album, but no grand reviews – Resolution and Andy Pratt seem to have sunk soundlessly into the quicksand of popular culture. 
Everyone is on the internet in some form or another if you want to search hard enough. And I do. There are vague unsubstantiated references to Andy finding God and moving to the Netherlands, but that's as close to an online history as I can find. An alleged Dutch email address for Andy bounces. He does not appear to have settled down to life as a dentist, teacher or former rock star of any kind at all.
Stereotype 114b is in danger of being broken: Rock stars are not supposed to fade away.
I give up the search. Andy is gone, there are other ways to avoid the novel. But then a particularly bad case of writers block (i.e. apathy) causes me to once again type in Pratt musician. A new link leads to an article in the Boston Globe. After 15 years living in Belgium and the Netherlands, fifty-five year old Andy Pratt has returned to the United States and he wants to play music. 
I email the Boston Globe and ask for a contact. Sources are hard to share, I get no reply. I follow up a name mentioned in the article and email Andy's management. Again, they don’t return my emails. 
I don't need a lot of information, just some authoritative comments on how great Resolution was. Someone with music industry credibility to confirm what I and maybe half a dozen seemingly soppy Americans believe that Resolution was indeed one of the great albums and that Andy Pratt deserved his day in the sun. 
Brian Wise, editor of Rhythms Magazine and presenter of 3RRR's 'Off the Record' program is stumped. A font of all knowledge relating to Dylan, Neil Young, Springsteen and others of that era, he cannot recall ever having heard of Andy Pratt. He suggests I give Billy Pinnell a try. 
Billy Pinnell curses me for putting Andy Pratt's name in front of him. He has never heard of Andy, but worse, now he will be compelled to hunt him down and discover this musician who seems to have got away. 
With a heavy duty Pratt jones on his back, Pinnell agrees to help me in my search. Within days he comes back to me with a less than flattering review of Resolution – I refuse to let doubt enter my mind. I send a copy of the album to Billy so he can judge for himself. 
It hasn’t escaped me that perhaps Andy Pratt doesn't want to be found; maybe he was quite happy to walk away from the music business. People change careers every day. But Andy Pratt isn’t just people. Like it or not, Andy Pratt had the misfortune of creating a lost masterpiece. 
Jon Landau was right. Some of us are cursed with the capacity to be eternally touched by magical rock moments. Landau saw Springsteen; A friend watched Lou Reed croon Coney Island Baby at the Palais. Lou's all quiet reflective, singing softly, but he can't beat the ignorant – constant shouts for rock n roll animal – Lou says maybe some other night and walks off. In my case, I saw Chain in the golden era of dual vocalists Phil Manning and Glyn Mason with the steam train rhythm held down by the Big Goose Little Goose rhythm section. 
Magic happens – sometimes it happens only once. Resolution: Produced by Arif Mardin, lately Norah Jones producer, a top band, a collection of classic pop songs – a lead review in Rolling Stone… every element you need to hit the fame game running. And for some reason the game doesn’t welcome you in.
Still people try and get the message out. Larry White, reviewing the album on, says, "Unlike the majority of records 25 years old or more, this album remains as fresh and unique as the day we bought it.
"Arif Mardin did a remarkable job. He matched the heavyweights of New York session musicians with Pratt's voice and piano… soaring, orchestral arrangements of Pratt's richly textured melodies; witty, heartfelt, inspirational, touchingly profound lyrics; and his passionate and powerful singing." 
William Ruhlmann, Rolling Stone Music Guide: "Though it is identifiably a 1970s pop effort… The heart of the record remains Pratt's singing, its apparent delicacy belied by its passion."
I am no closer to finding out where Andy Pratt went? So I ask myself: where did he come from? 
Andy Pratt was never your typical poor boy paid his dues musician. On the contrary, his grandfather was chairman of the Board of the Rockefellers Standard Oil and the founder of the Pratt Foundation. His father was headmaster of the Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School. 
Being financially secure is not always a good thing in the record industry. Hunger can often equal desire and drive. Andy's financial comfort would come back to haunt him with record company concerns that he wasn't hungry enough. 
Pratt released his first album in 1971 – 'Records are like life'. He worked as a sideman playing piano for Odetta and Edgar Winter before returning to the studio to record his second album, this time on Columbia. 
Backed by some of Boston's best rock and jazz musicians, Andy's second album contained the hit single, 'Avenging Annie'. The song is subsequently covered by a number of artists including The Who's Roger Daltrey, gaining Pratt valuable recognition as a songwriter. 
And then ‘Resolution’. The man who is predicted to change the face of rock forever disappears without trace. Andy Pratt did leave the building.
But then, along comes the internet. Amazon Records introduces Reader Reviews. Resolution is consistently reaching five stars. Comments like: "If I had to put a recording in a time capsule to represent the ultimate in artistic quality for pop-rock, this might be it." 
"It will forever be a mystery to me why Andy Pratt was allowed to sink below the horizon and so much of his wonderful and evocative music allowed to disappear."
"Excellent songwriting, immaculate production, and committed performances combine to make this a peak among obscure rock classics." 
The chase has fresh legs. I email the reviewers and ask them what it is about this album and if they by any chance have any contact details for Andy. 
I go back to the promo put out by Andy's management. They won’t talk to me, but perhaps Andy's guitarist, Mark Doyle might. 
Mark Doyle will. "Andy Pratt," Mark says (via email), "is a great artist, a misunderstood genius.
"Resolution had everything going for it - great songs, great artist, great producer. It got a sea of great reviews, we had a great band, and we toured steadily in support of it... I have always been proud of the Resolution album, and have always considered it a lost classic."
Then Mark drops the bombshell that after 25 years Andy Pratt is back in his life and they are recording together. It takes me a day to take this in and reply, asking Mark if there's any way in the world he could help me find Andy's email address. 
Next day I have it. 
To keep up the interest level, I've been listening to Resolution again over and over and I can’t understand why some things go up and some don't. I ring Billy Pinnell and tell him I'm closer than ever, one email away from Andy Pratt. Billy has played the album and he thinks 'If you could see yourself through my eyes' could be a hit today. Well then how come it sank Billy?
Because, Mr Pinnell tells me, in a calm and dignified manner, sometimes there's no reason. Some things just don’t make it.
I can’t accept that life is that simple.
I email Andy Pratt. I ask if he has any thoughts on that period of his life - the Resolution album and Andy Pratt. I ask him what choices he made that may have affected the success of his career. 
Then I pause and ask him if it’s okay if I ask him some questions. 
Next day I get what I take to be a reluctant reply - allright. Send me your questions. 
I'm in direct contact with Andy Pratt – a man who could have been king. What is it that I want to know? 
I want to know what it was like to be so close to… to what? Did he know he was creating something special when he was recording Resolution? Was that the peak? 
I want to know how it felt to get such a major review in Rolling Stone? 
I want to know when he began to realise that the success he maybe thought would follow the favourable reviews was not happening.
Then I want to know what happened next? Where did he go? Why did he go? How could he walk away from teenage heaven?
I explain to Andy that everyone I have asked – from Mark Doyle to reviewers to people who left messages on Amazon – no one of these people can come up with an explanation as to why this album never made it. 
I click on the send button.
Two days later Andy emails me. He's on the road with his band, they're playing in New York next Tuesday – can I make it?  
That's a little difficult. I think I may have left out the part about being from Healesville, Victoria, Australia.
Then, Friday night 11.30, the process of moving one sleeping six year old from couch to bed is interrupted by a ringing mobile phone; a mobile phone with one almost dead battery. 
"Hi, It's Andy Pratt."
Andy Pratt's a guy just like me – no big deal – my mind goes completely blank. The phone is about to die, I have no idea where I left my three pages of questions and I am as speechless as if the voice had said: hey it's Keef. 
The six year old goes back on the couch along with a pleading prayer that he not wake up. I race up to the office, plug the phone into the charger. The computer's on. My fingers jabber across the keyboard trying to find the email with my questions. 
I can’t find it. 
I manage to ask him if he can recall the Resolution period, writing the songs, the sessions. The closest thing I have to a pen is a fat texta. 
Andy remembers being very inspired when writing the songs. Arif Mardin, he says, was a gentleman, great to work with. He was surprised by the positive reviews, even a little frightened. He tells me that the songs were written around 1975, his father had just died and he had gone into a pretty deep depression. 
Why wasn't Resolution a hit? Andy's answer cuts through all the aesthetics of art and hits the button: "There was no single. We toured the album for six months with great players, had big audiences, but there was no hit single – so no money." 
They recorded, Shiver in the Night, but then the well dried up, depression set in again. Andy had what he calls his 'Christian experience'. He spent 15 years in the Netherlands and Belgium. He didn't actually give up music at all. He continued to record Christian based albums and worked as a social worker. 
I ask him how he feels about the suggestion that because he came from a wealthy background he wasn't hungry enough. 
In retrospect, he says, there was some truth in the record company suggestions that he just wasn't hungry enough. But now, at 55, he wants to show he has that hunger, not for money or fame, but to make people happy.
"For a while, I stopped singing a lot of the older songs," he says. "A lot were written about women and relationships and when the relationship ended, it didn't seem right singing the song. 
"Now I realise that the songs are good for people and I love to play them.
Andy tells me he's really enjoying playing now. The New York gigs have gone down well and he'd be interested in coming to Australia, if I knew anyone who could put that together. I keep it to myself that I may well be the only person in Australia who has ever actually heard of Andy Pratt. 
I get off the phone from Andy Pratt, a quiet spoken fifty-five year old man who wants another chance to make people happy. I'm aware that while I'm stuck on how great Resolution is, Andy Pratt has a 'now' that he wants to talk about and a career on the resurrection train. 
I'm thinking that many artists resent the constant reference to their past and the lack of interest in their 'now'. But equally, just as Landau saw the future in Springsteen, a few of us saw the glory of a genuine human soul in Andy Pratt.
The lack of a single can't take that away.

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