June 28, 2021 –
Pat Johnson thought he didn’t have the patience to play music. But he worked hard and he made his life out of it. He has become a staple of the North Country music scene. He has given solo concerts, played in small groups and taught guitar lessons for over two decades in Brockville, not far from his home in Athens, Ontario. He says learn to play music does not have come easily. Click on the waveform above to hear Pat and his music. The transcript below has been edited slightly for clarity.
Pat Johnson: It is not a gift. People say it’s a gift. I do not agree. It’s not a gift, you to win how to play. At least I have to earn it. It didn’t happen to me. I had to go after, every ounce. I’m not good at being able to play music. each note is like lifting a brick.
Doyle Dean: Take me back to when you had your first guitar.
PJ: I was 21 when I started playing. So not exactly a child prodigy. I am an avid music collector. I love buying and listening to records and CDs and have made a lot of them. So when all my friends were partying, I would spend my money on records instead. I can be particularly impatient with myself. And I wasn’t sure I could learn to play an instrument. But I started picking it up when I was 21. I bought my first guitar with my first paycheck after graduation. And I just got started. And I had a good teacher in Brockville (Richard crotty). And now I teach in his store. He’s gone now but I’m still teaching at the store (Mr C’s gift of music). I have been in the store, have been thinking since about 1997, teaching there and working there.
DD: You play a certain style of finger. Can you kind of deconstruct it for us.
PJ: My guitar teacher was a thumbs up guy. He would use, you know, his thumb like that Chet Atkins type of thing (demonstrates). And so like learning to play, say in a Mississippi John Hurt style, or something, where he would have that accompaniment and then he would play bits of the melody on top of that. As in the song “Corrina, Corrina …”
Pat plays a few bars of “Corrina, Corrina”.
PJ: So you can hear a bit of the chord going on there. It’s almost like you’re trying to create the illusion that maybe there is more than one guitar playing at the same time. And it’s a really satisfying way to play, especially when you’re playing alone.
DD: Yeah, that’s cool. And you’re right, it really sounds like a whole band is performing out there. Tell me what you like about teaching.
PJ: My wife and I are artists and if you want to make a living in the art world teaching is probably something you will end up doing. And, you know, I have students that I really feel like I’m passing on. It’s a common thing that many teachers will say is the idea that you impart this ability to make music. And you know, music is good and healthy for people. And I think my students would attest that, that I’m patient, you know, I hear that a lot. “How do you stand … how are you listening to me?” You know, but I understand what it’s like to be there. I remember really very clearly that your fingers … and you’re just like … “these are my fingers and they don’t do what I want and how do I get there?” and you know, panicking for them won’t do any good. So I just have to be patient and slow down and work. You know it’s a muscle. And teach people how to build that muscle inside of themselves, be patient, and apply themselves to something. No amount of begging will give you the skills to be able to play. You have to earn it yourself.
You can listen and buy the music of Pat Johnson here. Johnson’s slide was made by his wife, a ceramicist Krista cameron. Thank you photographer Marcus Darwell. Learn more about NCPR’s Underscore project here. And just a reminder that North Country Public Radio is supported by listeners (and digital consumers), you can donate now at ncpr.org/give and know that it helps the station continue to provide you with great content. quality.