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Working with Chet Atkins
An interview with Pat Bergeson (cont.)

by Tom Redmond

PB: So we hung out that whole day, and I think that was when I gave him a demo tape of "Mountains of Illinois" and there was another rock 'n roll tune on there that he really liked. After that meeting, I went back to Brooklyn where I was living at the time, and he would call me about once every week or two. He would just call to chat with me and say, "Hey, you know, I was up last night until four in the morning trying to figure out that lick you played on this song."

Then, on Thanksgiving weekend I went out of town and when I got back there were a bunch of messages on my answering machine. Some from R.L. saying "hey, call me!" and then the last message on the machine was from Chet saying, "Hey Pat. Do you want to come down here and play on this record with me and Jerry Reed? Give me a call back."

And so I called him back and I was joking around with him, telling him I had a bar mitzvah and I couldn't do it.

So he flew me down to Nashville a few days later. I had to run to my guitar repair guy because my guitar was completely destroyed because I played it constantly and it was pretty much the only guitar I had. The next Monday I was down in his basement studio with him and Jerry Reed at like eight in the morning.

In the session I brought my pedal board and plugged into Chet's old Standel amp. He hardly gave me any instruction. He would stand behind the window in the control room down in his basement, and he would just wave his hand whenever he wanted me to play. He'd say,"I'll just wave my hand. When I put my hand up, you play, when I stick my hand down, you stop".

TR: So you were doing fills inside some of those songs, like "Summertime"?

PB: "Summertime" and three or four others. There was one that Darryl Dybka wrote.

Sneakin' around with Chet and Jerry Reed
PB: When we made that record, I think Jerry was supposed to sing on a lot of the songs, but then there were two or three songs where Columbia Records just wanted them to be instrumentals, so that gave me more playing on the record. Chet said, "let Pat play that part".

TR: Did they give you get a tape or something of the songs first?

PB: Yes, I did get a tape in advance, but didn't get any charts or anything else really.

I remember being down there in the studio, and I would hear a playback, some great solo on the guitar and I'd say, "Who's that?" and Chet would go, "That's Jerry." Then I'd hear another great solo and I'd ask, "Who's that?" I didn't know if it was Chet or Jerry who had played the solo, and Chet would say, "That's Jerry." Finally after a few times, I asked "Who's that?" and Jerry said, "Who the hell do you think it is"? (laughs)

PB: After I finished that project Chet said, "You know, you did a great job, just like I knew you would." And then I left, and I went back to Brooklyn and played the very next night. I played the worst gig you ever heard in your life. And it kind of put everything into perspective. I had gotten to play on a record with Chet Atkins the day before and now I'm playing awful stuff, you know, "Wind Beneath My Wings", "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and the theme from "Ice Castles". (laughing)

TR: But eventually, you did more with Chet. I saw American Music Shop and some of these other TV programs. How did you start doing that?

PB: Well, actually the very next thing that happened was that Chet called me and said, "I'm coming to play at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops, and I'd love for you to do it." I was living in New York so I went across town to Carnegie Hall and played with the New York Pops with Chet, and I remember he called me the night before and said, "Oh, by the way -- I need you to learn The Claw." and I want you to learn Jerry's part too." so I had to quickly learn that.

TR: You were familiar with "The Claw" but couldn't play it?

PB: I had the recording of the record of Chet and Jerry doing it on "Sneakin' Around". I only had one night to learn it before the Carnegie Hall gig.

TR: You learned "The Claw" in one night?

PB: Yes. So we played Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops and that was great, and then after that they had me come down to do the American Music Shop show. Chet flew me down to Nashville and I stayed for a whole week and I hung out with him every day that week.

TR: That was a show on TNN corrrect? What were the tapings like?

PB: Yes, it was a TNN show. Chet put me up at the Shoney's hotel over there by Music Row, and he sent me out to the TV studio the night before we did it to watch how they did the TV tapings. I met Jim Lauderdale and some other people who were guests on the show. I met Brent Mason and Mark O'Connor and all those guys. Then the next day we got together in the morning and rehearsed everything and then taped it later in the day. Chet and Jerry and I went through a few of the tunes in his office that morning. It was loose and fun, we didn't have to do too many takes.

Country Gentleman: A Tribute to Chet Atkins
TR: Was there a studio audience there?

PB: Yeah, there were probably a hundred people there.

TR: What happened after that?

PB: After we did American Music Shop and Carnegie Hall, I did some other dates with Chet and Paul and Jerry. We went up and played at The Bottom Line in New York. At that point, I still hadn't considered moving to Nashville. My friends were urging me to move to Nashville, but I didn't think much about it but when Chet started mentioning it to me, that was different. He told me he thought I would do well if I moved down.

TR: You were still teaching at this time, right?

PB: I was teaching in the summers at the guitar camp, and I had an occasional private student. But mostly I was teaching at the camp in the summer and doing gigs on the weekends the rest of the year.

When my lease was up in Brooklyn, I finally made the move. Chet had asked me to come down and do the CAAS convention with him and Jerry, which I did and after that I moved down for good. Fred Kewley got me a temporary place living at songwriter Cathy Maciejewski's. It was an apartment out by Percy Priest Lake.

Pat Bergeson, Johnny Gimble and Chet Atkins
The day I got to town, Chet took me down to the union and then paid my way into the union. He said, "Well, you know, it's a right-to-work state, but if you're going to work with me, you have to be in the union." That's kind of what happened. The very day I got here, he started looking for things for me to do, he was just so helpful.

It wasn't long after that that we cut "Read My Licks", and we also did a big "Read my Licks" TV special with Eric Johnson, Earl Klugh and others.

TR: I've seen some clips from that special on Youtube.

PB: One night I remember Chet called me and said, "Hey, come on over, me and Waylon Jennings are doing some demos over here at the house." And I went over to his house and hung out with him and Waylon Jennings all night and sat in his studio and recorded. I don't know what happened to that stuff, but it was really great and it was paid work. He would just find things for me to do. He was really great that way.

He also hooked me up with Suzy Bogguss and she started using me on her records. I ended up going on the road with Shelby Lynne for a little while and Wynonna too but I was still working with Chet doing all his gigs.



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