Joseph Patrick Whitefield
January 2, 1947 – August 5, 2019
Joseph Patrick “Pat” Whitefield, a longtime presence in the Austin music scene, was born in Corsicana, Texas, on January 2nd, 1947 and died at his home in Austin on August 5th, 2019. As a child, Pat lived in various cities in Texas and first became a performing musician with the instrumental guitar quartet The Nite Owls in Austin in his very early teens. Pat then graduated from Bryan Adams High School in Dallas in 1965, where he was student body president and performed with the group PAR 3. He enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin the following year, took up bass guitar, and began playing as a regular member in a series of bands which significantly contributed to Austin’s growing reputation as an incubator for the creative musical arts. Prominent among these were The Sweetarts, a popular 1960s band led by Ernie Gammage; the original Jimmy Vaughn incarnation of The Fabulous Thunderbirds; Antone’s House Band, the backing band for touring artists at Austin’s iconic blues venue; and bands led by Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli. He spent nearly seven years touring with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring Sam Myers, a popular Dallas-based band that played venues across the United States and in Europe. He was delighted to find there were especially avid fans of Texas blues in Switzerland and Scandinavia. During his stint with Anson, Pat co-wrote one of the band’s biggest hits, “Change in My Pocket,” which won the W.C. Handy Award for Best Blues Song in 2000. Pat led his own groups as well: The JP Whitefield Band, his debut as bandleader of a travelling band; and The Leg Hounds, which on Wednesday nights at T.C.’s Lounge expressed Pat’s vision of pure Chicago-style blues. His last beloved group, The Little Elmore Reed Blues Band led by drummer Mark Hays, is still going strong after 15 years of Monday night residency. Their long tenure started at T.C.’s Lounge on Webberville, then moved to the Legendary White Swan on East MLK, and continued in the same location when it became The King Bee Lounge. In his later years Pat produced records of his own compositions and those of other artists through his labels, Comanche Records and LuKat Publishing.
Like most working Austin musicians, Pat didn’t entertain expectations of a lucrative career in music. His goal was to continue mastering the mostly under-appreciated role of the bass in classic blues ensembles like those of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Elmore James. He was also a student of blues history and could insert relevant details into almost any conversation on the subject (like Jimmy Reed’s amazing invention of the open-E turnaround in a blues progression). Pat was a lifelong learner of his craft, practicing daily without fail and mastering both electric and upright bass. “Day jobs” were a necessity, and Pat had a lot of them, as well as varied hobbies. He could provide expert advice on anything from classic Mercedes-Benz cars to antique watches to cooking, photography, carpentry, and, especially, golf. When playing his favorite course, Lions Municipal, his regular golfing buddies knew that he would inevitably mention that his golf idol, Ben Hogan, had once called the 16th at Lions one of the best holes in golf. He was also happy to provide non-expert advice on almost anything else.
But no day job, no other pursuit of any kind, could distract him from the passionate focus that re-emerged when the sun went down, when he loaded-in, tuned up and, partnering with the best in-the-pocket drummers of the day, began laying down the essential groove that freed many of the great singers and instrumentalists that lived in or frequently passed through Austin to do their thing. It was during his tenure as an original member of the Antone’s House Band, along with Derek O’Brien, Denny Freeman, and George Rains, that Pat gained his unique breadth of experience with the styles and personalities of some of the legendary creators of mid-20th century blues. In addition to the those mentioned above, he backed and got to know artists like John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Eddie Taylor, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Pinetop Perkins, Memphis Slim, Robert Junior Lockwood, Albert Collins, Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, Buckwheat Zydeco, Willie Dixon, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Joe Louis Walker, David “Fathead” Newman, Katie Webster, Lonnie Brooks, Snooky Pryor, Mel Brown, Kim Wilson, Sunnyland Slim, James Booker, Lou Ann Barton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Copeland, and more.
Pat was generous with his time and kept in touch with a vast network of high school classmates, old friends, former band mates, even club patrons he got to know on his many extended road trips – “Pat’s village” in the words of a close friend. When younger musicians landed in town, lured by the cachet of “The Live Music Capital of the World,” many of them would somehow find Pat, who invariably made a point of introducing them to more established players who might give them a boost. Mentoring younger musicians and connecting people with each other was one of his greatest joys.
Pat is survived by his son David Travis Whitefield and his wife, Carisa, and his daughter Annalee Whitefield Nguyen and her husband, John. He also leaves two grandchildren, Luke and Kate Nguyen; sister Priscilla Abbott and her husband, Greg; sister Liz Zeigler and her husband, Dave; nieces Peyton Zeigler and Jill Hailey and her family; step-father Jack Hunter; former spouse Kay Pollard Muñoz and her husband, Andrés; and an incredible number of friends who might as well be family. They and all of those in “Pat’s village” will sadly miss him. Pat was preceded in death by his father, William Richard Whitefield, and mother, June Fauber Whitefield Hunter.
A memorial celebration of Pat’s influential life, “The Blues Policeman’s Ball,” will be held at Antone’s Nightclub on Sunday, September 29 from 1-4 pm. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (https://myhaam.org/) in Pat’s memory are greatly appreciated. Many thanks to Kim Yarbrough for the wonderful photograph of Pat at a recent gig.
"The Blues Policeman's Ball"
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
305 E 5th St
Joseph Patrick Whitefield
August 10, 2019
Almost every conversation, as we started to go our separate ways, ended (or started again) with Pat saying : “Hey, let me ask you one more question.” I will miss answering that one last question and am sad I can’t ask him a million more back. Pat was a great neighbor and I loved hearing his stories about old Austin and music - and, his kids. He was SO proud of his children. Never had a conversation where he didn’t bring them up. My heart goes out to his family, friends and all who loved Pat. XO
August 8, 2019
Who could ever ask for a better friend, that was Pat. I'm so happy that we have kept in close touch over all these years, and he will be missed terribly. To his family I hope all the wonderful memories will sustain you through this hard time. God Bless you all.
August 8, 2019
Pat was the friend we all need but don’t deserve. For 59 years, he was always the first to call, always the first to remember, always the first to compliment, always the first to say “I love you.” And what wonderful stories he could tell – of our youth and his adventures. I can hear his voice on the phone, “Rigggbeee…this is Pat.” I miss him. My heart is broken.
August 7, 2019
Met JP while I was on the Board Of Directors for the Austin Blues Society and at one of our gigs at Antone's at the time when we hosted our events there...At first he was a bit standoffish and rather reserved, yet very cool. He mentioned that he played with the Little Elmore Blues Band, at the time, and invited me out one night to the joint on Webbervile and I became a staple for years to their gigs. I'd show up, take a seat and Pat would sit down and the conversation always revolved about the old Austin Music scene, politics, religion and philosophy. I'd just sit there and LISTEN and hardly utter a single word. We're all gonna miss our times and intimate personal moments with Pat and I am LUCKY as all get out to be included as one of his friends....Pat? Gonna be missed by everyone that crossed your path. RIP and say hello to all the other Blues Boys that passed before you for me. Blessed to have known you.
August 6, 2019
I met Pat seven years ago and we became fast friends. He was truly a special person. Hours spent listening to songs and playing together at his house bonded us through this music that consumes our lives and souls. His words of encouragement meant everything to me. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love Pat. He leaves a giant void in our community and worldwide in blues. Godspeed my friend.