Back in 1976, Paul Nelson tried to sign Tom Pacheco to Mercury Records. For reasons that were commercial — as in “not commercial enough“ — he failed. But Paul knew people who knew people and, as a result, Pacheco landed a record deal at RCA. About the first of those albums, 1976’s Swallowed Up in the Great American Heartland, Paul, who by then had left his A&R post at Mercury and returned to criticism, wrote: “Tom Pacheco spent most of his early years listening to wild Texas music in the snowbound towns of Massachussetts, and his songs combine the best from both worlds.”
Last evening, the forty or so people who filled the Uptown Coffeehouse at the Riverdale Society for Ethical Culture discovered that, over thirty years later, Paul’s words still ring true. Pacheco, whose songs have been recorded by the Band, Richie Havens, the great Rick Danko, and Jefferson Starship, performed the first set by himself and the second set with the Bloodlines Band: his amazingly talented guitarist brother Paul Pacheco (who played with Jimi Hendrix and Howlin’ Wolf) and his brother-in-law bassist Vern Miller (whose band Barry and the Remains opened for the Beatles on their final tour).
Pacheco’s quavering voice well serves his songs, which range from the wildly fanciful (“Big Jim’s Honey,” inspired by Sam Love’s novel Electric Honey, wherein the proximity of a beekeeper’s hive to a marijuana patch yields interesting results) to the heartbreakingly real (“Walter,” a worthy successor to John Prine’s “Sam Stone” in the returned-vet-as-damaged-goods genre). Political songs of Guantanamo Bay (“My Name Is Hamir”) and everything that’s wrong with America (“When You’re Back on Your Ranch in Texas”) were balanced by not-so-simple love songs and “The Journal of Graeme Livingstone,” an epic tale of an eighty-nine-year-old Florida hotel-owner who claims he killed Jack the Ripper.
According to Pacheco, Paul Nelson’s early interest and encouragement are the reasons he’s still in music today. A Woodstock residsent, Pacheco now has nineteen albums to his name and tours extensively in Europe. Paul, I think, would be proud.