Peter Thorn and Jon Button
At what point in your career did you say to yourself, “I’m really good at this. I can do this.”
High school for me. When all your friends are playing sports and you’re just home in your bedroom practicing and listening to records. You’re vibrato is getting better. My band got a record deal in my twenties with Capitol. I was 29 when I played with Bowie and that was my first real, “Oh shit! People pay you to be a sideman!” Until that point I was in bands.
I thought I was good until I saw Guthrie Govan play.
I was in a band and we got signed to Island Records. Jimmy Miller who produced The Stones brought us down to Compass Point in the Bahamas. The record ended up being shelved. Nothing happened and I thought, "I got a lot to learn about the business part of it." I can do the music. It was so heartbreaking to work toward something. You got a name producer, you’re on a label, and it all fell a part.
Fortunately we got picked up by Bill Aucoin at the end and we left that band because Bill Aucoin brought Billy Idol over. If I hadn’t done that band, Bill Aucoin wouldn’t have had any music to play for Billy Idol to hear what I sounded like. So that helped. It also made me realize it’s not just about having a deal. We didn’t have the songs, basically is what it was.
When I was in New York I was being paid $240 a week. When we came out to LA to do Billy’s first record in ’81, Quincy Jones was down the hall with Michael Jackson. It was like, wow. There’s money being spent on this. We have the right songs, the label believed in us. I could do this. I understand what’s involved and I love doing it.
The first time I felt like I think I’m going to be ok, was when I did my first gig with Etta James when I was nineteen and we traveled to Europe for the Montreaux festival. The guy who puts on the festival there put an all-star band together for Etta. I was the musical director at nineteen. It was just her husband, Etta, and I. On bass was John Paul Jones...
...and all these great jazz players, and Rick Wakeman on keys. We have two rehearsals before the gig and they’re both in the same day, a morning and a night rehearsal. So I’m like, “We got two shots at getting this right.” I got a band of strangers and I’m the MD [Music Director]. No charts. Just me calling out how the horn parts go. At the end of the first rehearsal it’s starting to take some shape with the help of John Paul Jones and everyone else there, and in walks Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.
We start chatting and they invite me to dinner. On the way down from dinner on the way to the next rehearsal, John Paul Jones is driving me, pulls over and says, “Hey, do you want a little toot?” So I felt like, “Oh my God I’m kinda like a part of this!”
It was a great band, a great gig, and those guys all kind of gathered around me and John at the end of the gig with back slapping and beers and wine in Switzerland. I was on cloud nine so that was sort of a really good indication that I was doing the right thing.
By the time I was thirteen I was playing at junior high school dances and playing Hendrix. This was pre-Zeppelin. It was Hendrix and Cream and Animals, and stuff like that. All the girls were looking up at me and I’m going, “I’m going to keep doing this!”
This was back in Japan. I was an American playing on Army bases. I was playing teen clubs and night clubs off base. I was staying up until four in the morning on school nights playing night clubs in Yokohama. Then I got a record deal when I was fourteen playing with these naval dependents. I was the youngest in the band and we were a headlining act at an amphitheater playing to ten thousand people. I was fourteen and I remember having butterflies in my stomach. I thought I was going to lose it, but I kept it together. I think that was the moment. Fourteen years old, record deal, playing to ten thousand people. I said, “I can do this.”
I grew up in Alaska. Growing up there had a very isolated feel to it so I didn’t know how I compared to people in the lower forty-eight. I felt like that was the real world and I was off on this bubble on this other planet. I wanted to go to the University of North Texas, which is a very well known jazz college. I sent a tape of myself playing an audition and I ended up getting a scholarship to go there. That was sort of me realizing that I could compete with people in the real world.
That school is known around the world. It’s a pretty well known school for studying jazz. I felt like if they took me seriously I had a chance at doing it.