Editor’s note: Patrick Walsh plays tonight from 5 to 10 p.m. at Bass Camp Pizza in the Heavenly Village at South Lake Tahoe.
Casual passersby at South Shore can be forgiven for doing a double take when Patrick Walsh is onstage. After all, if you heard singing, guitar, drum and cymbal, harmonica and a trumpet, and then saw just one dude onstage, you’d probably take a second look as well.
Hailing from Placerville, Walsh has been playing music from a young age, and doing so professionally for a decade now. Walsh plays tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. at Tahoe Ale WorX in The Crossing at the “Y.”
“I started with piano at age 6 and took private lessons,” he said. “Then I picked up the trumpet in fourth grade, did both of those all the way through to college. I mostly just made instrumental music — I never really wanted to sing or anything.
“In my later 20s, I got tired of trying to find bands and people that were as driven and wanted to get serious about it, so I decided to start singing. It just led to a one-man band. So, I don’t have to rely on anybody.”
Walsh got his start at open mic nights, making his first appearance in 2006, although it wasn’t until 2010 that he pushed into full gear, playing several shows a week.
“The first one was an open mic in Sacramento, and I was pretty much horrified because I’d never sung in front of anyone,” he said. “I used to go in my basement and just whisper, practice stuff; I didn’t want my roommates to hear me. Then, open mics got me into starting to get booked, and now when I do it there’s not any nervousness or anything, I’m just used to it.”
Walsh’s stage kit is well worth a second look, allowing him to put out a remarkable amount of sound for one fellow.
“It’s a homemade kick drum that’s made out of plywood and two-by-fours, and a briefcase on the backside where the pedal hits it,” he said. “A hi-hat (cymbal), guitar, harmonica, and I use a looper (pedal) so I can loop some strumming and play the trumpet.”
Some of Walsh’s gear is custom built by the musician himself, including the drum and a nylon-string, semi-hollow body electric guitar that he played for a year or so.
“The kick drum I built. I just went into my garage, in just like 15 minutes and found garbage,” he said.
The electric guitar grew out of his commitment to nylon strings on the acoustic guitars that he had used to start his career.
“I always play nylons, even my electric hollow bodies, I rewired them and put different pickups in so I could put nylons on it,” he said. “I think strumming wise it works better with my voice.”
He built the electric to try to get around the thicker necks of acoustic guitars that can hamper a guitarist’s ability to play speedy, intricate leads.
“That’s why I tried to turn an electric into a nylon, but I just wasn’t getting the same tone for the rhythmic strumming,” he said. “It wasn’t as deep and bassy. So I went through a few and now I have a pretty thin-line nylon; it’s a little skinnier so I can move on it better.”
Walsh can be found regularly around South Shore, playing Tahoe Ale WorX, Base Camp Pizza Co., Harvey’s Cabo Wabo and Heavenly’s Tamarack Lodge.
Unlike most area musicians, Walsh plays exclusively original music, which he sees as part of his appeal.
“Overall, I have a lot of different sounds, but some of my more hillbilly stuff just seems to make people happy and want to dance and makes little kids dance. It seems to make people feel good,” he said. “I’ve always stuck to just doing originals. I think people have kind of, I don’t know… it’s not easy to do it that way and I think it’s a unique thing that I just stick to my own stuff.”
He draws on vintage country music, Delta blues and folk tunes to craft his unique, soulfully stomp-worthy sound.
“I like spaghetti western stuff too, so I try to mix some of that in there,” he said.
As if all this weren’t enough to keep a strummer busy, Walsh also records and produces his own music at home.
“I went kind of crazy for two or three years there and I put out just over 40 albums of original stuff,” he said. “I got kind of burnt out, so now I’m just focused on doing shows and playing out as much as I can.”
While the multi-instrumentalist is moved occasionally to tinker with his formula, he always comes back to this one-man band approach in the end.
“I always go back and forth,” he said. “Sometimes it gets monotonous or I get burnt out, and I try to come up with some new thing, maybe having a band or something. But it always goes back to what I do here works best. I can be the most spontaneous when I do everything myself.”