I met Pat Milliken when he was 18 or 19 years old, just starting out as a solo guitarist and singer in the burgeoning acoustic scene of the early 1970s. There was an ease to the scene in those days, and he knew and played with everybody in the area.
Eventually he settled into a wonderful trio of musicians known as Pat, Fin, and Greg, one of the coolest bands to flow off the south coast. Acoustic refugees from the completely awesome rock scene of the seventies/eighties, their incredible harmonies and great playing blew everybody away each time they performed, and they had the mojo, talent, and chemistry to work regularly. The old Gutierrez Drugstore at State and Ortega morphed into a nifty little club called the Head of the Wolf, which eventually became Alex’s Cantina—Velo-Pro and The Trailhead are there now. Walking by that club at night and hearing P, F, and G blast on some wondrous Beatles chestnut is one my fave memories. Those were salad days in Santa Barbara: Plenty of talented musicians (including those in my band, the Cache Valley Drifters) and lots of paying gigs.
Pat found his true voice and inspiration in this environment. He began to slide away from pop music and devote his efforts to a new style of playing based on a different tuning for the guitar. The tuning and the style are known as DADGAD. Pat completely immersed himself in this new sound; he even gave up singing to completely hone the new fretboard logic of DADGAD. He rehearsed and wrote endlessly and his music changed. Pat’s language grew and his devotion to DADGAD became legendary. He connected with all the important players globally in this new field of guitar, and he stimulated other guitarists in this area to follow his path.
Another change was occurring with Pat though. He began to have seizures: serious, brain-induced seizures. He became very ill and required major surgery more than once. You couldn’t be with Pat and not know these things because he began to physically change. During this perilous journey his spirit began to alter itself too. He became less aggressive, and very gentle, humble, peaceful. His motto (his beautiful voice would utter this endlessly) became “good times” and he refused to talk about his maladies.
His performances shrank and became more difficult. Not only were the seizures an ominous possibility while performing, but his hand function started to deteriorate. During these years Pat never complained, but his path was unbelievably difficult. He tried every med possible, but the seizures did not stop. His hand was constantly shaking and he questioned that he could play a whole song. These are things that, for a musician, are a total nightmare. We live by our abilities and the competition is very steep for each and every gig. If he could play, he could make a living. If not … .
This became the life Pat led but his spirit was stronger than all of it. He never stopped writing or wood-shedding. He recorded a beautiful album of his music, named Motif. He continued to seek out and book engagements even though he knew the stage might become the wrong place to be if something went wrong. He performed constantly for other sick people at Cottage Hospital. His lightness of being and wonderful attitude became inspirational to all who knew and spent time with him. His music was his cure, his vision was complete, and his life was as beautiful as his song.
I don’t know how Pat died, though I hear it was in his sleep. I haven’t been around; Pat helped me move to Maui a few years back. But I know exactly how he lived. Pat Milliken was a warrior, concerned primarily with the welfare of others and mastering his chosen instrument, the guitar. He led the life of a true artist and he was a pioneer in his field. He was a guitarist whose vision exceeded even the massive physical handicaps his body delivered. He was my good friend and I will miss him greatly. Good times, Pat, without a fucking doubt, good times!
A tribute to Pat Milliken will take place on Tuesday, April 20, 7:30 p.m. at Jensen’s Mainstage, 2905 De la Vina Street. A memorial celebration will be held Saturday, April 24, 10 a.m., at the First Presbyterian Church, 21 East Constance Avenue. The following day, Sunday, April 25, 5-9 p.m., a Good Times Benefit Concert in Pat’s honor will take place at SOhO, 1221 State Street. Pat’s family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in his name to the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Foundation Music Therapy Program, PO Box 689, Pueblo at Bath Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93102.