Known primarily as a bass guitarist and keyboardist, O’Hearn came to prominence with Frank Zappa and co-founded the early 1980s new-wave band Missing Persons with several other veterans from Zappa’s bands. While O’Hearn’s musical repertoire spans a diverse range of music, he is an acclaimed new-age artist in his solo career. In addition to solo albums, he has composed soundtracks for movies and television.
Born in Los Angeles, California and raised in the Pacific Northwest, O’Hearn began his professional music career at age 15 when he joined the Musicians Union and began playing night clubs in Portland, Oregon. Upon graduating from Sunset High School in 1972, he moved to Seattle, Washington. There, he briefly attended Cornish College of the Arts and, as well, studied privately with bassist Gary Peacock.
In 1973, he moved to San Francisco, California and soon became involved in the vibrant Bay Area jazz scene of that time, playing bass for well-established artists Charles Lloyd, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Joe Pass, Woody Shaw, Eddie Henderson, and Bobby Hutcherson, as well as with other like-aged young musicians, including Terry Bozzio, Mark Isham and Peter Maunu.
While on tour in Los Angeles in 1976, O’Hearn met musician Frank Zappa, who offered him a job as bass player in his band – a position he held for over two years. During this period, O’Hearn shifted from the acoustic bass to the electric bass guitar (given the requirements of Zappa’s arrangements), and also became increasingly interested in electronic music. Zappa encouraged O’Hearn to explore his premium collection of synthesizers, and also introduced him to the technical aspects of intricate physical tape editing as a way of producing compositions (in an era prior to home computers), audio engineering, and home studio audio recording equipment.
In 1979, O’Hearn teamed with trumpet player Mark Isham and guitarist Peter Maunu to form Group 87, an ensemble influenced by the early recordings of Weather Report, Kraftwerk and ambient minimalism of Brian Eno. Although they only produced two LPs — Group 87 in 1980, and A Career in Dada Processing in 1984 — Group 87 would help establish the musical direction of O’Hearn’s solo career. Both Isham and Maunu would continue as important collaborators on several of O’Hearn’s subsequent solo releases.
1980s and solo career
In 1981, drummer and former Zappa bandmate Terry Bozzio invited O’Hearn to join his emerging rock/new wave band, Missing Persons along with guitarist and fellow Zappa alumnus Warren Cuccurullo and Dale Bozzio, who had performed vocals in several Zappa productions and recently married Terry. The nature of the music called for O’Hearn to make a further shift — this time, from electric bass to synthesizers. Missing Persons recorded three albums for Capitol Records: Spring Session M (1982), Rhyme & Reason (1984), and Color In Your Life (1986). The band dissolved in early 1986; subsequently, O’Hearn and Terry Bozzio joined with former Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones for one album, Thunder (1987), and a brief tour. Although both Terry Bozzio and Warren Cuccurullo later contributed to several of O’Hearn’s solo albums, O’Hearn declined to take part in the 2001 Missing Persons reunion.
O’Hearn’s solo career was spurred in large part by former Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann, who had been conceiving of a new music label that would showcase progressive instrumental music – a niche earlier explored by Group 87. Baumann formed the Private Music label in late 1984, and signed O’Hearn as a charter artist (with Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman, Roxy Music keyboardist Eddie Jobson, and later, new-age notables Yanni and Suzanne Ciani), and produced O’Hearn’s debut solo album, Ancient Dreams (1985).
Signature elements readily manifest in Ancient Dreams: found percussion instruments, hypnotic bass guitar patterns, synthesized pads, and minimalist harmonies. Perhaps biased by his preferred instrument, O’Hearn often adds jazz elements, particularly in his frequent use of the bass guitar (often a fretless bass) as the lead voice.
O’Hearn followed Ancient Dreams with two more albums – Between Two Worlds (1987), which earned the artist his first Grammy nomination, and Rivers Gonna Rise (1988). Notably, the albums gradually became brighter in tone as O’Hearn began to receive greater airplay on jazz and new-age radio stations. O’Hearn also co-produced several tracks for guitarist Colin Chin’s Intruding on a Silence, featuring Mark Isham on trumpet – as such, the output strongly echoes Group 87’s earlier work.
The fourth album, Eldorado (1989), ventured decidedly into the World Music genre – infusing O’Hearn’s signature sound with rhythms and timbres drawn from disparate sources such as South America and the Middle East. As such, O’Hearn’s arrangements accommodated a wider array of instrumentation – such as human singing and the solo violin (most notably on “Black Delilah”.) Commercially, Eldorado performed well among new-age audiences – some tracks remain popular on jazz stations today.
In 1990, Private Music, O’Hearn’s record label at the time, released an album of techno remixes aptly named Mix-Up, featuring contributions from popular music producers, including David Frank, Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, and Carmen Rizzo Jr. However, Mix-Up was panned by critics and fans, and remains long out of print. The album was the brainchild of the A&R department of Private Music and was released without Patrick knowing about it. He had only agreed to allow some remixes of his material to be experimented with in European dance clubs, and the first he knew of the album’s release was when it was in the stores. The versions of the tracks are vastly different from what O’Hearn had originally produced. This, combined with the fact that he didn’t know about the album’s release, makes it seem strange that Private Music decided to bill the album as a Patrick O’Hearn album.
Yet another major turning point in O’Hearn’s music career was marked with the release of Indigo (1991). Ostensibly billed by the label as being “In the tradition of Ancient Dreams“, O’Hearn downplayed the use of synthesizers and instead focused on manipulating space, acoustics, and textures to create an album with a cohesive consistency of tone.
As O’Hearn’s tenure with his record label, Private Music, was ending, a compilation album representing their years together was released in 1992, titled The Private Music of Patrick O’Hearn. This album included three previously unreleased tracks titled “Down Hill Racer”, “Irene”, and “Step”.
In 1992 O’Hearn composed and performed the music score for White Sands, a police thriller starring Willem Dafoe and Samuel L. Jackson. The film was directed by Roger Donaldson. Later that year he composed the score to Silent Tongue, written and directed by Sam Shepard and starring Alan Bates, Richard Harris, River Phoenix and Dermot Mulroney.
After a four-year absence of solo album recording, a period primarily focused on composing film scores, O’Hearn released Trust in 1995 under the newly formed Deep Cave record label. Featuring contributions from David Torn and former bandmates Terry Bozzio and Warren Cuccurullo, Trust earned O’Hearn his second Grammy nomination. Shortly after the release of his next album, Metaphor (1996), the Deep Cave record label folded. Also released in 1996 was the soundtrack to the film Crying Freeman,
There have been a few various artists albums that O’Hearn has contributed new material to. In 1998 his 12-minute composition “35th Parallel” appeared on the five-artist album The Ambient Expanse. In 2000 his version of a Johann Sebastian Bach piece called “Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1” appeared on the compilation A Different Prelude: A Contemporary Collection. In 2003 his version of the Joaquín Rodrigo composition “Adagio from Fantasy for a Gentleman” appeared on the compilation Adagio: A Windham Hill Collection. This last track can also be found on the various artists compilation Sundown: Windham Hill Piano Collection, released in 2006.
O’Hearn’s next solo project, So Flows the Current (2001), was recorded over a three-year period from 1997 to 2000. The album saw O’Hearn move away from the MIDI-centric style of music production and performance, relying more on musicians playing live together in the studio. The result is an album of earthy and atmospheric music, and which yielded a subsequent album in 2006 (see below).
In 2002, cinematographer David Fortney created a film of spectacular landscape images, assembled together with some of his favorite Patrick O’Hearn music. The result is Timeless – A National Parks Odyssey which was released on DVD in 2003. This also includes a new version of the track Beauty In Darkness, originally from O’Hearn’s debut album.
Beautiful World was O’Hearn’s next release in 2003, and it was voted the No. 1 album on the nationally syndicated radio program Echoes. This was followed by Slow Time in 2005, which marked a departure for O’Hearn, in that he ventured into the experimental realm characterized by musical movements of the 20th century – including references to Steve Roach and Pierre Boulez.
In 2006, O’Hearn released three recordings via iTunes online delivery only. The first two of these were the soundtrack EP to Sean Garland’s short film The Wheelhouse and the soundtrack to the Sam Shepard play Simpatico (originally recorded in 1994). These were shortly followed by The So Flows Sessions, which was previously unreleased material from the same recording sessions in 1997-2000 that produced So Flows The Current. Very often, tracks recorded but excluded from an album’s release are somewhat inferior in quality to the songs that made the album, but the material on The So Flows Sessions is very strong indeed and it stands up as an album in its own right.
The next year in 2007 O’Hearn released the CD Glaciation, inspired by images of Earth’s Arctic regions. In the summer of 2007 O’Hearn was introduced to singer-songwriter John Hiatt and played bass on Hiatt’s Same Old Man album. Hiatt subsequently asked him to join his band and tour in support of the album’s 2008 release. O’Hearn continued to tour with Hiatt through 2010 and recorded on his following releases: The Open Road – 2010, Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns – 2011, Mystic Pinball – 2012.
O’Hearn’s 13th album Transitions was released digitally on August 23, 2011 and on CD on October 4. It was voted No.1 album of 2011 on Echoes Listener’s Poll.
In December 2013, a various artists album titled Nashville Indie Spotlight was released, which includes a new piece by Patrick O’Hearn and Peter Maunu called “Out of Reach”. It is a slow, atmospheric blend of acoustic guitar, double bass and keyboards.
His daughter, Rachel, is an electronic musician, performing under the names Chromatiq, and Black Sound Effects.
|1985||Ancient Dreams||Private Music|
|1987||Between Two Worlds||Private Music|
|1988||Rivers Gonna Rise||Private Music|
|Aug 4, 1989||Eldorado||Private Music|
|Sep 24, 1991||Indigo||Private Music|
|July 25, 1995||Trust||Deep Cave|
|March 7, 1996||Metaphor||Deep Cave|
|Jan 20, 2001||So Flows the Current||Patrick O’Hearn|
|Nov 4, 2003||Beautiful World||Patrick O’Hearn|
|Feb 28, 2005||Slow Time||Patrick O’Hearn|
|July 7, 2006||The So Flows Sessions||Patrick O’Hearn|
|Aug 22, 2007||Glaciation||Patrick O’Hearn|
|Aug 23, 2011||Transitions||Patrick O’Hearn|
|Sep 11, 1990||Mix-Up (Remixes by other producers)||Private Music|
|Nov 10, 1992||The Private Music of Patrick O’Hearn||Private Music|
|July 15, 1997||A Windham Hill Retrospective||Windham Hill|
|2008||Timeless – A National Parks Odyssey||Janson Media|
|April 24, 1992||White Sands||Morgan Creek|
|April 29, 1996||Crying Freeman||Ariola|
|June 15, 2006||The Wheelhouse (Short Film)||Patrick O’Hearn|
|June 26, 2006||Simpatico (Stage Play)||Patrick O’Hearn|
Soundtracks not released
|1989-90||Falcon Crest – Season 9 (TV Series)||Unreleased|
|1991||Heaven is a Playground||Unreleased|
|1995||As Good as Dead (TV Movie)||Unreleased|
|1999||Alien Cargo (TV Movie)||Unreleased|
|2001||Border Patrol (TV Movie)||Unreleased|