A new exhibit at the Guntersville Museum will honor the late Guntersville musician Pat Upton. The exhibit opens Tuesday, Oct. 8, and will run through Nov. 3.
It’s being held in conjunction with the city’s “Pat Upton Day” on Saturday, Oct. 12, which coincides with the Downtown Merchants Fall Festival.
Upton is best known for his hit son “More Today Than Yesterday.” He worked professionally with the late Ricky Nelson as a young man and later had a Guntersville nightspot, PJ’s Alley, where The Brick is located now. The memorabilia in the exhibit includes his guitar, album jackets, awards and photos. All the items are on loan from his family.
Museum director Julie Patton provided this write-up on Upton’s life and musical legacy:
Pat Upton (1940-2016) was a singer, songwriter and guitarist with the band Spiral Starecase. He wrote and was the lead vocalist on their 1969 gold-selling single “More Today Than Yesterday,” which peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot-100 and No. 6 in the RPM Top 100 in Canada. The song has been covered by Sonny & Cher, Diana Ross, Andy Williams, Lena Horne, and Patti Austin.
A native of nearby Geraldine, Upton was a musician for most of his life, getting his professional start in high school with the Geraldine High School Future Farmers of America Quartet. While in the Air Force, he joined a band that evolved into Spiral Starecase (the name borrowed from a movie of that era, and intentionally misspelled). Once while the group was performing in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra heard about “this talented young man’s voice” and attended one of their shows at the Flamingo.
After Spiral Starecase split up in 1971, Upton formed another band. On New Year’s Eve 1976 they opened for Elvis Presley at the Pontiac Stadium in Detroit. Soon after, he joined Ricky Nelson and his Stone Canyon Band as a backup singer and musician.
Returning to Alabama in the 1980s, Pat opened PJ’s Alley nightclub in Guntersville. On December 30, 1985, Ricky Nelson performed at the club and afterwards asked Upton to accompany him on a flight to Dallas, Texas. Upton declined due to business obligations. The plane later crashed, killing Nelson, Nelson's fiancée, Helen, and five members of Nelson's band.
In 1999, Pat was asked to perform “More Today than Yesterday” at President Jimmy Carter’s 75th birthday celebration. It was a favorite song of the president and Mrs. Carter. The classic tune was featured in several movies including California Dreamin’, My Girl, and The Mule.
In the late 1980s, Upton joined a California-based oldies show, 30 Years of Rock-n-Roll, and eventually retired. An avid golfer, he became a fixture in the Guntersville and Geraldine communities. Pat and his wife Lynn, were married for 43 years and raised four children: Danielle, Pat Jr., Jenifer and Nicki.
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Lynn was with Pat for 45 years, married for 43. She was born in Toronto and met him in Los Angeles.
"Pat's dad kept a boat at the old Harbor House in Guntersville," Lynn said. "We came to visit, I saw the lake and said, 'I could live here.' It was my idea for us to move to Guntersville."
She said the triangle of Los Angeles, Toronto and Geraldine was more than she could handle and they were excited to get out of LA and to make Guntersville their hometown.
She said Pat "was the cutest thing" she'd ever seen when she met him. A friend thought they would hit it off and fixed them up.
Although Pat has been gone about 3 years, she still can't listen to his music. She moved awhile back and packing up Pat's office of 35 years was tough but also therapeutic.
"There were laughs and there were tears," she said.
Pat's voice and his music were superb, as anyone who heard him would attest. In addition to Sinatra, Glenn Frey of the Eagles once went to hear Pat sing.
Pat just happened to sing "Take It To The Limit," an Eagles hit.
"Glenn Frey told him afterwards, 'Pat, you sing that song better than I do,'" Lynn said.
Pat was very humble, though. Lynn didn't hear stories like that from Pat himself, but from others.
"I learned more about his musical career from others than I did from him," she said.
Next week's Pat Upton Day celebration will include a concert at Errol Allan Park. Pat Upton Jr. will sing his father's hit "More Today Than Yesterday."