If you’ve ever been out in Augusta on Tuesdays in the fall, when the brown and gold leaves listlessly fall off the trees, you may have heard a mad beat emanating from the Old Augusta Garage. Inside on the drum kit, Pat O’Donnell pounds away with a wide grin. Music has taken him to venues all over Missouri and beyond.
But Pat is easygoing; he just enjoys playing his heart out and giving his talents to others.
“When you’re as old as I am and have played the different styles of music that I’ve played – and I’m not a fancy musician, I’m like a metronome, I don’t rush the song or drag the song, I drive the song – you can fill in and set in with a lot of musicians.”
O’Donnell, a self-proclaimed back beat drummer, has played around Franklin County for over two decades. He’s made connections with many local musicians and currently lives off Country Club Road near Washington.
Pat, however, is not a Washington native. On Aug. 18, 1947, Lawrence Patrick O’Donnell II was born in Jefferson City to Larry and Alberta O’Donnell. His father was the assistant superintendent at the Algoa Correctional Center. His mother was a telephone operator.
As a kid, Pat’s parents, music aficionados, often took him to the Ratskeller jazz club in the Governor Hotel. Little Pat loved swinging to musicians like Sam Byrd, who piqued his interest in music.
“We would befriend the musicians — my family would — and then they would be out at our house on the weekends for barbecues,” O’Donnell said. “It was wonderful.”
Listening to his HiFi player, O’Donnell taught himself to play the drums. The first 45 that he purchased was “Good Golly Miss Molly” by Little Richard for a mere 17 cents.
His first instrument, however, was the saxophone, which he blew for his inaugural band, Woody and The Wonders. The neighborhood group never took off.
After experimenting with Woody and The Wonders, Pat attended Jefferson City High School, where he was heavily involved. On Friday night football games, Pat was a part of Jeff City football’s 71 consecutive win streak. He played saxophone with his high school band and later was the drum major.
“I was on the field,” O’Donnell said, “but I was on the field during halftime.”
In 1965, he was the drum major when the Jeff City band played for the World’s Fair in New York.
Outside of the school band, Pat wore the varsity letter for the Jays. In the winter, he played basketball and in the spring, baseball.
“I was the two-minute wonder,” O’Donnell said of his basketball career. “If there were two minutes left in the game and we were up by 20, I went in. Or if we were behind by 20, I went in. I was the eighth or ninth guy on the team, so I didn’t do a lot.”
But Pat was more concerned with playing music, not sports. He spent hours listening to Buddy Rich, the Temptations, the Supremes, Four Tops, and Junior Walker and the All-Stars.
When he found free time, O’Donnell tinkered with music at a local teen hangout. From those performances, Pat was discovered.
“We were playing Wiffle ball in the high school yard, and this car pulled up and this gentleman got out. He walked up to me and said, ‘You know, I’ve got a band called the Road Runners; we’re looking for a drummer, and I understand you play drums. Would you come out to my house – here’s the directions to my house – and audition on Saturday?’”
They accepted him.
“They were 21, 22, and 23, and I was 15. ... They had to pick me up because I didn’t have a car and I wasn’t 16. They dragged me all over the place and we just had a ball.”
The Road Runners even played at Fort Leonard Wood, including one year on Christmas Eve.
“When we played down there, I literally kept a ball bat next to my drums because every soldier who got drunk thought he could be a drummer,” O’Donnell said.
In 1965, Pat broke off from the band after graduating from high school. Afterward, he went to the University of Central Missouri, where he earned a degree in public relations and was the assistant sports editor of the school newspaper.
In college, Pat met up with James Thompson, who later became a lifelong playing partner with O’Donnell. James encouraged Pat to join the Coast Guard.
Pat followed the tip and volunteered after graduating in 1969 with a degree in public relations. With the Vietnam War blazing, a yeoman suggested Pat look into a journalism program the Coast Guard offered.
“He said, ‘If you go to OCS, you’re going to be out on a ship for a year.’ And I had a brand-new baby,” O’Donnell said. “So I said, ‘Sure, throw my name in the hat.’ And three months later I (got it).”
Fortunately, Pat avoided the gunfire in the jungle. After months of training, Pat was stationed in San Francisco for the rest of his tour of duty.
“I sat there and banged out press releases and worked with the boating safety branches around the area,” O’Donnell said. “I gave lectures on boating safety to youth groups and organizations all over the place.”
In 1974, he got out of the Coast Guard and moved back to Missouri. For six years, he worked with Midwest Medical Supply. Then, he joined Davol, where he’s worked for 32 years. With his new company, Pat sells medical supplies. Currently, he’s a mother-baby specialist boosting labor delivery, nursery, and the neonatal intensive care units to hospitals.
Pat met his wife Terry, a Washington High grad, in 1983. He has three children, four grandchildren, and one cat, Eartha.
O’Donnell is actively involved with the St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, and recently sponsored Food Stock, a charity concert to benefit local food pantries, held Aug. 18 at the Washington Farmers’ Market. Pat’s band, 8 Track, performed with his longtime friend Thompson.
Food Stock coincided with O’Donnell’s 65th birthday. Admission was canned food or cash donations to benefit St. Francis Borgia Food Pantry, Loving Hearts Outreach and St. Peter’s United Church of Christ Food Pantry.
Seven local bands participated: 8 Track, Texas Giants, Jonesy and the Doctor, Augusta Bottom Consort, River Rats, Schmitts and Grins, and Phase Five. O’Donnell participated in three of the bands as a drummer.
O’Donnell said he decided to organize Food Stock because of the incredible need in the community right now and because he wanted to do something to give back.
“The Lord’s been so good to me. I though, ‘Why don’t I give back.’ You know, pay it forward,” said O’Donnell.
“All of the (food banks) are short. There are a lot of people hurting in Franklin County and in Washington.”
Food Stock isn’t O’Donnell’s first experience with giving back. In 1982, he and some musician friends who played full time during the summers of 1967-’69 when they were at Central Missouri State held a jam session at the Lake of the Ozarks.
The event grew into an annual get-together for 22 years. Super Session, as it came to be known, once drew as many as 2,000 people with all the proceeds from the event going to Camp Wonderland, a summer camp for the mentally and physically challenged kids and young adults of Missouri.
Ever the giver, Pat has found his niche in Washington with similar-minded musicians.
“We love the country; we love the area,” O’Donnell said. “The music people, the kind people I’ve met out here, have just been great. I think, and I guess I’m a little on the prejudice side, but I would say in Washington, Mo., they are some of the finest musicians I’ve ever been around, some of the finest people when it comes to musicians with big hearts and tons of talent. They write, they play, they’re caring.
“There’s a lot of real givers out here. It’s an incredible community.”