Published May 5, 2010
Terry Pinkham’s son Josh didn’t just decide to walk in her and her husband Jeff’s musical footsteps. He chose to perform alongside his parents almost every evening as the mandolinist/guitarist for the Terry T. Trio, also known as the Pinkham Family Band.
Terry and Jeff have been performing around the Tampa Bay area since they married over 26 years ago. Terry came from a musical family and grew up singing harmony with her mom while her dad strummed tenor guitar. Her grandfather Benny Thomasson is credited as a huge influence on the Texas fiddling scene; she would find herself singing at fiddling contests on the weekends growing up. Jeff plays guitar and fretted electric violin in the trio but his primary instrument was always mandolin, which he played on Bertie Higgins’ number-one Billboard-charting hit song “Key Largo” in 1982.
Terry eventually signed with Polygram/Mercury, but her role as mother trumped her ambitions. “They were projecting mom to be what Shania Twain ended up being,” says Josh. “She was on her way and then she started asking questions about numbers. How often was she going to be on the road? I was 3 and my sisters were 5 and 6. She pretty much ended up literally leaving out of the back door of Mercury/Polygram studios, packed up the car with all of us and drove away so that she could feel like she was being a mother instead of, in her eyes, selfishly pursuing a career in music. She wanted to raise us full-time and just drove away on a multi-million-dollar record contract.”
The Pinkhams settled down in Tampa, home-schooling their three children while continuing to perform full-time as musicians. Of the three, only Josh chose to follow the musical path, falling in love with the mandolin at age 12. “He liked the sound of the mandolinist Chris Thile,” says Terry. “Josh heard him and said, ‘I’m going to be as good as him in a year.’ I said, ‘No way. You’ll get bored.’ It was about six months later and he got really good and me and Jeff were lying in bed and Jeff said, ‘I’ve taught Josh about everything I know.’ It really blew me away.” Josh admits his passion for the instrument went to the extreme. “After about six months of it I hit this place where it was just total musical obsession,” he says. “I was obsessed with the mandolin to an almost unhealthy degree. I started playing 12 hours a day. I woke up every day, didn’t eat and before wiping my eyes I would pick it up and play.”
That hard work paid off: “The pinnacle of my mandolinist experience as a young guy was eventually meeting, becoming good friends with, and playing with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin in France when we did a tour there,” says Josh. Then, at age 16, Josh became one of two mandolinists commissioned to write a composition for American composer and upright bassist Edgar Meyer, which he performed at Carnegie Hall. “For me that was a sort of crowning as the best mandolin player under the age of 25 in the world.”
Josh has plenty of reasons to get a big head, but his mom always makes sure that rock-star attitude takes a back seat to modesty and respect. “I was thrilled and so very, very proud,” says Terry. “Not only for his musicianship but I raised my kids to have respect for other people and be a good person. What really made me proud was when you talked to the kid he’s a really good, respectful kid and that was what’s important to me. Many adults can’t handle notoriety and adulation directed at them, so when I see him starting to get a big head I will say, ‘Wait a minute. You have more of a responsibility to not be arrogant or cocky.’”
Josh will turn 21 in July; he’s now been playing in the Terry T. Trio for four years. Some people wonder why he doesn’t break away from the family band. “I’m going to do my own thing and that’s what I’m working towards,” he says, “but right now I’m still young and this is all new to me. With my parents’ experience I was able to learn what good music is, what’s right, what’s wrong, pitch, time, good rhythm. I never studied music formally but because of the people my parents knew I was able to study with my favorite musicians.”
About four months ago, the trio began regularly making the trip down to Sarasota to play at Mattison’s City Grille on Monday nights. They recently added a gig at Ceviche on Tuesdays and may start playing there Wednesdays as well. “At first we were pretty turned off by the drive,” says Josh, “but … Tampa or Palm Harbor, they’re culturally nothing like Sarasota. We like Sarasota a lot. The appreciation for art in general seems to be great. I’m safe to say it exceeds the Tampa Bay area by a long shot.”
Both mother and son say they get an enjoyment from performing together that they couldn’t get anywhere else. “There are times when we’ll do something exactly the same rhythmically and we’ll just look at each other and laugh and say, ‘Whoa, that was cool,’” says Terry. “There are times when we’re clicking and it’s on and I try to enjoy those moments because it’s so there and it’s so unbelievable. It will actually bring me to tears if I think about it too much.” Josh feels the same connection. “We’re practically the same individual in so many ways,” he says. “We’ll do things musically on stage to an almost telepathic and eerie degree. She’ll go into a lick and I’ll play the exact same thing note-wise on the guitar. I don’t know if it’s power of suggestion but I have moments musically with my mother that I’ve never been able to have with anybody.”
“I’ve never had as much fun with any musician musically than with Josh,” says Terry. “Not just because he’s my son, but because we think the same musically. It’s really enjoyable and kind of breathtaking at times when you’re closing your eyes and feeling it and sometimes you hear something and say, ‘Yeah,’ and I open my eyes and it’s my son.”
“My mom’s really a cut above in a lot of ways,” says Josh. “For one thing, she sacrificed what I feel she was really meant to do so that she could raise us kids. And the way she went about disciplining us and teaching us, we all turned out really well. My mother was really one of the most nurturing mothers in the history of mothers. So any time I can give back to her in any degree I try to.”
Photo by Tim Sukits