There's a scene in "Where the Buffalo Roam" when Bill Murray, speaking as Hunter Thompson, is asked if his friend Lazlo is a figment of his imagination. He says,"No, you couldn't make up Lazlo, he's one of a kind." The same thing could be said for James P. Dalton, better known as JPAT.
JPAT grew up along the Jersey Shore in Bayhead, which just happens to be the last stop on the North Jersey Coast Line. That might have something to do with his love for travel. As a musician, poet, playwright and actor, JPAT has managed to see more of the world before turning thirty than many of us will ever see in our lifetime.
"Everything after Bay Head just falls into the Alabama worm hole of Ocean County," laughs JPAT. "It's just a crazy world. As a child I has seen a lot of the country. I'd been all over the place with family vacations and stuff. ?But abroad, all of a sudden there was this entire world where people didn't speak English. Well they did speak English, but not at first. The first words were something else. It was this new world for me. It was just a brave new world like in The Tempest."
JPAT's travels started when he went to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland with his girlfriend at the time. He knew instantly that performing and traveling was a natural mix for him. The key was finding out how to afford such a lifestyle - something he's slowly starting to figure out.
The next time he returned to Edinburgh, he was the lead in a production of Hair.The show had already gone through a successful run in the states when the cast realized they had something worthy of the festival. So, after raising the funds they sent in their application for the festival. And in keeping with the theme of the show, they decided to send a racy photo - one that they knew would get rejected.
"We realized that we were sending this to the UK, so we were like 'let's be wise-ass Americans' because that's what we are. We're a bunch of American college kids. Let's send a scandalous photo."
The photo had the cast members lined up with the women in the front and the men in the back and nobody had shirts on. The guys were holding the women's breasts from behind them - carefully obstructing any nudity.
The photo was rejected as expected, but they soon found out that until their cast shot of Hair no photo had ever been rejected by the program guide. And this started a barrage of media attention long before the actors had even arrived in the country. The "scandalous" photo found its way on to the cover of The Scotsman and radio stations began giving away free tickets to the show. The theatre recognized that it had a scandal on its hands and worked the media to a frenzy in order to futher promote the show.
For some reason, things like this just seem to happen to JPAT. The stars are aligned for him in such a way that his life resembles a never-ending adventure that you wouldn't believe unless you knew him. He's a modern day Huck Finn. He's a man with enough boy left in him to take chances but enough man to be a shrewd business man as well. If there's a plan to his life then he admits to making it up as he goes along.
"The way I see things right now," he explains. "It's like going from project to project. I'm going over to Europe for two months and playing music over there. But before I go there I have different things to do here. And when I get back I'm going to start writing this play which will involve Irish traditional music and be about freedom. I might go to Hawaii for a few weeks to play music. After that I might go and travel somewhere else. It's just going to places that can fund me doing all of these interesting things."
When he's in the tri-state area, he can be found regularly playing clubs like the Bitter End in New York City or the Conduit in Trenton. He's run an open mic night at Tumulty's Pub in New Brunswick on Wednesdays and an open mic night at the Internet Cafe in Red Bank for several years. It's amazing that one person can be so involved in the local scene and be so focused on playing all over the world, but that's just JPAT. If you go to see a local act on stage anywhere in Central New Jersey, JPAT has most likely guested or jammed with the artist. He simply loves to play and loves to perform.
In fact, JPAT has made a living out of asking people if he could sit in with him. It's led to jams with members of Phish, the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Jerry Joseph and many others. It was through these guest appearances that his name quickly grew among the jamband scene.
He was trying to book shows for a small tour of Ireland when a promoter who was trying to build a jam band scene in Germany called him. This promoter was literally begging him to come to Germany to open for Jerry Joseph and Dave Schools (of Widespread Panic). JPAT knew that he couldn't afford to go from Ireland to Germany and kept turning the guy down until the promoter actually offered to fly him from Ireland himself. All he wanted was for JPAT to spread the word about the jam band scene in Germany.
In recent years, JPAT has walked the line between jam band shows and singer-songwriter music. For a while he was playing with the singer-songwriter Josh Zandman, who once played in the popular band Burlap to Cashmere. The two became a regular duo at clubs like the Bitter End. Eventually they added Tommy Anton to play percussion in a band first called the "Josh Zandman Trio" and later known simply as "The Trio."
In the Trio, JPAT got a chance to showcase his talents on mandolin and harmonica. He even reprised a show-stopping number from Hair each night. Unfortunately, as with many bands comprised of multiple lead players, The Trio ran into a lot of problems. In the end the three decided it was best for each to move forward as solo artists with the idea of staging a Trio show every once in a while. In fact, the band will be getting back together for the magazine benefit show on May 1st in Asbury Park.
JPAT also was with the band Secret Sound for a while but decided to leave because he felt that band wasn't doing enough to reach the next level. Even when it may not seem like it, JPAT always has a plan in his mind. He knows where he wants his career to go and he's intent on getting there.
Recently he has been getting a lot of high paying acting jobs for private functions in New York City. The acting jobs has led him back to playwriting. As expected, you most likely won't find a traditional family drama penned by him. It'll be something different.
"I don't write normal stuff," he says. "I write kooky stuff. A lot of it is just dialogue between people. Sometimes it looks like I was watching a Tarantino film; sometimes it's like some 70s Italian experimental art film... And sometimes it's really ridiculous.
"I'm trying to give actors the chance to do things. When I'm writing a play, I try to give the actors a chance to experience emotions that they wouldn't get from another script."
If he had the choice he would definitely do a little bit of everything. The key thing is being creative and performing. And when he can tie his dreams together that's even better.
"I have a lot of places that I want to go and play music," he continues. "If I could spend a week or two weeks in a city and go from city to city around the world and have five or six nights a week to play music or to act... If someone could make that happen I'd be a happy man."
After all, JPAT knows that the world is much bigger than Bay Head and there's always new frontiers to cross.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.