Pamela onstage with legendary saxophonist, Charlie Chalmers, in 1999.
...From Charlie Daniels to Charlie Chalmers
As a member of the sixth generation from an Arkansas family farm that was founded in 1892, Pamela K. Ward has a deep appreciation for her roots. Though she did not come from a musical family, they recognized early that Pamela had talent. Her grandpa, Virgil Randall, who was not a musician but was a comedic entertainer, had an appreciation for great music, and first put her on stage at the age of two, singing at the Sugarloaf Opry in Heber Springs, Arkansas. Pamela was hooked immediately and a future world class entertainer was born.
Pamela sang at local events through her childhood, and began playing piano at the age of seven. After seeing Charlie Daniels shred the fiddle in concert in 1993, Pamela decided she didn’t want to be just another ‘girl singer,’ so she started learning to play the alto sax at age eight to add an element of spice to her shows.
By the age of ten, she was regularly performing 60 minute sets at fairs, festivals, private events, parties, restaurants and churches and singing the National Anthem for college basketball games, district and state tournaments, rodeos and other events in Arkansas. She also started making visits to Nashville, performing at the Roy Acuff Theater at Opryland and the Nashville Palace, as well as to Arlington, Texas to perform on the Johnnie High Revue at the Arlington Music Hall.
Pamela spent her teens honing her stage show skills by traveling the U.S. performing on festival stages from Reno, Nevada to Tampa, Florida. She was performing in auditoriums in Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, and Branson, Missouri and was competing at a national level on the talent circuit, as a finalist with the likes of a young Carrie Underwood and yodeling with comedian and singing ventriloquist, Terry Fator (winner of ‘America’s Got Talent’ and current Las Vegas legend.) She was featured regularly on various live radio and television shows, including performing with the live house band on the famed ‘Mornin’ show on NBC in Tupelo, Mississippi.
It was also then, that she began to perform with and learn from some of the best musicians in the world. On weekends, Pamela’s family would often take day trips to Memphis so that she could learn from the makers of the blues. Wielding a vintage Selmer tenor saxophone that spent over ten years in the hands of Little Joe Poff, backing James Brown in the 1970s-80s, Pamela would play on Beale Street with the ‘Carl Drew Blues Band’ and at Handy Park, on the corner of Beale and Rufus Thomas Blvd…where it was not uncommon for her to play with the ‘Memphis All-Stars’ and the Sun and Stax Records legend, Rufus Thomas, himself.
Pamela was also performing alongside the likes of Charlie Chalmers (sax player and horn arranger of Grammy Hall of Fame songs ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ ‘Respect,’ ‘Natural Woman,’ ‘Mustang Sally,’ ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ and others,) Chubby Checker (artist of ‘The Twist,’) Vince Vance (writer of ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’) and others.
In addition to exploring the roots of the blues and Rock & Roll, Pamela was also busy studying the roots of country, western, folk and bluegrass music. She recorded two full length albums in Nashville in 1998-1999, backed by members of the Grand Ole Opry house band and she was invited backstage to the Grand Ole Opry, where she had the opportunity to meet and converse with Opry legends, Little Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner, Charley Pride, and others, in their dressing rooms. She opened for Loretta Lynn at Loretta’s Dude Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, performed for multiple shows, (including the Jim Stafford Show) in Branson, Missouri and entertained audiences with comedy skits in full-dress impersonations of Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and Tammy Wynette.
She was also a contracted performer at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas; where all music performed was written prior to 1941. Pamela, dawning her Dale Evans cowgirl outfit, was a crowd favorite, singing and yodeling the western hits of the 1930s by Gene Autry and Patsy Montana with Kentucky Music Hall of Fame guitarist, Comer “Moon” Mullins. Pamela would go on to win 2nd Place in the Elton Britt International Yodeling Championships in 2000.
In 2001, Pamela’s family began making monthly trips to Nashville so that Pamela could continue furthering her music career there. Pamela was working with Sony Records A&R department and was receiving one-on-one coaching with vocal coach, Lisa VanWye. She was also working with hit songwriters and in the studio, recording her original songs at Sony/Tree Studio with engineer Bartley Pursley (engineer for Jason Aldean, Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Blake Shelton, among others) and guitarist Adam Shoenfeld (Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, among others.)
Then, in October 2001, at the age of 17, Pamela made the life changing decision to leave the farm life in Arkansas and make the move to Nashville, Tennessee. She immediately began performing at the Blues Hideaway, the famous Bourbon Street Blues Bar and Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar on Printer’s Alley, the famed bars of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Legends on Broadway and playing with Nashville’s premiere musicians including saxophonist Phil Kenzie (Eagles LIVE album, Beatles ‘Let it Be’ album, toured with Carly Simon, Jackson Browne, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks and others) saxophonist Buddy Leach, (George Thorogood) saxophonist Don Wise, (Delbert McClinton) and band members of artists including Charlie Daniels, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Reba, Kenny Chesney, Vince Gill, Luke Bryan, Heart, Beyonce and others. She spent time in the studio with Big and Rich and Gretchen Wilson and performed live with John Rich, playing sax and singing background vocals.
Pamela’s own band at the time, ’Pamela K. Ward and Red Hot,’ featured Brazilian guitarist Alfons Kettner, (writer and guitarist of the #1 hit ’What You Won’t Do For Love,’ guitarist for Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, Paul McCartney, The BeeGees among others) and drummer, Mark Beckett (house drummer for the Grand Ole Opry.)
Through her connections in Music City, Pamela was able to strike up friendships with her idols, including none other than Charlie Daniels himself and the incomparable saxophone legend, Boots Randolph. Then one evening after a show, Pamela received one of the greatest compliments of her career when she was approached by a teary eyed Crystal Taliefero (percussionist for Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel) who stated, “I never thought I’d ever hear anybody with that tone again. Your sound is truly just like his (meaning the late great Clarence Clemons.)
As a professional music instructor, Pamela taught sax lessons to Tom Keifer (lead singer of Cinderella) and taught blues scales on the piano to the granddaughter of Billy Cox (legendary bassist of The Jimi Hendrix Experience) as Billy observed, nodding and smiling and at times, playing along.
Through the early 2000s, Pamela was a songwriter for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s ‘Words and Music’ project, performing original material monthly at the museum and she recorded multiple sessions in the studio with RCA Studio B’s legendary engineer, Tom Pick (eight time Grammy winner, engineer of 49 #1 albums, including ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Jolene’ and recipient of the 2015 Audio Engineering Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award.)
In January 2005, Pamela was approached by country music artist, Doug Stone, (artist of ‘I’d be Better off in a Pine Box,’ and ‘A Jukebox with a Country Song’) to hit the road as his keyboard player and backup vocalist, performing a 26 song set list made up of Doug’s top 10 country hits.
In November 2009, after several years of writing, recording and performing in various bands around Nashville, Pamela decided it was time to once again put together her own band. She auditioned and hired Seattle bassist, Chris Gadler (son of legendary Nashville bassist, Larry Gadler;) Nashville drummer, Tyler Parkey (Alan Jackson;) West Palm Beach guitarist John Beemiller (Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn;) and Cleveland guitarist Andy Leab. Together, in 2010 they were chosen to be the house band for the World Famous Wildhorse Saloon for a year and as a house band for the NHL Nashville Predators. They opened for Jimmy Buffett at Bridgestone Arena in 2011. Pamela and Chris continued performing at Bridgestone Arena and at various special events around Nashville for the Nashville Predators from October 2010-February 2020.
From 2011-2012, Pamela collaborated with producers Ryan Rossebo and Josh Mendez in Nashville for her full length ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ album, which included ten songs, written or co-written by Pamela and Chris Gadler and featured Pamela’s long-time theme, the title track, ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ as well as the laid back island vibey ‘Getaway,’ which was co-written with Don Rollins (writer of the #3 country song of the entire 2000’s decade, ’It’s 5’oclock Somewhere.’)
After a stint playing keyboards, sax and singing vocals on the road with the all-girl band, Mustang Sally in 2012, Pamela and Chris returned to the studio, this time recording a 3-song EP, collaborating with Chris’s dad, bassist Larry Gadler, (Willie Nelson, Flying Burrito Brothers, Johnny Rodriguez, Becky Hobbs, Curb Records) at his studio in southern California to record their sax infused holiday classic ‘Everyday a Holiday,’ which featured Larry’s do-wop background vocals. They also recorded the tongue in cheek ‘Duct Tape’ and ‘Natural State of Mind,’ which presented Pamela’s abilities on not just alto, tenor and bari sax, but also on clarinet, keyboard and accordion. Its lyrics and Cajun feel led to it being chosen as the runner-up for the Song of Arkansas by the Arkansas State Tourism Department in 2014.
They also recorded a 6-song original EP with their band in Nashville, collaborating again with Pamela’s longtime friend and engineer, Bartley Pursley, as well as engineer and keyboardist, Steve Peffer (Alabama.)
Pamela and Chris continued touring and performing live with their band ‘Pamela K. Ward and the Last Call Orchestra,’ with various band members across the U.S. from Olympic Hall in Seattle, Washington to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida from 2012-2019. Pamela’s current band features talented world class musicians from across the country including drummers Herb Shucher and Noah Hungate, bassists Mandy Shucher and Jimmy Lykens, guitarists John McNally and Ellen Angelico and keyboardist Josh Wilson.
The Last Call Orchestra is currently preparing to record and release a new EP in the fall of 2021, with Grammy Hall of Fame saxophonist/producer and Pamela’s long time friend, Charlie Chalmers in Branson, Missouri.
When not touring, Pamela can be seen live, performing her weekly residency, evening dinner shows, ‘Throwback Thursday’ and ‘Saxy Saturday with Pamela K. Ward,’ at Harry’s on beautiful Anna Maria Island in southwest Florida, where she resides with her husband, Chris Gadler.
Pamela is also honored to regularly perform ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘O Canada’ for Major League Baseball, representing both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays.