We Built This City: Two new music documentaries on local classic-rock legends rock SLIFF

Nov 18, 2009 at 4:00 am

Although the annual St. Louis International Film Festival highlights the work of filmmakers from all around the world, the showcase also spotlights a fair amount of homegrown talent. Two documentaries in this year's festival feature Mama's Pride and Pavlov's Dog, two of the biggest local rock bands of the '70s. In each film, directors Mike Steinberg and Thomas Crone revisit the city's back pages through the history of these acts, both of which came tantalizingly close to national acclaim.

In The Pride of St. Louis, brothers Danny and Pat Liston retell the story of Mama's Pride, starting with their early days performing in mixed-race R&B combos and up through the group's adoption of the increasingly popular Southern-rock sound. The film traces Mama's Pride's mid-'70s rise from St. Louis powerhouse to national recording artists. With the help of the then-new KSHE (94.7 FM) radio station, the band found a strong local audience and quickly began rubbing elbows with rock & roll's elite players. Atlantic Records' maestro Ahmet Ertegun signed the sextet to ATCO Records, legendary producer Arif Mardin schooled Danny Liston for his sloppy recording techniques, and Eric Clapton let the band crash at his fabled 461 Ocean Boulevard address. An opening gig for Lynyrd Skynyrd offered Mama's Pride its biggest break yet: Singer Ronnie Van Zant offered to produce its third record and take the band on tour.

Mama's Pride's chance at stardom effectively went down with Skynyrd's airplane, and the band dissolved after being dropped from ATCO. Post-breakup, the Liston brothers have found redemption in different ways — Pat through Irish folk music, Danny through clean living and his renewed Christian faith — and the reconstituted Mama's Pride regularly sells out its annual reunion show at the Pageant. Unlike a lot of rock docs, The Pride of St. Louis doesn't feature a tremendous rise nor a spectacular fall; instead, it turns the lens on one of thousands of young bands that saw their chances at fame flicker away.

Similarly, Old Dog, New Trick focuses on Steve Scorfina, guitarist for the local prog-rock group Pavlov's Dog. The film finds Scorfina, now well into middle age, scouring flea markets and thrift stores for rare records and assorted bric-a-brac. This film, too, sorts through the forgotten treasures of St. Louis' rock history. Scorfina cuts his teeth playing in Mike & the Majestics with a pre-Doobie Brothers Michael McDonald and spends his nights in teen clubs listening to acts like the Blues Magoos and local legend Ike Turner. Eventually he lands a gig with an early incarnation of REO Speedwagon before forming Pavlov's Dog. While the band fell on hard times owing to shady management and label woes, Old Dog finds Scorfina attempting to regain a little of his past glory with a new CD and recent gigs at Blueberry Hill. Taken together, these documentaries echo Bob Seger's adage that rock & roll never forgets — it just gets sober, goes gray and wisens up.