Best known as a member of It’s A Beautiful Day, Santos co-formed the band in San Francisco in 1967 along with violinist David LaFlamme and his wife, Linda LaFlamme, on keyboards.
David LaFlamme, who as a youth had once performed as a soloist with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, had previously been in the group Orkustra playing five-string violin. The other members of It’s a Beautiful Day in its early years were Hal Wagenet (guitar), Mitchell Holman (bass), and Val Fuentes (drums). Although they were one of the earliest and most important San Francisco bands to emerge from 1967’s social phenomenon Summer of Love, the band never quite achieved the success of contemporaries such as Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana, with whom they had connections. The band created a unique blend of rock, jazz, folk, classical, and world-beat styles during the initial seven years it was officially together.
The band’s original manager, Matthew Katz, had previously worked with the rock bands Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape. The members of the band were unaware that the other two bands were already trying to end their business relationships with Katz. During 1967 and early 1968, Katz prevented It’s a Beautiful Day from performing in San Francisco, telling them they were not ready. He booked their first public appearances at a club he controlled in Seattle, Washington, formerly known as the Encore Ballroom. Katz renamed the club San Francisco Sound. While in Seattle, the group lived in the attic of an old house owned by Katz while writing and rehearsing new songs in between club performances. Few customers came to the club during the band’s engagement in Seattle during December 1967.
The band’s signature song “White Bird” was inspired by the experiences David and Linda LaFlamme had while living in Seattle. In an ironic twist on the band’s name, the sad song was partly inspired by Seattle’s rainy winter weather. In a later interview, David LaFlamme said: “Where the ‘white bird’ thing came from … We were like caged birds in that attic. We had no money, no transportation, the weather was miserable. We were just barely getting by on a very small food allowance provided to us. It was quite an experience, but it was very creative in a way.”
By the time the group members returned to San Francisco they had no money and were frustrated by Katz’s attempts to manipulate their career. In desperation, they began playing at a few clubs without Katz’s approval. The band gradually began to gain some recognition and earn money. The band got its first big break when offered a chance to open for Cream at the Oakland Coliseum, in Oakland, California on October 4, 1968. Around this time, the band first began a long process of trying to disentangle themselves from Katz.
The band’s debut album, “It’s a Beautiful Day,” was produced by David LaFlamme in Los Angeles, California, and released by Columbia Records in 1969. It features tracks such as “White Bird,” “Hot Summer Day” and “Time Is.” The album reached #47 in the US charts and #58 in the UK. The theme from the song “Bombay Calling” was later used, at a slower tempo, by Deep Purple as the intro to “Child in Time” on its “Deep Purple In Rock” album. The vocals and violin playing of David LaFlamme plus Santos’s singing attracted FM radio play attention, and nationally, “White Bird” bubbled under Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, peaking at #118.
It’s a Beautiful Day was almost invited to play at Woodstock. When Michael Lang was negotiating with Bill Graham to get the Grateful Dead to appear, Graham insisted Lang put one of two other acts that he also managed on the bill. Lang then listened to a tape of both It’s a Beautiful Day and the other band and liked them both so much that he couldn’t decide, so he flipped a coin and It’s a Beautiful Day lost. The band that won was Santana, who became stars overnight.
July 5, 1970, the band played the second Atlanta International Pop Festival in Byron, Georgia to an estimated 250,000 people. Pattie Santos sang lead on “White Bird”, “Hot Summer Day” and “The Dolphin Song”. The band had a regional radio hit with “Don and Dewey”. Later that year, the original lineup of the band changed; the LaFlammes had split and Linda left the band, replaced by Fred Webb. The following album, “Marrying Maiden”, recorded at Pacific High Recording Studio in San Francisco, released in 1970, was their most successful in the charts. It reached #28 in the US (their only Top 40 placing) and #45 in the UK. In that year, the band also performed at the Holland Pop Festival at the Kralingse Bos in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. Tom Fowler (later bassist for Frank Zappa) and Bill Gregory joined in March 1971, with their first performance broadcast live on San Francisco’s KSAN FM radio, with host Tom Donahue introducing them as the band’s two new members.
In July 1971, the band was one of the last acts to appear at Fillmore West in San Francisco. Their performance of “White Bird” appeared as part of the musical documentary film “Fillmore” (1972).
The band continued to record “Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime” in 1971, the live album “Live at Carnegie Hall” in 1972 and “It’s A Beautiful Day…Today” in 1973, touring until 1974 when it split up after violinist Gregory Bloch left to join the Italian progressive rock group Premiata Forneria Marconi and later the Saturday Night Live Band. In 1976, LaFlamme’s solo version of “White Bird” finally cracked the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #89. Santos, who together with her husband, former group bassist Bud Cockrell (also original bassist with Pablo Cruise), had formed Cockrell & Santos in 1977.
It’s a Beautiful Day reunited occasionally for reunions and special concerts. The band’s music continued under the name “David LaFlamme Band” as well as “It’s a Beautiful Day” until Katz let his trademark of the name go un-renewed.
The song “White Bird” was used in the 2015 film “Focus” starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie, and was used in 2013’s “Adult World” starring Emma Roberts, Evan Peters, and John Cusack; the album cover is also visible in one shot.
A resident of Santa Rosa at the time of her death, Santos had been retired from music for a few years and was raising and training dogs.