Moment In Time

Jim Thomas photo of Margaret Explosion playing at Little Theatre Café with Jim Thomas paintings on the wall
Jim Thomas photo of Margaret Explosion playing at Little Theatre Café with Jim Thomas paintings on the wall

It was a thrill to play music while surrounded by recent paintings by Gail and Jim Thomas. We bought one of Jim’s large scale abstract figure drawings about twenty years ago and have stayed in touch. Peggi and I helped hang this show just the day before and Jim and Gail were sitting at the table closest to the band while we played.

Peggi told the crowd that the artists were in the house and the crowd cheered when she introduced them. They told us they had “never received applause for their work in 60 years.” Jim took this photo and sent us a nice note the day after expressing wonder at how our two worlds came together for this moment in time.

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Spanish Eyes

Margaret Explosion goes to Spain. I wish.

I married some photos I took in Spain with a track from last week’s gig at the Little Theatre Café. Jack Schaefer plays guitar. An original member, he filled in last week for Phil Marshall. Peggi plays soprano sax, Ken Frank plays the double bass and I played drums. We went to Spain for a few minutes with this improvisation.

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Irresistible

Abstract window display
Abstract window display

“Music starting at 9:15” sure sounds like an early show but then there were three bands and Nod was probably third in line at Abilene. We watched Mexico play the US Men’s team to a 0-0 draw and then had a hard time leaving the house. We watched a Nod video this morning instead.

We walked up to Wegman’s with our back packs and then over to Aman’s for apples and Cuba cheese. The produce lady was packing bags of mixed greens in the back corner of the store and we asked if she could bag us a peck of 20 Ouncers for applesauce. Last season’s apples are near the end of their life span but she hand picked a peck for us and still charged us half price. We shop early and she is usually there when we are so we always chat about something. She keeps a small radio on the shelf tuned to the country station. While she was in the back room I heard a song that was irresistible. I moved closer to the speaker and quickly Shazamed it. We played the video when got home.

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The Basics

Debbie Kendrick Project at Little Theatre Café
Debbie Kendrick Project at Little Theatre Café

It wasn’t until I brought this photo home that I realized the legs on Mike Patric’s stool are white. Margaret Explosion has played the Café for twenty years and I have never seen a white stool there. I’m guessing Mike brings his own, one with a padded seat. That gets at why we like this band so much. They feel so comfortable.

Mike has been a key part of Joe Beard and John Cole’s bands for as long as I can remember. He is a seasoned player. You’ll notice the lead singer, Debbie, is comfortably seated. All the more energy she can devote to heartfelt renditions of classic R&B songs. She can make Kansas City, a song whose form is so fixed it threatens to and most cases does swallow up the song, sound fresh. She is actually able to do it when she sings “I’ll Take You There.” Pete Monacelli, is nestled in the corner on his uncle’s drum kit, a kit that is older than his eighty years. Like pros the band plays a few intro numbers without Debbie and in those sublime minutes you hear every swish of the cymbals, the chick of the hi-hit and the dance of Pete’s brushes.

It not just because this band is so seasoned (old) that they are able to pull this off so easily. Sean Pfeifer, in his mid thirties, plays soulful acoustic guitar with his fingers and effortlessly transports the room.

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Post Pandemic

Margaret Explosion poster for 02.16.22
Margaret Explosion poster for 02.16.22

I know it’s not over but for one night it almost felt that way. This gig already happened, I’m not trying to promote the show I just wanted to to talk about it. How surprised we were that people came out, enough to fill the place and secure the double bonus. And for the first set at least the crowd was quiet, attentive and appreciative. It was strange.

We did our thing but I wasn’t aware of any songs that stood out as jewels, the ones where a melody comes forward and orientates the playing. Pat Moschiano added spoken work to a couple of songs in the second set, singing through a Fender amp that was sitting on the floor. I couldn’t make out a word he said but the crowd seemed to eat it up. I plan to listen the recording when I get a little free time and I will report back. Aaron Winters took the photo.

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Someday Is Here

MX-80 Sound – Someday You’ll be King, Ralph Records 45 RPM

I keep reminding myself, “If Sun Ra can die, anyone can.”

Bruce Anderson, barber, fine artist and guitar player for MX-80 Sound has left the planet. His work, with Screaming Gypsy Bandits, Caroline Peyton and MX-80 Sound, was proof of higher life forms in Indiana, where Peggi and I spent out college age years. It is so sad to think we’ll never again hear Angel Corpus Christi at live MX shows screaming with delight during one of Bruce’s amazing solos.

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Electric Sax

Black circle in the snow on Seneca Park Bridge
Black circle in the snow on Seneca Park Bridge

Four days into 2022 and we had our first proper ski of the season. Skied up to the lake and around the golf course. The few inches we got will be gone tomorrow when the temperature reaches into the forties.

Peggi spent a good bit of the remainder of the day trying to find a power cord for her Yamaha digital Sax, the YDS-150. The plastic horn comes with 4 double A batteries and sounds beautiful on its own, with no amplification. In Peggi’s hands it has a warm almost primitive sound like something older than a real saxophone. It isn’t a wind controller although it can be used that way via midi. House of Guitars and Sound Source didn’t have what she was looking for so she ordered a 6 foot USB A male to Micro USB B at Amazon.

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Patterns

Nothing much happens in this Margaret Explosion song. The band just sits comfortably with these textured patterns. And nothing happens in the video either so they work well together. Most of it was shot out the back window of Duane’s car in New York. I love it back there, Peggi and Duane talking up front, music on the car’s sound system, watching the world go by. The footage is just like what I imagine people bring home on their phones after cruising through midtown in one of those open air double decker, red buses. There are times when you just don’t want anything to happen.

But then the movie footage sits around for a few years and you realize how much has happened. Gowanus’s Kentile sign is gone but I read it might be coming back. The toll takers and their booths on the NYS Thruway entrance are gone! And you hardly ever see turquoise Chevy Imapala convertibles anymore.

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Play Along With Margo

Ridge trail to the lake in light snow
Ridge trail to the lake in light snow

I posted a cropped version of this photo to IG and Mitch Rasor asked if this is an esker. I had to look the word up. It probably is but I read that the two big lakes in Durand Eastman Park were sculpted. Eastman is down the hill to the right of this trail. They damned up the creeks that ran through the the park and created lakes with controlled outflows under Lakeshore Boulevard and out to Ontario.

When we played the Little last we had two guitars. On Wednesday Phil Marshall was on Covid alert after holiday exposure to family so we did the gig without any guitars. Feel free to play along with the trio.

"Triangle" by Margaret Explosion. Recorded live at the Little Theatre Café on 12.20.19. Peggi Fournier - sax, Ken Frank - bass, Paul Dodd - drums.
“Triangle” by Margaret Explosion. Recorded live at the Little Theatre Café on 12.20.19. Peggi Fournier – sax, Ken Frank – bass, Paul Dodd – drums.
Listen to “Triangle”
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Being There

Piebald deer in backyard
Piebald deer in backyard

I posted a cropped version of this photo on IG and Jim Mott asked, “Did she just happen to show up on a lightly-frosted day….or have you been putting out corn for months waiting for this shot?” It looks like the latter but as with most situations it is the former. Being there.

We learned Record Archive has paused their back room bar performances because of the current outbreak and the Little Theatre Café is probably not far behind. As it stands, Margaret Explosion will be there tonight. It would be fine with me if no one showed up and they just turned out the lights and let us play our two sets and then we go home and listen to the recordings. I wonder if anyone has even noticed that we deliberately turn the stage lights off before playing. We’ve been doing that for twenty years now. We really aren’t there for anyone else. We close our eyes and listen to each other. The rest is ambience.

This sounds especially selfish. But it wouldn’t work if we were not playing in front of a live audience. They force us to focus and shape the sound into something resembling a song. And I am delighted that enough people like the sound to get us our next gig. We usually come away with eleven or so of these pieces of which one will bear repeated listening, “a field recording of the future.”

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Daydream 2

I managed to utilize movie clips I shot in Niagara Falls, Pemaquid Point Maine, Bilbao Spain, Turning Point Park on the Genesee River, Durand Eastman and downtown during the Fringe Fest, all in this one video. And I threw in a short shot of golf balls I found. The time lapse of the sky was shot at Pete and Shelley’s place up in the Adirondacks. I put my iPad out in their yard for a few hours.

I overlapped the clips in iMovie, crunching them until they fit the length of the song, an improvisation by Margaret Explosion from our last gig. Phil Marshall and Bob Martin play guitars, Peggi Fournier plays soprano sax, Ken Frank plays double bass and I plays drums.

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Joe

Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen performing as Trio X at the Bop Shop in Rochester New York
Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen performing as Trio X at the Bop Shop in Rochester New York

We saw the cutest costume at the end of our street. A little girl was wearing a transparent hoop skirt with lights under the hood. We were heading out to the Bop Shop to see Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen. We haven’t had any trick or treaters in years so we weren’t walking out on anyone.

They still perform as Trio X even though their bass player died a few years back. We heard the trio a few times and saw Joe play solo one time. Joe likes to bring it down so low you hear his breath pass thru the horn, the valves on horn popping open and the clicking shut. He pays tribute to and is in league with Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. He is one of the greats. He is a multi- instrumentalist, a composer and improvisor and also a poet. Last night was the first time we have heard him read. Drummer Jay Rosen backs the poetry perfectly, propelling it, setting it free.

And if that is not enough he has stories. He went to John Coltrane’s funeral with Ornette Coleman.

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Channeling

Buildings outside Abilene at night
Buildings outside Abilene at night

Chuck was an old soul in high school. At an age when most of us were turning our backs on our families he shared his deep connections with city relatives who made doughy pizza for his friends. He has been dead for twenty years now but his stature remains legendary. Former bandmates, what some would call the classic, core line-up, the band that played the John Peel session, performed two sold-out shows this weekend at Abilene. Chuck’s son, Mark, sang and strummed guitar like a chip off the old block. Chuck’s wife, Jan, said he “was channelling his father.”

My brother, Mark, Chuck’s bf in HS, planned to meet us at the show. Driving up from New Jersey, he texted to say his ETA was 9:36. A counselor in Newark he got hung up helping a kid and we didn’t see him until 2:30. Mark was one of three people to have witnessed Gary Bennett’s recording of Chuck’s songs, “Live at Rising Place,” in 1976. My brother is credited with “background inspiration.”

Colorblind James performing “Copernicus” from “Live At Rising Place,” 1976

The shows were moved inside due to the weather and no-one was drinking beer with their mask on. We are holding our breadth that it wasn’t a super-spreader. We listened to a good bit of the second set out back. It always sounds better out there. You can hear the bass notes and the mix becomes comfortable rather than harsh. The seven piece band sounded great as they knocked off two, twenty song sets in muscular fashion. Chuck would have loved it and he would have been so proud of Mark.

After the Rising Place cassette the next thing we heard from Chuck was when he played a date it the Red Creek in 1980 with The White Caps, his band from Oswego. We came home with a 45, “America, America.” Chuck’s songs were sing songs catchy but out of time somehow. He had a band on the west coast which we never heard and then near the tail end of the Scorgie days he moved back to Rochester. His brother-in-law, Phil, was playing guitar and he was looking to form a band here. Bernie had just left Personal Effects so he joined on bass.

Chuck’s music, which he liked to describe as “circus rock,” was out of step with punk and new wave. He favored the polka-like, two-beat. The melodies had an old world feel, a sound track for traveling street performers, His brilliant, wryly delivered lyrics read like modern day liturature, the Bible and poetry.

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VU

Peggi Fournier, Dale Mincey, and Robert Marsella at Dale's apartment in Rochester, New York
Peggi Fournier, Dale Mincey, and Robert Marsella at Dale’s apartment in Rochester, New York

The coolest thing about “The Velvet Underground,” Todd Haynes new documentary on the seminal band’ is seeing people dancing to their music in the fabulous old clips of the band performing live. They worked enough for Jonathan Richmond to estimate that he saw the band sixty times but they never caught on or made any money. They were too arty and that aspect is the second coolest thing about this movie.

Plenty of foundational footage establishes the VU links to Lamont Young’s drones, Tony Conrad’s noise, John Cage’s minimalism and Allen Ginsburg’s poetry. John Cale’s rich European musical roots and Lou Reed’s dirty street smarts, pop sensibility and lyrics that read as poetry was a match made in heaven. Moe. Could any other drummer have bridged that gap so well. The movie sets the record straight on Warhol’s involvement. Nico was a brilliant addition and the songs she sings will live forever. Sterling Morrison and then Doug Yule completed the picture. The best rock band of all time!

I was so lucky that Tom Campbell, a year older so much hipper (before Viet Nam did a number on him), talked me into buying the first record at Midtown Records. That original pressing had the upside down guy on back, before he sued the band for using his image. I played that lp to death, lost the banana skin and gave the lp to my nephew, Eli Enis.

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Noisemaker

Noisemaker along Lakeshore Boulevard near Zoo Road
Noisemaker along Lakeshore Boulevard near Zoo Road

The instrument above comes with a reflector so you can find it in the dark. The others, on the same chunk of guard rail, stand straight up but this one has been clobbered. I use the reflector as a lever to push down on as we walk by. Peggi recorded the sound on her phone.

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Shoot Your Shot

Wreckless Eric performing at the Bop Shop in Rochester, New York 2021
Wreckless Eric performing at the Bop Shop in Rochester, New York 2021

We got to the Bop Shop an hour before the show, just enough time to rifle through a few boxes of used 45s. I came up with Sir Douglas Quintet “It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down,” Jr. Walker & The All Stars “Shoot Your Shot,” Ray Price “Make The World Go Away” and yet another Sly & The Family Stone single, “Hot Fun In The Summertime.”

My brother-in-law had it exactly right in his IG post when he said “Wreckless Eric is a treasure.” We have seen him seven or eight times now and his show last week was the best yet. Performing solo with acoustic and electric guitars he had a sense of urgency as he segued autobiographic songs with poetic lyrics into a focused, musical soundscape. We were transfixed. Knowing full well that he had a bad case of Covid I would say the  pandemic was good for him. 

His “Whole Wide World” is an anthem. How could he show up in your town and not perform it? Better yet, after all these years, how could he do the best version of that song you have ever heard? I don’t know, but he pulled it off.

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Oh Yeah!

Ed Buscemi painting in Pete and Gloria's bathroom
Ed Buscemi painting in Pete and Gloria’s bathroom

We stopped in Canaltown to pick our usual order, ten pounds of Rochester Choice whole bean. We ordered two lattes while we talked to Pete about business and retirement. He’s sixty now and toying with not being in the shop seven days a week. While we talked a customer came in and ordered a cold brew. It was sitting on the counter in a large glass jar with a spigut. I asked Pete if he brewed it in that container and he started to explain his 18 hour process. While he talked the cold brew was overflowing and I felt bad for having distracted him.

Over at the Co-Op they were playing a satellite radio station with early disco and things like Blondie’s “Dreamin” mixed in. Last time I heard that was in Home Depot.

NYT had a nice obit for Pee Wee Ellis, Jame’s Brown’s musical director and co-writer of “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Pee Wee spent his formative years in Rochester, played with Cheryl Laurro‘s father and every jazz band in town. The story had a great photo from that period taken by Rochester’s Paul Hoeffler at the Python Room when he was playing with Ron Carter.

The scooter below brought Bob Martin into town from Chicago. He’ll be joining us at the Little Theatre Café on Wednesday.

"Oh Yeah" by Margaret Explosion. Recorded live at the Little Theatre Café on 11.13.19. Peggi Fournier - sax, Ken Frank - bass, Phil Marshall - guitar, Paul Dodd - drums.
“Oh Yeah” by Margaret Explosion. Recorded live at the Little Theatre Café on 11.13.19. Peggi Fournier – sax, Ken Frank – bass, Phil Marshall – guitar, Paul Dodd – drums.
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Floating At The Bug Jar

Margaret Explosion played a weekly happy hour gig at the Bug Jar for a few years in the late nineties and I occasionally brought my camera. I took a series of mugshots there one night. Almost everyone who was there that evening agreed to sit for one. I printed them out large and had a show there with them in 1998. I recently searched my computer for “BugJar” jpegs and created this movie with them relying heavily on the Ken Burns tool in iMovie to animate the stills.

The song is one we recorded a few years later in 2003 called “Floating at the Bug Jar.” We recorded it in the basement of our home in the city. Peggi Fournier plays sax. Jack Schaefer plays guitar. Greg Slack plays bass. Pete LaBonne plays Yamaha electronic piano and Farfisa organ and I played percussion.

At least five of our friends, pictured here from that period, have moved on. RIP Bug Jar Bob (the creative force and one of the three original owners), Bill Jones, Chuck Cuminale, Ted Williams, Janet Williams, Michael Barone and Shalonda Simpson.

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Goodbye Playground Tavern

As hard as it is to believe, the new owners of the Playground Tavern, located across the street from School 33’s playground, are changing the name to “Jackie-Ray’s Tavern.” I always thought that was a killer name for a bar.

Our band was in the middle of a month of Wednesday night gigs when the pandemic hit. We have not been back since and the only gig we have had since was in the theater in front of a blank movie screen with masked people sitting in in pairs separated by police yellow tape. The gig was so nerve-wracking for me I unplugged the recorder before writing the nights’ music to disc. I’m hoping tomorrow nights return to the café will be a return to form for Margaret Explosion.

Margaret Explosion poster for September 15 2021 gig at Little Theatre Café

Peggi and have been warming up  for the gig by listening to a minute of so of songs recorded at the café in the last few years and then playing duo versions of the themes. “Sonata,” originally performed with Jack Schaefer on bass clarinet, “World’s Fair” and even the dark brooding “Witness.”

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Why They Invented Punk Rock

Colorblind James poster for 2021 gigs
Colorblind James poster for 2021 gigs

Chuck was my brother’s best friend in high school. We shared friends back then so he was one of mine. Always curious and always with an opinion, he was like a magnet. Baptized James he was also colorblind. He was Colorblind James, with and without a band.

His longtime band members including Phil Marshall (who doubled as his brother-in-law), Ken Frank and Chuck’s son, Mark will be performing his songs for two nights in October at the downtown honky tonk, Abilene. They asked me to design a poster for the event, one with some of Chuck’s funky spirit.

I hardly have any fonts on my computer anymore. So many of the ones I was using back when we were churning out graphics are incompatible. I found what I was looking for on a cd we had filed away and I completed the mission without stomping on his grave.

I was thinking about Chuck while I worked. I remember him coming by with a mock up of the first album on Earring. He and his wife, Janet, had created a classic. We mostly helped by getting out of the way. Chuck was working a circus theme on the second lp and he came to us to realize it. I was left with distinct feeling that he could have done a distinctly better, personal touch, version himself and I told him as much. Professional execution does not make it better. That’s why they invented punk rock.

Chuck was also a poet.

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