Theater 5

Peggi sound checking drums at Little Theatre 5
Peggi sound checking drums at Little Theatre 5

People were ready to go out and it felt good in a giddy sort of way. We kept our masks on in the Little Theater but removed them when we played. The patrons, sitting in one half the available Theater 5 seats, the ones without yellow caution tape on them, did the same. The pattern, pairs of seats side by side with empty pairs between, kept people apart enough to change the vibe. The chatter, the squeaky chairs, the espresso machine, the laughter was all missing and missed. The band which typically slips into that atmospheric milieu was now the uncomfortable focus.

I read an article in the Times about some live Can recordings that Mute Records is releasing. They quoted Irmin Schmidt, the founder, as saying, “When we went onstage, we didn’t know beforehand what we would play. We just reacted to the atmosphere, to the acoustics, to the public, to the whole environment spontaneously, and started playing something, which we had never played before,”

Phil and Ken were in the cafe while Peggi and I were setting up the recording equipment. Peggi pounded my drums while I set the levels. There wasn’t enough light in the theater to get a proper photo. We had not played together since March of 2020 and we should have at least done a sound check in this new venue but instead we just dove in, in front of a rapt audience. I found it sort of nerve wracking. I forgot to stop the recording at the end of the night so it never wrote to disc before we unplugged the extension cord and we lost whatever it was that we played. But we did it. We emerged from the pandemic.

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Ready Or Not

Margaret Explosion poster for Little Theatre 5 gig on Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Margaret Explosion poster for Little Theatre 5 gig on Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The café at the Little Theatre is not hosting live music yet. We were in the middle of a month of Wednesdays when they pulled the plug. Fifteen months later we have our first live gig, this on in one of the theaters, Little Theatre 5, the Jack Garner theater. When Jack was alive and working at the D&C he wrote this description of the band.

“One of the most original and unusual bands in Rochester; a five-piece ensemble exploring all sorts of musical dimensions linked to free jazz, Third World melodies, exotic instrumentation and a spacey, enveloping sort of music. The Explosion plays with a single-minded purpose and organic oneness that’s most impressive.” 

Tickets for the Wednesday performance are available at the www.thelittle.org

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Digital Media

Utility company artwork on sidewalk
Utility company artwork on sidewalk

We probably won’t be able to watch as much television when this pandemic is over and that is probably a good thing. Maybe we can trim our programing bill. We’re finding some dynamite stuff on HBO. “Olive Kitterridge ” is the best thing we have seen since Breaking Bad. Our bass player, Ken Frank, turned us on to that one. Frances McDormand kills it and Richard Jenkins, who plays her husband, is sensational.

A few years back we rationalized getting an Apple Music subscription by looking at the monthly costs as the price of buying one album. Yesterday we streamed Pharaoh Sanders new one, his first in twenty years, and Archie Shepp’s duo with Jason Moran. It was the early seventies all over again and it felt good.

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Fun While It Lasted

Peggi Fournier of Personal Effects performing live Scorgie's in Rochester, New York
Peggi Fournier of Personal Effects performing live Scorgie’s in Rochester, New York

I love this photo because it features Peggi. She was the star and wrote most of the songs. I wish I knew who took the photo. They deserve credit. It may’ve been Gary Brandt or his friend Al. And even more credit should go to Duane Sherwood for the dramatic lighting.

Frank De Blase at City News wrote a piece on Personal Effects that went online this morning. “In the ’80s, it seemed that the bigger the show and the bigger the venue, the bigger the band sounded. It manifested itself through the keyboards and lone sax. The rhythm section swung mightily and dreamy along with the ethereal guitar. It was as if they were playing to the walls and threatening the roof.”

Nothing lasts forever.

Personal Effects – “Nothing Lasts Forever”
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If Sun Ra Can Die Anyone Can

Sometime after Sun Ra died in 1993 we saw Marshal Allen’s Arkestra at Milestones, that place on the corner of East and Chestnut that keeps changing hands. It was sad without the maestro and that is the last word I ever would have used to describe a Sun Ra performance. Maybe I was still in mourning.

Marshall Allen, at 96!, has kept the band together with three former members and I read an intriguing review of their newest recording. I ordered the vinyl and the first side is amazing. “Swirling,” the lp title, is apt. The new arrangements of three familiar Sun Ra songs don’t tear the roof off like Sun Ra would have but they do get the room swirling.

Peggi and I saw Sun Ra on five occasions. There is so much info online now that I was able to track down the exact dates.

November 11, 1979 Soundscape NYC
I had a few Sun Ra albums at the time but other than the Art Ensemble at the Eastman I had never seen anything as theatrically immersive. In costume the band paraded around the fifth floor loft space in Manhattan’s West 50s while chanting, dancing and playing their instruments. The show didn’t start until after midnight and the sun was coming up when we left. My brother, Mark, who was living on West 43rd with Charlie Coco, came along with us. The show was released on cd, “Live from Soundscape.”

August 11, 1986 Red Creek Rochester, NY
Sun Ra was traveling with three drummers and they couldn’t possibly fit on the stage so one set up on the floor. The violinist, Billy Bang, was in the band and two of the horn players staged a theatrical, circus-like, wrestling match with their horns as they circled each other on the dance floor. I hung on to the ticket. Someone recently posted a recording of this show on YouTube.

Sun Ra autographed record
Sun Ra autographed record

I bought two lps, “Outer Reach Intensity-Energy (Stars That Shine Darkly, Vol. 2)” and “Hiroshima” from the band after the show. Both were in a white liner sleeves without covers. The label was blank on one side of each lp. They were five bucks a piece and I got Sun Ra to sign the the white label side of each.

The albums I bought did not sound like the Arkestra and only later did I learn they both featured live tracks from the Sun Ra All Stars European tour, a sensational line-up with Don Cherry, Clifford Jarvis, Lester Bowie, Don Moye, Philly Joe Jones, Richard Davis and Archie Shepp along with Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and Sun Ra!

September 5, 1987 Village Gate NYC
The Village Gate was no bigger than Red Creek in Rochester so this was an intimate show. It was Labor Day weekend and my brother Mark was having his wedding rehearsal dinner at the Chinese place near their apartment on 96th. I spotted a listing in the Village Voice for this show and we headed downtown after dinner. The band played two long sets and sounded better than ever.

July 25, 1991 Jazzberry’s Rochester, NY
Sun Ra had had a stroke and had to be helped onto the stage but once seated he and the band launched into an extended drum/percussion improvisation. We were sitting maybe six feet from the band. Sun Ra could only use one hand and I remember him soloing during that first song with set kit sound on a Yamaha keyboard. The band sounded great “The Theme of the Stargazers,” “Second Stop is Jupiter” and “We Travel the Spaceways.”

October 18, 1991 Jazzberry’s Rochester, NY

Sun Ra had regained the use of both hands and the band, Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and June Tyson with Buster Smith on drums, sounded as good as ever.

Marshall Allen is also a huge Sun Ra fan. If you only had one Sun Ra lp you could not beat his hand picked collection of Sun Ra tunes, Marshall Allen Presents “In The Orbit Of Ra.”

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Two Pecks

Yellow  house with two swans
Yellow house with two swans

We each came home from Aman’s with a peck of apples in our backpack. Peggi had 20 Ouncers for apple sauce and I had Snap Dragons, our new favorite eating apple. I also had a six pack of Buffalo’s Big Ditch in mine and a quart of raw honey. It was a big shop and our packs were heavier than they have ever been.

We found a couple movies to stream on the Film Forum website and both were fantastic. “Gunda,” filmed entirely in Spain, featured no actors, only farm animals, mostly a pig family, and it was riveting. There was was no voice over either, just the animals’ voices.

Crock of Gold” features the great Shane MacGowan and Ireland and Irish culture, it’s history, the Catholic Church and the IRA. Johnny Depp put up some money so we have to put up with him but he is hardly there until the end. Sensational songs, mostly Shane’s, with a handful of traditional ones and at the end a short tribute to Shane with Bono and Nick Cave who only serve to point out how great MacGowan is. (He is still alive.)

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Fake Fans

Soccer ball on beach at Durand Eastman
Soccer ball on beach at Durand Eastman

This soccer ball was washed up on beach this morning. I was wondering whether it came across from Toronto, the wind comes from that direction, or whether it was just left on the beach by someone here in Rochester. It looked pretty beat up.

We watched El Classico yesterday, the Real Madrid Barcelona match. We love both those teams but lately we love Madrid more and they won 3-1. Today we watched Athetico beat Real Betis so we’re all caught up with our favorite teams. The games during Covid are a little strange. I spend a lot of time thinking about how they do the fake fans. Is it all green screen trickery? And I get distracted by the sound engineer mixing old crowd noises in, one channel for the chanting, one for the applause and one the stadium din. We sometimes watch with the sound off but it is always fun to hear the extremely excitable announcers in Spanish. Maybe we’ll check in on the World Series tonight.

I ripped the cds I wanted to hang on to years ago but I kept a few, mostly ones I needed to listen to to determine if they were worth the effort. Now I don’t even have a CD player but there is a small portable one out in the garage. I out there painting this afternoon and I put on an Ornette Coleman boot, a live thing from Paris in 1965 with David Izenson and Charles Moffett. Ornette plays violin, trumpet and sax and all three players solo or sit out. Ornette’s violin sounds like the Contortions and Izenson spends quite a bit of the night bowing. The performance knocked me out. I played it twice in a row. It had been a while since I’ve done that.

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Lost Cat

"Lost Cat Call 911" sign on Horseshoe Road
“Lost Cat Call 911” sign on Horseshoe Road

We recently read a list vintage horror movies and added a bunch to queue. We had seen most but not in while. We’ve checked off Vincent Price in “House on Haunted Hill,” “The Haunting,” “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” and Brian DePalma’s “Sisters” in the last week. Sisters was better than ever.

MX-80 Sound did a version of “Theme from Sisters” on their Ralph Records Crowd Control lp. That lp is out of print but I helped recreate the lp artwork for a new release, on that contains an additional track, “Theme from Halloween.” It’s on red vinyl at an incredibly low price and it too sounds better than ever. MX-80 is rumored to be in the studio now working on an all movie themed lp.

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Jimmy Carter Says Yes

Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Association Inc. Rochester, New York
Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Association Inc. Rochester, New York

Although the Little Theatre five screens are still closed they have been movies that would have been shown there as streams. The Little gets a cut but we still work about them. “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” seemed like a stretch of a concept but they pull it off. And on top of that it is a real feel good film. Imagine that considering the current occupant.

Present day Carter has a nice looking turntable. Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and the Allman Brothers are featured. I could never figure out the appeal of that last one but they were fellow Georgians. A glaring omission though was not featuring “Jimmy Carter Says Yes.”

I’m pretty sure it was Chris from the Squires of the Subterrain that first made us aware of those so-called song poems. I think he may have gotten a copy from Tom Ardolino, NRBQ’s drummer. Somehow we wound up with a cassette with that and other gems, “Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush” and the sensational “Little Rug Bug.

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Basement Tapes

Personal Effects cassettes from the early 80s
Personal Effects cassettes from the early 80s

Went through the box in the basement a few months back and pulled this batch out. Still haven’t listened to them, not even sure my cassette deck works, but I’ve enjoyed looking at them. We usually had one one cover in our set and “Heartbeat,” from the black Peppermint Lounge tape, was one of my favorites. I put it on the Personal Effects website.

Heartbeat performed live by Personal Effects. Recorded at the Peppermint Lounge in 1985.
Heartbeat performed live by Personal Effects. Recorded at the Peppermint Lounge in 1985.

I got the cassettes out looking for a recording from Club Mirage where the video below came from. I found a Mirage tape but not this one.

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Forty Years Have Flown

Hi-Techs performing in the back room at Record Archive on Saturday May 31 1980
Hi-Techs performing in the back room at Record Archive on Saturday May 31 ,1980. Ned Hoskins on guitar, Peggi Fournier on sax and Martin Edic on bass.

Check out the sign behind the band in this photo. Forty years ago today Hi-Techs played the back room of the Record Archive on Mount Hope. I’m pretty sure Richard Edic took the photo. There’s more here.

Hi-Techs were only together for two years before morphing into Personal Effects. There is only one video of the band but there are three songs in the video. It was produced by Channel 31 TV for a show called “After Hours” and it was simulcast on WCMF in 1981. We played live in their studio but they added some wacky post production. There was another band on the show the same night – Ozzy Osbourne with Randy Rhoads!

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Sleep Of Reason

Video for Margaret Explosion song, “Sleep of Reason” by Stephen Black

I remember how easy it was to record the Margaret Explosion album, “Skyhigh.” Pete and Shelley were in town for a few days. I think Bob came over the night before and we set up the mics and recording equipment. Ken came over the next morning and we made a few pots of coffee. We recorded the album in the basement, just started playing, and we got five keepers that first day. “Sleep of Reason,” named after the Goya print, was one of them.

Just before the pandemic Steve Black was here with videos he shot in NYC the week before. He picked “Sleep of Reason” to accompany his butterfly footage. Easy.

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It

Short entry for a short song. Still sounds good to me. Personal Effects. Mid 80s. Video shot at a downtown Rochester bar called Club Mirage. Song clocks in at just under two minutes. Peggi Fournier – keyboards, Bob Martin – guitar, Paul Dodd – drums, Robin Goldblatt Mills – bass. Kevin Vicalvi – sound. Duane Sherwood – lights.

Lyrics to Personal Effects song, "The Beat of Life" from 1981
Lyrics to Personal Effects song, “The Beat of Life” from 1981
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Forced Exposure

Couple dancing to the On Fours in Bloomington Indiana 1973
Couple dancing to the On Fours in Bloomington Indiana 1973. Photo by Peggi Fournier

I was playing drums in the front room of our house on S. Milton Drive when three older guys rang the doorbell. I was certain they were going to complain about the noise but instead they wanted me to join their band. They had a couple of gigs that weekend and they would not take no for an answer. I guess I was taking Frank Canada’s place, the name on the business card they gave me. I played those two dates and Red, the rhythm guitar player, announced they wanted to get rid of Butch Miller, the leader. They had a young guy, who sounded exactly like Johnny Cash, to take his place.

They named the new band the “On Fours.” “You know, how we start songs, on four,” Red said. My brother, Fran, made the new calling cards in his high school shop class and enlisted my father to do the band’s logo type and graphic.

The band was was dyed-in -the-wool country, something I knew nothing about. We rehearsed once a month in Red’s trailer or the bass player’s barn and we played four sets every Friday and Saturday for the next year and a half. We played every smoke filled Elks Club, Moose Lounge, American Legion, VFW and Eagles Club in the area. One Sunday afternoon we played on the back of a hay wagon for a coon hunting convention. When Peggi and I moved to Rochester I gave the gig to Dave Mahoney. Dave told me they changed their name to “The Breakers” after the CB craze.

I grew to love the music. Peggi and I saw Merle Haggard when he came to Bloomington and we started buying Merle, George and Waylon records. When we moved to Rochester in 1974 there was only country rock, a hideous hybrid which took the rock out of rock and the country out of country. Bands like Old Salt were everywhere. Our next door neighbor, Sparky, was into country. We got to see George Jones before he passed. I’m thankful for the forced exposure.

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FB Live

Phil Marshall live solo performance Facebook.
Phil Marshall live solo performance Facebook.

Peggi accidentally Face-timed Phil and Ken last night while we were sitting on the couch. She was cleaning her phone with a Clorox wipe and suddenly we were connected through a group text. It was like a virtual band meeting with no agenda. Phil told us would be doing a FB live thing tonight so we tuned in. I sent it out to our tv from my desktop and we cranked it though the stereo. Phil’s solo performance was fantastic and I was really impressed with the whole presentation.

We were eating dinner while Phil played, some little white pizzas with mushrooms, and the computer was in the other room so the FB video feed just went along on its merry way when Phil finished. Duane’s video of homemade tea followed Phil, then a clip from the Daily Show of someone interviewing people at a Trump rally and then some crazy Corona virus exercise routine. Right into some dumb thing from the early sixties with guys on the beach ogling girls in two piece suits. It was a rapid descent from Phil’s brilliant performance.

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Another Wednesday Night At Home

“Off The Corner” by Margaret Explosion. Video by Stephen Black.

We miss the people who come out to hear the band. We miss the Little Theatre Café, the rotating monthly art shows, the espresso, the Scotch Ale, the lively conversations and the laughter (all captured on the live recordings we make at the Café). But most of all we miss playing with our bandmates, improvising and creating skeletons of songs from thin air. We want to thank you all for supporting the band for so many years. We hope you all stay safe and we look forward to seeing you all on the other side. 

We watched the PBS special on Miles Davis las night. I loved it. There was a period there, 1968 to 1975, where each album he released blew my mind. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. “On the Corner” and “Get Up With It” were my favorites but every lp or live double lp from this period is phenomenal in my book. Eventually I grew to love the earlier albums.

The song above, recorded at the Little Theater in 2014, is Margaret Explosion’s tribute to Miles. The video was just recently created by Stephen Black.

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Bar Car

Steve Black is back in town with a new collection of video footage. It has been a joy to watch him work. He commandeered Peggi’s computer and finished this one last night in iMovie.

We managed to lose another set of Margaret Explosion music. Ever since Bob Martin left town it has been somewhat a struggle for us to get our sets recorded. This time we remembered to to turn on before we started but one off us unplugged the power before the Zoom recorder had written the files. You’d think the battery would take over in a situation like that but it doesn’t work either. There was some interesting stuff in the first set. Peggi played keyboards with her good hand and led us in a particularly good fugue. Mark Bradley played tenor sax and Roy Marshall played drums in the second set and made sound like pros.

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Making Magic

Stephen Black working on Margaret Explosion "Disappear" video.
Stephen Black working on Margaret Explosion “Disappear” video.

Yes. The monitor is blown out. Steve would have gathered more info if he had taken this shot himself. He is shown here working on one of the two videos he created while in town. Check out the hat! It was cold here but perfect weather for shooting Margaret Explosion videos.

Steve’s iPhone footage used in “Disappear”, the video shown below, was all shot within a mile or so of our house. All locations we have walked by countless times. But we hardly recognized them. We kept asking “where was that.?” Steve couldn’t answer because he is not from here. We didn’t even recognize our own headlight.

Steve thinks cinematically. I square things off and go head on. Steve operates in another dimension and goes way beyond the point blank. He moves the camera and animates a scene like a musical passage. Steve explains his approach: “The video is one with the music. I am playing with you, just later, and with the luxury of time to make and remake decisions.”

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Black Vortex

I looked down at our land line expecting another scam call but found a familiar name instead. Steve Black was in town unexpectedly after being invited to a symposium at MIT on augmented reality where he met someone from RIT and then rode to town with him. He called us from RoCo where he successfully talked the attendant into giving him our Home phone number. And when we arrived he reminded us that many years ago he got off a bus downtown and called information for our number. The operator said, “Oh, I know Paul Dodd.” It was Betsy Nosco who I went to high school with.

The next day, a gorgeous winter day, Steve got right to work shooting scenes for a video for a Margaret Explosion song, “Tonic Party.” The footage, every bit of it from from near our home, astounded us. We should be way overly familiar with this location but we couldn’t tell exactly where it came from. The eye of a master.

We first met Steve when he was going to RIT. He asked Personal Effects if he could do a video to “Don’t Wake Me,” a song on our first ep. He printed out each frame of the film he shot, hand-colored the frames and then reshot the still images for the video. See “Don’t Wake Me.”

Back in 2003 when our “1969” cd came out Steve made a magical video in the back yard of our Hall Street house. See “Assembly Line.”

And his video for “Trophy Bowler”vaulted Pete LaBonne to YouTube sensation status. See “Trophy Bowler.”

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